Right from the outset,looked like it was taking us in an obvious direction. It was a full-on redemptive character journey. Joe Goldberg, the baseball-cap wearing stalker librarian, was never going to chop up another dead person — at least, one who died by his hand — ever again. After his multiple “heartbreaks,” he was walking a new, less toxic path.
And then season 4 pulled the rug out from under us. Season 4, part two, to be exact. It took its sweet time — You had to fulfill its Netflix 10-hour duration obligation — but season 4 spun those tables. First, it gave Joe a chance, via European holiday, to course correct. He had a chance to be less problematic, to make up for his sordid history. But then season 4 showed Joe — and us — the truth.
He’s a killer and never won’t be a killer. Rhys Montrose — a Tyler Durden alter ego, not a physically real Oxonian writer — is Joe Goldberg. In a somewhat hilarious flashback revelation, we see what was really happening when Joe was having conversations with Rhys. Really, Joe was muttering to himself while discreetly glancing sideways now and again. Sometimes at actual dinner parties with multiple people around! Given that Joe usually disappears into long pauses in conversations (when he’s telling us in voiceover what his real opinion of people is), the Rhys hallucination is kind of a plausible Joe thing to make up.
It leads to a crossroads for Joe. He can either reject Rhys, the manifestation of his dark side, and continue trying not to slide knives into people’s chests. Or he can be honest with himself and accept who he is. It doesn’t mean he can’t also do the right thing and help change the world — being in a power couple with rich heiress Kate Galvin provides plenty of resources. It just means he might occasionally succumb to an impulse to strangulate, maim, assault and entrap.
Credit to Joe, he chooses the former option first. He jumps off the side of a bridge in an attempt to end Rhys and his own evil doings. But then he’s given a second chance. He awakens in the hospital after a miraculous rescue. Kate promises she can accept all of him — both his Joe side and his Rhys side — and makes a proposition: She’ll help him stay “good” as long as he reciprocates and helps her stay “good.”
So it’s a slightly more well-intentioned relationship for Joe heading into a potential fifth season. Overall, season 4 had its ups and downs, true to its rollercoaster design. Before the juicy twists arrived in the tail end, part one of season 4 felt a little painfully long. That much screen time with the obscenely rich royal adjacent friends and colleagues of Kate Galvin was enough. But this choice, this character decision to have Joe embrace his inner demon seems — perversely — to be a wise one. It makes the journey worth it.
Joe doesn’t go down theroute, for example, the route of another psychotic killer who grows a conscience, who loses her fun, interesting panache in the name of love. Instead, Joe lands in his true form. Yes, he probably shouldn’t be the internet’s weirdly attractive killer boyfriend. But at least we don’t have to try to forgive someone who’s killed a host of young women. Maybe season 5 will see Joe master his killing instinct and use it only on the deserving, Dexter-style.