“THIS TIME WILL BE DIFFERENT,” says YOU’s charming bookworm and literal lady-killer Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley) early on in season 2. In some ways, he’s right. The series has undergone a lot of changes: a new network (Netflix), a new locale (Los Angeles), a new leading lady (The Haunting of Hill House’s Victoria Pedretti). But even so, the sexy-scary-funny thriller’s formula is starting to feel a little familiar. Having fled to L.A. to escape his vengeful ex Candace (Ambyr Childers), Joe soon meets a beautiful chef named Love (Pedretti). From there, the action—based on Hidden Bodies, author Caroline Kepnes’ sequel to YOU—follows a blueprint viewers will recognize. Joe tracks Love’s life from afar; he competes for his beloved’s attention with her drug-addict brother Forty (James Scully), and he finds himself looking out for a vulnerable teen (Jenna Ortega) who lives in his apartment complex. Badgley is still immensely watchable as Joe, who has the heart of a rom-com hero and the mind of a creepy stalker. Pedretti’s Love is feistier and more damaged than Joe’s last obsession, Beck (Elizabeth Lail), while Gotham’s Robin Lord Taylor makes a welcome appearance as a hacker who becomes Joe’s unlikely confidant. Much of the new season is fun, and the writers’ nod to YOU’s more ridiculous tendencies by slipping in-jokes at the show’s expense. “We had a date with destiny,” Joe intones in one voiceover, before adding wryly, “I’m reading too much Chandler.”
But the ongoing narrative fake-outs are starting to feel tiresome: I stopped counting the number of times Joe narrowly escapes discovery and/or grievous bodily harm. And Joe’s existential crisis—“Am I refusing to face who I really am?”—is hard to take seriously as bodies pile up in his wake. With two more books on the way, Netflix is unlikely to wrap up Joe’s story with season 2. The finale delivers a twist that lands somewhere between clever and too clever by half, and it sets up more stories. “You can’t save someone from themselves,” Joe tells us. Let’s hope the same isn’t true about YOU.