Editor’s note: Content warning: discussion of themes of substance abuse, domestic abuse, sexual assault, stalking, murder and suicide. This article contains spoilers.
The Netflix series “You” is my guilty pleasure. There. I said it. I love a show about a bibliophile who spends his days stalking women and killing members of both sexes and has a glass cage for detaining his victims until he decides what to do with them. I started watching the show when it first came to Netflix in 2018 and, like the rest of the internet, I was hooked from the jump. The TLC afforded to each and every character really drew me in. You notice that sort of thing as a writer. Plus, Penn Badgley absolutely kills it as Joe. No pun intended.
The third season came out on Friday, Oct. 15. After watching that week’s new “Great British Baking Show” episode, I knew what was next on my watchlist. Three days later, I was sitting in my dorm room wondering what the hell I had just watched. It wasn’t that I did not like the season — I enjoyed watching Joe learn, really learn, that he is not the only one around with a proclivity towards violence. (Even though he won in the end. RIP Love.) But something about it just felt … off.
The new characters weren’t anything to complain about. I liked the absurdity of Sherry and Cary and could not help but root for them when they had their cage moment. Even though Sherry is the type to talk about you behind your back but play sweet to your face, and Cary seems like he would unironically say “Saturdays are for the boys” and drink keto protein shakes like they’re water, the two are sweet and surprisingly charismatic together. Plus I liked the representation that they brought to the table. Not only is Cary bisexual, but rarely do you see a polyamorous couple on any screen.
Joe’s boss, Marienne, is where things get interesting. I do not have a problem with her as a character; her uptightness struck a chord with me, and whenever she was on screen, a smile instinctively crept onto my face. I do, however, have a problem with the way she is used in the story — but I will touch on that later.
I think my main issue lies with the season’s overarching storyline. Joe’s realtor neighbor Natalie, who we caught a glimpse of at the end of the season 2 finale, and with whom our protagonist has become quite obsessed, makes a move on Joe, and Love finds out and kills her right after Natalie shows her a lot that she thinks would be perfect for a bakery. This all happens in the first episode, mind you, and that threw me for a loop.
A “you” established and killed off basically in one episode? It felt like a lot to squish into 52 minutes, and vaguely reminiscent of the Scream movie, where (spoiler alert) Drew Barrymore’s character is murdered by Ghostface within the first twenty minutes. She is primed to be the main character, the “final girl” if you will. For Pete’s sake, she is featured front and center on the movie poster. But as it turns out, Sidney Prescott is our final girl.
The rest of the season deals with the fallout of Love’s decision, how the whole town is in an uproar, Sherry puts together a search party and, although the Quinn-Goldbergs find a way to frame someone else for the crime, Natalie’s husband is not buying it. He proceeds to basically violate the privacy of everyone in Madre Linda by gaining access to cameras around town, just to have a glimpse of Natalie’s final moments. In the end, he figures out that a Quinn-Goldberg killed her, but he remains a bit fuzzy on the specifics, believing the killer was the husband when in fact, it was the wife.
This storyline somehow managed to both squeeze too much into too little time and drag on for too long. If I were in the writer’s room, I would have killed Natalie off in the third or fourth episode. I would have spread that plot out more — same outcome, more time to get there. I understand what they were trying to do — hook us from the start and make us wonder where the season could go from here — but it did not work for me. I felt like I was experiencing whiplash every time the story switched between the Natalie and Marienne storylines.
Let’s look back at all the “you”s across the series. For those unfamiliar with the show, its narration is essentially a series of one-sided dialogues Joe has with the latest woman with whom he’s developed an obsession — his “you.” In season one, we had Beck. In season two, we had Love, my personal favorite because, well, Victoria Pedretti. And in season three, it was kind of all over the place. First there was Natalie. Then there was Love, again, if you want to count her. Then seemingly out of nowhere we shifted to Marienne.
I really wish that Marienne had not turned into a “you.” I know this was supposed to show how Joe is never satisfied with what he has for long, but it was too much. For me, the season became convoluted when Joe started looking at her differently. Were we really going to do this again? All of the sudden, she was less her own person and more Joe’s latest conquest. It was, dare I say it, getting to be a tad trite, especially after Natalie.
As I said earlier, I didn’t dislike this season. The new characters were great, and acting-wise, everyone brought their A-game. But I’m going to take a trip back into the writer’s room. Natalie should’ve been the main “you” so Marienne could have maintained her personhood, with a similar level of involvement in the story. As to what that involvement would entail, however, I am not sure. A bookish friend for our bookish protagonist? Perhaps. Unlike Joe, I don’t have all the answers.