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'You' Season 4 Review: Netflix Thriller Is a Mixed Bag

What started as a gorge-worthy guilty pleasure is now a bit of a slog -- at least that's the case with part one of season 4.

Jennifer Bisset Former Senior Editor / Culture
Jennifer Bisset was a senior editor for CNET. She covered film and TV news and reviews. The movie that inspired her to want a career in film is Lost in Translation. She won Best New Journalist in 2019 at the Australian IT Journalism Awards.
Expertise Film and TV Credentials
  • Best New Journalist 2019 Australian IT Journalism Awards
Jennifer Bisset
3 min read
Midshot of Joe in a baseball cap standing in front of a building next to a tree, looking at something offscreen toward us

Penn Badgley as Joe Goldberg.

Netflix

When Joe Goldberg, the main character of Netflix's psychological thriller You, first put on his accidentally cool vintage baseball cap, his whole tousled librarian schtick had a ton of charm. His belief in finding his one true love, by whatever means, was endearingly sincere. Yes, he murdered multiple people in the name of love. But at least his deluded idea of romance served as commentary on the ways life and love don't quite match the picture perfect Instagram ideal.

By the newest season of You -- season 4 -- Joe is a different man. He's in full self-redemption mode. He knows he's "problematic." He's intent on changing his ways and will never stalk, entrap, physically assault or psychotically manipulate anyone in his new girlfriend's friendship circle ever again. Somehow, inexplicably, that makes him a bit of a bore.

After experimenting with being a devoted husband and father in season 3, Joe is back to single life. To return there, he had to relocate to a whole new country. It's Joe's European holiday. Flashbacks to Paris reveal what happened when Joe first escaped the mess he left behind in the US. But mainly season 4 is set in a Notting Hill-modeled UK, sunny skies arcing over the buttresses of a medieval university. There, Joe takes on the alias of Professor Jonathan Moore. He teaches American literature. It seems like a pretty perfect gig for him.

But his British colleagues and their friends and lovers are just as vapid and up to no good as his mates in the US. Joe is quickly entangled in business he strictly set out to avoid.

Ostensibly, Joe's new love interest is Kate Galvin (Charlotte Ritchie), a "sexually frustrated" gallerist with a haughty, aloof attitude. Joe doesn't exactly fall for her immediately. Surprise. But you know it's just a matter of time, because it's Joe. The difference this time is Kate has an acute bullshit meter. She notices when Joe disappears into his inner monologue. It's a little like the Hot Priest noticing Fleabag's avoidant tendencies.

Ed Speelers sitting on a red chair in a dim bar

Ed Speelers joins the cast of season 4 of You as author Rhys.

Netflix

Subverting repetitive patterns and finding new directions to pull Joe in is the name of the game for season 4. (The same could be said of seasons 2 and 3, when Love Quinn turned out to be a perfect psychotic match for Joe.) This time Joe uses his stalking skills for good, dropped into the donut-hole at the center of a murder mystery. Then there's the unknown texter taunting Joe. The script is flipped: Joe becomes the fixation of someone else.

Weirdly, the main point of difference that makes season 4 of You seem a little off isn't Joe's transformation. It's his love interest. Kate isn't exactly relatable, unless you're an obscenely rich heiress living in an Architectural Digest feature-worthy apartment. Both Guinevere Beck and Love Quinn (to begin with) were at least somewhat recognizable millennials with dreams and hopes. Everything disturbing that happened to them was a flame that burned close to your own skin.

Two women standing outside a mansion wearing preppy outfits and holding drinks

Lady Phoebe (Tilly Keeper) and Kate Galvin (Charlotte Ritchie).

Netflix

The second part of season 4, arriving a month later than the first, is the better half, so it's worth sticking it out in this world of the British royal adjacent. Joe is still a likable antisocial narcissist, but he isn't the same antisocial narcissist we watched, perversely, in earlier seasons. Especially over the first batch of five episodes (there are 10 in total), our voyeurism of his satisfyingly proficient, yet evil, sleuthing just isn't as fun anymore.

It's noteworthy to see Charlotte Ritchie, known for her lovable roles in British sitcoms like Ghosts and Feel Good, play a distinctly spikier character. It seems like a tactical play to have Ritchie ensure Kate is somewhat likable, the most real of her insufferable associates. Ed Speelers, who played the titular hero in 2006 Christopher Paolini fantasy adaptation Eragon, is magnetic as Oxford author Rhys. He and Joe share a love of books, among other similarities.

You still has something to say about love, but there's a sense it's on the verge of running out of steam. In a twisted sense, Joe's arc lands in relatable places, but getting there is a long, uneven journey. Maybe, just maybe, we're getting close to hanging up the baseball cap.

The first five episodes of You, season 4, are streaming on Netflix now. The second batch of five episodes will arrive on March 9.

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