The Season 3 Premiere of 'You' Throws a Wrench Into the Show's Formula
...an axe, more specifically.
This article contains major spoilers for the first episode of You Season 3.
We all know the drill by now. If you've been keeping up with You, the sordid Lifetime-turned-Netflix thriller series about a serial stalker who just can't stop himself from murdering people he becomes obsessed with (and other people he simply doesn't like very much), you know what to expect. Joe Goldberg, the certified creep with a dangerously charming baby face played by Penn Badgley, finds a new waifish young woman to "fall in love" with, stalks her obsessively for a period of weeks to months, enters into a relationship with her, and then when things start to go south, he kills her. Or tries to, in the case of last season's paradigm-shifting finale, where Love Quinn (Victoria Pedretti) confesses she's pregnant with their child before he has the chance to stick the knife in her throat. But even the last few moments of that episode, in which Joe peeks over his new suburban picket fence and zeros in on his next hapless target, tease a version of a familiar narrative for formula of You. What this new season presupposes is: What if it didn't?
If you've followed You Season 3's promotional material, you know most of it centers around either Joe and his new wife's impending child, or Joe's new object of obsession, sitting, Lolita-like, in a lawn chair in her manicured backyard, book held open in lap and face obscured by an oversized sun hat. We know how this will go: Joe's affections for Love will diminish, as his new "you" takes over his mind, he'll romance her, it'll go badly, and then someone will die. And this is pretty much how most of the first episode of Season 3 plays out.
Joe and Love have moved into Madre Linda, a Californian suburb populated by the fitspo version of Stepford wives, ruled over by busybody "momfluencer" Sherry Conrad (a fabulously irritating Shalita Grant), who forces the women to vie for her affections while the husbands wear Patagonia vests and grill. In other words, bookish Joe's version of Hell on Earth. Love is similarly unconvinced, missing her support net back in Los Angeles and constantly trading verbal blows with her terrible mother, who takes over babysitting duties of their new son Henry, whom she and Love keep calling "Forty," after Love's deceased twin brother, and to Joe's increasing chagrin. The unknown neighbor woman turns out to be Natalie Engler (Michaela McManus), a real estate agent and wife of a surveillance tech CEO, who takes both Joe and Love under her wing, giving Love advice on how to deal with the town Plastics while secretly tempting Joe into an affair.
But we mustn't forget the big surprise at the end of Season 2, which sets the stage for the entirety of Season 3: Love is just as obsessive, and has just as many violent tendencies as Joe—perhaps even more. It was her saving grace at the end of that season, allowing her to coax Joe into marrying and getting out of LA together for good, leaving a trail of bodies in their wake. So, when she figures out that Joe and Natalie have been seeing each other (thanks to Joe's horrible box of stolen items from each of his crushes, in which he's stashed, among other disgusting things, a coffee sleeve with "NATALIE" clearly written on it, the idiot), she takes matters into her own hands. At the very end of the first episode, Natalie shows Love around a vacant storefront she wants to rent and convert into a bakery. But Love follows her down into the basement, grabs a handy axe, and kills her.
Ohh, you thought this would be like every other time?? Nope! From here, the show can go anywhere, and boy, does it. The bait-and-switch of this first episode is masterstroke on par with the big reveal at the end of the previous season, taking our expectations and smashing them to a pulp before pulling out their teeth and burying them out in the middle of the woods. This doesn't mean that Joe doesn't find another person to moon over, or that Love doesn't either. And it definitely doesn't mean an end to all the murders, because, well, let's be real. You Season 3 is a Mr. and Mrs. Smith-esque comedy of manners, as two serial killers try to blend in with rich people society, the sort who have Vanity Fair articles written about their divorces, while coming up with ever more absurd ways of getting rid of bodies, playacting the concerned citizens as more and more people "go missing." Has Season 3 turned You from a so-bad-it's-good show to a just-plain-good show? Maybe, but either way, we can't wait to watch more.