Somehow, someway, Joe (Penn Badgley) finds himself in trouble again. Joe already has a difficult time avoiding trouble on his own. Getting framed for murder will certainly make life more difficult. We know Malcolm is off the table, so it’s time to start the guessing game. Early money would be on Kate (Charlotte Ritchie), who had plenty of reasons to be mad at Malcolm. If Joe falls for another killer, it would make a lot of sense.
At the same time, pointing the evidence toward Kate is a bit too obvious. Rhys (Ed Speleers) is a man of the people, but the actor has played the baddie in the past (Outlander). Maybe old habits die hard? Do not discount emerging star Lukas Gage, who not only has Euphoria in his back pocket but is premiering a film at South By Southwest in March. Curious timing, indeed. Let’s jump into You Season 4, Episode 2 – “Portrait of an Artist,” directed by John Scott and written by Kara Lee Corthron & Neil Reynolds.
Recap – “Portrait of an Artist”
“Portrait of an Artist” begins with a short recap of Joe’s situation. Playing back to the last minute of “Joe Takes a Holiday,” he’s at dinner with the socialite crowd he’s come to know. After getting a text from the actual murderer, Joes realizes the killer is among them. Rhys (Ed Speleers) asks if Joe feels okay, just as Adam (Lukas Gage) gives Simon a toast. Adam makes a snide comment about murder, and Joe grows uneasy.
After returning from Simons’s party, Joe finds a note on the ground. He’s invited to a whodunit, Joes opinion is they’re the lowest form of literature. As he walks into work, he sees (Charlotte Ritchie) calling Malcolm.
Once in the library, he runs into his student Nadia (Amy-Leigh Hickman). Nadia lays out the rules of the whodunit. “There are no coincidences.” Joe thinks it’s Elliot (Adam James) and FaceTimes him to accuse him of setting him up. However, he has no idea what he’s talking about. Immediately after ending the call, Joe begins getting messages from the killer, who reveals he knows that Joe is not Jonathan Moore.
Joe visits Phoebe (Tilly Keeper), who is getting laser hair removal. Adam drinks in the corner while convincing a friend to invest in a nightclub. Phoebe reveals that she’s the one who sent the invite to Joe, and they’re excited about the night. Phoebe expresses some distrust in Malcolm, while Adam makes negative jokes about Kate. They also tell Joe he’s dressed “too poor” and have their bodyguard Vic (Sean Pertwee) take him to get fitted for a new outfit.
Joe gets fitted for the new jacket while other members of the social club make cracks at Malcolm. Simon (Aiden Cheng), Gemma (Eve Austin), and Connie (Dario Coates) express their distrust of Malcolm.
Joe searches Malcolm’s office at work, where he finds a book of racing bets. On the way out, he runs into Nadia. In the conversation, he realizes that he’s not using his stalker skills to his benefit.
He begins checking out his new friend group. He starts following Adam, and Joe realizes that Malcolm refers to the trust fund kid as “the Sun King” in the gambling journal. Joe follows Adam to the back of a restaurant, where a waiter gives Adam a golden shower. Just before Joe leaves, Vic catches him and roughs him up. Vic tells Joe to forget what he saw and lets him go.
Joe sneaks into Simons through the back of the venue. The woman who lets him in seems uneasy, but they sneak in together. After giving Kate a compliment (which she rejects), Joe meets Roald (Ben Wiggins), who seems intrigued by Joe’s presence. Joe steps out to discuss Malcolm, who warns about Malcolm’s propensity for blackmail. It makes Joe rule out Adam, as it would not make sense to give out his potential motive.
Joe and Rhys question their role in the group while looking at a painting of a cat. The woman that let him yells at Simon and throws red paint on the canvas. After Simon tries to pass off the event as part of his show, he threatens Kate. Joe realizes he knows where the saboteur went, and he brings Kate with him. The saboteur goes by the name Blue (Abigail Hardingham) and reveals that Simon stole her art. Simon also hooked Blue on drugs to discredit her.
Joe thinks that Simon is potentially guilty of killing Malcolm. Joe realizes Blue is in Malcolm’s journal, so he begins to watch Simon. However, he falls asleep on a bench, and when he wakes up, he has texts from the killer on his phone. He rushes upstairs and sees Simon dead and missing an ear.
Joe shows up at Phoebe’s house, where half the people make jokes about Simon’s death. Rhys and Joe commiserate on the balcony, where Rhys reveals he knew that Simon was a fraud, but he hoped he’d come clean. Joe checks in on Kate and eavesdrops on her sending Blue to rehab.
Joe goes to work and speaks with his student Nadia. She appears to have been more involved with Malcolm than she lets on. Nadia reveals that Malcolm had agreed to read pages for her book. While Joe suspects a potential affair, he agrees to read Nadia’s pages. When Joe returns home, he sees a wall of articles about all the people he’s killed in the last few years. A text rolls in. “Hello Joe.”
The Breakdown – “Portrait of an Artist”
Welp, it seems the Lukas Gage theory could not even make it through the recap. However, there are a few new contenders. Amy-Leigh Hickman‘s Nadia seems to know a LOT about the murder mystery. Considering she might have been involved with Malcolm, she has to be considered. Using her as the killer would also lend a Scream vibe to You, which certainly would not be a bad deal. Regardless of who the killer is, we finally get an antagonist that puts Joe on his heels. The wall of newspaper articles was also a nice touch, actually adding tension to an episode that really needed it.
Meanwhile, others certainly continue to stand out. Again, Charlotte Ritchie stands out for her cold performance. However, there seems to be more working beneath the surface of the character. Again, it seems too obvious, and this might be one of the few actresses capable of breaking through.
One fundamental issue with the episode stems from its focus on Simon. He’s never fully developed in his two episodes, and while it’s still tragic, he did not bring much to the table. It’s unclear if that’s on the writing or on the teleplay, but Simon was simply too milquetoast to say anything new about the world he occupies. It’s a shame because there’s a lot to pull from the art world, and most of it felt too basic here.
Additionally, the episode never earns the idea that Simon is the killer. We’re told reasons by Joe, but its a stretch in the best of circumstances. These characters are either oblivious, or they’re chess players. The powerful do not believe they’re touchable, and that proves true for Simon. However, Joe knows this and would not fall for the red herrings. Someone like Simon never feels like a real threat, and our attention would never turn that way if not for Joe’s wild theory.
Additionally, this one leans a little too hard into making Ritchie an ice queen. It’s actually upsetting to see a series with several complex femme fatales seemingly go to the laziest tropes. There’s certainly going to be more for this character to do, but the first two episodes are quite disappointing on that front.