After watching the unfocused mess that was “The Rise of Skywalker,” Netflix’s second season of “You” picked me up and served as an excellent foil.
You’s biggest strength is its frenetic, tightly-focused storytelling that leads the viewer down twists and turns in a way that you just have to see what’s going to happen next. It’s a perfect-bingworthy show, one that you can’t just watch one episode of and leave alone, as it’s filled with red herons, cliff hangers, and narrative twists aplenty.
You: Season 2 follows protagonist Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley), who flees to Los Angeles from New York City under the pseudonym Will Bettelheim when his ex girlfriend, Candace (Ambyr Childers) finds him after the events of the first season, threatening to get revenge on him for trying to kill her. As we learned from season 1, Joe is a multiple murderer and a stalker who uses social media and modern technology to spy on those he falls in love with, as well as those around them. As a lover, he’s toxic and obsessive, and when those he loves aren’t faithful or betray him, he reacts in violent ways.
In Season 1, Joe manages a bookstore he was put in charge of by an old man who essentially got him off the streets and served as a father figure to him. In Season 2, he leaves that all behind, and gets a new job and a new life in Los Angeles, hoping it’s enough to get Candace off his trail.
Season 1 was particularly good at introducing realistic characters around Joe who were beautifully flawed, and Season 2 does this, but better, which is no small feat considering that they had to completely rebuild the cast as Joe is the only main character who carries over from season one, outside the occasional cameo appearance.
Joe gets a job at Anavrin (it’s Nirvana spelled backwards), a new age health-focused supermarket that has a small book section Joe runs. Anavrin has locations all over the country, and is basically the Whole Foods of the You universe, but is more pretentious.
He soon falls in love with a coworker named Love (Victoria Pedretti) who spoilers is the daughter of the chain’s owners, and runs the store Joe works at with her brother, Forty Quinn (James Scully), who is a struggling filmmaker with a history of drug abuse.
Season 2 focuses on Joe trying to atone for his past sins by means outside of the legal system, and as a result, his character grows. He forms a father-like bond with his teenage neighbor, Ellie (Jenna Ortega), who is the sister of his building manager, Delilah (Carmela Zumbado), who is also an investigative reporter. And I’ll have to firmly put up a spoiler warning here, because I can’t comment any further without disclosing plot details. So if you want to have the best “You” experience, watch season 2 and come back here. Unlike “The Rise of Skywalker,” I think that this show is worth not spoiling.
Good? Ok, let’s dive further into the plot of season 2.
There are a few main narrative arcs that weave together throughout the show, which makes it interesting. Plot A centers around Joe and his relationship with Love, as he is keen to learn from his mistakes with Candace and Beck (Elizabeth Lail) from Season 1. In both cases, Joe fell in love too quickly and decided to pursue them romantically before he had established a friendship, which blew up in his face as both women spurned him as they turned out to not be the kind of people he thought they were. So before pursuing Love, he was keen on having her as just a friend, and go from there. Drama launches their dynamic into the insane when Love inevitably finds out who Joe really is, but that doesn’t necessarily turn her away.
Plot B, which is not necessarily given less time than Plot A, focuses on Joe’s efforts to befriend Forty, who is Love’s twin and has been co-dependant on her since he was young. Forty respects Joe’s loyalty, and eventually give his blessings to Joe. When Love falls out with Joe after initially learning his true identity and leaves him for her muscle-bound rebound man, Milo (Andrew Creer), Forty goes to bat for Joe to keep his job at Anavrin, and arguably develops a better relationship with Joe, who helps him develop film pitches.
Plot C is all about Joe’s relationship with Ellie and Delilah. Ellie is an ambitious teenager who is often not supervised by her sister, which lands her in trouble as she pursues an internship with the comedian Henderson (Chris D’Elia), who has a history of drugging and abusing underage girls, including her sister, who is determined to bring him down. Joe serves as Ellie’s guardian angel, as he thwarts Henderson’s advancements so far that he actually kills the man.
Plot D is very brief, and is all about how Joe deals with the guy whose identity he stole, Will Bettelheim (Robin Lord Taylor). Will is a hacker who Joe initially employs to help get him out of the country and forge a new identity. When Will notes that a new identity can take years to build, Joe opts to just steal his, and locks him in a soundproof storage unit he rents in L.A. Will reconstructs the soundproof glass room from Season 1 and keeps Will there for much of Season 2. Over the course of a few episodes, Joe befriends Will and, keen on not repeating the circumstances in Season 1 that drove him to murder a few people he locked in said glass room, figures out a way to let Will go, while ensuring Will won’t burn him.
