This article contains spoilers for Season 3 of the Netflix series You.
If someone presented an elevator pitch of You Season 3 without any identifiers, Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley) and Love Quinn (Victoria Pedretti) would seem like monsters. They are murderers at the end of the day. But the Netflix series somehow still gives viewers reasons to empathize with them, which feels like it should be criminal on its own. One of the biggest shifts in the latest season, however, was viewers’ changing perceptions of Love. As Joe tells Theo (Dylan Arnold), she might have fooled us all.
Following the end of the second season, Joe rejects Love. His rejection is blatant at first, but it becomes a source of internal revulsion for Joe as he now feels stuck in a suburban purgatory with a woman he calls a “monster.” To many audience members, Joe’s lack of attraction to Love felt like a betrayal of sorts. How could Joe, of all people, rebuff a killer when he has a body count as well? Joe idealizes this woman, but as soon as she shows herself as his equal instead of a walking dream girl, he loses interest. Since the possibility of Joe’s death at Love’s hands is now on the table, his revulsion might be due to the shift in power dynamics or an act of self-preservation. But there is also a mirror aspect to his rejection: Joe can’t love her the way he used to because he’d be loving someone like him. And as Season 3 reveals, he views himself as someone undeserving of love.
You has always had a big fan response. From the get-go, fans have expressed an eerie fascination with Joe Goldberg. Netflix even felt compelled to remind people not to romanticize the character via a billboard that said, “Penn Badgley is hot. Joe Goldberg is not.” Badgley’s portrayal of Joe—including the “nice guy vibe,” good looks, and constant moral gymnastics—made Joe irresistible to a lot of viewers. And let’s be honest, the bar is very much on the ground when it comes to men. But, despite viewers’ desire to “fix” the fictional male serial killer, Love Quinn’s murderous heel turn didn’t get the same reaction from fans after Season 2. Showrunner Sera Gamble told TV Guide that the show intentionally plays into the phenomenon of people choosing to quickly “forgive men like Joe” and criticizes “how quick we are to judge women,” especially those on the show. Like Joe, who immediately turned to disgust over Love’s murder of Forty’s au pair (Brooke Johnson), and then Delilah (Carmela Zumbado) and Candace (Ambyr Childers), some viewers might have been bothered more by her kills than the multiple murders they watched Joe commit.
However, what’s fascinating is that Love’s character is probably the most interesting to look at in terms of audience reaction due to that switch up. Because despite many fans’ harsher judgment of Love post-Season 2, it’s worth noting the mixed reactions to her storyline, including the segment of devoted viewers posting fancams and saying they would give up keto for her. Initially, Love’s killings seemed to be within reason (without justifying murder, okay?). She seemingly murdered her victims to protect her family—including Joe and her brother, Forty—when they were in danger. The Season 2 finale almost encouraged viewers to feel bad for Love, who killed in a reactionary way dissimilar to Joe’s carefully plotted murders. Surrounded by Joe’s hypocrisy and his feelings of entrapment, she could have been framed as the more sympathetic of the two characters. But, Season 3 flipped that on its head.
From the viewers’ perspective, Love’s murderous tendencies and motives shift in Season 3. It begins with her impulsive desire to kill without plan or reason, positioning Love as a true serial killer. But in a Joe-like manner, she comes up with circuitous reasons to justify her dastardly deeds in Madre Linda. Even though Joe also hand-waved his own violence for two seasons, the difference now is his attempt to change for their son, Henry. In contrast, the presence of their son doesn’t stop Love from continuing to bludgeon people. We learn that her kills were sparked by reasons both reactive and vengeful. Her killings are more intense, more frequent, and more impulsive than last season. When Joe feels himself moving into old habits (after the death of Natalie (Michaela McManus), of course), he—for the most part—stops himself from starting an obsession box for Marienne (Tati Gabrielle). A defining moment comes when he decides not to plant evidence at Matthew’s (Scott Speedman) house because he doesn’t want to be that guy anymore. Love agrees with this decision, not for some redemptive character arc but to protect Theo, the subject of her budding desire.
The Episode 4 scene when Love bombards Joe with questions around getting rid of Gil is emblematic of Love and Joe’s differing devotions to bettering themselves. Joe yells, “You are not making me kill anyone!” while bodies continued to pile up because of Love’s choices. Yes, Joe still kills on his own—Marienne’s ex, Ryan (Scott Michael Foster), for example—but he and Love have distinctly different serial killer mindsets. Joe’s inner monologue expresses his desire to be better for the baby, punctuating practically every thought with “But think of Henry!” To be fair, viewers are given much more insight into Joe’s motives and desire for self-improvement, while Love only gets half an episode of voiceovers featuring her inner monologue. However, what we do see of Love is that her body count is rising. She becomes a master of outwardly justifying her violent behavior—not only to her husband, but to herself—akin to the way Joe did in the last two seasons. After a certain point, it seems as if the show wants the audience to feel for Joe, and that’s something I didn’t expect coming out of last season.
After a certain point, it seems as if the show wants the audience to feel for Joe Goldberg.
Being asked to choose which of the two murderers is better (or at least better to root for) is a weird position for viewers. By the end of last season, I was all for Love Quinn. She seemed like a woman who was starved of love from her parents and who just wanted a soulmate who saw her and loved her as is. She killed, but again, it seemed relatively tame in comparison to Joe’s killings. But Season 3 showcases a woman whose increasingly murderous deeds are fueled by selfishness. According to her mother, Glamma Dottie (Saffron Burrows), Love’s acts point to her only caring about herself. While her killings were partly for her family, they were primarily for her own betterment, security, and goals. The finale further validates Love’s selfish intentions: We learn that she poisoned her first husband to stop him from leaving her. The kill was accidental and she later mourned him in public, but it still confirms the reality of Love’s twisted psychology.
Despite Love’s demise, Season 3 delivered enticing television, including an anxiety-inducing finale on par with Season 2’s ending. Plus, it gave us a great Taylor Swift needle drop (“exile” from folklore) that, unexpectedly, felt necessary. Like many fans, I wanted Love to continue her frenzied turn from last season, something Pedretti said she hoped to explore. But that was coupled with my desire for the show to also position Love as a character worth rooting for—even though she was a bit handsy with a knife. In contrast to Joe, whom we saw painstakingly stalk, kidnap, and murder his victims over the course of three seasons, Love was a character that I wanted to be better—or at least stay on equal footing with Joe. However, this season really just showed that Love was selfish and unmoored in what she wanted out of life.
But in the end, the deadly common denominator is, of course, Joe. Every woman that Joe gets close to eventually comes to see and fear his lethal side. Love embraced Joe because she understood him, and she empathized with him in view of their shared similarities. Unfortunately, Joe can’t return the favor, and his waning interest in Love ultimately leads to her death. Despite her missteps and kills, Joe is still the main problem—the greater of two evils. But, as with previous seasons, the show still upholds Joe as the antihero. In the finale, he escapes to Paris, and his survival and triumph over Love leans into the idea that he’s the more forgivable of the two. While Love’s self-sabotage was tough to watch, and some fans likely rooted for her downfall, her death felt like a missed opportunity. After Season 2 primed us to view Love in a more sympathetic light, it would have been morbidly satisfying to watch her character stumble and then become someone worth rooting for again. And after watching Joe brutalize women for three seasons, it’s only natural to crave some karmic justice. It would have been far more fulfilling to see Joe learn that hell hath no fury like a Love scorned.