I just finished Netflix’s second season of You, the binge-worthy thriller based on Caroline Kepnes’ novel Hidden Bodies. This season our deranged anti-protagonist Joe Goldenberg (Penn Badgley) flees the Big Apple for the City of Angels. What begins as a fresh start to be a better man, quickly spirals into old, dark habits. Eventually Joe realizes he cannot escape who he is, despite his earnest intentions.
While the setup seemed slow, it found its sweet spot midway through triumphing best once it left the somewhat forced #MeToo narrative. The show itself is an examination of toxic behavior, so Henderson’s illegal deeds felt too on the nose.
I liked the work exploring Joe’s roots. We saw glimpses of his dysfunction as a teenager in season one. This time around dives into his childhood trauma, boldly highlighting where his problematic concept of love derived. However, as we now know, trauma is no excuse to enact violence or toxicity on others.
This is best displayed in this season’s new characters. For every Henderson, there’s a Forty – ultimately showing we don’t have to become the hurt we’ve endured. James Scully’s Forty was many things: a lying, lazy, vindictive, damaged addict who’s adverse childhood trauma left him co-dependent in many ways. But at his core, he was a good person. It helped reinforce the truth that most people overcome their victim-hood without punishing others in their wake. It’s the other damaged few you have to worry about.
The show wouldn’t work as well as it does without strong performances. Badgley embodies the complicated psychopath with such ease, it’s hard not to root for him. Ambyr Childers’ Candace balances her fight/flight moments while walking into the Lion’s Den. Jenna Ortega shines as Ellie, the more-or-less Paco of this season. And Nicole Pedretti triumphs as Love, Joe’s latest inspiration.
As it alludes to a third season, I see Joe’s journey wrapping soon. It’s established he can’t continue being something he’s not. Which means he won’t try to bury his fractured moral code. At a certain point this anti-hero will have to be held accountable for his sins. If not in real life, there must be justice in fiction.