'You' reaches twisted new heights in Season 3

Technology 15-10-2021 Mashable 44

If you're going to make a show full of nonstop stress, you might as well make it entertaining.

Netflix's You has always known how to dole out its tense stalker-murderer drama with just the right amount of jaw-dropping turns and grim humor, and Season 3 ratchets up the stakes with not one but two culprits.

We last saw Joe (Penn Badgley) and Love (Victoria Pedretti) as they entered into a nuptial prison of mutually assured destruction — two murderers with murdery pasts who stayed together because they think it's what they deserve, and because they want to do better for their child. Baby Henry is an adorably blubbering bundle of joy and Joe couldn't be more scared of him — he's terrified that the baby can sense his moral decrepitude and that it makes him unfit to parent. That fear serves as the season's mission statement: "Can you be a good father if you're a bad man?"

Unsurprisingly, the Quinn-Goldbergs don't easily curb their wayward ways. Joe continues to be drawn to the ethereal blonde neighbor (Michaela McManus), but this time he has Love's rage to contend with if she senses so much as a whiff of infidelity. It will shock no one that the body count rises in Season 3; after a few episodes of Joe and Love repeating variations of "We're doing this for our family," it's clear that these two will warp any situation to fit their new directive.

DO NOT EAT THE BABY
DO NOT EAT THE BABY Credit: JOHN P. FLEENOR / NETFLIX

Badgley is as perversely excellent as ever, a treat in his growling narration and on-screen sheen of controlled mania. It's that mastery of this character that endeared him to viewers in Season 1 — a side effect he had to curb, assuring viewers that Joe is not a good guy. Joe is more self-aware than ever, but watching him not change is a bizarre comfort. Because Joe is the show's constant and narrator, he's still miles more fleshed out than anyone else, but watching him and Love play off each other is a twisted treat. Pedretti fine tunes Love's machinations, panic, and rage, which range anywhere from the smallest look to full-blown outbursts. Each episode has one if not both spouses doing increasingly awful things, revealing layer upon layer of fuckery in this partnership.

Most of the secondary characters come off as two-dimensional at best, not least because Joe and Love consider themselves above social media, fashionable diets and whatever else interests the residents of Madre Linda. Shalita Grant makes an absolute meal of her role as neighbor Sherry, a de facto source of humor (annoyance, if you ask Joe and Love) with more depth than meets the eye. Tati Gabrielle also joins as a librarian who doubts Joe's intentions, but softens when she learns that he didn't come from the same privilege as those around him.

Again, neither of them or the rest of the characters are particularly well-written, but we are not here for verisimilitude, we are here for the aforementioned fuckery. You is about the journey, and very much not about the friends you make along the way — there are passing references to Candace and Will and others from previous seasons, but the show wastes no time contextualizing them, nor does it need to.

Maybe we don't take the crying baby to the library?
Maybe we don't take the crying baby to the library? Credit: JOHN P. FLEENOR / NETFLIX

Which brings us back to Joe, and how the writing behind his character will still deftly hook viewers who choose to sit with it. At the top of the season, Joe pins all his hope on his unborn daughter, only to experience a crisis of confidence when he learns his child was assigned male, not female, at birth. Suddenly his expectations are in free fall, his tortured relationship with his own masculinity laid bare. In one episode he goes on a camping trip with "the guys," wondering of their leader: "How coddled as his life to make him feel safe among men?" Joe never felt accepted or understood by his cishet brethren, yet it is ultimately violence that ingratiates him to them.

The good, the bad, and the Joe of it all is that You is still You in its third season. I wish this show had more to say about gender dynamics, particularly the politics of Joe and Love's instability and how they call each other out on it. I wish it had more to say about race, even as subtext — especially as subtext, since a ham-fisted episode 3 explanation of "Missing White Woman Syndrome" and why it's problematic reads more like a sound bite from my Women's Studies lecture than a believable conversation between the characters having it.

But again, You is gonna You, and it Yous spectacularly. Come for the glass box, stay to find out who goes in it, and watch it all go down in flames because you don't dare to look away.

You Season 3 is now streaming on Netflix.


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