#StillNotOverIt: You, season 3
Love Quinn deserved better
Warning: contains spoilers!
Now that we’ve all had a couple months to process the release of season three of You, I must come out here to say that I am, in fact, #stillnotoverit.
Since You’s release, I somehow get the hankering for a rewatch every year around my birthday (New Year’s Eve). A friend suggested it to me when I was bored at home in that weird, liminal Christmas to New Year’s stretch years ago, and a tradition was born. Since then, it has been subject to many other rewatches. In fact, I think I watched season three at least twice before this piece (Please note: I simply have no life).
As with most anything, critical reception of the season was mixed. Daniel D’Addario, a writer for Variety magazine says that Joe, Penn Badgley’s character, seems “stuck” and calls the insertion of murder into a depiction of stale, married life “affected and airless.” Washington Post’s Inkoo Kang, on the other hand, applauds You’s satire of suburban life, and argues that “only a piddling handful of pop-culture parodies go for the jugular” in attempts to take down such low hanging fruit. Riley Runnells (The Post, Athens) takes the view I have: that Victoria Pedretti’s character, Love Quinn-Goldberg, carried this season on her back.
I am a huge Pedretti fan, and I think she has been brilliant in everything she’s been in. Credit does need to be given to her performance, for sure, but I think what makes You, in general, an outstanding show, is the writing and narrative style. The use of first-person narration makes the darkly funny, satirical moments both unique, and, at least in my opinion, gut-splittingly hilarious.
In the first season, I was in stitches over Joe’s cognitively dissonant narration (like when he finds Beck in the subway station and thinks: “You’re too drunk to be alone! What if some sicko had followed you down here?’). It made the audience start to side with him, because he truly believed he was doing the right thing; as he pulled us along into his schemes, it became easier and easier to think his actions were justified. That is, until you catch yourself rooting for him, and recoil in horror from the person you have become.
Season two was maybe a little bit less funny, because the darling, sweet Love Quinn was just that, and certainly “deserved it” a lot less than the obnoxious Guinevere Beck (a chilling thought). Then, You played one of the greatest plot twists in cinematic history when it revealed that Love was every bit as murderous and calculated as Joe, if not more. And despite the carnage, it was really satisfying to see Joe begin to get what’s his.
And that’s the satisfying part about season three: Joe continues to get what’s coming to him. All he’s wanted is love, right? And he didn’t just get it, he got her: Love Quinn. And now he’s not happy. This is the basis for a million books and a million movies. What happens when you get what you want? In a story like Eat, Pray, Love (also one of my favourites, to be fair), the answer is rediscovering what brings you joy and working on yourself. The answer in You is… murder, infidelity, and foursomes, apparently.
I saw a very brilliant TikTok earlier this year – and I do wish I had saved it so I could credit the creator – who proposed that Beck holds up the mirror to the audience, making us question what we see in Joe that makes us almost able to justify what he does, but Love holds up a mirror to Joe, and he does NOT like it. Love may be a murderer too, but she doesn’t plot them like Joe does. She is ill equipped for the gruesome body disposal that Joe is, if not comfortable with, certainly used to. Moreover, she is repulsed by it. Joe, in turn, is horrified by his wife’s murderous, jealous rage, because it reminds him of his own.
This is where the true dark comedy of the show comes in: these two murderers are squabbling about who is a more justified murderer. When they’re standing over Natalie’s body, arguing about what to do, the show steps over to the absurd. And it makes a home there when they are shown discussing the issue in flash forwards at couples counselling. It’s this secondary layer that only the third season has added, the suburban drama, that makes this season so good. Contrasting the boring realities of suburban life – parenting and marriage issues, couples therapy, the seductive woman next door, body-shaming neighbours, birthday parties for kids that aren’t allowed to eat cake, etc. – with such high stakes as murder is so ridiculous that we shouldn’t even buy it. But we do. This layering is executed so perfectly, it becomes downright hysterical in that controversial foursome scene.
Here you may be thinking: “Yes, it is absurd, but why do you think Love deserves better? Stay on topic!” – and you’d be right. But the answer is simple, and in the form of a Twitter meme: “I support women’s rights, but also, women’s wrongs.” My favourite form of any media is unhinged women: books, TV shows, movies, whatever it may be, the more off-the-rails the central female character is, the more I love it. This is probably because, as a woman, I understand how awful the expectations placed on our gender can be, and it feels so good to see someone refuse to conform to them. Even if that someone is a murderess (who am I kidding…especially if they are).
And I’m not condoning Love’s murders, but I find her much easier to sympathize with than Joe. Joe only cares about himself and whatever fleeting form of infatuation he’s chasing at the moment. He justifies his violent actions as long as they’re in service of “protecting” his new infatuation. Love’s motive is similar, but not the same, and much more honest: to protect her family. That makes a lot more sense. And I’m not saying you should hit anti-vaxxers whose negligence could have killed your child over the head with a rolling pin, I’m just saying it makes sense that Love does.
The only thing disappointing about season three – and the part I’m really #stillnotover – is Love’s presumed death and Joe’s escape to pursue his beloved Marienne. But note that I say presumed. I can’t make myself believe the murderous duo is finished after one little poisoning, house-burning spat. Moreover, I agree with what D’Addario said about Joe: his character development has stalled. He knows all his own tricks and doesn’t seem to be taking steps to get over them. Where else is there to go? Love, on the other hand (I think), has much more room for character development. The father of her child has just attempted to kill her again and run off with her son, so can we expect to see a revenge narrative?
Admittedly, I’m a little reluctant to watch the next season with no Love Quinn-Goldberg. If it ends up being just another repeat of the same formula – stalking, seduction, murder – I might have to pass. If we get to see Love emerge from the ashes and take back her child (and maybe after that, get a little psychiatric help), it might be worth watching.