Plot D is the largest unexpected joy of Season 2, as Will ends up being completely cool with Joe, so much that he gives him his personal phone number when he’s out and helps Joe later on in the season. To be fair, in the season’s early episodes, Joe does get rid of a debt collector who was looking for $50,000 from Will (he even loses a finger in the ordeal!) and does arrange for Will to finally go to the Phillipines to see his girlfriend, whom he had been sending money to for years, but never met (his relationship is introduced as a likely scam, but like WIll’s friendship with Joe, ends up being legitimate). While locked up, Will genuinely listens to Joe and helps him recognize that he never kills for fun or pleasure, but out of necessity when he is cornered, which doesn’t make him a bad person. He realizes Joe is someone who will kill for those he loves, and realizes he’s someone you want to have on your side.
Plot E is Candace’s overarching arc, which heats up when she recognizes Joe in a paparazzo picture from a Henderson party he attended with Forty, and subsequently poses as a film financier to date the struggling filmmaker and get close to Joe. It’s not that great of an arc in of itself, but it does do a lot to progress the film’s other arcs in a way that allows the show to gain an overall insane amount of moment, having you guess what’s going to happen next. This is driven mainly by the fact that we never really learn what Candace’s true plan is other than to get back at Joe in a way where he doesn’t go to jail or die, as she sees those two punishments as too easy.
Joe eventually thwarts her by falling in Love with Love, who is just as crazy as he is and has the money and power to cover up his crimes and start a family. Now, how the show ends up getting to that point is insane, as all the arcs crash into one another in a perfect orchestra of tightly-crafted mayhem.
Candace influences Forty so he’ll adapt the book from Season 1 written by Beck, who initially haunts Joe in cameo appearances this season until he’s willing to fully accept Love. Keen viewers will remember that that book detailed Joe’s toxic relationship with her, which Joe retroactively doctored so that it would actually portray her therapist, Dr. Nicky (John Stamos), whom Beck was cheating with, instead of him, which served to frame Dr. Nicky for her eventual murder.
Meanwhile, Candace also arouses Delilah’s suspicions about Joe, who herself serves as Joe’s rebound after Love initially rejected her. Her curiosity gets the better of her, and it leads her to finding the glass room Will was in, which has evidence possibly linking Joe to other crimes. In his panic, Joe cuffs her to the room using timed handcuffs, leaving the storage unit unlocked so she can get out when he is safely in another part of the world. He slips Love a goodbye note, and prepares to start anew again.
But before Joe can escape, he is kidnapped by Forty, who locks them both in a room to write a movie script for Beck’s book. Forty hired a guard who will shoot them if they try to leave, in an attempt to force productivity. To stimulate creativity, Forty drugs Joe with acid, leaving him with unaccounted hours in which Forty and Joe learn a lot about each other and their pasts, which prompts Forty to draw a connection between Joe and Beck’s abuser, and he flies to the incarcerated Dr. Nicky the next day to see if his theory is true and to see if Joe is dangerous.
When Joe wakes up, he learns that someone killed Delilah in his unaccounted for hours, and he quickly tries to find out who did it, while making arrangements to get her sister to someplace safe.
It was Love, who saw Delilah as a threat. In one of the most tense climaxes of a show, Love and Joe reconcile as Joe realizes Love is pregnant with his child, and understands that they are essentially the same person. This leaves the newly made up couple to deal with the threats of Candace and Forty, which they do in an emotional resolution you won’t soon forget.
MY GOD! Is this a tightly made show. There is just about no fat on it, no scene of character wasted. Everyone in this show has a purpose and place that progress the plot in interesting and surprising ways, and it left me wanting more.
“You” might be a terrible name for a show, but everything it brings to the table isn’t. We have three main characters who have four dimensional personalities that get in each other’s ways and create conflict, supported by deep secondary characters who do the same.
“You” is the equivalent of a five-course meal in which every dish builds off of the last. Every character contributes. They clash, compliment, and make each other stronger. You don’t know how the meal will end, and that’s part of the joy of it.
“You” remains to be one of the most interesting shows Netflix has put out, and I’m going to be eagerly awaiting a season 3.
“You” Season 2 gets a 9.5 out of 10