If you’re the kind of person whose idea of holiday fare is less “Candace Cameron Bure realizes she should never have wasted her life working a Soulless Job in the Big City and must return to her hometown to decorate gingerbread houses with Stock-Photo Handsome Man” and more “semi-ironic psychosexual thriller about a low-voiced serial killer’s obsession with women he barely knows,” then the return of You to Netflix is nothing short of a Hanukkah miracle. And to all a good night, indeed.
Perhaps some of you have spent the entire year since season one began ruminating on this show’s twists, turns, and unlikely secret prisons with the alarming fixation of Joe Goldberg caressing a rare-edition hardcover. But probably most of you moved on to other assorted television shows and TikToks and now can’t even remember which literary family Shay Mitchell’s character was supposed to be distantly related to or whether John Stamos, the skeevy therapist, is still alive. Thankfully I, a professional recapper, am here to make sure you are all up to speed and ready to binge when season two drops on December 26. It’s time to recap the recaps!
Meet Joe Goldberg
Joe (Penn Badgley) thinks he’s a romantic soul, a man out of time who really belongs in an era when chivalry was common practice, technology had barely advanced beyond the printing press, and murders were easier to get away with because nobody had DNA kits. But alas, he is not the star of one of those Christmas movies in which a knight or some such hero accidentally time travels to this year of our national nightmare. (Though Netflix also has you covered if that’s what you’re into). He’s just some schmuck who absorbed all of the worst ideas from every “romantic” story ever told: that women want to be chased and coerced into relationships, that True Love™ conquers all even if the things it needs to conquer are other humans who must die so your love may endure.
Joe works in Mr. Mooney’s bookstore. In this New York bookstore is a basement. In the basement is this human-size fish-tank-looking thing where, in theory, special-edition books are stored in a temperature- and climate-controlled oasis but, in practice, people who are taken prisoner (first by Mooney and then by Joe) are stowed away. By the end of the season, we learn Mr. Mooney is ancient and mostly incapacitated, and it’s not exactly clear how he got that way — the ravages of time, or did Joe attack him? We have no idea! But probably, it was Joe.
In this bookstore, Joe meets — I’m sorry, but really, this is her name — Guinevere Beck (Elizabeth Lail). He immediately becomes utterly smitten with her because she buys one (1) book that he also likes, and therefore she is worthy. She’s dating someone else, a tool named Benji (Lou Tyler Pucci), which brings us to …
You never forget your first (homicide of the season)
Joe wants Beck. So for reasons that make a lot of sense to Joe, he ends up killing a bunch of people … including Beck. Let’s review!
Benji, the dirtbag boyfriend, gets offed via poison after Joe lures him into the plexiglass prison by pretending to be a reporter from New York Magazine. Benji is dumb enough to tell Joe he is deathly allergic to peanut oil, and this, along with his sexual proximity to Beck, is his speedy-quick demise.
RIP, Peach Salinger!
Joe’s next victim is Peach Salinger. Yes, she is related to that Salinger, and no, this does not mean that Peach (played by Pretty Little Liars alum and postmodern sponcon star Shay Mitchell) has any literary bent. The thing with Joe is, if you don’t like books — or if you do like books but you like reading them on Kindles or even in paperback, or you like books but not the books he thinks are important — you are a bad person. Peach had been harboring a secret crush on her BFF, Beck, and while she was this close to whisking Beck away to relative safety in Paris, Joe thwarted her plan. First, he tried to kill her by bashing her head in with a rock while she was on a run. After she survived that blunt-force trauma, he wound up shooting her and then staging her death as a suicide. How very.
One small issue for Joe is that, for reasons, there is a Mason jar of his urine in Peach’s house that one might think an enterprising police officer would discover. But, of course, shows like this rely on the near-total absence of enterprising police officers.
Enter Dr. Nicky
In the wake of her friend’s “suicide,” Beck decides to seek out therapy, which is a great idea for literally everyone in this show. Joe also goes but under a fake name so he can keep an eye on Beck’s therapist. Generally speaking, Joe is just paranoid and rude, but in this case, he isn’t completely off base, because Beck is in fact having sex with her therapist. (In Beck’s defense: Her therapist is John Stamos.) This guy, Dr. Nicky, winds up becoming very important, so just keep this tab open in your brain.
