“Without obsession, life is nothing,” filmmaker John Waters once said. At the start of You season two, resident dangerous fanatic Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley) is trying to prove him wrong. After killing his girlfriend Beck (Elizabeth Lail), framing her therapist for murder, and being confronted by a reappeared Candace (Ambyr Childers) – his first girlfriend to disappear mysteriously – he’s moved to LA, assumed a new identity (Will Bettleheim), and turned over a new leaf. Or, at least, he’s trying to.
But either he isn’t trying very hard or his demons are just too powerful for him to restrain, as it isn’t long before Joe is back at his old ways, stalking and slashing, creeping and kidnapping, while the new woman unfortunate enough to have caught his eye falls for his oh-so-pretentious act of authenticity. Unluckily for Love Quinn (Victoria Pedretti), kitchen manager at organic grocery Anavrin, Joe has relocated to LA to start anew – a city that brings out his judgemental sneering as he encounters influencers, food fads, and conversations about “pitta imbalance”. Joe’s attitude is still that he’s just too good for these people, even when he’s committing acts of downright evil.
There are more similarities between season one and two beyond our protagonist’s outlook though. Where in season one, he befriended his young neighbour Paco and acted as a sort of surrogate big brother to him, here he makes friends with 15-year-old neighbour Ellie (Jenna Ortega), who he also feels the need to protect and goes to extreme lengths to do so. Joe’s romance with Love is also met with obstacles in the shape of the people closest to her, just as with Beck. As he explains in his superior, world-weary monologues, he’s trying to learn lessons from how his last relationship played out – will he be able to stop himself from making the same mistakes twice?
Troublingly, You still has a knack of making you root for Joe, even when he’s being despicable. His storyline with Ellie is partly to blame for that, giving him something of a vigilante quality, while his narration tries to convince you everything he does is for love’s – and Love’s – benefit. And then there’s the fact that Badgley is incredibly charming and good looking – it’s not hard to imagine the show would hit differently if Joe was scruffy and uneducated, or couldn’t play up to white male privilege.
In its first season, You was a near-perfect combo of trashy and compelling. It would be easy for it to become predictable in its second series – how many variants are there on stalking, after all? – and you can see its creators trying to avoid that fate in some of the devices deployed. There are several flashbacks to Joe’s childhood that suggest why he’s turned out the way he has, while Delilah (Carmela Zumbado) – the building manager at Joe’s new apartment complex – is involved in a #MeToo subplot that ties in with attempts to make you root for Joe. Neither aspect really works – the flashbacks disrupt the flow of present-day action and the secondary storyline feels a little obvious and requisite of any show set in LA in 2019.
For the most part, though, You doesn’t lose any of its initial impact on its return. Once season two hits its stride, it’s just as gripping as its predecessor, manoeuvring through a torrent of twists that keep you on your toes and, by its end, will leave you completely shocked.
You season two is streaming on Netflix now