You Recap: Red Scare


Portrait of the Artist
Season 4 Episode 2
Editor’s Rating 3 stars


Portrait of the Artist
Season 4 Episode 2
Editor’s Rating 3 stars
Photo: B) 2022 Netflix, Inc.

A real change of pace for Joe: The “you” of You is not the object of his obsession but a psycho killer who tried (and failed) to frame Joe for Malcolm’s murder. A fun question for the rest of us: Does this show hold together when Joe is the stalkee and not the stalker?

As tedious as it may have been to watch Joe hunt yet another unsuspecting, doomed woman for a season, I’m having a hard time getting invested in finding out who the big bad is, maybe because so far, most of these new people are barely distinguishable from one another. So far, nobody is popping out of the pack like scene-stealer Sherry did last season, nor are they rich and terrible in an especially interesting and hilarious way, like Peach Salinger-yes-like-that-Salinger from season one. At present, Joe has no history with any of these clowns, so their interest in him is surface-level and, therefore, less interesting to us.

Now that I’m saying it, I feel like it would be much more interesting for Joe to be on the run from someone from his past … like ELLIE. Maybe Joe is so convinced he’s left his past behind him that he has ruled out this most likely possibility, and literally every person we’ve met in London is just a red herring. Joe is so fixated on the question of “who would want Malcolm dead?” he neglects to ask, “who would want to frame Joe for murder?” Maybe the person who killed Malcolm had no motive other than to hold Joe accountable for the very long list of homicides from which he has, so far, escaped unscathed? (Minus two toes, I guess.) Something to consider!

Joe is at this dinner party to celebrate Simon’s art opening. Adam’s hair is an anachronism, sorry! This is the hairstyle this guy would have had in 2010, not the present day! Nothing really happens here except for, as is required by law, everyone who talks saying something conspicuously ominous or death-related to make Joe feel edgy (“You steal my spotlight, and I murder you,” says Adam, as one does). Joe gets home to find a note under his door inviting him to “a night to die for.” The night in question is Simon’s art opening, so it’s unclear why the invitation wasn’t distributed at the dinner Joe was just attending. Joe is horrified to discover that he is in “a whodunnit: The lowest form of literature,” which made me laugh out loud. The art show is at Kate’s gallery. Does anyone know why Joe is allowed to say he’s Googling something, but then the search engine that shows up on the screen is something fake?

While Kate leaves Malcolm some voicemails that either mean she believes he’s still alive or she is covering her tracks because she knows he’s dead, Joe hits his favorite place, the library, to face his fears: books that are fun to read. Nadia, the cool girl student, reveals that she has several other jobs because “sleep is for the rich,” so now we know that Joe will consider her a Good Person™. She explains the enduring appeal of mysteries (“they hide a social commentary”) and explains the basic rules: (1) There are no coincidences; all murders are motivated by sex, money, or revenge; (2) and the first suspect is usually the second victim. Under the flimsy guise of “I’m working on a book about this,” Joe says he’s envisioning “a single violent murder and a frame job,” so now we get some meta-commentary about how basic that is unless it’s perfectly executed. Between Nadia’s foreshadowing and Joe’s insistence that this is a one-and-done situation, I’m curious if any of you were even slightly surprised by the second murder.

Joe decides it is a good idea to FaceTime (!) the hitman (!!), who gave him VERY clear instructions to disappear and never contact him again (!!!). Elliot claims total ignorance about the shitshow in which Joe has swiftly landed himself, then smashes his own phone, so Joe can’t call him again. Before Joe can even process being so aggressively ghosted, a new Evanesce message comes through: The stalker knows Joe is not a real professor and that “Jonathan Moore” is not his real name. Joe’s new quest: ID the stalker before the stalker can ID him.

Joe is summoned to Lady Phoebe’s place in the middle of her laser hair removal for reasons unclear — I guess to confirm that he received the invitation to the art opening? But obviously, he is invited, because he was at the dinner? It doesn’t really hold up, and I guess we are just supposed to take from this that Phoebe is looking around for any old excuse to see Joe, who said something he cannot remember to her that made her feel completely understood in (presumably) a way her ass-slapping douchey boyfriend never does. Speaking of Adam, he’s on an investor call with a drink in his hand. It is 10:00 a.m.

