Trigger warning: This article contains discussions of suicide and suicidal ideation.
This article contains spoilers for Netflix’s YOU Season 4 (Part 2).
by Meg Kordik
For once, I think my love for analyzing television has come back to bite me. Often, on YouTube, the platform recommends videos for me to watch that review and discuss television shows. After watching YOU Season 4 (Part 1), one YouTube video in particular, “Why Rhys is in Joe’s Imagination in YOU Season 4,” made me so skeptical I just had to click. After reading the headline, I couldn’t believe it, but after watching the 8-and-a-half-minute explanation, I was convinced. Rhys, the perceived villain of the season, is merely a hallucination in Joe’s head due to mental illness.
And so naturally, when Netflix released Part 2 on March 9th, I had to continue watching to see if the theory was correct. Sure enough, it was, and I had a potentially huge plot twist spoiled for me. For this reason, my personal viewing experience was slightly skewed.
Even with the big reveal in mind, one thing I did NOT see coming was the fact that Marienne was trapped in the cage almost the entire season! So nevertheless, I was still surprised and still on the edge of my seat while watching this season. Marienne’s escape itself contained 2 or 3 plot twists! Just when I thought I knew what was going to happen, YOU Season 4 turned the tables on me. That’s the thing I loved the most about this season.
One of my favorite twists about this season was the beginning of Episode 8, “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been.” In the first few scenes, we get to witness Joe’s blackouts through the eyes of Marienne. This is important because since the show’s inception, audiences have been forced to follow Joe’s narrative (as I discussed in my review of Season 4-Part 1). Being inside Joe’s head, audiences can subconsciously develop a sense of alliance with him, even as he commits crimes as awful as stalking and murder. By being able to witness the atrocities that Joe commits through the perspective of one of his victims, Joe’s likability that has been building for almost 4 seasons quickly fades. By removing Joe’s narration, we’re FINALLY able to see him for what he really is: a monster.
I also want to commend Penn Badgely’s acting performance in these few scenes as well, because he’s seamlessly able to execute a Jekyll-and-Hyde-type persona that audiences have never seen from him. He comes across as cold, emotionless, and almost robotic. His performance sent chills down my spine when he said lines like, “Joe’s not here. I’m just keeping you here until he finally comes back – to kill you.” This is another side of Joe that we’ve never seen before and really stood out to me in this season.
Another aspect of YOU Season 4 that I wanted to highlight was its depiction of suicidal ideation. Toward the end of the season, Joe decides that the only way to stop the cycle of violence is for him to end his own life. At the top of a bridge, Joe and “Rhys” argue about whether or not he should go through with it. By separating these two “sides” of Joe’s psyche into two different characters, the audience can physically see the war that’s waging inside of Joe’s head.
I was very impressed with how they told such a touchy story because anyone who struggles with mental illness can describe it as a “battle.” At the end of the day, that’s exactly what this scene was.
They yell, bargain, and even confess their love and companionship for one another in a last-ditch effort to rewrite the narrative. It’s an eye-opening perspective into the mind of a person who struggles with suicidal ideation who isn’t sure which thoughts to believe anymore. I don’t think this moment in the show would have had nearly as much impact if it was just Joe’s voiceover narration of him thinking to himself, which is the avenue through which we typically receive information in YOU.
It sounds awful to say, but I was kind of hoping that the writers would kill off Joe at the end of this season. Thinking that Season 4 was the series finale, it felt like it would give the show’s ending the same satisfaction that Breaking Bad did for me. But of course…Netflix isn’t done just yet. In fact, Netflix announced that YOU will return in 2024 for a fifth and final season.
Overall, I was very impressed with the twists and turns provided in this series. I hope that in season 5, we continue with this newfound perspective that Joe is inherently evil and unlikable. I also hope that strong female characters from previous seasons come back to “defeat” Joe once and for all – characters like Ellie from Season 2 (Jenna Ortega), Marienne from seasons 3-4 (Tati Gabrielle), and Nadia from season 4 (Amy-Leigh Hickman). These three woman, if they band together, can possibly give audiences a new protagonist to root for.