You’s Penn Badgley, His Costars, and Creator Sera Gamble Dissect Killer Joe's Class Act in Season 4, Part 1

The serial killer show's new season deals with two kinds of class: The kind Badgley's Joe Goldberg teaches at a London university and the aristocratic kind with which he finds himself embroiled — and who end up dead.

by | February 9, 2023 | Comments

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You. Penn Badgley as Joe Goldberg in episode 401 of You. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

(Photo by Netflix)

All right, You.

Things are looking sunny for star Penn Badgley’s Joe Goldberg at the start of the fourth season of the Netflix psychological drama.

This can seem like an odd word choice, though. The homicidal stalker, who somehow manages to always justify his murder and surveillance, is now set up in dreary old London after last season’s unfortunate passing of his wife Love (Victoria Pedretti).

Across the pond, the bibliophile is making a go at it as an English professor. He also has a whole new look and grooming ritual. The tweed jackets and full beard may seem a bit much. They’re also necessities since people think he also died in that house fire.

And, like any good writer, has adopted a new nom de plume.

Please meet Jonathan Moore.

“This man has to look different; he is on the run [and] it doesn’t matter what he would want” to look like, Badgley said. “And, specifically, he should look like he doesn’t want to look: he should look like someone else who has a different idea about what it means to be a man and [etcetera, etcetera].”

But even the great Joe Goldberg can’t truly change himself.

“We’re always in it from Joe’s perspective where he has an exceedingly managed image of who he is,” Badgley said. “That’s how, I suppose, he dissociates and compartmentalizes and is able to do one thing while thinking is doing another.”

This might be why Joe is surprised as the rest of us when people around him start dying.

Get Rich Dying

You. Penn Badgley as Joe Goldberg in episode 401 of You. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

(Photo by Netflix)

While Joe (Sorry. Jonathan.) is trying to lay low and start fresh in England, he happens to befriend the very types of people he usually disdains: the rich and entitled. This season more than ever is a story of class, both the kind that is taught in school and the kind that is endowed to some over generations.

“We love to put him in a group of people that he can judge very harshly,” co-creator and showrunner Sera Gamble told Rotten Tomatoes. “He is painfully aware of his socio-economic class. And some of his most fiery judgment is against people who have all the privilege that he thinks he’s earned and who squander it.”

This has always been a habit of Joe’s; be it with Love’s holistic-minded boho-chic Southern California family in season 2, the suburban Northern California techie yuppies of season 3, or the late Peach Salinger (Shay Mitchell) from the first season (RIP).

However, Gamble reminded that “old money” means something else in Europe. There, she said, “there’s an literal aristocracy. They all have titles and the money is much older than in the United States … it just felt like it’s different than what money means in L.A. or what may means in Silicon Valley.”

You. (L to R) Ozioma Whenu as Blessing, Ben Wiggins as Roald, Dario Coates as Connie, Lukas Gage as Adam, Tilly Keeper as Lady Phoebe, Charlotte Ritchie as Kate and Niccy Lin as Sophie Soo in episode 403 of You. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

(Photo by Netflix)

This is also probably one of the only worlds that Joe actually would want to join. He is in love with London and its culture. He also worships the works of so many writers who came of age there.

Gamble said that the Anglophile idea of an American obsessed with what British culture represents is going to be “built into any show that primarily being made by Americans.” (The show had a producing team in the U.S. and the U.K., and she said that they hired British writer Leo Richardson to “carry the quote-unquote Britishing up” of the story.)

Still, she said, “we wanted to make sure it didn’t feel like it was just like this American show moves to London, and then just talks a lot of shit about it.”

“The target is about privilege and cluelessness and the callous lack of empathy that comes along with not having to deal with quote-unquote ‘real world problems,'” she said.

The best proof of this might be Lukas Gage’s character, Adam. A wealthy American dating an even wealthier Brit (Tilly Keeper’s Phoebe), Adam’s in town to open the You equivalent of Soho House.

You. (L to R) Penn Badgley as Joe, Tilly Keeper as Lady Phoebe, Lukas Gage as Adam in episode 401 of You. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

(Photo by Netflix)

Adam’s also someone who is easy to hate. Although that may be because his last name is Pratt. (Gage did his diligence in referencing noted The Hills villain Spencer Pratt, working with the hair and makeup team to add in blonde highlights and carrying crystals with him on set. He even slid into Pratt’s Instagram DMs to try to chat with the reality star about hummingbirds.)

That the show is one of several properties that have taken on the “eat the rich” mantra lately (see also: the films The Menu and Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery) is not lost on Gamble.

