First look TV review: You Season 3
James R | On 17, Oct 2021
Warning: This contains spoilers for You Season 1 and 2. Not caught up? Read our spoiler-free review of Season 2 here.
“We’re just the nice, normal neighbours next door.” That’s the sound of not-very-nice, not-very-normal Joe (Penn Badgley) returning to our screens for Season 3 of You – but this time, he’s got company, not only in the form of Love Quinn (Victoria Pedretti) but also their baby son, Henry. That radical shift from the starting point of Season 1 is a sign of You’s ambitions to evolve and grow its protagonist and themes, even though it also highlights the aspects of the show that have become repetitive.
Over its first two seasons, You grew from a darkly sinister thriller about male entitlement and delusion to an even darker satire of a world where white privilege lead society to enable, excuse and even forgive men for toxic and heinous crimes. It’s the latter element that makes the show at once problematic and provocative, as it pushes and pulls our expectations and understanding to make us complicit in empathising with its antihero. It never goes the full step of asking us to sympathise, but by retaining Joe as the brooding lead star of the show, You has often lingered in uncomfortable territory that doesn’t always seem intentional.
The most recent notable gambit to get us to see things from Joe’s perspective was the introduction of Pedretti’s Love in Season 2 – and, more specifically, the revelation that she was also capable of murder and had even been stalking Joe in a similar manner to the way he pursues his female victims. As she emerged to be his match, he moved to remove her from the picture altogether – only for her to announce that she was pregnant, a revelation that stayed his hand.
It’s a twist that caught us off guard as much as him. As Season 3 begins, and he and Love settle in their new suburban home of Madre Linda, California, the familiar voiceover soon kicks in – Joe’s unhappy and bored and already looking at married neighbour Natalie (Michaela McManus) in the hope that she might be his real soulmate. But the dynamic has also shifted, and the arrival of Henry has left him attempting, on some level, to be a better person, in the fear that his son could grow up to be as violent and dangerous as he is. And, with Love also hiding skeletons in their closets, the focus of the show moves away from Joe plotting and covering his tracks towards Joe and Love attempting to fit in with the world around them.
Relocating events to a wealthy California neighbourhood, much like Season 2’s jump to LA, once again gives You a fresh jolt of novelty, as the people around Joe are gratingly awful in their own ways. Here, it’s all about picket-fence appearances. Chief among these superficial socialites are momfluencer Sherry (Shalita Grant), who unsubtly delivers backhanded compliments to everyone around her, and her husband, Cary (Travis Van Winkle), who runs a supplements company. Both have turned their personal brands into money-making ventures, selling self-optimisation to others – along with McManus’ openly insincere neighbour, a stark contrast to the more grounded librarian Marienne, played by Tati Gabrielle (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina), who also proves a lightning rod for Joe’s interests.
The supporting players, though, don’t always fit so smoothly into You’s carnival of terrible animals – one subplot involving anti-vaxxers amid a measles outbreak feels like a misjudged attempt to be topical, and the season starts to feel like it’s in a cycle each time that Love comes up against a member of the community who annoys or offends her. Even the side-narrative that sees Love discover chemistry with 19-year-old Theo (Dylan Arnold) doesn’t quite convince.
At the same time, the further flashbacks that give us glimpses of Joe’s childhood feel like deja vu rather than fresh sources of insight. There’s intriguing potential in the idea that he’s a man suffering some form of postpartum depression, as he struggles to connect with his son – a topic rarely discussed openly – but it’s slightly undone by feverish sequences that see Joe talking to himself, which play a little too on-the-nose, given that we already have Joe on hand as a narrator to voice his inner thoughts.
But for all those uneven moments, there’s a renewed sense of fun in following such unpleasant people, because we’re not just tuning in to be unnerved by Joe but to see him and Love trying to work out whether they can actually trust one another. Juggling parenthood with their inbuilt suspicions and urges to bump off anything – or anyone – that proves inconvenient, they have a Mr and Mrs Smith-style dynamic. Can they fit in with “normal” society? Should they? These are surprisingly serious questions about that linger beneath the trashy surface – and that balance between pulpy serial killer thriller and tale of domestic performativity really comes together in the standout scenes that see Joe and Love visit a marriage counsellor, who talks of them wanting to kill each other without realising what’s actually going on.
Will that spark be enough for Season 3 of You to stay the course? With the show smartly moving away from its roots, the more enjoyable mystery at the heart of this uneven but entertaining third chapter is whether we want them too.
You is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.