You is back. The Lifetime sleeper hit that became a sensation once it hit Netflix returns with a second season that is brilliantly built. Joe Goldberg is up to his old tricks, but in a new location with a new name, a new love interest, and a new cast of characters to connive, cajole, and kill. However, Season 2 of You keeps things fresh, ferocious, and fun by pitching its central stalker into a metaphorical hall of mirrors that forces him to reflect on whether he’s a bad man or a good guy.
Major spoilers below for You Seasons 2.
Last season ended with Joe successfully framing Dr. Nicky for Beck’s murder, then being confronted by his revenge-seeking ex, Candace. Episode one, “A Fresh Start” picks up with Joe (a deftly dynamic Penn Badgley) having fled to Los Angeles, a place Candace knows he hates. So, it’s the perfect place to hide in plain sight. To stay hidden, Joe promises himself he will not get involved in the lives of others. He will not fall in love again. He will not lose control. But then he sees his new “you,” and, of course, her name is Love (a beguiling Victoria Pedretti). Joe is drawn to her, and despite his resolutions is soon fantasizing, flirting, and fraternizing with Love’s douchebag brother Forty (a pitch-perfect James Scully) to win her favor. Bad habits die hard. Which brings us to Will.
To hide from Candace, Joe needs a new identity. So, he turns to forger/hacker Will Bettelheim (a jaunty Robin Lord Taylor), and proceeds to steal his identity. How? By violence, abduction, and tossing the guy in a glass cage, naturally. (Bad habits die hard.) Will is the first of Joe’s doubles in the season, not because they both use his name, but because they are both fools in love. Joe is committing crimes (abduction, assault, murder) in the name of winning Love, while Will is committing crimes (chiefly forgery) to accrue a fortune to send to his fiancée in the Philippines, who he has never met IRL. Ironically, Joe thinks Will’s being scammed by the online girlfriend, and he rejects any suggestion that their predicaments are similar. Nonetheless, this hijacked hacker becomes an unlikely friend to the self-justifying serial killer, as he doles out therapy-talk and suggestions of how to rise above bad habits to be a good guy. Not every mirror of Joe is so kind.
Enter Jasper (a jovial Steven W. Bailey), a paunchy white guy with an affable manner, broad grin, and a very sharp pocket knife. Seeking money that Will owes, Jasper tracks Joe to his apartment. Yet Joe isn’t all that worried when Jasper turns up at Anavrin, because—like Will—he falls for the same trap so many on You do. Right before Joe blindsided Will with a brick, the soon-to-be-caged conman philosophized, “No one ever suspects shit when it’s a white dude.” Similarly, Jasper sprung on Joe and sliced off one of his fingers. The two will face off once more, and Joe will best his dangerous doppelganger then be left to deal with the grisly remains. Bad habits die hard.
However, not all of Joe’s habits are bad. He has an earnest soft spot for kids. In Season 1 he sought to protect Paco from his abusive stepdad and gave him books. Season 2 offers another latchkey kid hurting for a father figure in Ellie (the spunky Jenna Ortega), a cynical 15-year-old with a sharp tongue, a good eye, and a reckless confidence. She’s cared for by her older sister Delilah (the dazzling Carmela Zumbado), whose attention is split between this and her roles as apartment complex manager and news reporter dedicated to busting bad men in Hollywood. As such, Delilah isn’t the perfect parent Joe wishes Ellie had. So, despite his resolutions to stay away from “their whole red flag universe,” Joe gets involved, which means some light stalking and hacking her phone with tracking software. Bad habits, etc.
Ellie is a soft reflection of Joe. Flashbacks reveal his tragedy-strewn childhood that left him hungering for the approval of a male authority figure, even the sadistic Mr. Mooney. But a sharper similarity can be found in this B-plot between Joe and Henderson (a suitably sketchy Chris D’Elia), a famous stand-up comic who is secretly into kiddie porn. After blundered attempts to expose Henderson’s criminal perversions, Joe tries to violently force an on-camera confession out of the comic. In that scene, Joe hides his identity by wearing a promo-mask of Henderson’s face. It’s a disturbing image, especially as Joe refuses to accept what it suggests. Henderson speaks of the abuse he suffered as a kid. He suggests the same is true for Joe. Henderson defends his polaroids of drugged minors in sexual scenarios with a twisted logic that feels very familiar to the spirals of Joe’s own justifications: he didn’t mean for anyone to get hurt. But that doesn’t mean someone won’t be hurt. And when Henderson is, Joe once more justifies his bad actions with his good intentions. After all, he didn’t mean for anyone to get hurt.
Joe wants to believe he’s better than these bad men who keep crossing his path. He might be a fool for love, but he’s not a fool who’d send his hard-earned cash to a woman he’s never met. He might occasionally kill, but he’s not as vicious as Jasper who enjoys the pain he inflicts. He might coerce women into compromised consent through stalking and manipulation, but he didn’t do it with drugs to girls who were underaged. Yet the comparison that might sting most of all is when he fears he’s like Forty.
On the surface, the two are polar opposites. While Joe is desperate to blend in, Forty is frantic to standout. Joe’s vibe is broody New York intellectual. Forty’s is bombastic LA fame-chaser. But Forty knows what it is to be broken by love. During the acid trip where the pair try to “break” the screenplay adaptation of Beck’s memoir, Forty figures out what really happened to the dead author. The boyfriend did it, and he says he knows because he did the same thing. This revelation gets confusing later as it contradicts another confession. However, here, briefly Joe is shocked to realize the one man in LA he loathes most of all seems to be the only one who truly understands him.
Joe claims to be on a path of self-reflection, attempting to prevent himself from making the same mistakes. Yet he fails again and again because he refuses to see himself as he truly is. These bad men are all mirrors who reflect back the things about himself he hates, and yet instead of killing these things in himself, he kills or loathes those who reflect them. Then comes Love. Just when it seems at long last Joe has been caught, caged and exposed, Love comes to the rescue. And she’s ruthless. She murders Candace, just as she did Delilah with a savage slice to the throat. Then she comes back to Joe, and shows she is his truest reflection, his perfect match.
At the end of episode one, Joe backtracks on the events of the ep to reveal how he’d lied to his audience: his meet-cute with Love was anything but happenstance. At the end of You Season 2, Love delivers a similar monologue, reframing her character from naive victim to a knowing accomplice and killer in her own right. Joe did not break her. “Damage finds damage.” Early on Love’s intensity for romantic fixation mirrored Joe’s, yet it isn’t until the finale we see how deep their similarities truly go. Her confession steps us through her abusive childhood, her early murder, its subsequent coverup, her justifications, her loss of great love, and the new object of her affections. Joe was her “you,” and he had no idea.
Once more, Joe is repulsed by this reflection of his adult self. He attacks Love, once more attacking another for the thing he loathes in himself. The only thing that stops him is his fantasy of being a good guy, specifically a good father. The promise of a baby keeps Joe bound to his Love (a la Gone Girl?) In the end, he gets just what he said he wanted. He wished for a home. He pined for Love. At his low-point, he declared, “a cage is where I belong.” He gets all of this in the end, a cozy house with Love and their unborn baby, but also a cage.
In his final monologue, he laments, “No one can absolve me. I’ve got to do the time. Not every Siberia is cold. Some are 73 degrees and sunny with eco-conscious landscaping…It’s funny. I had no idea the cage I was building all this time was a trap for me. And when I found myself locked in here, I thought this was the end.”
Once more, the thing Joe’s desired does not live up to his fantasy. And so Season 2 ends where it and Season 1 began: Hello, You.
Header Image Source: Netflix