Editor’s Note: This article contains spoilers for “You” Season 4, Part 2.
Psycho killer — Qu’est-ce que c’est? — Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley) proves this final season of Netflix’s hit show “You” to be his final breaking point toward shaky redemption in the second volume released on March 7.
And so it’s revealed, as we predicted, that Joe was having his Tyler Durden, Fight Club-esque moment all along this season. His obsession with Rhys Montrose (Ed Speleers), the presumed Eat The Rich killer, has merely been an extension of himself this whole time.
“Isn’t it obvious? I want a friend. Someone who shares my interests, relates. Someone I can finally tell all my secrets to,” the imaginary Rhys says to Joe in episode six.
Like Joe, this imaginary Rhys is acting out to protect himself and what he cares for most — his campaign — and he’ll do anything to achieve that. He serves as Joe’s slowly deteriorating, rotting conscience, like a little devil sitting on his shoulder, persuading his decision-making. This way, Joe still doesn’t have to take responsibility for his actions.
The second half of this season becomes more and more complicated with more players entering the mix, like Joe’s new love interest Kate’s (Charlotte Ritchie) all-powerful, manipulative father in town; Nadia (Amy-Leigh Hickman) who is hot on Joe’s heels; Rhys who continues being a figment of Joe’s ever-disturbing imagination; and Marienne (Tati Gabrielle) who is revealed to be alive, trapped in Joe’s infamous book–keeping box. He’s juggling so many balls, it’s no wonder he ends up spiraling into a murderous abyss, featuring blackouts and hallucinations.
The more lies Joe tells himself, the more he must separate his heartless side from his romantic side. This is why he subconsciously creates Rhys to do his dirty work, while continuing to get off scot free because he cannot physically remember his wrongdoings.
As Joe’s student Nadia begins to suspect something fishy surrounding the Eat the Rich Killer, she confides in a friend, “Wouldn’t the suspect being an erotomaniac be a little bit too obvious? A better twist would be a mild-mannered average Joe kind of-”
He jumps in: “Someone like Professor Moore?”
Professor Moore, it turns out, is a not-so-average Joe (Goldberg) who really does suffer from erotomanic delusions of Rhys, whom he wants to model his new life after so dearly, he blocks out all of the bad parts of himself to blame on his newfound alter ego.
The real-life Rhys Montrose never met Joe until he showed up to kill him. His Fight Club manifestation of the famous author and politician emerges from the shadows for a dramatic reveal of Joe’s spiraling sanity.
“He’s made some mistakes. He’s done some bad things, but he’s changed,” Joe tells Marienne of Rhys in episode 8.
His inspiration turned obsession turned parasocial relationship in which Joe can compartmentalize his horrific actions and move on from his past self is telling of his obsessive personality and new for this character. He idolizes Rhys in a way that is different from his all-consuming infatuation with other lovers.
Rhys is a pivotal character in “You” because while Joe consistently attempts to enact change in his life, he ultimately always fails. Reading the redemption story of the beloved Rhys Montrose influences Joe to follow in his footsteps, but Joe’s unstable mental state has other intentions and his plan turns into a dangerous case of erotomania.
He assures Marienne, “I’m not Joe,” while smiling blankly at the girl he once loved, who is now locked in a cage doomed to eat subpar Indian takeout until Joe lets her out or she dies. It’s worth noting that the key to the cellar he’s been hiding her in was found in a copy of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”
It really is that serious. With Joe, every time he falls in love, he feels a compulsive need to protect his partner, even if that means killing the people that get in the way of their happiness. With Candace, Beck, Love, Marienne, Kate — he just can’t stop.
“Every time I try … I made it perfect. It’s never enough. There’s no amount of loving or supporting or killing the assholes holding them back,” Joe recognizes in the final episode, it always ends in death, and he hates himself for it.
He’s been slowly circling the drain since his first kill, and fictional Rhys accuses Joe of being “full fat, extra sugar, deep-fried f**king insane” as Joe continues to assert denial. As Joe, Will and Jonathan in New York, Los Angeles and London respectively, Joe is constantly running and reinventing himself in hopes of escaping his innate violence.
His internal monologue should have been enough to prove him crazy from the start, but his constant will to do better and his pursuit in the name of love keep us hoping for his redemption. Even after we are well aware that Joe’s the killer, we watch as everyone else’s lives unravel to bits as they look equally unhinged, further justifying his actions.
Because of Joe’s obsession with each woman he falls in love with, he breaks the cycle of trauma that haunts him in a suicide attempt, but his jump is merely a second chance. Perhaps the water he penetrates in self-hatred cleanses him in some Biblical fantasy of sorts.
“We earn the life we were meant to live by fighting for it. I didn’t learn that the easy way. There is no love without loss,” he monologues in the final episode, reinventing himself once more as a philanthropist while simultaneously allowing Kate to scrub his past clean of scrutiny.
Joe’s relationship with Kate is seemingly sturdy, but his eruptive behavior and harmful tendencies have not been dealt with on a psychological level. It is possible that because of Kate’s dark past and power, Joe no longer feels like he must hide his true self from her, but Joe experiences a similar relationship with Love Quinn (Victoria Pedretti), and that relationship ended in flames — literally.
In the inspiration he took from Rhys, Joe has seemingly become the new and improved version of himself, but it always seems that way, doesn’t it? This season seems distinctly final yet disturbingly unresolved. While it may have been the “Death of Jonathan Moore,” it seems highly unlikely it will be the last of Joe Goldberg, who seems quite comparable to a cockroach in the midst of an apocalypse. Although a fifth season has yet to be confirmed, Joe’s story seems to be far from over as sinister loose ends still dangle ominously in the final moments of the fourth season.
Lillian Dunn is an Arts & Entertainment Staff Writer. She can be reached at email@example.com.