Section: Arts

You’s third season highlights two murderous protagonists

There’s something captivating about watching toxic people do toxic things. Especially when those people are a newlywed couple trying to adjust to domestic life, raise a child and fight their urges to impulsively kill everyone that stands in their way. 

Netflix’s thriller romance show, You, released a third season last week. The show has already reached number one on the platform’s Top 10 in the U.S. Today, quickly dethroning Squid Game, which previously held the top spot.

The series, based loosely on Caroline Kepnes’ book You, follows the story of Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley), a charming, obsessive young man who takes extreme — and often deadly — measures to insert himself into the lives of his love interests. 

Season three of You takes the audience into the suburbs of Madre Linda, an affluent Californian town full of young families, bloggers and tech entrepreneurs. Despite this drastically new setting, Joe hasn’t changed at all. While he’s now husband to Love Quinn (Victoria Pedretti) and father to their newborn son Henry, he’s hardly living the average life of a suburban dad. 

Joe and Love, having recently learned that they share obsessive and violent tendencies, hope for a fresh start in Madre Linda in order to focus on raising their son. Unsurprisingly, parenthood does not redeem the couple. 

Despite heightened consequences for his actions, Joe quickly falls back into his old patterns of obsession as he takes interest in the woman next door. But this time around, it is Love who falls into the more obsessive role, killing anyone who gets in the way of her dream of a perfect family. Their marriage quickly turns toxic as they desperately try to control each other’s compulsions. 

Watching each episode is like watching a car crash — no matter how ugly their marriage gets, the audience can’t turn away. After the first episode, the body count begins adding up and it becomes clear that either Joe or Love will end up dead by the end of the season. It’s no longer a question of what will happen, but of who will be killed and how. 

As the season progresses, Joe diverges from the calculated, controlled character that fans reluctantly grew to love in previous seasons. As the narrator of the series, he paints himself as the victim — not only of Love’s manipulation, but of childhood neglect and abuse. Through frequent flashbacks, the audience can finally understand and sympathize with Joe. 

However, other than seeming a bit more human, Joe’s character remains relatively static. The show does an exceptional job of creating new places and situations, but lacks protagonist development. No matter where the show places him, Joe still falls into the same dangerous cycles and uses the same flawed judgement. 

Love, conversely, provides more compelling character development. Joe paints her to be a hysterical and impulsive murderer, but when the show takes time to focus on her, the audience is able to see the immense pressure she faces as a young mother trying desperately to fit into suburbia.

Since its release, You has sparked many conversations on television’s tendency to glamorize abusive relationships. The show’s audience often swoons over Joe —  a straight, white male — and romanticizes his stalking rather than holding him accountable for his actions. With Love in the picture, season three shows just how willing audiences are to forgive male characters while  judging female ones. 

At the same time, though, this season provides a sliver of hope as Love finally realizes she deserves better. The bonds she forms with many of the female characters, even those whom she has been pitted against, carry meaning and relatability. These relationships are a refreshing break from Joe’s narcissistic narrations and weaponization.

Ultimately, You remains a compelling and binge-worthy show that explores the lengths people will go to when they are obsessed with others. Despite Joe’s lack of development, season three succeeds at reflecting on the struggles of escaping one’s compulsions and the inevitable consequences of trying to cover up, rather than own up to, one’s mistakes. 


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