You Review, Season 3
Back we go into the mind and psyche of serial killer Joe Goldberg, as he navigates life in suburbia while grappling with what it means to be a father, in both Season 3 of the hit Netflix series as well as the book on which it’s based, Caroline Kepnes’s You Love Me. It is both really surreal and really rewarding to watch the show at the same time as reading the book, as I just did. I’d recommend both formats quite highly, enjoyed separately or together, as they complement each other well and in often ingenious ways while still being very much their own creatures.
In the show, Joe is feeling trapped and unhappy living in Madre Linda, a California suburb filled with athleisure-wearing social media mavens and tech bros, all embracing the latest hip self-improvement trends. He’s vowed to do his best by his son Henry Forty Quinn-Goldberg, and since that means keeping Henry’s mother Love happy by striving to be the perfect modern family, then so be it. But, as we saw at the end of last season, he’s already started obsessing over his neighbor Natalie, and the close of the very first episode here will show the unhappy result.
In the book, Joe and Love are also parents to a baby boy, but the wealthy Quinns have sent Joe into exile in Washington state, forcing him to sign a contract at the end of his prison stint that gives up his rights in exchange for a house, a car, and a tidy sum. Nowadays, his only contact with his son Forty is through Love’s Instagram account. He’s filled with impotent rage at the situation but is self-aware enough to acknowledge that his son is being raised in probably the best circumstances, given the fact that Joe is, you know, a murderer. But he’s vowed never to do it again so that when Forty grows up and comes looking for him, he can be the best man possible for his kid.
Joe’s decision to stop killing is easier for him to hold on to in the book than in the show, as Love, while certainly a sociopath in both series, is far more present in the Netflix version. Just as unhappy as her husband is with their stifling life in suburbia, TV Love’s desire to keep her family together no matter what, coupled with her impulsiveness, leads to her choosing literal violence more often than not, forcing Joe to aid and abet her wrong-doing despite his own reluctance to kill again… or at least, to kill again for her.
Even as show and book diverge in exploring these themes of family and responsibility, they both share one very important plotline: Joe’s growing crush on his boss at the library where he volunteers. Librarian Mary Kay DiMarco plays a large role in the book, with her eighteen-year-old daughter Nomi, her tightly knit circle of friends, and her closely kept secrets. In a sure sign of growth over the course of the book series, Joe shows greater patience with his love interest’s flaws and foibles than he would have in previous novels, his mind not automatically leaping to disgust and murder when it comes to the people standing in the way of their relationship. This Joe is tired, and he just wants his happily ever after and to be a good man. But Chekhov’s gun will combine with a disturbingly hilarious literary subversion to threaten everything he’s worked for and take it away for good.
Chekhov’s gun also plays a big role in the TV show, with perhaps the deadliest of these devices being introduced in the eighth and funniest episode, Swing And A Miss. This episode, in which Joe and Love try to bring a sexual spark back into their dying marriage, is also notable for being the one that leans most heavily into the farcical aspect of their murderous lives, in a season that is far less conventionally humorous than the previous two. This is certainly understandable: it’s hard to get a lot of laughs out of a marriage’s painful dissolution. That’s why there are so few comedies that revolve around separation and divorce, in comparison with the entire movie genre that is the romantic comedy, where the foundational premise, as with the first two seasons of You, is how people meet and fall in love. What this season does share in common with its predecessors though is its ability to keenly dissect all the ridiculous, flawed people showcased here and still manage to make you care more deeply for (most of) them than you ever thought possible. One particular cameo even had me crying buckets for Love despite my abiding belief that she is the Absolute Worst.
Joe, of course, is not much better, but at least he’s trying to do right, even if he can never quite seem to learn his lesson about control being the enemy of real love. We learn so much more about his past, however, particularly during the time when he was sent into care and how his faith in his mother (and in the kind school nurse who effectively became his substitute mom) was shaken, further eroding his model of healthy relationships. This was a great season for understanding more about why Joe is the way he is, even if he didn’t grow as much as Book Joe did, and even if the razor-sharp wit was less laugh-out-loud funny than in previous years. Season 3 ends with Joe making hard decisions before landing in a new place, still endlessly searching for that elusive love.
This is very similar to the book, though You Love Me ends in a different new locale and with a narrator who’s been defeated, who yearns still but from a deeper sense of loss, one that wasn’t self-inflicted for a change. The previous novel, Hidden Bodies, concluded with Joe in a sort of limbo, waiting for redemption but prepared to suffer and change for it. This one ends with a wiser, more sorrowful Joe, nurturing an old shared dream while cherishing a fragile new hope for the future. Joe is easier to like in the book this go-round, but makes a compelling protagonist in both third installments of their respective media. I would highly recommend diving deeply into both, especially if you enjoyed the first two in each series.