Netflix’s You Season 4 and TV’s ‘Eat the Rich’ Craze

The new season tries to distinguish itself from the recent swell of "rich people are assholes" content, as Penn Badgley becomes an Oxford literature professor.

Netflix’s You Season 4 and TV’s ‘Eat the Rich’ Craze
Penn Badgley as Joe Golderbg in You Season 4. Photo:Netflix

With each new season, You faces the challenge of maintaining its spice as a show driven by shock factor, even as it centers around an increasingly predictable serial killer. With Season 4, the Netflix thriller faces a new challenge: to distinguish itself from the recent swell of TV and movies about capitalist discontent with a storyline about a literal “eat the rich” killer.

S4 follows Joe as he flees to London, leaving last season’s suburban hellfire and the charred remains of his ex-wife in his wake, and takes on a new identity as Oxford literature professor Jonathan Moore. Unsurprisingly, he finds himself reluctantly embedded in a circle of aristocratic assholes who almost certainly hide a killer among them: the “eat the rich” killer, to be precise, who’s attempting to frame Joe as they take out one obscenely wealthy person after another.


You is no stranger to making class commentary, oft through poking fun at rich narcissists in seasons past. But this commentary is especially bold in Season 4, as Joe observes in the first episode while in the same room as all of his new “friends” that “if a bomb dropped on this place, Britain’s GDP would drop 10%‚ and it might be worth it.” Wealth, and its indelible effects on character and interpersonal relations, lies at the heart of this season, as members of London’s elite are terrorized by an unknown killer; in their rising paranoia, their worst attributes quickly shine through.

This situates You among a wealth of recent content with the shared thesis that rich people are, put simply, bad. The White Lotus achieves this by putting the aristocrats’ selfishness and stupidity on display with each season of new, privileged jerks at one luxury resort or another. In The Menu, the wealthy are punished for their frivolity and cruelty by a sadistic high-end chef at his wit’s end. The movie Triangle of Sadness exposes the myth of meritocracy-based capitalism when a ship-wrecked cruise leaves stranded rich people utterly helpless on a remote island, all while a cleaning lady in their ranks ably takes charge.

The crux of You’s fourth season, thus far, strikes a similar tone, and I have mixed feelings about its execution. On the one hand, all of it comes off immediately pedantic and heavy-handed. Within the opening minutes of the season’s first episode, Joe’s Oxford peer, Malcolm Harding, reacts to his girlfriend being attacked by thieves by insisting that rich people are “the real victims here.” He adds, “We built this country and what thanks do we get for it?” The following episode exposes the artist son of a billionaire as a fraud who stole his latest display from a poor woman under his employ. And the events of the fourth episode are, somehow, even less subtle: When the gang flees all the recent murders in London to the country house of the exorbitantly wealthy Lady Phoebe, at varying points, they mock Joe—again, posing as Jonathan Moore—for his relative poverty: “Do you resent us for what we have that you don’t?” the douchebag-aristocrat Roald asks him.

In a later scene, they poke fun at another American, entrepreneur Adam Pratt, for “wanting to work.” As Connie points out, “Our forebears didn’t pretend to earn what was rightly theirs. They were on another level. Above work, above law. Hell, in the good old days, the aristocracy were the law.” Within moments, the crew partakes in a collective “fuck democracy” chant, and when Nigerian princess-slash-bitcoin-shiller Blessing apologizes to Adam, telling him, “I know you Americans love democracy,” he hits back with: “No, we love money.”

By the next episode, when Phoebe’s friend Gemma is found dead and Joe is singled out as the suspected killer, Roald literally stages an execution-style hunting trip with Joe as his prey. The scene is a page out of Richard Connell’s The Most Dangerous Game.

The message—that rich people are horrible and see the poors as not just inferior, but subhuman—could not possibly have been screamed any louder. There’s little that’s meaningful or new to take away from any of this dialogue or these storylines.

But what is fresh about this new season is its astute observations about how rich people interact with each other, about how wealth and disparities, even among the ultra-rich, shape their relationships in unexpected ways. To this end, You brings the absurdity: One subplot sees Adam, who’s in a relationship with the significantly wealthier Lady Phoebe, living out his golden showers fantasy through asking lower-class, male service workers to pee on him. But he’s unable to enjoy his piss-play kink with Phoebe, his own girlfriend, due to her considerably higher status over him. It’s a creative entry-way into assessing how class-based power dynamics—even, and arguably especially, among the ultra-wealthy—can alter the course of relationships and sexual desire.

Lukas Gage as Adam Pratt and Tilly Keeper as Lady Phoebe in You Season 4. Screenshot:Netflix

The inequality of Phoebe and Adam’s relationship reflects that of uber-successful influencer Yaya and her struggling model boyfriend Carl in Triangle of Sadness, which unpacks this dynamic through a more surface-level approach: a conversation between the two in which Yaya tells Carl it’s “un-sexy” for partners to talk about money. In contrast, You’s golden showers detour puts an exponentially more deranged spin on the classic relational tension of what to do when your partner makes more money than you.

Perhaps the most fun twist in You’s “eat the rich”-centric fare this season is its portrayal of how much rich people hate each other, how fundamentally unhappy they are, even with all the money in the world. As the cast hides out in Phoebe’s country manor from their would-be killer, Joe’s sharp, prickly, art director-love interest this season, Kate, tells him, “Rich people are awful to each other too—who promised nice?” Of their group-getaway, she explains, “Getting away from a killer, yes, but not being any less awful to each other.”

There is clearly a demand for these themes right now, which speaks to very real class discontent amid a looming recession, rapidly growing wealth inequality, and $7 egg cartons. And the dark humor of shows like You reflects the comedic nihilism festering amongst anticapitalist spaces lately. To that end, the first half of You’s fourth season gives the people what we want and lets us eat cake, feeding audiences equal-parts twisted and predictable subplots on just how fucked capitalism and its beneficiaries are.

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