Now’s a good time to point out that Beck is extremely, almost parodically average
Not to speak ill of the dead or anything, but, for all of season one, we see that Beck is bad at basically everything she does! She wants to be a writer but doesn’t do more than collapse theatrically on her bed in front of her laptop, stare at a blinking cursor for three seconds, and then whine about how hard writing is. She got fired from her job as a yoga teacher because she fell asleep during class. Then she got a job at Joe’s bookstore — remember, she wants to be a writer — and she’s shitty at that job, too, because she can’t organize books by subject (?!). Her friends are almost uniformly awful, as is her taste in boyfriends. Her style is unremarkable (does Madewell have an Aggressively Forgettable Pretty Girl Collection?). She pretends she doesn’t want her boyfriend to do anything for her birthday when she obviously wants her boyfriend to do anything for her birthday. I’m not going to say she’s the worst, because Joe is an actual serial killer, but she’s not the best.
Beck’s death and Joe’s elaborate cover-up
Beck finds this little box in Joe’s apartment where he has been keeping evidence of his all-around creepery and crimes: Peach and Benji’s phones, underwear he stole from her apartment, a LITTLE JAR OF TEETH. She tries to play it cool, but Joe knows he’s been made, so he knocks her unconscious and brings her to the basement prison.
The entire finale is just Beck in the prison trying, and failing, to convince Joe to set her free. It’s torturous, honestly, with very little dramatic payoff, and you can read my take on it here. But for plot-point purposes: Beck almost escapes, but Joe kills her. He uses this letter she wrote while in captivity, which she’d hoped would ensure her release, as the basis for his cover-up — blaming everything on Dr. Nicky. Joe has Beck’s work published after her death, and we see it being sold in Mr. Mooney’s bookstore as Joe returns to his “normal” life just a story above the cellar where he committed two murders.
BTW, Joe also murdered someone who had nothing to do with Beck
Also in Joe’s care this season is a tender, young soul: Paco, the stairwell urchin (Luca Padovan). He’s Joe’s neighbor, and his mom has an abusive boyfriend named Ron. At the end of the season, Joe kills Ron. This is one of those blunt-force-trauma-to-the-head kills that actually takes. I guess he worked the kinks out with his first attempt on Peach.
This plot point was one of several key turns at the end of the season that really did not work for me. As I wrote at the time, “Is You trying to say that women do, in fact, need men to save them? Or that they don’t? Is it that all men are violent monsters and/or bystanders who will always choose their relationships with men (see: stairwell urchin leaving Beck in the basement out of loyalty to Joe) or that only most of them are?”
At least you’ll have beautiful ghosts
Joe has an ex-girlfriend whose demise is strongly hinted at all season. Her name is Candace (played by Ambyr Childers), and though the flashbacks we see would suggest that her relationship with Joe was never anything to write home about, Joe believed what they had was this once-in-a-lifetime, forever-love thing, and when she cheated on him, he was SHATTERED. She is supposedly in Italy now, but her friends say she left awfully abruptly, and we are clearly meant to think Joe has killed her, especially because Joe also thinks Joe killed her. But at the end of the season finale, she struts into Mr. Mooney’s store, presumably to take off her Lolita shades and fuck up Joe’s life.
That reminds me of one other homicide
In a flashback, we learn that Joe has killed Elijah, a grimy record exec who was hooking up with Candace while she and Joe were dating — even though Elijah insisted he didn’t know Candace had a boyfriend, which was pretty plausible to me. But not to Joe, who pushed Elijah off a roof to his death.
New season, new city
Though we don’t know why yet (one can assume Candace’s return has something to do with it, though), we do know season two brings Joe to Los Angeles, a city that seems like the antithesis of everything he holds dear. Real estate is a bit easier to come by, though. Just in case he needs to take more hostages.