It doesn’t take long for Joe to find out that Malcolm had no friends among his “friends,” and the only person who seemed to like him at all was Kate. Joe is sent to the gallery’s gifting suite to be properly attired for the evening. I was hoping for a makeover montage, but we just get more uninspired snark from people even Joe can’t bother keeping track of: Connie (“horse guy”), Sophie (“ponytail girl”), and Simon, the artist who is too cool to speak. Scenes like this are sonically very annoying because everyone is talking, and then Joe is providing this voiceover that doesn’t tell us anything we can’t tell just from watching the show ( “Malcolm is a fuckboy” and “So Simon hates Malcolm”). The voiceover works when Joe’s commentary tells us something we don’t know, or when he undercuts what he is saying or doing, but not when he’s just narrating what we can all observe for ourselves.

Onward! Joe steals a copy of Malcolm’s office key from Kate and investigates. For some reason, he cares that all of Malcolm’s books are by men. That one conversation with Nadia really did a number on him! Then he discovers, hidden in the base of a lamp, a stash of cash and a notebook of what Joe figures are horse bets and IOUs. Could Malcolm have died in debt to some scary people, having gambled away the family fortune? Maybe! Am I at all invested in answer to that question? Honestly, no! We barely knew Malcolm, and he didn’t seem that interesting!

On his way out, Joe runs into Nadia; he’s able to cover his breaking-and-entering, and she tells him that he can’t have his detective just muck about for a motive. The detective, she explains, needs to be special. So Joe realizes he needs to utilize his strengths: It’s time to start stalking. (It also becomes clear that Nadia swings by Malcolm’s office for more than just above-board office hours, if you know what I mean.)

Joe speedily rules out more of this pack of new people: Gemma barely knew Malcolm existed, and Princess Blessing is distracted by her belief that life is a simulation. Then he tracks Adam down and tells us that he’s learned Sundry House is Adam’s first success after a string of embarrassing failures and a high-profile DUI. Adam, Joe deduces, is “a charming bully working hard to impress a dad that wrote him off years ago.” He also figures out that one of the names in the horse book — Louis the Sun King — is a reference to Adam, who has some meeting Malcolm was planning to go to at 3:00. So Joe tails Adam into the guts of the building to find out what his secret meeting is — Adam wants to have a waiter pee on him. Joe wonders if this was a blackmail-worthy offense Malcolm was hoping to use before he got whacked.

As Joe tries to leave without getting busted, he gets caught by Adam’s body man, Vic. (I think he’s Adam’s body man? But also he’s a driver? Do we know who he works for?) Joe plays the eat-the-rich solidarity card, claiming he’s a writer working on a book about the one percent and inequality. (You could say he’s writing a book to take you … inside their world.) Vic accepts this, keeping the cash Joe stole from Malcolm’s lamp and telling him to forget this ever happened.

Time for Simon’s gallery show! Joe slips in through a side door with a woman we will later learn is not exactly on the guest list. Yet another terrible rich person is here, this one is named Roald, and I am not going to pretend I know who he is, except for he was at Sundry House, I think? I love that Kate disowns Joe at every turn. Adam is on molly and talks to Joe about this installation that I guess is not Simon’s (because he’s a painter, yeah? So this is just some unrelated piece of art): an egg you can buy for 70,000 pounds. If you buy it, you get to crack it open and see what’s inside. Adam admits that he barely knows Phoebe — not a surprise — but dating her is like having cookies for every meal. (I swear if any of you ever see me dating a man who describes me this way, PLEASE tell me so I can break up with him immediately.) It takes virtually zero prodding from Joe for Adam to go straight to, “Malcolm is trash.” For some reason, Joe rules Adam out as a suspect.

Simon’s main event is a series of cat paintings, which Joe dismisses at first, but then we get intense music and close-ups of the eyes, so we are to believe that Simon (or whoever really painted these cats) is a genius. Rhys is there, getting it; Joe reminds us, for the hundredth time in two episodes, that Rhys grew up poor. Upon learning that Adam is the type to buy a bunch of art he’ll never display (“he calls it his ‘portfolio’”), Joe blurts out to Rhys, “WHY ARE YOU FRIENDS WITH THESE PEOPLE?” Rhys basically says it’s because they have history, can’t make new old friends, etc. I mean, doesn’t he need rich friends if he wants to run for mayor? I guess Joe wouldn’t take kindly to such a gauche explanation.

