Penn Badgley returns as the mischievous Joe Goldberg in the fourth season of Netflix’s hit thriller series, You. After killing his wife Love (Victoria Pedretti) and fleeing the suburbs to Paris in search of his new female obsession Marienne (Tati Gabrielle) at the end of You Season 3, Goldberg now finds himself posing as a college professor in London, where he’s donned the fake identity of Jonathan Moore. Fellow teacher Malcolm (Stephen Hagan) befriends Joe at work and introduces him to a group of Europe’s most wealthy and influential socialites. As always, trouble is lurking around the corner for Joe. Following the path of Stranger Things and Ozark, You Season 4 is being split down the middle and released in two parts by Netflix. The first part, made up of 5 episodes, sets the stage for more chaos than this show has ever seen. Unfortunately, those expectations are never met.
A murder mystery is the main focus of You Season 4 Part 1, yet it’s a convoluted issue to resolve. Joe doesn’t seem particularly inspired to investigate the murder itself, and all the prime suspects are evil people with ulterior motives. This includes London’s “It girl” Lady Phoebe (Tilly Keeper), her pompous boyfriend Adam (Lukas Gage), the tone-deaf Gemma (Eve Austin), the privileged Connie (Dario Coates), Nigerian princess Blessing (Ozioma Whenu), and the famous author Rhys (Ed Speleers). This is expected from a whodunit, but what’s really missing is any relatable character to help the audience empathize with this puzzle. That emotional link to the murder mystery is nowhere to be found here, leaving an apathetic detective (who’s also a killer himself) to deal with people who don’t care about the case anyways. Netflix’s You has been compared to Showtime’s Dexter before, however, that comparison is far too kind now.
Sophie (Niccy Lin) and Simon (Aidan Cheng) are two of the suspects Joe has to investigate in order to get to the bottom of the murder mystery in You Season 4. Sophie is an influencer who dedicates her time to obtaining sponsorship deals, while Simon is a painter who doesn’t get along with people who aren’t like himself. They are siblings, and Sophie is usually the one who socializes as Simon is disrespectful to everyone he’s introduced to, especially Joe. The pair are clearly hiding something outside of their questionable paintings.
These siblings are part of the thematic argument Joe must tackle in the first half of You Season 4 dealing with extreme wealth and how it corrupts people. Goldberg is heard during his constant voiceover narration condemning the nepotism seen in the group he is introduced to by Malcolm. It’s amusing how the Netflix series displays Joe respecting and even admiring his Gen Z students and their beliefs. This is most seen with Amy-Leigh Hickman’s Nadia as she takes up the role of professor Jonathan Moore’s closest student mentee. Through this relationship, it’s never been more transparent how relatable co-creator and showrunner Sera Gamble tries to make Joe seem before reminding the audience that he solves his problems by making people disappear.
Joe’s voiceover narration has always been one of the strongest aspects of You, and it’s a fundamental way for the viewer to be able to follow such a morally complex character. While it’s understandable why You has relied on it so much this far, with the Netflix original being based on the popular book series by author Caroline Kepnes, the narration here in Season 4 becomes a little too repetitive and dull for its own good. With the overarching themes of wealth, fame, and greed, the overuse of narration feels like an excuse to not make an effort to let the plot move forward through the show’s visual language. The monotone lines end up delivering exposition constantly instead of displaying Joe’s internal struggles. It’s almost as if this Netflix show has started to wear out its unique style and approach in favor of something that’s simply passable.
Charlotte Ritchie, who joins the series as Kate, is the highlight of You Season 4 regarding the latest members of the show’s revolving cast ensemble. Kate is an art gallery director in a romantic arrangement with Malcolm at the start of the story. She is the biggest challenge Joe has to face this time around, with the new character putting the police on his deadly trail and having an overprotective friend in Roald played by Ben Wiggins, who’s fond of old-school activities like hunting. Once again, Joe’s obsession with the women near him gets him tangled in a web of murder and betrayal.
Love Quinn, played by The Haunting of Bly Manor star Victoria Pedretti, was killed by Joe in self-defense during the third season’s finale because she was planning to kill him instead. This was a pivotal climax for the Netflix series, but Love’s absence is severely felt in the first half of You Season 4. Without his (also) evil counterpart, Joe is lacking a force equal to his sinister capabilities, leaving a vacuum that doesn’t help the convoluted mystery at the center of this story. Tati Gabrielle’s Marienne is not even featured in these first 5 episodes as much as one would think, as she’s mainly just seen in flashbacks. It’s an odd decision considering where the show previously left off.
With a convoluted mystery, an excess of tiresome voiceover narration, and a protagonist who’s not fully engaged with the plot of his own show, You delivers a disappointing first part to its new season. Not even Penn Badgley’s best efforts can help Joe Goldberg take the lead in his own story. From bookstore manager in New York to shop clerk in LA to loving suburban husband, perhaps putting the conniving stalker/serial killer in the middle of a whodunit overseas wasn’t the best way to push the show’s genre-bending narrative forward. Sera Gamble has credited this idea to fellow co-creator and executive producer Greg Berlanti, and to be fair, You has always proved to be unpredictable in its latter episodes. Hopefully, the second part of You Season 4, which will be released a month from now on March 9th, will vastly improve this latest run of Netflix’s psychological thriller series.