It only takes 31 minutes for You season 2 to tell us we’re about to take a deep dive into the psyche of its constantly killing leading man, Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley). It’s at that minute mark of the 2019 premiere, “A Fresh Start,” that Joe slides into a flashback from his childhood. At last we meet his mother Sandy (Magda Apanowicz). At first, viewers are led to believe this is the moment Sandy abandoned her son, pushing him into a lifetime of desperation for love from any symmetrical white woman.
We are wrong.
The truth behind Sandy and Joe’s history is so much darker — and it completely explains how Joe became the unstoppable murderer he is today.
Penultimate You season 2 episode “P.I. Joe” reveals the central moment of Joe’s relationship with his mother. In earlier 2019 chapters, we learn Sandy was in a severely abusive relationship with a man throughout Joe's youth. It is appears to be purposefully unclear if the man is Joe’s biological father. After what we can assume is years of watching Sandy’s abuse — her injuries become increasingly obvious and painful over the season — Young Joe (Aidan Wallace) tries to protect his mother. At the beginning of “P.I. Joe,” there is a flashback of Sandy telling her son, who is 9 at the time, that there is a gun hiding in a panel in the closet. At the close of the episode, as Sandy’s boyfriend is beating her, Joe steps out of that closet and shoots.
Joe killed his mum’s boyfriend. Joe may have killed his own father. This is the core trauma that Joe has been flashing back to all season.
It’s Sandy’s reaction that sets the stage for Joe’s delusional defence of his many current crimes as an adult. At first, Sandy tells Joe he “shouldn’t have done that.” Then, hearing Joe’s tiny voice, she changes her tune. “You were protecting me,” Sandy says. “It had to be done. You’re a good boy Joey … You would never hurt anyone. And that’s the truth. Never. Much less kill someone. You’re a good boy. It was just an accident” This are the exact kinds of words we have heard from Joe following the murders of people like Peach Salinger (Shay Mitchell), Guinevere Beck (Elizabeth Lail), Benji (Lou Taylor Pucci), Henderson (Chris D'Elia), and Ron (Daniel Cosgrove).
The remainder of You season 2’s flashbacks explain how Joe ended up with Mr. Mooney (Mark Blum) in the bookstore and the bookstore’s cage. In finale “Love, Actually,” Sandy approaches her son to tell him he needs “a real father.” That is why there is a man from what we can assume is Child Protective Services sitting in the Goldberg living room. Sandy promises Joe he will only be gone for “a little while” since she’s not “the best” option for her son right now. “What happened,” she reminds him. “This is better.” The last time we see Young Joe, he is being trotted into the New York State’s fictional Irving Group Home For Boys. This is where we can guess Joe will live for a few years.
It is worth noting that Irving Place is a short series of blocks in downtown New York City. The real-life location of Mr. Mooney’s Yorkville bookstore is exactly four miles north of Irving Place.
Although these flashbacks clear up Joe’s progression from sweet 9-year-old boy to bicoastal serial killer, they do leave one large mystery: what happened to Joe’s mum? These final episodes of You season 2 offer us two possibilities. Either Sandy disappeared from Joe’s life to protect him from her own perceived darkness or she went to jail for the murder Joe actually committed. “P.I. Joe” does make sure you see Sandy put her own fingerprints on the murder weapon. Considering the fact Joe was at the group home soon after the crime — you can tell because Sandy’s bruises are healing but still visible — it is plausible he simply missed his mother’s trial.
No matter which outcome is true, you should expect to learn more about Sandy in a prospective You season 3. Now that Love Quinn (Victoria Pedretti) is pregnant with Joe’s child, twisted family secrets will be more important than ever.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, please call the National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247.
You season 2 is available on Netflix now