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You evolves its antihero, but slows down the pace in season 2

Joelle Monique Dec 18, 2019. 9 comments
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You became a surprise hit when its first season got a second life on Netflix. The show used toxic tropes from the romance genre and obscure French folk tales to challenge established ideals of love in Western culture, following bookstore manager Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley), as he stalked, gaslit, and eventually murdered aspiring writer Guinevere Beck (Elizabeth Lail). After moving to streaming full-time, You’s second season sets up a similar departure for its antihero, as Joe flees New York and the spirit of his dead girlfriend for the obnoxiously sunny hills of Los Angeles.

At first, Joe tells the audience—via his pompous voice-over/love letter/journal—that he’s going cold turkey on falling in love. But obsessions can’t be forgotten by wishing them away. In order to get a new identity on a tight budget, Joe abducts Will (Robin Lord Taylor), a dark web document forger. He buys a second-story apartment in a cute little bungalow, finds work at a bookstore, and seems to be handling his impulses well—despite occasionally seeing an apparition of Guinevere. But at the end of the premiere, his lying ways resurface, and it’s revealed that he’s fallen hard for Love Quinn (Victoria Pedretti).

Showrunner Sera Gamble turns her pen to the culture of Los Angeles in a biting, satirical look at everyone who’s ever begrudgingly moved to L.A. only to be won over by their new home. On an early date, Love takes Joe all over the city in a single night to locate a the perfect taco. In the season’s seventh and best episode, “Farewell, My Bunny,” Joe learns of the seven totems that, once seen, mean a transplant can’t leave L.A.. These include a dog in a stroller, a police helicopter, a palm tree on fire, two starlets in the same dress at the same event, a superhero (out of context—not in front of Grauman’s, that’s too easy), a rollerblader in booty shorts, and a pack of coyotes. As Joe gets closer to being locked into the land of 2 p.m. parties and laissez-faire bookshop owners, his nerves fray.

The new episodes depict Los Angeles as the home of the sociopath, and that provides a lot of new and interesting relationships for Joe. Will genuinely wants to befriend Joe. (Taylor shines in the role.) He can see the moments of good in the man, and such genuine respect challenges Joe to reflect on his actions. Love’s trio of friends played by Charlie Barnett, Melanie Field, and Marielle Scott is a quirky and infrequent Greek chorus. Barnett, Field, and Scott have all done stellar work over the past two years in other supporting performances, and here their scenes together offer You a reprieve from the rampant toxicity and murder.

There’s also another potentially broken child for Joe to look after: Ellie (Jenna Ortega), who lives in Joe’s apartment complex and functions as a living Lolita fact check. Brilliantly written and wonderfully played by Jane The Virgin alum Ortega, Ellie showcases the way teens challenge parental and conventional lines while being naïve about the authentic danger on the other side. She brings comedy, intelligence, and a sense of constant peril—only once does she need Joe’s help. It’s nice to see an authentic teenager in a show desperately trying to warn young women about the lies they’ve been taught to desire.

Part of the joy of watching season one relied on the suspense of whether Guinevere could see through Joe’s lies, and whether or not Joe could outsmart everyone in their lives. That wouldn’t be as interesting to watch the second time around, so instead season two delves further into Joe’s psyche. He’s obsessed with a woman named Love—the character is as a symbol, instead of a person. Every time Joe gets mildly upset, she becomes what soothes him. Of course, Gamble doesn’t let her stay that way—but we won’t ruin the turn here.

How can Joe see himself as a good man after murdering three people and sending an innocent man to prison? Visual clues like masks and reflections periodically pop up on the “bad people” with whom Joe interacts. A jolly mobster quickly cuts off Will’s finger, but he has ice on hand and promises to return the digit when he gets his money. He’s able to rationalize his violence in the same way that Joe does. These interactions become a watered-down form of therapy for troubled Joe Goldberg. Eventually, it’s revealed that Joe’s repeating multiple traumas over and over.

It’s too easy to call a show about a toxic man preying on women a reaction to the #MeToo movement. Perhaps the #MeToo era has made such stories trendier—but these stories have always been there. Gamble, executive producer Greg Berlanti, and their team do more than the surface work of acknowledging these atrocious events: The writers dive deep into the interior lives of three survivors of sexual assault, each a part of the spectrum that is the journey of healing. The successes, the triggers, the surprises, the joys, the pain, and the way relationships change are all depicted in these 10 episodes. The effect of bringing in the survivors is twofold: First, it prevents Joe from romanticizing his stalking—a frequent critique of season one. Second, the effects of sexual assault and emotional abuse cling to each frame, which makes Joe look much more monstrous. Those who don’t enjoy watching terrible people may struggle to get through season two.

The second season moves much slower than its predecessor, and the mystery of will-they/won’t-they takes a backseat to vital character development. That being said, the performances are fun, the skewering of Los Angeles should put folks from multiple districts in stitches, plus the soundtrack bangs. The ending isn’t as explosive as last year’s, but it sets up the possibility of a wild third season. Its tongue-in-cheek visuals and subtle references demand a binge-watch; there’s an adult man named Forty, twins, an insane acid trip, a really cool female journalist, and a Nancy Meyers-inspired kitchen! Grab a bottle and unwind alongside Joe’s sanity.

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