you again

A Highly Condensed Recap of You, Season Two

These two… yikes. Photo: Netflix

The second-season finale of You aired in December 2019. Given everything that has occurred since then — an election and an insurrection, fires and floods, a literal plague — it’s completely understandable if your fragile brain has not held onto the finer plot details of this gloriously deranged, deeply twisted love story. With Netflix dropping season three this Friday, it is my sacred duty to recap my recaps so you can show up knowing your stairwell urchins from your balcony sprites, your blunt-force traumas from your emotional stranglings, your successful homicides from your whoopsies-she-was-buried-alives. Here is your guide to all things season two! (And if you want to go all the way back to the beginning: I salute you, and I have a season-one catch-up for you too.)

Meet Will Bettelheim

Joe Goldberg’s (Penn Badgley) last relationship ended badly (he strangled her to death), and even though he’s prone to romanticizing things, probably if he thinks about it he will acknowledge the course of that love didn’t exactly run smooth. (He killed a bunch of people and also kept some of their teeth in a little box, for memories!) When last we saw Joe, he saw a ghost: Candace (Ambyr Childers), an ex he is VERY surprised to see because, as is his standard operating procedure, he thought he killed her. He even buried her! But she crawled outta that dirt and lived to tell the tale, be deeply fucked up by it, and attempt to exact revenge in the most convoluted way imaginable. Given all of this, Joe concludes he has no choice: He must flee his vengeful ex and swear off love. So he moves to what he decides is the least romantic city in the United States: Los Angeles. Like many a wandering soul new to L.A. before him, Joe uses this move as an opportunity to reinvent himself. His new name: Will Bettelheim.

“Will” is actually an alias that this other guy (Robin Lord Taylor) made up and spent ten years creating and fortifying, so Joe’s fake identity is someone else’s fake identity, like matryoshka dolls of deception. The thing is, Joe doesn’t have ten years to invent and nest inside a fake identity, so he just kidnaps and traps “Will” so that he, Joe, can become “Will.” But remember: There is no Will. There was never a Will! Everything is artifice, all of humanity is a performance: This is our thematically on-the-nose introduction to life in Los Angeles.

Not-Will begins the season locked inside Joe’s special homicide aquarium, which Joe reconstructed in a storage locker here in his new city of residence. “Will” is good at hacking and Joe keeps him alive for a while so that he can aid and abet in some stalking and other such crimes. Eventually, “Will” makes it out alive, but he stays in touch with Joe for some dopey reason. Literally everyone on this show is a psycho.

When he’s not busy with all of that, Joe also has a job at Anavrin — it’s Nirvana backwards, lmao — a grocery store that is also a bookstore. It is here that he bumps into another improbably named love interest …

Meet Love

Yeah, her name is Love. I don’t know what to tell you guys! I’m just the recapper. When we and Joe meet Love (Victoria Pedretti), she seems like she’s going to be his next victim. Everything about their casual run-ins was actually staged by Joe, who lives across the street from her because if you can’t spy on someone through their poorly curtained windows, can you even date them?!

But our season-ending big twist will reveal that she is even crazier than he is, or at least the exact same amount of crazy, because once she finds out all the shit he has done in the past, she likes him even more and just doubles down on wanting them to be together forever. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. For starters, she is a master chef with a complicated history. She was married to someone who died — apparently under normal circumstances? But I still have my doubts!!! — and has a brother. Which. Oooh boy. Let’s just start a new section here for …

Love’s deranged, straight-out-of-gothic-horror family situation

Forty (James Scully) is Love’s twin brother (their rich, terrible parents own Anavrin and named their twins as a tennis pun), and for much of the season he seems like an insufferable and spoiled man-child. He had a Sundance smash ages ago and has been chasing this lost glory ever since. He struggles with drugs and addiction. He has one of those sibling relationships people only really have on TV shows and in movies, where he is just way too involved in his sister’s personal life and vice versa, to the point that Love and Joe keep their relationship a secret because Forty is “threatened” by Love having sexual partners. Things pick up for Forty when he meets his dream girl at SXSW … and it’s Candace! Welcome back, Candace! She has a fake name too: Amy.

Candace-as-Amy plants an idea in Forty’s head: He should adapt Beck’s book into a movie. And who better to assist in this project than Joe? Dun-dun-DUNNNN.

