Netflix recently released the much-awaited second season of its 2018 psychological romance thriller ‘You’. Following the events of the first season, Joe, haunted by demons from his past, is forced to leave New York. He arrives in Los Angeles where he takes a new identity and starts working at a grocery store named Anavrin, which interestingly is nirvana spelt backwards. With the pseudonym of Will Bettelheim, he continues with his quest for true love in the City of Stars. When he meets a young widow named Love Quinn, it is again a love at first sight for him but this time around he wants to take it slow. For, he doesn’t want to repeat his old mistakes with Beck which ended with him killing her in cold blood. But, keeping a restraint on his impulses has never been his strength. Will Joe finally succeed in finding his match in Love or will she too meet Beck’s fate?
The second season of ‘You’ takes much darker turns and serves as lesson in cinematic storytelling. How one can combine the best of literature and cinema to create something truly topical and loaded with strong socio-political commentary. The manner in which it exposes the flaws of parenting, patriarchy, how people abuse power, money, and fame, and how vulnerable a child is in this world, especially a girl child, among other things, is staggering to say the least. And it does so through a protagonist who himself has some serious morality issues. Joe is not a hero by any imagination but he nonetheless has certain redeeming qualities. In the first season, he tries his best to safeguard a child in his neighborhood. And in the second season again he jeopardizes his new life to protect a teenager from a sexual predator. ‘You’ is a reminder that the kind of world we live in is a world sans heroes or villains. For, in this world of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, we all have both heroic and villainous traits hidden in ourselves. And, at the end of the day, it's all a balancing act.
Now, the manner in which the season ends serves as a lesson for Indian content producers. It certainly adds value to viewing if the season ends up delivering a closure of sorts (Sacred Games, Leila, etc. all failed to deliver it). So, credit must go to Sera Gamble and team for not leaving the viewers high and dry. There are constant references to Dostoevsky, in particular ‘Crime and Punishment’, Raymond Chandler, and to none other than David Fincher (for obvious reasons that you will notice when you watch it) in the second season of ‘You’, which add interesting subtexts to the plot. One of the biggest reasons behind the popularity of the Netflix series is Penn Badgley’s mesmerizing portrayal of Joe. The unique thing about Joe is that anyone can take him for a boy next door with a cute smile, only to discover his dark, cruel side when it is a little too late. This time around, we begin to understand Joe better through his detailed back story about his troubled childhood that unfolds in a series of flashbacks well spread across all the 10 episodes of the season.
Now, Badgley is a very gifted actor. The first season of ‘You’ was all about him. But, the second season is also about Victoria Pedretti who is another gifted talent. She is able to seamlessly switch between different emotions at the drop of a hat. What she brings to ‘You’ is exactly what was missing in the somewhat one-dimensional first season. The character of Beck irritated the viewer at times and Elizabeth Lail as Beck somewhere felt weak in comparison to Badgley's Joe. But, Pedretti's Love is the perfect match to Badgley's Joe aka Will. It remains to be seen how the makers choose to use her character in the third season (if at all they do).
Joe, in many ways, is really the story's moral compass. In order to understand this better, let’s go back in time and look at Sherif Ali’s character in David Lean’s magnum opus ‘Lawrence of Arabia’. Ali is introduced as a brute and a barbarian who kills a fellow Arab, belonging to another tribe, simply because he drinks water from his well. The titular character TE Lawrence, a British Army lieutenant, treats him with utmost contempt for the ghastly act. But as the narrative progresses we see that Ali is still the same man but those around him begin to take darker turns. Interestingly, there is a scene towards the end when Sherif mocks Lawrence, following the latter’s participation in a bloodbath, reminding him that he has lost the moral high ground to ever lecture him on morality again. It's really a great moment to understand how futile it is to judge someone else's deeds. And to appreciate the scene even more it's important to understand that Lean was setting us up for this moment right from the time Ali meets Lawrence the very first time in the film. Now, Ali's black dress may have little to do with his clouded sense of morality and more to do with Lean needing a darker color dress to make Ali stand apart in the film's iconic mirage sequence but as viewers we see a great contrast between Ali's black dress and Lawrence's white one. During Lawrence's involvement in that bloodbath the white gets smeared in blood. And, in the process, Lawrence also loses the moral high ground.
In an exactly similar fashion, the characters around Joe in ‘You’ seem to initially appear to enjoy a moral high ground, but eventually we begin to realize that just like Lawrence's white dress, their morality too is not incorruptible. It doesn't take long for a person to get corrupted by power, fame, and money. Joe, on the other hand, is far more consistent with his limited sense of morality just like Ali. The use of Joe as story's moral compass is undoubtedly the biggest triumph of ‘You’.