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You Season 3 is its best yet thanks to the horrors of marriage and suburbia

  • "Many, many shows hit their stride in their third season, and You is no exception," says Inkoo Kang. "The new batch of episodes easily comprises the show’s best yet, its tone solidified, its pacing and plotting perfected. Joe’s ever-present voice-over is full of razor-wired bon mots about his neighbors, and the writers smartly focus their lacerating observations on a certain kind of carb-phobic, wellness-hacking, vaccine-flexible, ceaselessly smug and surveilled Northern Californian milieu. In Madre Linda, Joe sneers, fun is 'glorified productivity.' Reader, he’s got a point. But as brutally accurate as the season’s takedown of (a specific contemporary brand of) the suburbs is, the new setting is an inspired backdrop to the pas de deux of duplicity between Joe and Love. If Joe’s past M.O. has been to tell himself that he’s suddenly head over heels in love with a stranger — a habit he doesn’t outgrow with a wedding band around his finger and a newborn he genuinely wants to do right by at home — he now spends much of the new season trying to persuade himself that he’s still enamored with Love. His previous soliloquies revealed him to be an unhinged sociopath whose idea of love couldn’t sustain a real relationship. Now, his efforts to fall back in love with his wife expose him, terrifyingly, as one of us."


    • You is the best it has ever been in Season 3: "Netflix’s dark, stalker-narrated murder drama You has often been messy, and typically been compelling," says Kathryn VanArendonk. "Its lead character, Joe Goldberg, is a monster in the guise of a particularly thoughtful boyfriend, and while Penn Badgley’s perfect, rapturously obsessive performance is the driving force of the series, something about You has always made it seem like it’s tap-dancing over the story’s soft spots, trying to create the impression of momentum even when it’s staying in one place. Now returning for a third season, You is the best it’s ever been — every bit as dark and stinging and cheerfully willing to screw with its audience, but now outfitted with a glorious foil for Joe’s monstrousness. Beyond Badgley’s unnerving, dark-eyed gaze, the most striking feature of You has always been the way it deploys internal monologue. Seen through Joe’s eyes, and narrated with an intimate second-person address, familiar tropes from romantic stories are defamiliarized and then reframed as nightmarish intrusions. (Is it romantic that he stole your notebook and has been carrying it around with him for weeks?) Television rarely screws with its audience the way You does; unreliable narrators are a challenge for screen storytelling, and few shows can pull it off, much less do it with You’s warped, twisted confidence."
    • Season 3 is a game-changer for You: "The stakes have never been higher," says Michael Blackmon, adding: "In the first two seasons, Joe was undoubtedly the villain and there were no serious foils for his brand of creepiness. He could slyly charm a romantic interest, like the aspiring writer Beck (Elizabeth Lail), and outsmart anyone who caught on to him, like Beck’s best friend, Peach Salinger (Shay Mitchell). His previous hunting grounds were bustling cities full of self-involved people who might not notice anything amiss, but in the suburbs, it’s harder for Joe to skulk unnoticed. Now a fish out of water, Joe is on display for the townspeople and also transparent to his new wife in ways that are uncomfortable for someone who typically lurks with relative ease. Joe’s new fixation, Marienne (Tati Gabrielle), has an observant ex, Ryan (Scott Michael Foster), who is a local news reporter and calls out the fact that Joe peers at him from around corners with his classic navy blue baseball hat tipped low. Tension rises even further when neighbors get wise to the steadily rising count of dead bodies that have been appearing since Joe and Love moved in. This time around, Joe is more constrained than ever, and the cracks are showing...With suburbia as its backdrop, this season of You excels at exploring common marital woes but punched up with the added chaos of serial killers in love. It’s a marriage drama wrapped in a murder mystery, with plenty of twists to keep viewers on the hook."