The thing about Forty is, it turns out he’s carrying around a whole lot of trauma because he thought that, when he and Love were 13, he killed their au pair, who was 19 and sexually abused him but who Forty thought was his “first love.” Forty’s parents made the murder look like a suicide to protect their fair son, and Forty has supposedly been plagued with guilt and pain ever since. But what actually happened is that Love killed the au pair by slitting her throat (this, we will learn, is her signature move). As I wrote at the time this tidbit was revealed, “It’s not entirely clear why she thought the best move there was to stage it so Forty would think he was responsible for a murder he’d done in a blackout rage, which in turn his parents would frame as a suicide — instead of just, you know, staging it as a suicide from the jump — but she was so young! Teenagers don’t have fully developed frontal-lobe function, which is what makes them such bad murder-plotters.” More on that psychosexual drama later!

Speaking of family dramas, we learn a little more about Joe’s origin story

No villain is complete without one! We get a lot of gauzy flashbacks to Joe’s youth in which we learn that his mom had sex with more than one person and therefore was a terrible whore who neglected her son — she does leave him alone in the grocery store to have sex with strangers, which, like much of this series, feels a little hit-us-over-the-head-with-it, but okay — and their home full of fighting. In these sepia-toned memories, we see that Joe shot and killed his mom’s abusive boyfriend, thus setting him off on a lifetime of theoretically justified murders for women he deems worthy of saving. Cool!

Oh, also, Joe killed one other person

So there’s this guy named Jasper (Steven W. Bailey), whom the “real” “Will” owes $50,000, and when Joe-as-Will does not deliver this money immediately, Jasper chops off Joe’s finger (!), but he gets it reattached (!!). Anyway, Joe winds up capturing Jasper, the details aren’t important (you can read them here if you like), and, as happens when you’re dealing with dangerous men who go around slap-chopping everything in sight, Joe winds up stabbing Jasper in the gut and killing him. Then he disposes of the body by putting it through a meat grinder, as you do.

Every season has a doomed youth, and this one’s is Ellie

Stairwell urchins are so last season. This time, we have a balcony sprite: Ellie (Jenna Ortega) is a sassy, street-smart teen. Her older sister, Delilah (Carmela Zumbado), is Joe’s landlord. Alas, Ellie’s destiny is all but sealed the minute Joe becomes the slightest bit aware of and interested in her existence. Like, literally right after he meets her he puts spyware on her phone.

Ellie actually does need to be saved from Hendy, who, in a very depressing life-imitates-art-imitates-life turn of events, is a comedian who preys on young girls and is played by Chris D’Elia, a comedian who has been accused by multiple women of soliciting sex from them via graphic messages on social media and is currently facing a child-pornography lawsuit from a woman who says D’Elia groomed and had sex with her when she was seventeen. Do I even know what to say about this person choosing to play this character? It’s all very Louis C.K. making jokes about compulsively masturbating/Woody Allen’s entire oeuvre/etc., etc., etc.

In the You-niverse (I’m sorry), Delilah knows Hendy is bad news; he drugged and sexually assaulted her. But her warnings go ignored by Ellie, who accuses her sister of being an overprotective prude. Joe devotes much of the season to trying to catch Hendy out as the child predator that he is; Delilah wants to do the same. Neither of them, unfortunately, know how investigative journalism works, or what you can and can’t do when you’re trying to get someone else busted for committing a crime, so none of this really goes well for them.

Joe isn’t the only person with a secret hidey-hole for victims

Hendy has a sex dungeon in his basement where he does all his child abuse, and of course Joe sneaks in and discovers that Hendy kept a stash of Polaroids of underage girls. But again, because Joe does not know how to solve a crime beyond “can’t I just kill the person I’ve decided, in my infinite wisdom, is Bad?,” he can do nothing useful with these photos that he obtained without a search warrant while breaking and entering and trespassing — and anyway, he removed them from Hendy’s house, so there’s no way to prove that that’s where he found them, and even if he could prove it, they’d be inadmissible in court. You all know this because you’ve all listened to at least one (1) true-crime podcast, or you’ve read literally any #MeToo investigation, or you’re not a total dumb-dumb, or maybe all three. If you want to revisit my rant on this subject, it is here in this recap.

