The fourth season of Netflix’s “You” finds itself on a detour from the series’ usual arc — on the other side of the pond. Having legally perished in a fire at the end of season three, protagonist Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley) has escaped to England, originally in search of a woman named Marienne (Tati Gabrielle). Now, Joe is a literature professor in London, and this time, his fresh start is quite literal.
Living under the identity “Jonathan Moore,” Joe has adjusted his priorities. This season, he seems to have left his serial killing ways, instead witnessing the crimes of a new, unknown murderer — one that he is determined to sniff out. Deviating from Joe’s usual route of fixating on a particular woman of choice actually seems to serve the show. Despite this change, “You” succeeds in remaining compelling by transforming into a murder mystery.
And though Joe is still as slimy and morally ambiguous as ever, he is now a stranger in a strange land; his working-class background, combined with his foreignness, places him in a refreshing rehashing of his usual role as an outsider. He continues to skulk, uses his sleuthing and stalking skills to piece together clues, but he is never truly able to get rid of his suspicious persona — part of the reason this narrative detour seems to work.
One of the strongest parts of the show is Joe’s connection to literature. Not only does his inner monologue abound with references to various novels and authors, but his job as a professor feels like a natural progression in his falsified career. Teaching “American Iconoclasts of the Short Story,” Joe is able to resume his role as the snob critiquing those less intellectually inclined than him. The series is able to cleverly weave together the real-time killings and the classic murder mystery genre, with Joe leaning on his students to prompt what might happen in a similar novel.
This season seems to accompany a current onslaught of similar “Eat the Rich” narratives in television and film — think “The Glass Onion” and “The Menu.” Unfortunately, this is perhaps the fourth season’s weakest link, its satire of rich people feeling a little too familiar, particularly for a show that derives its strength from such a morally questionable protagonist. Even though a second half of season four still remains, it is unclear to what extent Joe’s character will be redeemed. In pitting Joe against an ensemble of rich London socialites, he invariably — and perhaps too easily — assumes a role of a confused working-class hero. This would be nuanced, not confused, if the jump from questionable to heroic wasn’t laid out so simply.
The ensemble cast, larger than previous seasons, aren’t up for challenging roles. They’re expected to be insufferable and spoiled, and even if predictable, they play nicely off of Joe’s intellect. Unlike previous seasons with characters like Love (Victoria Pedretti) and Forty (James Scully), whose quirks and traits were vital to the progression of the narrative, this season’s characters don’t feel like they’re written to be memorable. In classic murder mystery fashion, they feel expendable — save for Rhys Montrose (Ed Speelers), a politician with humble beginnings and a promising future that Joe quickly falls into friendship with.
Despite the familiarity of the show’s exploration of social class inequality, “You” still proves to be compelling entertainment. Joe’s monologue has never a dull moment and the narrative shift, while stiff at certain moments, finds ways to be refreshing. The format has changed, and now, the show seems to be gearing up to end Joe’s journey — in a far more dignified way than it began.