It would be easy to say that Joe Goldberg has changed by the time “You” Season 3 starts. When last the show left him, he was on the verge of being both a husband and a father, reeling from the reveal that Love Quinn, the object of his affection (and manipulation), is almost as homicidally prolific as he is.
When Season 3 opens on the fledgling family, transplanted from LA to the fictional Bay Area suburb of Madre Linda, Joe (Penn Badgley) sees his new surroundings as a threat. He feels inadequate at his new parental responsibilities and still can’t shake the fact that Love wasn’t the romantic cure-all he had fashioned in his mind. Before long, Love (Victoria Pedretti) is sharing in the life-upheaval misery. Both of them have been chasing a warped, idealized conception of partnership; now that the two have each gotten as close to it as they’ll get, they despise the way it hasn’t lived up to expectations.
Of course, this is “Scenes from a Marriage” with a preexisting body count, and it doesn’t take much for the uneasy pact Joe and Love have made to be tested by their new neighborhood. For Joe, it’s as easy as looking over the fence into the yard of their neighbors, where Natalie (Michaela McManus) becomes the newest target of his wandering eyes.
Treading any further into how Joe and Love’s tenuous bond gets tested would be to tip the hand of the characteristic litany of ill-informed decisions and dangerously tight squeezes that have become a “You” hallmark. It’s a cycle of trial, solution, and uneasy reconciliation, built on the violence-as-relationship-metaphor foundation that the show has had since its pre-Netflix days.
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In many ways, Joe hasn’t changed at all. He still goes on the occasional stalker stakeout, clad in his trademark logo-free ballcap, only this time with a baby in the carseat behind him. Badgley’s narration continues to be both a hook and a strength for the show, whether Joe is luxuriating in fantasy hypotheticals or dropping in one-word reactions when plans start to go off the rails.
But the show around Joe certainly has shifted. The wild plot swings are still there (needless to say that Madre Linda does not stay cozy and quiet for long), but they’re coupled with a better understanding of what is driving the central couple. There are more flashbacks this season, meant just as much to help Joe reckon with what’s driving his predatory behavior as the audience. And Love is more than just Joe’s spouse: She’s the first person in the “You” run who knows his secret and hasn’t spent time in the basement plexiglass cage as a result. When the Quinn-Goldberg’s path of mutually assured destruction isn’t one step away from going nuclear, their suburban detente gives “You” the first real chance at showing a relationship anywhere close to even footing.
Joe professes to despise his time in Madre Linda, transferring that ill will to Love, the woman on whom he blames his problems. Love, in turn, tries to rationalize each new misstep as a means for preserving her young family, a trio she also sees as a twisted form of redemption. “You” doesn’t put them at equal fault (the show is more than willing to present many ways that Joe crosses moral lines without killing someone), yet it does follow through on how the toxic pursuit of Season 2 gives way to a toxic co-dependency here.
As for the rest of Madre Linda, “You” introduces the other residents in the same heightened way that the show poked at New York entitlement and LA clout-hungry hipsterdom. Wellness, true crime, and some more timely social trends all get wrapped up in the scenes away from the house, as the other people in this new web gradually move from cartoonish to something more tangible. Local momfluencer Sherry (Shalita Grant), Natalie’s tech entrepreneur husband Matthew (Scott Speedman), head librarian Marienne (Tati Gabrielle), and Natalie’s college stepson Theo (Dylan Arnold) all start to have their own gravitational pull, which the show eagerly uses to help complicate Joe’s drive to be in control of his own story.
John P. Fleenor/Netflix
Still, Joe is constantly rewriting that book, and in that way, “You” is as it’s always been. There are multiple times this season when Badgley narrates some variation on “This isn’t me.” The show started out so aligned with Joe’s perspective that any mistake or error in judgment almost felt like the show doing the same. Now, with two seasons’ worth of extra knowledge, it’s clearer when Joe is kidding himself. With each new time that his inner monologue doesn’t match up with his actions, it’s easier to see (and hear) a man terrified by losing whatever anchors he has left. His delusions of righteousness and virtuousness butt up against his own fatal narcissism.
Even as “You” stays mostly in Joe’s head, Pedretti is just as good at presenting a woman who feels adrift herself. As her own idea of domestic bliss is curdling, the role she eases into is not the one she thought she was signing up for either. The more she senses her own grasp slipping from the family she’s already lost and the one that she has with her perceived soulmate, the more she’s tempted to weaponize her Happy Wife standing to keep hold on what she has left. In the same way that Badgley has had to wear different masks with the same face, Pedretti is eerily efficient at slipping between doting partner, schemer, simmering grudge-holder, and the killer we already know her to be. The show only works if Joe and Love can hide their true natures from the world with minimal to no effort. Badgley and Pedretti are perpetually up to the task.
As Season 3 continues, the weights of past, present, and future grow increasingly hard for Joe and Love to bear. There are only so many cracks the two can seal off before some consequences start to peek through. Some of what they face (both together and separately) seem inevitable. Some of what arrives later in the season feels like a product of the characters’ desperation, while other parts feel like desperate stabs from the show itself. Regardless of the conclusions it draws, “You” remains a fascinating look at just how hard it is to outwit and outrun your own nature.
“You” Season 3 is now available to stream on Netflix.