Joe is back and feeling nostalgic. Ah, the simpler times, when he believed in love! Oh, to be so young and naïve again! To be pacing back and forth before the un-curtained windows of an unsuspecting future corpse, feeling “brave and vulnerable” and like he was going about things “the old-fashioned way” as he cleared every obstacle in his path, including Benji (RIP) and Peach (also RIP). To have these sweet memories soured by the more recent recollections of his beloved discovering the stash of teeth he pulled from the gums of one of his homicide victims so as to keep their body unidentifiable (yet again, we say: RIP). To have no choice, in the end, but to bash in the skull of the woman he thought was his soulmate, based mostly on psychotic fantasies about her and based hardly at all on actual, lived experience with this other person (once more, with feeling: RIP!).
And when yet another person Joe thought was dead turned out to be very much alive — hello, Candace — Joe realized something. No, not that he needs therapy. (In his defense, technically, he tried that already.) No, he realized that he can never love again. How dramatic! Season two brings new boundaries to break. It’s like Fleabag swearing off sex.
To this end, Joe goes to what he has determined is the least romantic city in America: Los Angeles. Does it shock you that Joe, adorer of only musty hardcover books, is disgusted by L.A., by influencers and shameless self-promotion and that relentless, vicious sunshine? But he knows this is the place he must be in order to become what he claims is his truest self: “A quiet guy who just wants to lead a quiet life.” It’s also the place he must be because, as we will learn through some later-in-the-episode flashbacks, he is hiding from Candace, who has decided she would rather torture Joe by driving him insane through whatever means are available to her. You know, instead of just … going to the police … with all the evidence she has that he committed multiple homicides.
I’m glad that even though Shay Mitchell has left the You-niverse, her PLL DNA remains, which is to say, no one goes to the police when they should and murderers remain on the loose, for reasons. Candace believes that if Joe goes to prison, he’ll just sit in his cell thinking about what a good person he is and how wrong everyone else was. I mean, who cares? Is that so terrible? Bill Cosby is out here still insisting he’s innocent but he’s in prison because … he’s not. #JusticeForBenjiPeachAndBeck.
Joe has chosen the extremely inconspicuous fake identity of Will Bettelheim. He finds a new home on the second floor — with a clear view of all the yoga-doers across the way — with the assistance of a landlord who reports that the last tenant “left in a hurry.” Suspicious! Joe sets up shop, managing his “addiction” to stalking and murdering women by allotting himself only ten minutes a day to fixate on a variety of girls, instead of funneling all his energy toward one. Sure.
Joe gets himself a job at a bougie grocery store/café/bookstore called Anavrin, which is Nirvana backwards. (Is it supposed to be a parody of Erewhon? L.A. people, help me out!) Of course Joe casually drops a copy of Crime and Punishment during his interview, and in our end-of-episode reveal we will find out that Joe, naturally, has done his recon and he KNEW that this particular store was in need of a kind of man who could move several boxes of Russian literature. That this dude, Calvin, thought his shoppers would want to read Dostoyevsky because of Russian interference in the 2016 election is … not a great sign about his ability to determine what customers are going to crave.
Joe gets all dreamy and stupid watching a pretty girl browse through groceries. She baits him into a conversation about which foods look like which salacious body parts: Peaches are butts, obviously, and bell peppers “can be vaginal, depending on how you cut them.” Her impeccable judgment of character tells her that Joe isn’t skeevy. Turns out they’re co-workers because she works in the kitchen, and if you thought the show that gave you Guinevere Beck and Peach Salinger was going to slow down for season two, well, brace yourself for the introduction of a chick who is LITERALLY NAMED “LOVE,” I CAN FUCKING NOT WITH THIS SHOW. (I am delighted.) Joe is so smitten and handles these feelings in a super-healthy way: by fantasizing about Love while jerking off in the storeroom in a place where it would be so easy for anyone to walk in on him.
As he works to lock in his fake identity, Joe goes to the Hollywood DMV for a real (but inaccurate) license. He “runs into” Love (clearly he planned this) and she gets a little save-the-cat moment by righteously standing up for an Arabic-speaking woman in a hijab who was getting the rude, racist treatment from a DMV employee. Love kisses Joe on the cheek. Whoooo, boy. At least her Instagram is private! But this ensnares another girl in Joe’s sights: one who can teach him to build a convincing and cool social-media presence with which he can friend and follow Love’s.
It’s time to talk about this year’s stairwell urchin, who is really more of a balcony sprite: a precocious, lightly supervised 15-year-old who announces she is “basically 16, so.” Her name is Ellie, her big sister is the landlord, and I am extremely worried about her welfare. After a few choice run-ins with Joe — she flirts, he senses her deep need for a male protector, he accidentally chucks her phone off the roof — they bond. She makes the excellent case for not being a snob about all visual art, including movies (“Why are you robbing your eyeballs of all things that are good?”) and agrees to swap recs for recs, as long as he keeps the books short: “Nothing too long, I have a life.” She guides him in his creation of an Instagram, as hers is all her art and photography. She correctly susses out why Joe needs one of his own: Either he’s trying to get someone to fall in love with him or he wants revenge. She ends their conversation by saying: “Don’t take this the wrong way, Will, but please don’t be this boring on your Instagram.”
Some observations about Joe’s sudden social-media efforts: His Facebook is going to look sketchy as hell if it’s only been around for three days. There’s no way in hell Joe actually read The Power, — it was published too recently and was written by a woman and imagines an alternate reality where women have the physical upper hand against men, on account of they can electrocute people with their bare hands. (I highly recommend it!) While seeking out photogenic sunsets or whatever for his Insta, Joe falls asleep and gets a brutal sunburn. He awakes to discover Love has accepted his friend request and that she got married three years ago. Not ideal.
For some reason, Love already knows where Joe lives (What?? Do you tell your coworkers this information after knowing them for a day?) and arrives to help him with his sunburn (whyyyy). As in accordance with the Inviolable Rules of Television Health and Medicine, Joe’s injuries require tender, sensual care: the light dabbing of apple cider vinegar on his cheekbones, soft blowing on his face. Because Joe has 99-cent ramen on the counter, Love decides that it’s time to take Joe on a manic-pixie-dream tour of L.A., as inspired by the genuinely excellent food critic Jonathan Gold. After all these cutesy romantic attempts at finding Joe’s OTP (one true plate), she brings him back to Anavrin to make him a roast chicken, the truest test of a chef’s skills. It’s all very Meghan Markle cooking for Prince Harry.
Just as things are getting intimate, she reveals that she was married and her husband died two years ago. She says he got sick and now she feels “Victorian” for being a young widow. I write in my notes MAYBE SHE MURDERED HIM, IS THIS THAT KIND OF SHOW?!? Honestly I would love that but I feel like it’s more likely she’s just dealing with a tragedy that Joe’s presence in her life will only make worse. And when did she have time to buy him a book? Did she just grab it in the store/café? Anyway, Joe’s going to read Joan Didion now, good for him.
At the end of the night, the balcony sprite is in the stairwell, just in case you were confused about whose shoes she’s filling. She says a guy named Jasper came by, an “old friend” of Will’s. So Joe goes to this storage unit where it would appear he has constructed a glass cage like the one from the basement of the bookstore — with what funds?! Seriously, HOW? — and inside it sits the REAL Will, whose identity Joe is in the midst of stealing. Oh and also, Love doesn’t just “live in the neighborhood.” She is right across the street. Joe has been spying on her for ages. So much for saying good-bye to all that.