The Murderous Family Values of ‘You’

Courtesy Netflix

The new season of the Netflix thriller becomes a bloody, pleasingly dumb farce about the torture of trying to keep a flagging marriage alive in your early thirties

Last season, You presented a take on the age-old tale of boy serial killer meets girl serial killer, complete with marriage and baby carriage and a swift, third-act flight to the suburbs. Nobody would argue that the show was art – its first season, after all, was made exclusively for Lifetime. Still, since being picked up by Netflix, it has continued to toe, albeit coyly, the line between accidental camp and self-awareness. Joe, the boy in question, pictures himself as a Nice Guy, even when his niceness involves stalking, killing, trapping, and otherwise frightening women; Love, the girl, is the heir to a Los Angeles woo-woo empire, rich and spoilt and possessed of an intensity that suggests a classic Manic Pixie Dream Girl but in fact is that of a dead-eyed, self-centred narcissist. In this sense, You is a not-entirely-inelegant dissection of the traditional rom-com, in which grand and sweeping gestures – made at terrifying scale, and often meant to take the recipient by complete surprise – are mistaken for a sign of mythic and enduring love, instead of as an act of smooth manipulation. The language of love, in film and literature, has no shortage of metaphors and similes about death: I’m dying inside, I would kill for you, I would die for you, I love him so much I could die. The writers of You have simply taken all these declarations at face value, extrapolating them into three full seasons of absurdity and gore.

You’s new season, even more improbable and grand guignol than its first two, becomes a bloody, pleasingly dumb farce about the torture of trying to keep a flagging marriage alive in your early thirties. When Joe Goldberg and Love Quinn visit a couples’ therapist, she gives them the expected advice that the key to harmony is in the cultivation and the long-term maintenance of a shared goal or common interest, kept separate from the daily grind of parenting and domesticity. Where many couples might pursue, say, weekend hikes or cookery classes, Joe and Love quickly accept that their shared hobby might be killing, their tenderest moments happening in the aftermath of some new ugly outburst. When Love says of an annoying yummy mummy that she’d like to stab her in the eye, the joke is obviously that we are not sure if she is serious; later, when a marital spat comes to a head with her telling Joe that he is “perfectly happy to murder, for a different woman,” it is a genuinely amusing riff on the usual arguments about infidelity. “Fuck Marriage!” Joe yells, as he performs one of the most universally annoying tasks in married life – namely, struggling fruitlessly to open a new plastic rubbish bag. That the bag is being opened in order to dispose of a body, rather than to do some last-minute recycling, hardly makes the moment any less familiar.

In terms of its attitude to marriage, You’s third season has an obvious parallel in the superior Fox show about two Cold-War-era Russian spies forced to live in deep cover as suburban US citizens, 2013-2018’s The Americans. The latter, powered by an equally blunt metaphor about long-term heterosexual relationships – that marriage, inherently full of secrets and functional only when both parties have each other’s trust, is a cold war in itself – also literalised the cracks created between wives and husbands in the event of unfaithfulness, deception or neglect by having them result in violence. That husband and wife were, of course, not spoiled, hip millennials, and their killing was not aimless and entitled. In the opening scenes of You’s latest season, Joe is horrified to learn that their new baby is not the daughter he expected, but a son. He maintains that he is frightened that a son, with a man’s apparent inbuilt capacity for terrible deeds, will take after him; in fact, one senses that a Nice Guy like Joe Goldberg might have wished for the cleansing and validating opportunity to begin prefacing his sentences with “as the father of a daughter,” a phrase some men seem to think of as a spell to banish past acts of misogyny. Mommy, anyway, is a serial killer, too – perhaps someone ought to tell Joe that these days, women can do anything men can do, whether that ‘anything’ refers to becoming a firewoman, being a politician, or caving a neighbour’s head in with an axe.

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