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In You’s season 4, Joe Goldberg finally meets his match: himself

For three seasons of Netflix psychological thriller You, fans watched the eerily charming Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley) rationalize his heinous actions through a twisted internal monologue. His killings were gruesome and obsessive behavior terrifying, made worse by his warped justifications for everything he did. He was merely stalking each woman to protect her; it’s how he shows he cares, after all. He’s truly sorry for every murder, but he really had no other option.

In season 4, however, the tables have turned on Joe. Streaming’s favorite hunter has now become the prey, with a new serial killer stalking Joe and seemingly getting away with murder. In the process, Joe encounters an embodiment of the thing that he most fears: himself.

Joe looking at a rope tie in a scene from You season 4 on Netflix.
Netflix / Netflix

Joe becomes the hunted

Despite trying to start anew, a killer like Joe can never shed their skin, and trouble tends to follow. What’s more, Joe, now going by the name Jonathan, has become the hunted, not the hunter. Someone is killing, framing, stalking, and taunting him. Joe’s line to the mysterious killer, “I refuse to fuel your sick and misguided fixation,” is filled with both irony and karmic, poetic justice. The killer is a kindred spirit, like looking at a reflection in the mirror, except with a British accent.

The story leading up to the big reveal of who the killer is puts Joe at the center of his own personal nightmare: a formulaic murder mystery like all those he considers an insult to true literary works.

What’s more, the victims are high society individuals, the very types of people he loathes. The “Eat the Rich killer,” as they have become known, is targeting spoiled, entitled people like the ones Joe previously killed, including his own wife. Oddly, Joe feels the need to protect them, if only for the purpose of protecting himself and the person he is desperately trying to be.

The new characters on You season 4 standing at a bar, dressed to the nines, looking at something.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

You is now commentary on the socioeconomic divide

This is despite the realization that everything Joe stands for is the complete antithesis of the wealthy, entitled, talentless people he befriends. They are as flawed and soulless as he is. The billions they have in the bank mask their antisocial, psychopathic behavior. They aren’t disturbed, they’re just stereotypical spoiled rich kids.

It’s a socioeconomic, class disparity lesson in prejudice: all these individuals would easily kill someone and laugh about it later. Yet they are viewed as privileged and elite while Joe is merely a middle-class killer with an off-the-rack wardrobe.

Joe’s insistence on protecting them may be a projection of his guilt for killing his wife Love in the previous season, or at least betraying her. More likely, however, he is failing so miserably at suppressing his need to become fixated on a new potential romantic partner that he transfers all that obsessive energy onto hunting a killer. It doesn’t even matter that the people being killed mourn the deaths of their friends with laughter, booze, an abundance of drugs, and tasteless jokes.

When Joe finally discovers the killer’s identity, he so desperately needs something – someone – to fixate on that he doesn’t much care that hunting the person is all in the name of protecting these vile, disgraceful humans. One man’s watch collection, he comments to himself, could feed an entire third-world country, after all. Maybe the killer has a point, and he’s simply ridding the world of the sick and twisted individuals that don’t deserve to be in it.

Joe looks out of a window in You season 4.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

A leopard never changes its spots

Season 4 of You is a departure from previous seasons, but it’s still a story of a psychopathic serial killer who rationalizes his behaviors and actions in the most narcissistic, disturbing ways. It remains a story about “you.” But now, the obsessive, manipulative, perverse fixation on “you” is directed at a person who, ironically, possesses all the same qualities, beliefs, and desires as Joe. Joe has become both the hunter and the hunted. His new “you” subject isn’t a stunning woman with a sordid past and great hair. “You” is the mirror image of Joe, the manifestation of his inner turmoil.

Even if they’re eliminated, Joe will convince himself the killer is the bad one and he is just doing what needs to be done. Joe will always be Joe. And “you” won’t know what’s coming.

The second half of season 4 of You will stream on Netflix March 9.

Christine Persaud
Christine has decades of experience in trade and consumer journalism. While she started her career writing exclusively about…
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