Hendy grooms Ellie — “You’re so talented,” “You’re not like other teens,” “I treat you like a grown-up because I get you,” barf barf barf — and lures her over to his place for a party that, gosh, can you believe it, is just the two of them. He drugs her, but Joe is also there, and Joe drugs Hendy even MORE than Hendy drugged Ellie, so while Ellie sleeps off her GHB cocktail on the couch upstairs, Hendy regains consciousness strapped to a chair in his own dungeon. Joe loses his cool and takes off his mask; now that Hendy has seen Joe’s face, Joe has no choice but to do a murder. Joe cleans up the crime scene, but as you might expect, Ellie’s life goes from “not so great” to “full yikes” once she realizes she was at Hendy’s house when he died.

Guess this is as good a time as any to tell you that Joe is being haunted by the Beck’s ghost

She pops up periodically to remind Joe that he murdered her with his bare hands and that his conscience must be getting awfully tired schlepping around all this death.

Love finds out that “Amy” isn’t who she says she is

For convoluted reasons (details in this recap), Love discovers Amy/Candace’s real identity. She resolves this issue by sending Amy away with some cash. Extremely in-character way for a very rich person to deal with something she doesn’t want to deal with! In the process, though, Love learns that Will/Joe isn’t who HE says he is, so they briefly break up.

During this breakup, Joe has sex with Delilah (nooooo), and Love hooks up with a guy named Milo, who was BFFs with her late husband. Delilah and Joe have one of their trysts outside and get busted and go to jail, which is only important because Delilah has a cop friend named Fincher (Danny Vasquez), who saw Joe leaving Hendy’s place and dumping evidence and is concerned about our friendly neighborhood serial killer. Fincher tips Delilah off, so Delilah goes — alone! WHY? — to Joe’s place, where she finds his key and then his storage locker and then, you guessed it, his plexiglass prison for doing kidnapping, torture, and homicide.

Putting the “dead” in “deadline”

Joe plans to flee, but those plans are thwarted by Forty, who hires some goons to steal their phones and passports and hold them, at gunpoint, in a hotel until they knock out a draft of their script. Which is one way to hit your deadline. Not my style, but maybe Forty knows something I don’t! Forty also drugs Joe with LSD. At some point in the night, Delilah winds up dead. But how?? Joe was going to set her free!!! He had an elaborate system involving time-released handcuffs and everything!!!! Did he kill her while tripping?!! Well …

Anything he can do, she can do better

LOVE kills Delilah.

But first: Candace told Forty the truth about Joe, but Forty didn’t believe her. So Candace takes matters into her own hands, sleuths out the location of the storage unit, and manages to lock Joe in there with Delilah’s corpse. Does she call 911 then? No, she does not! Instead she just texts Love and is like, come see this situation for yourself. Love arrives, sizes up the whole situation and then … kills Candace. By stabbing her in the jugular.

See, the thing is that Love is also psychotic

When Love read Beck’s book, she was like, Wow this bitch is basic … only I deserve you, Joe. During that acid-trip night, Love tailed Joe to the storage unit so that she could find and kill Delilah. Love’s family “owns” the LAPD, so Ellie will get off the hook for Hendy’s murder, in which — thanks to Love’s anonymous tip — Ellie is now a prime suspect. Later on, Joe gives Ellie a bunch of cash and she hightails it to Florida. She will be fucked up forever thanks to Joe, protector of women everywhere.

Will Love kill Joe? Will Joe kill her? These homicides in the making are paused when Love reveals she is pregnant.

So she and Joe set aside their issues (murder) and go to a wedding together (it’s honestly ridiculous that Love gets a plus-one to this wedding … plus-ones are very hard to come by, for bullshit reasons), where Joe realizes that he has to start being a better man, worthy of their unborn baby. He and Love are united in their insanity. Which is not great news for Forty, who finally sees the truth — he even travels to New York to visit Dr. Nicky in prison — but is too late to stop the inevitable.

He comes back to L.A. to confront Love and Joe. He even brings a gun — which, finally someone shows up to these encounters prepared to deal with known murderers! Forty fesses up that he has known for a long time that Love killed their au pair, and he correctly says that Love’s big pregnancy news is just the start of a horror movie. But then Officer Fincher shows up and kills Forty. RIP, Forty. I was just beginning to like you.

First comes Love, then comes marriage, then comes …

Six months later, Joe is still sending Ellie money. He and Love live in a pretty house with a bright-green lawn. The voice-over at the end of the season made it sound like Joe was about to become obsessed with his next-door neighbor, but trailers for season three suggest his new obsession is his baby on the way. Probably they’re going to lead quiet, peaceful lives from here on out!

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A Highly Condensed Recap of You Season Two