One of the most complicated aspects of Netflix’s You as a show is that its ostensible protagonist is, at its core, a deeply troubled murderer — who we still want to see get away with his crimes. Sure, Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley) does some screwed up stuff, but you can tell that he means well. So as we watch him try to figure out a new situation, whether it be the pretentious literary world of New York in season one or the far more crunchy environment of Los Angeles in season two, one factor remains consistent: Our hope that he can get better.
Season 2, however, offered up a dark twist on this idea by not ending with Joe getting a chance at true salvation — instead, Joe meets his match. The most dramatic twist of the season finale was the reveal that Love (Victoria Pedretti), the woman who had been captivating Joe’s imagination to its established murderous conclusions, was just as messed up as he was. Love’s issues represent a different kind of dysfunction, to be sure. But her own past as a person who, from time to time, found murder to be a logical and necessary solution to her problems gives them a whole new level of compatibility.
Complicating things is Forty (James Scully), Love’s beloved but unstable twin brother, whose determination to figure out what’s going on with Joe leads to the finale’s climax, and a tragic but also tidy solution to Joe’s problems. Too tidy? Perhaps, but You was already on the path towards helping Joe escape from his problems, thanks to Love’s sharp blade taking out both Candace and Delilah.
In fact, Joe remains remarkably passive in the finale, largely because Love has a powerful bit of leverage on her side. The reveal that she’s pregnant isn’t the biggest surprise (if only because a dramatic pregnancy announcement is Soap Opera 101 plotting) but Joe’s reaction makes it interesting. Getting the opportunity to be a better father than he ever knew growing up seems to genuinely appeal to him — at least enough to take moving forward with Love seriously.
This is a decision he comes to before Forty confronts him and Love with a gun at Anavrin, and while he tries to convince Forty that Love’s pregnancy will give him a chance at redemption, Forty still points the gun directly at Joe’s head — which leads to Forty’s death-by-cop.
With the death of Forty, Joe observes in the voice-over, Love now needs Joe more than ever before, and the two of them have also now created the new family she told him she wanted to make — which is also the very thing he personally has been craving his whole life. “Sometimes, a man gets what he’s always wanted,” he says, “and sometimes that can be the perfect punishment.” And Joe does feel he deserves to be punished; it’s hard to think of him as a pure sociopath, because he does carry with him so much guilt and empathy for the things he’s done and the people he’s hurt. (To some degree.)
As Joe reveals, Love and Forty’s parents make sure that Forty is never fully investigated for the murder of Hendy (Chris D’Elia) The biggest loose end of the finale (one perfectly poised to return in future seasons) is the fate of Ellie, living on her own with help from Joe’s money to avoid Child Protective Services. Ellie seems capable of taking care of herself, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that her future silence is guaranteed.
Ultimately, the most important thing learned from the season two finale of You is this: Joe will always be going places, but in many ways, things will never change for him. And the darkest moment of the season definitely comes in its final moments, when Joe finds himself in the wilds of suburbia, theoretically tamed by his pregnant soulmate and her powerful family. Joe might think of his new life as a cage. But Joe is good at escaping cages, and he’s also unable to resist peeking through the fence to the lawn next door…
…where she is. And by “she,” the show means, of course, the next titular “You.” The show’s construction has always been based around, basically, TV’s most twisted love letters, with Joe’s second-person narration meant specifically his ideal woman… whoever it might be at that point.
Of course, a major complication facing Joe in season three would be the fact that Love can be just as ruthless as he is, and the two of them turning from allies into enemies is a recipe for violent disaster. It’s also notable that while we never see the face of the woman Joe spies on next door, the camera does make a point to catch a glimpse of her wedding ring, only adding to the potential for drama.
Badgley and You executive producer Sera Gamble told me in a recent interview that while at the end of the season Joe and Love may not be, geographically, far away from Los Angeles, if Netflix greenlights a third season, it will still feel like it’s set in a different location. “It ends in the suburbs, so it’s not quite the same,” Badgley said.
Added Gamble, “We would move the lens for a Season 3, because one of the things that we like about this show is that Joe dives into a different fishbowl every season… Culturally, he’s going somewhere totally different. And his problems are totally different in Season 3.”
After all, Joe can’t ever resist the temptation of a new “you.” “Certain things are evergreen,” Gamble said.
And that’s what leads to the season’s final moments, and one of the show’s most chilling reveals. All season, Joe has been in search of something resembling acceptance and peace — and he actually might find it by the end. However, while Joe gets what he’s been looking for all this time, it’s not enough. It never will be. Not so long as there’s the possibility of a “her,” or to be specific, a “you.”