Warning: This post contains major spoilers for You Season 3.
In You season 3, Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley) has resolved to spare Matthew Engler (Scott Speedman) from his machinations, but in light of another character’s death, that decision seems ridiculous. The hit Netflix show You has always been centered on Joe’s internal monologue, detailing every encounter from the moment he lays eyes on a new girl. With this storytelling, the viewers also become aware of Joe’s thought processes when deciding to kill someone. In this season, however, Joe tries to turn his back on his murderous ways, but his decisions on which lives to save seem questionable.
As Joe settles down with Love Quinn (Victoria Pedretti) in the Californian suburb of Madre Linda, he promises to focus only on his family. Unsurprisingly though, he is immediately intrigued by their next-door neighbor, Natalie Engler (Michaela McManus), but Love discovers their tryst and is overwhelmed by her insistence to live an ideal family life. When an impulsive murder leads to an investigation, Joe — resourceful as ever — plans to frame Matthew, whose actions already appear suspicious to the public anyway. But when he sees Matthew in a closer light, he backpedals on his earlier intention to pin Natalie’s death on her husband.
However, Joe’s decision to spare Matthew makes no sense, especially with the events that followed in You season 3. With their plan of avoiding another string of murders, the Quinn-Goldbergs attempt to simply blackmail Gil Brigham (Mackenzie Astin) into silence. But their efforts to dig up dirt against Madre Linda’s resident professor only reveal that he is a genuinely good man, who fulfills his familial, professional, and social obligations perfectly. This then puts Gil in direct contrast with Matthew, whose apparent goodness is already enough to get spared from the town’s wrath. That is why it is hypocritical, yet not entirely uncharacteristic, that when a disturbing family secret pushed Gil to take his own life, Joe is almost instantly willing to pin Natalie’s death on the recently deceased. He has no problem ruining a flawless reputation and scarring a family for life just to clean up after his wife’s mess — which goes against his earlier advocacy to spare the innocent.
On the other hand, Scott Speedman’s Matthew, whom Joe considers a “good man,” is not exactly innocent. Showing what he is willing to do just to look for his wife’s killer, he uses his technology to invade the privacy of Madre Linda’s residents. In the process, he loses himself completely to the investigation, neglecting himself and his son Theo (Dylan Arnold). While Joe might have seen in Matthew a father who genuinely tries his best, apparently, Gil’s parenting efforts are not enough to spare the Brigham family. If anything, Joe’s actions reflect how far he can go when his son’s wellbeing is disturbed.
Throughout the three seasons of You, Joe is portrayed as an unreliable narrator, but also as a strong-willed, resolute man who crosses any line just to cover up his crimes. But this time, amidst his efforts to be good, his judgment on who to destroy and who to spare remains questionable in the You season 3 finale. Granted, Joe is not actively involved in Gil’s death, and he and Love are already backed into a corner, but he could have avoided tarnishing the dead’s reputation. Even though Joe admits the truth through Love’s staged suicide note, he could have exhibited better, equal judgment from the start.