that of Netflix you originally intended to prove that romance fans are programmed to root for the guy to get the girl no matter what – even if he’s a serial killer who breaks into women’s apartments and locks people in his basement cage. The show, based on the series of novels by Caroline Kepnes, set out to demonstrate and deconstruct the eerie, extraordinary appeal of romantic tropes. As long as the hero initiates a meet-cute, throws pebbles at windows, and runs in the rain, we’re practically determined to root for him.
For example, in the first episode of Season 1, bookstore manager Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley) stalks aspiring writer Guinevere Beck (Elizabeth Lail) all over New York, so when she falls onto the subway rails while drunk, he’s unsurprisingly close. . In the nick of time, he pulls Beck out of the train’s path and she falls onto his chest. The sound of the passing train gives way to a swell of orchestral strings, wind tunnels through their hair, and they lose themselves in each other’s eyes. But for Beck, the subway rescue is the beginning of the end. Joe becomes more and more obsessive until he kills her in the Season 1 finale.
you skeptics have long expressed concern that the show romanticizes Joe – the hero it means to criticize. Such allegations are motivated by fears that Joe could inspire real life copycat stalkers and abusers, or that he could become a romantic model for impressionable fans. These charges of you resemble the allegations — including one from Badgley himself — that Netflix’s true-crime portrayals tend to sentimentalize killers like Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Bundy. In the shadow of increasing criticism, each new season of you has become less romantic and pink than the last one, suggesting the showrunners have taken these criticisms to heart.
But season 4 goes 10 steps further. It makes a clear break from the romantic genre, reluctantly turning itself into a whodunit with Joe taking on a new role: victim. A fugitive from justice after killing his wife Love (Victoria Pedretti) and faking his own death, Joe has also gained a new name by taking a job as an English university professor. In short order, he finds himself circulating among the Oxonian elite, including heiress Kate Galvin (Charlotte Ritchie), who a seemingly reformed Joe tries very hard not to make his latest obsession. But as he does, a mysterious figure called the “Eat the Rich Killer” begins to fixate on Joe, who kills Kate’s wealthy influencer friends and frames him for the deeds.
This season is also one long and possibly baseless apology. It’s a parade of repeats and second chances. When Kate trips and tumbles onto Joe’s chest, he mutters, “As for women falling for me, this was pretty gentle,” reminding forgetful viewers that this isn’t the first time we’ve seen a woman lose her footing around him. . This time, however, no wind tunnels, no orchestra. When Kate looks down on Joe, it’s really just to tell him that she’s not interested in romance under any circumstances.
Season 4 Joe still occasionally slips into the rescuer role, but now his rescues are relatively cold and utilitarian. In the first episode, Joe intervenes in a robbery and saves Kate’s life. But unlike when he chased Beck to the subway, this time Joe really just happens to be in the right place at the right time – and when Joe later follows Kate, he does so openly and, ostensibly, to protect her from the Eat the Rich killer. This rescue is a far cry from Joe’s brave, romantic subway performance. Instead of fighting off Kate’s attackers, he honks a horn to drive the robbers away from a distance. No music plays as Joe moves to give Kate a reassuring pat on the back, and before he can touch her, she backs away and shudders.
Kate often follows in Beck’s footsteps, but eventually (or at least halfway through, since Netflix released half of the season’s episodes before a month-long hiatus), Kate is allowed to go free. In the series finale, Kate asks Joe out. He rebuffs her with a simple, uncharacteristic explanation: “I don’t want to hurt you.” As he closes the door, he laments, “In another life I’d run after her.” The viewer may remember a younger Joe running after Beck through the streets of New York and thinking to himself, “This is it.” This is that moment in the movie where I run through the rain to get you back. However, with Kate, Joe stops himself and finishes thinking, “But I can’t.”
Marienne, Joe’s Season 3 obsession, shares Kate’s happiness. In the first episode, she is cornered by him in an abandoned building in Paris, where she fled after Love tipped her off about Joe’s true colors. She begs him to understand that she can never love him because “You are a murderer.” At the end of Season 1, Beck, stuck alone with Joe, told him the exact same thing. But things are apparently different now. Joe lets Marienne run away.
We’ve seen Joe direct his letter thoughts to a “you” before. This isn’t the first time an apron-clad Joe has disposed of a body in his kitchen. Nor is it the first time Joe has seen a “sexually frustrated” woman masturbating through her window and then breaking into her apartment. Roald’s secret, creepy photos of Kate – the beloved collection of a friend who longs to be something more – are again Peach’s photos of Beck. It’s not the first time Joe has fled a burning building. This isn’t even Joe’s first stalker.
But this time, the “you” on Joe’s mind isn’t a woman he’s obsessed with. The body in the kitchen is not Joe’s wife. He doesn’t kill the woman in the window. He doesn’t even kill Roald, although he is explicitly invited to do so. He’s not lighting the fire to cover up his uxoricide. And his stalker isn’t a stereotype of a crazy ex-girlfriend.
This final season might not be entirely squeaky clean: looking at women’s windows is still Joe’s favorite pastime, and we still have to sympathize with him – chuckling at his sardonic inner monologue, smiling at his heartfelt devotion to his students, and nodding along as he condemns Kate’s frothy, privileged friends. But the show has gone to great lengths to cut most of the romanticized gender violence from the script. It feels like, in Joe’s own words, a “new path,” an “opportunity to make better choices.” Joe now especially craves ‘redemption’. And it’s not just Joe. Season 4 is on you‘s resit. you works hard to redeem himself.
But you really need redemption?
Well sooner you, we knew that the romantic genre had a penchant for romanticized gender violence. Not long ago, Dusk And Fifty Shades of grey topping the bestseller lists, and a few decades before that was the rise of bodice rippers and the rise of the soap opera supercouple.
But you gave us a much longer, more accurate measuring stick to map out the problem. A typical romantic hero is often rude to the woman he loves, but he never, ever kills her.
When Joe killed Beck, his behavior was wild and undeniably off-limits. The show shows us romantic tropes — which so often feel frivolous, flimsy, and hackneyed — for what they really are: machines of enormous clout. Even though I know what eventually happens, I still get goosebumps when Joe saves Beck from the rails, when he runs through the streets of New York calling for her.
you forced me to ask some tough questions about my relationship to the romantic genre.
And while not all viewers were pushed to the same point of inquiry, I remain grateful for the questions it posed. That dozens of viewers were and are able to love Joe in the wake of Beck’s death – not to mention the deaths of Love, Candace, Benji, Peach, Ron, Jasper, Henderson, Natalie, Gil, Ryan and Elijah – tells us something we needed to know: romance fans are willing to love heroes much bolder than we’d realized until now. Romantic tropes are even more powerful than we knew.
Even if you and if Joe were ever able to completely reform and redeem himself, I worry about the message that might send. For all those loyal, uncritical viewers who have persisted in their love for Joe for seasons, it might confirm that they were all right about him. by.