Warning: This post contains major spoilers for You Season 3.
The explosive ending of You season 3 sees Penn Badgley’s Joe once more free of his crimes – despite an increasingly heinous rap sheet – but with his soul mate Love (Victoria Pedretti) killed off after turning on him. It’s a shocking turn of events that splits up the couple after some of the best drama of the season saw them negotiating the “safety” of married, suburban life as well as their dark impulses. But removing Joe’s wife (and son) in one fell swoop does serve a purpose for the future of the show.
You season 3 is only partly based on Caroline Kepnes’ books, after the first two seasons were based on her first two titles, You and Hidden Bodies. As such, while there are elements of the story adapted from third Joe Goldberg book You Love Me, the majority of the plot was invented for the Netflix show. The librarian storyline comes from the book, but the fate of Love is changed significantly: in the third book, Vitoria Pedretti’s killer wife is initially not involved because the Quinn family have paid Joe $4m to stay away from them, but she appears to try and exact revenge on him. Here, of course, Love and Joe are somewhat “happily” married, and it’s not until the end when Joe’s new stalking victim is revealed that Love turns on him and is killed.
In both cases, Love ends up dying, but in the book it’s by her own hand (after she shoots Joe in the head) – so why did You season 3’s ending change the specifics of Love’s death? And why was she killed in the first place? It comes down to the opportunity to continue Joe’s story into the newly announced You season 4, which couldn’t happen with Joe still tied to suburbia, and also fits with Joe’s darkness within and the curse that he will never be happy. As revealed in You season 3, Joe’s evil manifests because of his “mommy issues” (or so he claims) and his innate need to be the saviour after he was forced to kill his father to protect his mother. After she rejected him for what he did, Joe was forever cursed to chase the perfect opportunity to save his victims – as a power trip and a realization of the fantasy his mother robbed of him – and a stable, happy ending with Love simply didn’t fit that. In order for Joe’s story to continue, in other words, Love had to die in You season 3’s ending.
You season 3 goes some way into exploring Joe’s origin story in a new way, giving him some insight into why he craves the power over his victims that drives him, but stops short of offering him the realization that he will never be happy with any of his “conquests”. As soon as the chase is over, Joe will always become bored and look to his next possible victim, who could still feed his saviour complex from afar, without the stability and mundanity of familiarity. Joe isn’t just stalking women, he’s stalking the happy ending and the validation from his mother he feels he’s due, and settling down destroys his opportunity to do that, blunting his edge.
On top of that, the reality of Love is nothing like the fantasy he’d created in his own head that had been fed by his need to save her. As soon as she revealed that she could be just like him, he was repulsed, almost killing her but choosing not to because of her shock reveal of her pregnancy. From there on, Joe was simply playing a role, performing to fit in and be what he thought he needed to be to save his son from becoming just like him. But his quick infatuations with Natalie and then Marienne proved without doubt that it was all a lie hiding his true impulses. Now that Love has been removed from the scene, Joe can continue to chase what he will never achieve: satisfaction in his “hunt”. Additionally, Love’s death at the end of You season 3 potentially gives season 4 its antagonist, as the Quinn family are unlikely to allow his death to go fully investigated, which may put them on a collision course in France when Joe Goldberg returns.
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