‘You’ Season Two: the same old open curtains

January 17, 2020

I’ve realized two things over winter break: first, I watch far too much television, and second, second seasons of television shows rarely ever live up to the first. The first season of “You” introduced us to a generic white guy, Joe Goldberg, artfully played by the effortlessly disturbing Penn Badgley, who meets and falls in love with a generic white girl named Guinevere Beck (Elizabeth Lail) who goes by her last name. The audience watches as their relationship develops and unravels, but of course our generic white guy is actually a creepy murdering stalker who steals panties and sniffs them like they’re Vicks nasal spray. Joe falls in love with Beck after having a five minute conversation with her in the book store he owns in Brooklyn. He proceeds to internet-stalk her—of course, none of her social media platforms are on private, and through the innovation that is the internet, he finds where she lives. With this information, he can now watch as she does everything from read to masturbate, because Beck’s curtains are literally always open. 

The first season follows Joe as he strategically inserts himself into her life. He wedges his way in by killing people he perceives as obstacles to his goals, like Beck’s ex-boyfriend Benji (Lou Taylor Pucci) and her best frenemy, Peach Salinger (Shay Mitchell). Joe believes or wants to believe that Peach and Benji are bad for Beck—admittedly these people aren’t beneficial to Beck’s life but they don’t necessarily deserve to die. While he spends most of his time obsessing over Beck, Joe also cares for his next door neighbor, Paco. Joe’s characterized as the creep with a heart of gold. 

“You” is essentially a public service announcement about privacy and how to make sure you actually have it. The show is incredibly entertaining, and the first season is downright exciting. With the self inflicted pain and difficulties Joe endures, it’s almost impossible to pry yourself away. His narration and inner thoughts are unreliable, but it allows the viewers to feel as though they’re hiding under beds or leaving jars full of urine at crime scenes. The show’s biggest hook is Joe’s charisma. The writing humanizes our would-be villain. We spend all of our time understanding him, even rooting for him as he locks various people in his glass prison, or hides and sneaks around homes that don’t belong to him. Somehow, Joe is a likeable psychopath. 

While season two continues to humanize Joe and echoes elements of the first season, it just feels like the same story with different characters and different twists. Spoilers: at the end of the first season Joe kills Beck after she finds out he’s more Ted Bundy than she bargained for. Joe’s first victim/girlfriend, Candace (Ambyr Childers), returns to New York to expose Joe for the criminal that he is. Fast forward to season two and “Joe” has changed his name to Will, relocating to L.A. in an attempt to escape Candace. Out west, he meets, stalks, and falls in love with a woman named “Love,” played by Victoria Pedretti (cue collective sigh of contempt). 

Season two is the watered down wash, rinse and repeat version of the first: it’s not as exciting, the audience doesn’t feel the chemistry between Joe and Love, you don’t enjoy learning about the other supporting characters, and even Joe/Will is less likeable. The central relationship is forced, not just by Joe but also by the writing. One day, Love just shows up at his apartment, and Joe doesn’t even ask questions. Someone as paranoid and convoluted as Joe would definitely ask questions.

The second Beck is the incredibly rich Love. Raised in Los Angeles by wealthy parents, it’s safe to say that Love has lived a rather privileged life despite some difficult family struggles. While she herself recognizes her privilege, she still uses it. Like Beck, there are people in Love’s life who are detrimental to her personal development like her brother Forty (James Nicholas Scully) with whom she has a codependent relationship. Love doesn’t seem genuine, which makes her interactions with Joe lackluster. It could be her wealth that makes it hard for her to seem like an honest person and that may be intentional, but nonetheless, one can’t help but feel like she’s missing something that Beck had.

The show also tries to make it seem as if Joe’s first meeting with Love was by chance, but obviously, Joe planned it. In season one, we truly felt that Joe would do anything for Beck, as messed up as that sounds. We don’t believe that Will would do anything for Love, even though he does. This reused format also makes us continuously compare the two women. While the two leading ladies are in no way the same person they are definitely a similar type. They’re women Joe/Will perceives as manageably but not profoundly complicated. They’re smart but not smarter than him, “cool girls” that are perfect. 

The only thing that feels fresh about the new season is Joe’s backstory. Like most slightly unhinged individuals, his childhood was marred by an abusive father, who he eventually killed, and a mother who abandoned him for doing it. That’s enough instability to last an entire lifetime. This in no way excuses his actions, but we start to understand why he is the way he is.

In season two, Joe just finds a new girl to obsess over and unnaturally inserts himself into her life. There’s merit in the idea that Joe is simply a serial killer who follows a pattern like all serial killers, and that’s why the two seasons seem to be telling the same story. Season two affirms that Joe’s serial killer MO is finding a fantasy “cool girl” archetype to obsess over, becoming an instrumental and manufactured important part of her life, strategically beginning to kill people who threaten that relationship until his partner finds out and eventually killing her, and then repeating this cycle with a new fantasy girl. Serial killers are redundant and redundant doesn’t make for good TV. Having Joe’s backstory unveiled while running from Candace would have made for a much better season and given the opportunity to develop her character. 

Despite the boring but still sometimes entertaining second season, “You” remains a good show. In long-running television shows a lull in the second season is almost always guaranteed. I believe there is hope for season three as well, primarily because there is a new dynamic in the relationship between Joe and Love. 

Moral of the story? Close your curtains, kids.

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