“The Collective Unconscious is such a weird place,” she said. “It’s common, when writing film and television, to write something and then have it come out around the same time and a bunch of other stuff that’s dealing with things. I think we’re all just thinking about the same stuff.”

A New Rhys on Life

You. Ed Speleers as Rhys in episode 401 of You. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

(Photo by Netflix)

But not everyone in Joe’s new friend circle has a family lineage worthy of a Wikipedia page. Ed Speleers plays Rhys Montrose, a self-made politico who went to university with the jet-setters in the group. He seems to be the one who really gets Joe.

“His world view is to not judge too quickly,” Speleers said. “It doesn’t matter what side of the tracks you’ve come from. Everyone’s got a story. … In this world of the aristocracy, are they all incredibly arrogant? Is it abhorrent how they are behaving? It’s not ideal. But he has a way of looking at them from from both sides. I think that’s what gives him some strength politically, actually, is that ability to look at everybody and see that it’s not as clear-cut.”

You. (L to R) Penn Badgley as Joe Goldberg, Ed Speleers as Rhys in episode 402 of You. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

(Photo by Netflix)

Speleers, who has a history of playing truly horrible (Outlander) or obnoxious (Downton Abbey) characters, acknowledged that “more and more, I’m playing these people that are outsiders looking in — which is great because you have a blank canvas; you have a lot to explore and to understand why they might be an outsider to start.”

He added that “physicality is incredibly important to me when piecing a character together.” Here, he said, “I wanted Rhys to feel like he owned his space … I wanted him to be confident in who he was so that he could make other people feel confident, from a politician standpoint.”

Nadia If You’re Still With Me

You. Amy-Leigh Hickman as Nadia Farran in episode 402 of You. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

(Photo by Netflix)

Joe is at his best when he feels like he’s mentoring another, younger, damaged soul. Past seasons have seen it happen with neighbor kids, such as Paco (Luca Padovan) in the first season or Ellie (Jenna Ortega) in the second one. Now that Joe’s a teacher at a uni, he has access to impressionable minds who pay to listen to him. That’s where he meets Nadia, Amy-Leigh Hickman’s too-smart-for-her-own-good mystery novel buff.

“We see the best of Joe when he’s mentoring a young person before he completely destroys them,” Gamble said.

Hickman added that these characters prove “he is human and show that he does have a little bit of empathy. Because he hasn’t actually hurt these people in the past. Unless they’re love interests, he always ends up loving them — or what he thinks is love — and becoming obsessed with them. And he ends up hurting him.”

Joe also fills a void in Nadia, she said.

“She doesn’t really fit in with many people her own age because she is so intelligent,” Hickman said. She added that “when you’re in school, fitting in is the one of the hardest things when you’re in the bubble of it. And then you leave and you realize that none of that matters. But I think Nadia is so grown up and so mature that she’s already figured out that none of that matters.”

This is also a character who is willing to stand up to Joe about his own biases. One of Gamble’s favorite scenes is when Nadia attacks Joe’s snobbery for not appreciating whodunnits like Agatha Christie stories.

“It’s important to have a character in the mix who’s then calling Joe out on his cluelessness and privilege,” she said.

I Kate Get You Out of My Mind

You. (L to R) Penn Badgley as Joe, Charlotte Ritchie as Kate in episode 403 of You. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

(Photo by Netflix)

But, try as Joe might to keep his head down, the man is still a romantic. His curiosity is stealthily piqued by Kate (Charlotte Ritchie), his neighbor and the partner of his coworker Malcolm (Stephen Hagan).

The issue is whether Kate likes him. Or maybe she suspects him to be the one offing her friends? This cold shoulder differs from Joe’s many other love interests, who came to him as spunky and flirtatious. As to whether it’s possible to gaslight ourselves, Gamble said “I guess the answer, probably, is yes … I think we lie to ourselves about a lot of things.”

So who is the perfect woman for Joe?

“His mom,” laughed Badgley, referring to the character’s mom Sandy (Magda Apanowicz), who suffered years of emotional and physical abuse that Joe witnessed and suffered as well, which resulted in his abandonment.

“I don’t even mean a creepy way,” Badgley said. “I’m saying literally, like, his perfect woman is distorted by the fact that he was abandoned so early on in life.”

You. (L to R) Penn Badgley as Joe, Charlotte Ritchie as Kate in episode 401 of You. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

(Photo by Netflix)

He added that this character is “wounded in a way where, if he doesn’t do some of the hardest personal reflection that a person can do, there’s no woman that could ever — ever — do what he’s looking for.”

“That’s not what a relationship is about,” he said. “It’s not about what the other person can do for you. And, in his own way, he’s realizing that and, in the show’s own way, it’s on a path of that kind of reconciliation or revelation. But he’s still going to be always be Joe.”

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