You Season 4 Part 1 Ups the Chaos with Shallow Breaths

Charlie von Peterffy ‘24 / Entertainment Monthly Staff Writer

You is a Netflix series about Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley), a hopeless romantic with an obsessive personality and a dark past that makes him think killing is justified in the name of love. In each season, Goldberg attempts a romantic relationship. In each attempt, he gets further and further into a committed relationship, and he eventually has to kill his partner and leave the city where he resides to start over somewhere else. In the fourth season, after killing his wife Love at the end of season three and abandoning his son, Henry, Goldberg takes on a new identity. He becomes Jonathan Moore, a U.S. literature professor at a prestigious university in London. With money from his former wife, he moves into an affluent neighborhood and quickly gets absorbed into a group of wealthy, young, spoiled, and spiteful individuals. After becoming acquainted, he gets framed for the murder of Malcolm Harding (Stephen Hagan), the husband of his potential love interest, Kate Galvin (Charlotte Ritchie). For the rest of the season, he must juggle living his new identity, solving a murder case, unraveling a framing, and finding new love––all before an unknown stalker can leak his true identity.

Lifetime-turned-Netflix’s thrilling puzzle box show has blossomed in its four seasons, thanks in large part to Badgley’s pins-and-needles inducing performance as Goldberg and concise writing that understands the meaning of saying more by saying less. While the series’ first three seasons have some flaws, the show has more or less aged well over time. Unfortunately, thus far, its most recent outing is proving less fruitful. With more plot than its predecessors, this series has a lot more ground to cover, but with no extra time. As a result, the first five episodes feel rushed from beginning to end. Because there is so much information to convey, the show spends more time presenting that information and does not focus enough on what makes the series tick:  fleshing out the show’s shining moments properly. Instead, those moments feel lost in the rest of the show’s rapid exposition, leading to predictable story beats that seem tedious. Most of the supporting cast are stereotypes and caricatures; locations and settings change in the blink of an eye, only to flee away in the same timespan; and everything is too fast to make sense of, leaving the audience more perplexed than engaged. If the plot was slightly less complex or more than 10 episodes were greenlit for the season, then most of the show’s issues could be adequately explored. As it stands, the show is far from derailing, but is starting to weather from age.

Though intriguing and sophisticated, the story is neither new for the show nor well-constructed. By flipping the mystery around on Goldberg and rendering him the victim of others’ heinous acts, Goldberg’s deadly capabilities are used primarily for good. It brings a drastically different tone, plot, and side of Goldberg that are refreshing for the show’s well-worn formula. Unfortunately, as mentioned earlier, the plot is overstuffed, forcing the show to move through everything rapidly. This structural overabundance decreases the story’s sophistication, as there is no time to flesh out the show’s shining moments properly. Instead, they feel lost in the rest of the show’s rapid exposition, leading to sourly predictable story beats that fail to raise the stakes. If the plot was slightly less complex, or if there were more episodes, then most of the show’s issues would at least be extenuated to a certain degree.

The cast is excellent, continuing the series’ tradition of bringing versatile, eye-catching performers to fill its prominent roles. Badgley is as devilish and disdainfully pathetic as ever. He easily fits Goldberg’s new identity as Moore, adapting to his new environment with realistic skepticism, fear, and apprehension. Newcomers like the previously mentioned stars Ritchie and Galvin, along with others like Ed Speleers (Rhys Montrose), Tilly Keeper (Phoebe Borehall-Blaxworth), and Ben Wiggins (Roald Walker-Burton), all enliven their characters effectively. There is no moment where these performers waver, regardless of how thin their roles might be.

At least some central characters have distinctive and layered arcs. The most intriguing dynamic in the show is between Goldberg and Galvin. Because their story is not about love, they build their relationship differently than Goldberg’s. He tries to protect her as a friend from his past being revealed and whoever is framing him for Galvin’s husband’s murder. His attachment to her is much more innocent and arguably noble, only to turn on its head when she makes moves on him instead. Their relationship is mysterious, making for some angsty tension and unique interactions. For the most part, however, the other characters are cartoonish. Acting as rich, snobby, ruthless aristocrats, the rest of the cast appear in two-dimensional one-liners and selfish actions. They have no motivation and little depth. The showrunners should have devoted more time to perfecting their presence because they seem more like easy writeups than thought-out additions.

The visuals are solid. As is expected, the show continues to color the screen with detailed set design and gory, shocking imagery. It gets quite a bit gorier than usual at points, which is shockingly exhilarating. Unfortunately, the cinematography is nothing special, sometimes even feeling a little unfinished. A few scenes throughout the season feel unbalanced, disrupting the show’s narrative and making it difficult to focus on anything within the shot. However, these moments are few and far between, with many more strongly shot scenes to make up for them.

Overall, the first part of You season four is another solid beginning to a hopefully satisfying adventure. While there are more missteps in writing, direction, and pacing than usual, the show is still far from buckling under the weight of its dense storytelling techniques. With the second part coming out March 9, it will become easier to tell whether this season is another good product or if it will fall on its face.

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