It was in L.A. that Joe, who’d describe himself as an unabashed romantic (until he murders the objects of his infatuation when they no longer fit into the stories he tells about them in his head), met Love (Victoria Pedretti), a dysfunctional heiress with a violent streak who also can’t help turning new acquaintances into pet projects. Season 2 ended with Love pregnant with Joe’s child, and Season 3 opens with the now-married couple and new parents trying desperately to find domestic bliss in Madre Linda, a wealthy, techie-dominated “hell-burb” outside San Francisco, where kids’ birthday parties feature a TEDx stage and even the “gluten-free, sugar-free … happiness-free cupcakes” that Love bakes to fit in are only grudgingly tolerated.
Deceit is the unstable combustible that makes “You” propel forward and occasionally erupt into delicious disaster: Joe’s seductions are calculated performances of the kinds of men he thinks women want, and his self-delusions are even more dangerous. But as much as Joe hates the suburbs, feeling like a predator forced to cage itself, it’s an unexpectedly fitting habitat for him: He’s surrounded by inveterate liars and chronic pretenders just like him, like mommy influencer Sherry (Shalita Grant) or TV journalist Ryan (Scott Michael Foster), whose sobriety story is just too good to be true. Joe and Love may roll their eyes at the private-school strategizing and self-optimization tips that are supposed to pass for conversation in their town, but in the end, the couple spend all their time putting on a happy front, just like everybody else.
Many, many shows hit their stride in their third season, and “You” is no exception. The new batch of episodes easily comprises the show’s best yet, its tone solidified, its pacing and plotting perfected. Joe’s ever-present voice-over is full of razor-wired bon mots about his neighbors, and the writers smartly focus their lacerating observations on a certain kind of carb-phobic, wellness-hacking, vaccine-flexible, ceaselessly smug and surveilled Northern Californian milieu. In Madre Linda, Joe sneers, fun is “glorified productivity.” Reader, he’s got a point.
But as brutally accurate as the season’s takedown of (a specific contemporary brand of) the suburbs is, the new setting is an inspired backdrop to the pas de deux of duplicity between Joe and Love. If Joe’s past M.O. has been to tell himself that he’s suddenly head over heels in love with a stranger — a habit he doesn’t outgrow with a wedding band around his finger and a newborn he genuinely wants to do right by at home — he now spends much of the new season trying to persuade himself that he’s still enamored with Love. His previous soliloquies revealed him to be an unhinged sociopath whose idea of love couldn’t sustain a real relationship. Now, his efforts to fall back in love with his wife expose him, terrifyingly, as one of us.
Love lives in fear — that her husband will grow bored and kill her, but also that he’ll find someone else to become obsessed with and replace her in his heart. (He, of course, rightly worries that any woman he becomes attached to will find herself on the wrong side of Love’s kitchen implements.) But Love is still reeling from the death of her twin brother, Forty (James Nicholas Scully), at the end of Season 2 — raw grief that draws her to the handsome poor little rich college student (Dylan Arnold) next door, whose needs are simple in ways that Joe’s are not. The longer they stay together, Joe and Love realize that their ideas of true partnership diverge quite a bit, as do their notions about how best to care for a child with two parents who never had proper caretakers of their own.
“Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” breakout Tati Gabrielle shows new dimensions as a damaged librarian whom Joe befriends, while Scott Speedman and Marcia Cross co-star in smaller roles. But the season belongs to Badgley and Pedretti, who share formidable (and foreboding) chemistry. Every marriage has its moments of island-of-two intimacy and skin-crawling familiarity. Add a set of knives and a complementary pair of emotionally sepulchral childhoods, and Joe and Love will finally have to start facing who, and what, they married.
The third season of You (10 episodes) premieres Friday on Netflix.