With the first part of its fourth season just dropped on Netflix, it seems only fitting we pay extra close attention to Penn Badgley’s (quite literal) breathtaking narrations in “YOU.” And this time around, the tables have turned.
Seeing as we’ve already covered You once before in this column, I won’t limp along in the more minor details and nuances of the previous seasons. However, if you somehow still haven’t seen them, “YOU“ follow the story of Joe Goldberg, a charming yet psychotic stalker who (all too easily) becomes obsessed with the women in his life. That said, “YOU’s” latest season takes a bit of a departure from Joe’s modus operandi. Instead of being the predator, Joe’s become both the hunted and an unwilling accessory to a life he’s desperately trying to leave behind.
**As always with new releases, this column strives to remain as spoiler free as possible, but that’s not always possible given the intimate nature of Joe’s narrations. So if you plan to avoid spoilers, it’s best to watch the latest season of You first.**
Joe’s Narrations Take a Turn into the Unknown
The season begins with Joe (once again) moving to a new city, hoping to start a new life under a false identity. And true to form for Joe, he seems to have got away scot-free yet again and failed upwards into his dream job in his dream city. As he hints to the audience, he didn’t plan it that way, but he’s making the most out of his heartbreak. But all he can think about is being heartbroken and abandoned. He uses his voiceover to tell the audience everything that happened between this one and the last. He explains how he got away, why he’s in London, and how he got a new job as an English Professor. By all accounts, Joe is living his happily-ever-after.
He even tells the audience over and over that this time, he’s going to be good. This time, he’s not going to meddle or manipulate. This time, he will live the life he always should have. Almost rhythmically, again and again, Joe repeats these narrations to himself, almost like a mantra. He genuinely wants to be good – as much as he’s been a monster, he only sees himself as a victim of circumstance.
The Hunter Becomes the Hunted – Joe’s New Narrations
As the focus shifts from the subject of Joe’s desires to his becoming the target of someone else’s, the narrative takes on a hauntingly new twist. Instead of being in control and manipulating the lives of the women he falls for – this season shows us, Joe, in a whole new light.
For a change, Joe will finally understand how his victims felt. While he did find himself at the mercy of Love in the last season – he still knew as if he was in control of the situation and made choices he deemed best for his son. And that’s what makes this new direction for his narrations so fascinating – all of the control and cunning he exhibited in past seasons is utterly extinguished. Instead, what we see now is Joe just trying to survive. For once, Joe is powerless and supported by the whim of someone even more psychotic than himself.
For all of the times Joe’s pleaded with the audience that he was a victim of circumstance, this time he really is – albeit in a well-deserved and karmically-induced twist of poetic irony. This time, the You that Joe speaks to through his narrations isn’t the fictitious ideal of a woman he knows or even loves – it’s a question. It’s a punctuation on the shadow of an idea and a stand-in for the unknown element attempting to wrest away his newfound self-control.
A Lack of Control – Joe’s Paranoid Narrations
For someone like Joe, control is everything – and seeing him without any makes for some of his most intriguing narrations yet. Instead of fixating on someone else’s life to orchestrate, he’s just trying to keep his hands on the slow-moving train wreck of his own. Every thought, each decision – Joe is trying to stay on his non-existent toes. Instead of using his vast cunning to manipulate others, he’s using it to figure out who keeps framing him for murders he didn’t commit. Although mirroring the thoughts of his audience – he genuinely wonders if he actually did. For Joe, loss of control is a major trigger.
Repeatedly, Joe tells his listeners that he wants to be good despite an unknown force worming its way into his life and threatening to expose him unless he complies with their will. For once, Joe really is through with manipulation – he even tells the audience after being thrown out a window that he’s getting too old for living like that.
A Twist of Irony – Joe’s Stalker
Throughout his narrations, Joe’s focus has always been fixed on the objects of his desires, speaking to his victims as if they were a part of the melancholy conversation only he can hear. But this time, they echo his paranoia. They speak not just to his insecurities and wallowing but to the mystery of who might be hunting him and who might be on the other end of the threats to expose him. Joe is more than scared – he’s on the defensive and less than happy about it. Until this point, as problematic as most of his voiceovers were, they were well-intended and used to justify his actions to himself.
In the same way that Joe genuinely believed that he was making the lives of his victims better, Joe’s stalker is trying to bring out Joe’s most – er – Joe-ness. Whenever Joe gets a new message from his stalker, it acts like a callback to a more unhinged version of himself. Each message reads like an asterisk on Joe’s previous narrations and adds punctuation to his character – a taunt and a nod to who he’s trying to leave behind. For once, rather than engaging with a fictitious ideal of someone he’s placed on a pedestal, Joe looks down into the depths of his own mess.
Kim Handysides is an award-winning voice artist, coach and thought leader in her industry. Her narrations have been heard on Discovery, Netflix, and the major networks, in iMax, the White House and the Smithsonian.