Joe Meets His Match in Second Season of Netflix Thriller 'You'

After a surprising first season that originally premiered on Lifetime, "You" is now a Netflix original that has truly found its stride

click to enlarge Victoria Pedretti (left) and Penn Badgley in Netflix's "You" - Beth Dubber/Netflix
Beth Dubber/Netflix
Victoria Pedretti (left) and Penn Badgley in Netflix's "You"
The internet’s favorite psycho-stalker boyfriend is back. The guy viewers knew as Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley) in last year’s debut season of You (now streaming on Netflix) is now Will Bettelheim. He’s relocated from New York City to Los Angeles, the least likely of homes for our jaded, bookish Joe/Will.

But that’s the point — to go where no one can find him, especially his ex Candace (Ambyr Childers), who showed up in the final moments of Season 1 after being presumed dead. Will sulks through La La Land a changed man — at least he hopes to be, trying to deny his stalker urges and be a normal, good person. Do you trust this Will?

He falls into another book-selling job, and for a refreshing Angeleno aptly named Love (Victoria Pedretti). And while Will may descend into similar problematic patterns of his past, Love is definitely different from his target last season, Beck (Elizabeth Lail). Joe kind of always despised Beck — their relationship embodied the phrase “hate-fuck.” He really had to dig to mold her into what he wanted her to be. (Which, don’t get me wrong, is all shades of messed up.) It’s all part of Joe’s obsession with control. And while there are certainly aspects of Love that are not ideal, she and Will seem to have a genuine connection completely different from Joe’s relationship with Beck.

But true love — if that’s really what it is — doesn’t prevent our problematic protagonist from getting wrapped up in dangerous situations that end with serious consequences and casualties. In some ways, Will’s a man on the mend; in others, he’s even more frightening than Joe.

After a surprising first season that originally premiered on Lifetime, You is now a Netflix original that has truly found its stride. Last season’s language censoring (hello Cable TV) really interrupted the dialogue and the incessant bleeping didn’t make much sense when consider the incredibly adult themes and scenes throughout.

The move to L.A. is a fun change of pace and an interesting foil for Joe/Will, who is predictably disgusted by all that is quintessentially California. Every cliché is represented, from the poor little rich boy addict and the western medicine-denying lesbian to the hypocritical, privilege-laden eco-millionaires.

Solid performances abound, including a surprising serious cameo by comedian bro Chris D’Elia. Badgley manages yet again to make viewers feel for and relate to — or at least be transfixed by — a despicable human (Dexter could never). Pedretti is a true breakout, Robin Lord Taylor (the real Will Bettelheim) is always a treat and Jenna Ortega, as Will’s new neighbor, is a promising young talent.

The writing, full of twists and reveals, is amped up this time around. If You was as dark as its most disturbing moments the whole time, it would be unbearable to watch. But comedy is woven in so expertly, it’s a Beverly Hills thrill. Even Joe would approve.

I do feel a pang of guilt enjoying such a problematic story and, admittedly and quite frankly, finding Joe/Will kind of… hot. His behavior represents so much of dangerous male culture. But as regrettably dreamy as he may appear, he’s definitely painted as a bad dude. We see him slip up even more this season, and if he continues on his path as a stalker and serial killer, it’s only a matter of time before he gets caught. His relationships at their best are a fantasy, a fraud, and at worst a death wish. It is titillating to watch it play out, but nothing desirable to experience.

You exposes how we so often believe men and vilify women. And in a certain sense, Joe/Will does get what he deserves. So if you want a happy ending for the guy, that says more about you than You.

Contact Jac Kern: @jackern

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