    • In Season 3, You increasingly feels stuck: "You began by reversing the equation of Golden Age TV dramas. And three seasons in, its act is getting tired," says Daniel D'Addario. "The show, starring Penn Badgley as Joe, a stalker and killer to whose internal monologue we have access, is difficult to compare to series like The Sopranos and Breaking Bad but for one particular. Those shows, in exploring central characters who did monstrous things, ended up with fan bases who rooted for the bad guy. On You, the viewer is asked first to root for the bad guy, and, in doing so, then to get to know him. This has been a winning formula for a show that, after its cancellation on Lifetime, thrived on Netflix; the streamer has announced its renewal for a fourth season ahead of the launch of its third. And yet the show feels creatively depleted. The show has always played off its title in two ways: Served us Joe’s thoughts about the You he’s pursuing and shown us a warped version of ourselves in its depiction of Instagram-ready milieus. (The first season was set in fashionably literary New York, the second in louche and Erewhon-y Los Angeles, and the third in influencer-gutted NorCal Eden.) What the show can at times lack in precision it makes up for in sheer tonnage of mocking reference: The show is You because it’s committed to showing an audience their interests, and themselves. It’s that aspect of the show that’s grown to demand more and more of viewers’ attention as the endless parade of carnage has dulled in impact. Starting the season in a new place allows it new avenues for social satire. But it can feel, too, like the show is accommodating the fact that starting off with an incorrigible sociopath allows you to up the body count but not, really, to develop a character. Changing the place allows for novelty — and for new justifications why contemporary life might just push a person to murder. But Badgley’s Joe still thinks about most situations in the same, broken way. You has shown a great ability to change up its situation. What it lacks is agility within its protagonist, and the show increasingly feels stuck."
    • You shaking itself up with a change of scenery enhances Season 3: "The change in scenery allows the show to take up—and skewer—an entirely new set of tropes, from the ennui of rich suburbanites to the ridiculousness of mommy-bloggers-turned-Instagram-stars," says Lacy Baugher Milas. "There’s also a subplot about anti-vaxxers that feels almost too on the nose for our current moment, but which nicely complicates our own feelings Joe, Love, and the things they perceive as threats. Part of the fun of You is reveling in the ways that Joe repeatedly fools everyone around him, as well as the way that we, as viewers, are the only ones who get to see the full truth of who he is and what his intentions are. The addition of Love to the mix as a full-time POV character and a genuine partner for Joe adds an interesting, unexpected wrinkle to that dynamic, and there are plenty of moments where you’ll wonder who precisely you’re meant to be rooting for. Though Season 3 contains plenty of Joe’s trademark self-involved voiceovers (and Badgley remains great at delivering them), it’s Pedretti’s Love who steals the show as the complex relationship between the Quinn-Goldbergs drives much of its narrative."
    • You's move to suburbia solves some of its problems: "For its first two seasons, it took aim at what we used to call hipsters – both the arty, literary New York types, and the airy spiritualism of its Los Angeles counterparts," says Rebecca Nicholson. "But I found it hard to reconcile its satirical bite with its unsteady portrait of Joe as both villain and gorgeous, brooding, sympathetic lead. By turning its focus on parenthood, marriage and what it means to be 'normal,' it finds a more confident groove. At its best, it reminded me of the old John Waters film Serial Mom, in which Kathleen Turner plays a housewife on the rampage against rudeness and indecency."
    • You’s mechanical approach still works in Season 3 because the episodes successfully heighten the stakes: "The most compelling aspect of You season three is Joe and Love’s explosive rollercoaster of a relationship," says Saloni Gajjar. "They keep referring to each other as soulmates with a mix of sincerity and abhorrence, and their tumultuous feelings are intensified by the feeling of being trapped in their new home. Madre Linda is a typical affluent suburb with white picket fences and a tight-knit community, similar to the setting of Marc Cherry dramedies like Desperate Housewives and Why Women Kill, where buried secrets thrive under manicured lawns."
    • Even as You stays mostly in Joe’s head, Victoria Pedretti is just as good at presenting a woman who feels adrift herself: "As her own idea of domestic bliss is curdling, the role she eases into is not the one she thought she was signing up for either," says Steve Greene. "The more she senses her own grasp slipping from the family she’s already lost and the one that she has with her perceived soulmate, the more she’s tempted to weaponize her Happy Wife standing to keep hold on what she has left. In the same way that Badgley has had to wear different masks with the same face, Pedretti is eerily efficient at slipping between doting partner, schemer, simmering grudge-holder, and the killer we already know her to be. The show only works if Joe and Love can hide their true natures from the world with minimal to no effort. Badgley and Pedretti are perpetually up to the task."
