Spoilers for You Season 2 below
You, the Netflix Original series is a thriller masquerading as a romance and it has been since it debuted last year. Told from the perspective of Joe (Penn Badgley), an obsessive stalker who manipulates the women in his life who are unfortunate enough to find themselves his focus of fantasy, I couldn’t get through the first episode on my first watch. You puts the viewer in a space where we’re asked to gain sympathy for the stalker, the abuser, and ultimately the killer. That said, when I detached the part of me who has been through interpersonal violence I headed back and couldn’t stop watching.
A new premise, You used camera tricks and narrative building prominent in horror and accentuated them to the point of crafting a story that uses Joe’s narration to walk through both the love and horror that he brings. Just when you think you could fall for Joe, you’re reminded that you absolutely shouldn’t. At the end of season one, Joe has a body count, including the woman he “loved” and has seemingly gotten away with it all. Well, until the last moment of season one where Candance (Ambyr Childers), the long thought dead girlfriend shows up in Joe’s bookstore.
Picking up where season one left off, You season 2 has just as many twists, if not more so, as we see Joe fleeing from his past. While the past is Candance and not the guilt of killing Beck, the result is the same, a fish out of water Joe living in a new city under a new name, and of course, a new love named, well, Love (Victoria Pedretti). Now, in Los Angeles, Joe is Will and Will is working at a health foods store that doubles as a cafe with a semblance of a book shop. As Joe attempts to forge a new life with the love of his dreams, he seems that he may have actively turned away from his past and his obsession. But, when the descent starts, it’s rapid, but this time You is more focussed on Joe keeping his life together than stalking.
You excels in Joe’s inner monologues that narrate the scenes we see in front of him. Dialogue heavy, the entire show feels like a novel. This is where it excels and has since the first season. Hearing Joe talk through his emotions, his obsession, and his hate for this new city offers up a space of detachment that’s critical to not root for him, even when you want to. You season 2 uses this dialogue to map out Los Angeles as a city completely different than New York, more plastic and more privileged, the showrunners lean into the city’s stereotypes.
That being said, it takes a note from one of my favorite authors Francesca Lia Block who gets a footnote in one of the early episodes as Love and Joe discuss Los Angeles authors. If you’re unfamiliar with Block’s work, she writes about Los Angeles in a magical way, one that looks to lift the veil of the city made from tropes to reveal more. That is what happens in You season 2. Lifting the facade reveals insecurities, shame, and the way anyone can come to the city to start a new life, for better or for worse. Now, the way the season leans into stereotypes about the city comes off as heavy-handed, specifically as Joe ridicules the queer and people of color in Love’s friend group. Then, around halfway through the season, Joe becomes a believer in Los Angeles because we’re shown how the city moves around him, and how the people he encounters move within it.
The Los Angeles that the showrunners give us is one that is superficial, with privileged white families basking in culturally appropriated practices. But the Los Angeles of You season 2 is one that dissects those who to Los Angeles as dreamers, and how the city both gives them opportunities and preys on them. Much like in season one, Joe’s savior complex kicks into high gear when his next-door neighbors reveal the plotline plucked straight from the headlines, which references them as well. It becomes Joe’s mission to save them, to bring justice to an evil man preying on underage women and his stalker identity takes the backseat for the bulk of the series which helps the audience see who he is when not being the guy that terrifies you from using Tinder.
While this plotline works, it raises a question for me as a critic of color and more specifically a Latina. As I mentioned before, the people of color in the show largely play as stage dressings, they’re objects for Joe to make fun of or protect. That being said, I usually don’t fault shows or films too much since the leads are in fact, Joe and Love. That being said, the bad things that happen, the violence Joe brings, comes for the Latina characters, breaking their family apart while. While the show is more diverse than last season, the diversity feels more like checking boxes than actually being thoughtful.
That being said, there is one section of the series that blows past last season, Love. I don’t really know where to begin with Love. She’s open, she’s performative, she shirks her privileged life while being weighed down by her addict of a brother who abuses all the Hollywood vices. She’s complicated and she pushes Joe on almost everything. She’s active in their relationship and meets every attempt of Joe trying to consume her life in equal force. While I can’t get too much into plot details given the turns the narrative takes in You season 2, there is one light spoiler that I need to talk about. Love is equally as crafty and psychotic as Joe. She flips the script on him and this makes the last third of You season 2 extremely strong.
Loving, manipulative, perfectly well-adjusted, Love’s love is the same as Joe’s which leads them into a duel of sorts. This is not only well done, but much needed to keep the series feeling fresh. While you start to get the feeling that something is off with her and their relationship around the halfway point, the decision to write Love as an equal force to Joe is well done. Upon a second viewing, her actions scream Joe, even without Love’s narration.
Ultimately, You season 2 complicates things in the best way. Joe doesn’t get to win, at least, not in the way he did in the first season. Love is a realized character who develops slowly but offers a different perspective on Joe’s actions. Additionally, this storyline was exactly what the series needed to not feel repetitive. Honestly, with so many surprises and plot points, there is a lot to unpack and experience in You season 2 and almost all of it made me lean into the screen, captured by the storytelling. You feels like a new show and with an ending that leaves open a path for season three, I’m eagerly waiting for renewal news.
You is streaming exclusively on Netflix.
You, Season 2
You feels like a new show and with an ending that leaves open a path for season three, I’m eagerly waiting for renewal news.