Out of nowhere, the girl who let Joe into the building throws red paint all over the art, splashing Simon and Kate in the process. “You gaslighting piece of shit!” she screams. Security escorts her out; meanwhile, Simon picks up the bucket, finishes what she started, and says some pretentious nonsense about meta-cat being destroyed after birth. (Phoebe, sounding like a parody of an idiot: “Oh, that was part of the show!”) Simon tells Kate to find and arrest the vandal or ELSE. Though she’s made it quite clear she wants nothing to do with Joe, Kate has no choice but to accept his help here since he saw the vandal’s ID and knows where to find her.

Joe and Kate wind up in a rough part of town where the girl hangs around in what looks like an abandoned bar. She says her name is Blue, that she worked as Simon’s assistant and is the one who painted those canvases — and she’s not the only one. Simon kept his assistants plied with drugs, what Blue calls “a calculated move to turn me into a junkie that no one would believe.” The cat in question is named Isis, a name from Malcolm’s notebook. Joe, who will always totally support women except for when he is annoyed at them or feels betrayed by them, in which case he must murder them and/or destroy their lives, assures Blue that he believes her. Kate gives her a shut-the-fuck-up check for three thousand pounds. Joe lingers long enough to find out that Malcolm was going to expose Simon right before he got sidetracked (stabbed).

Kate tells Joe that she cannot fathom why he cares about any of this and what he’s doing here. “I know a grift when I see it. You are a hollow nobody with no life of his own.” Accurate assessment, Kate! Trust those instincts! Sad about how she’s probably going to die now that she’s figured this out :(.

Joe returns to a bench outside the party to wait out Simon, who Joe has decided is “a monster and a killer.” If you’ve been paying attention, you know that our first suspect is our second victim, so though Joe does his damndest to stay awake long enough to corner Simon, he passes out and wakes up in a world where Simon is a dead man, missing an ear. Keep in mind Malcolm was missing a pinky … someone is starting a totally normal collection!

Joe joins his “grieving” comrades, though only Phoebe seems all that upset, and even she’s not too distraught to put together a little outfit for the occasion. Everybody else is remarkably nonplussed about a homicide striking their social circle. I get that we are supposed to register their nonchalance and think that (1) they’re all suspects and (2) they’re all assholes, but it doesn’t make any sense that they wouldn’t all be panicking about this. And isn’t it worrisome to anyone (besides Kate) that Malcolm’s gone MIA? Wouldn’t he have been expected to attend Simon’s art show?

Rhys can’t handle how insensitive everyone is, so he heads outside for some air. Joe follows him because he is convinced that Rhys is different. Rhys confesses to his brand new best friend that he’s not shocked that Simon was killed because he made many enemies. “Maybe karma caught up to him.” (Hey, karma is a cat.) Rhys, if you really want to be mayor, I’d stop running around with people with this many skeletons in their closets!!

Joe sees that Kate is still leaving Malcolm messages and that she’s stayed in touch with Blue, sending her to rehab and encouraging her to give a statement to the police. Joe can’t figure out why Kate would keep her altruism to herself. “I fell in with the most insane, damaged people on Earth,” says Joe, and I write in my notes, I mean, you could just move; nobody even likes you. 

Back at the library, Nadia spots Joe. Joe finds out that Nadia calls Malcolm by his first name (they were definitely hooking up) and that Malcolm swore he’d look at her pages, which she struggled to share with anyone, and then he vanished (is dead now). Joe offers to read them instead, and she accepts, even though she considers his taste a little suspect. Her giggle is very cute. “I knew you were cool for a millennial,” she says, and I fear for her life!!!!

Joe gets home to find that a certain someone popped in while he was away and redecorated. The wall is plastered with all the stories about Joe’s past, from Beck’s death to the present day. And there’s a message on his phone: “Hello, Joe.”

You Recap: Red Scare