    • The suburban backdrop this season is exactly the shake-up You needed: "It feels like an extra degree of delicious torture to watch someone like Joe surrounded by parents talking about their childrens' gluten intolerance," says Carly Lane. "Although the show itself makes a point to reference the recent and still ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, giving the audience a sense of timeline respective to real-life events within the narrative, it's a distant consideration. (Then again, one episode in particular that tackles the Quinn-Goldbergs' method of dealing with an anti-vaxxer family in their midst hits much closer to home as a result.) The best part of You's third season is how it positions Joe and Love as two people who are both attempting to present a united front to the rest of the world while also struggling to trust each other at every turn. Pedretti's seemingly effortless ability to vacillate between Love's most open vulnerabilities and quiet, barely-contained rage is a reminder of why she was one of the best things to happen to this show in the first place, and she's more than an equal match for Badgley when they're on-screen together. Their scenes spent away from one another prove to be less compelling, to the point where I found myself eagerly waiting to get back to more of them — and was, by extension, almost disappointed as Joe's attention is lured away by another potential paramour."
    • Penn Badgley and Victoria Pedretti discuss You's shocking Season 3 finale twist
    • Showrunner Sera Gamble explains the Season 3 premiere shocker
    • What made You want to dive into the theme of parenting for Season 3?: "We broke the season without much help from (Caroline Kepnes' third book in the series, You Love Me) because Caroline was deep in writing it, but we do want to have stuff in common, so we were interested in this pregnancy, but I can’t really imagine a version of the show where we do the same thing over and over every season," says Gamble. "So part of the challenge of a character like Joe is you do have to keep evolving his situation, kind of like turning up the boiling water. (Laughs.) The baby — and marriage also — both of those things, hand in hand, seemed like such delightful triggers."
    • You Season 3's Madre Linda was based on several Northern California bedroom communities: “We were intrigued by the notion that on the outskirts in and around Silicon Valley, there are a lot of people that have made their fortune in industries that are at least adjacent to surveillance,” says Gamble. “It cut to the heart of a lot of what we’ve been saying the whole time about how privacy is dead and at this point we’re all both voyeurs and exhibitionists and there’s no going back.” She added with a laugh: "We do love to put Joe in a privileged community. He’s gonna think very honest thoughts about it on our behalf.”
    • Tati Gabrielle on playing a badass mom who doesn't trust Joe: "She doesn’t trust this guy, she is going to be a little timid and trepidatious in the way that she moves," she says, adding: "She’s a very guarded person, but when she found the common ground with him, she found the humanity in him and started to drop her defenses."
    • Victoria Pedretti on becoming known for playing women who are in many ways defined by their trauma: “Personally, I get some enjoyment from addressing my own trauma,” she says. “I think it can be truly enjoyable having the opportunity to explore humanity and these people and to think about why they do the things they do and how they’ve become the people they are. That’s part of the spiritual element of what we do as actors. For me, it’s deeply spiritual.”
    • Pedretti on Love's violence: "I really do think she does that out of aggression and maliciousness," she says. "She really wants to hurt him. But in the other cases, me as Victoria can see very clearly that she has a murderous impulse, but the character herself feels as if she’s doing everything she can to avoid that. She feels like this is an uncontrollable, instinctual animal compulsion that she’s allowing in order to protect herself. I don’t think she sees herself as a murderer, so when I’m playing it, I don’t think about it."
    • Penn Badgley says You's viewership brings a lot to Joe Goldberg: "I don't see how a person like him could be expected to have any emotional sobriety, any behavior that would be anything other than completely and utterly self-serving," he says. "To me, he's just sort of pandering to the audience in his mind when he says these things." As for Joe critiquing his new neighborhood, Badgley says: "They're representative of the inner critic that we all have that, for some people, can actually become not necessarily violent to other people, but themselves. I think anybody who gets to that stage in reality is so beyond self-loathing. If you hate yourself, well, then you're going to turn some of that hatred on the world around you." 

    TOPICS: You (Netflix series), Netflix, Penn Badgley, Sera Gamble, Tati Gabrielle, Victoria Pedretti