Joe Goldberg’s Visions of Rhys in You Season 4, Explained

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Spoilers below.

The second half of You season 4 is full of shockers, including the fact that Rhys Montrose isn’t the Eat the Rich Killer, after all. Instead, we discover that Joe Goldberg had been up to his old tricks yet again—he just doesn’t know it.

Despite running with a wealthy crowd, successful author Rhys wasn’t born rich, which is something Joe can relate to. However, that’s where the similarities end. As it turns out, the Rhys we’ve seen throughout the first half of season 4 has, for the most part, been a figment of Joe’s imagination. The real Rhys has no idea who Joe is, having only met him in passing. But Joe has been hallucinating Rhys in his absence, and even worse, he’s assumed Rhys’ identity to carry out some pretty heinous acts, such as kidnapping Marienne and locking her in a glass cage.

In the finale, Joe decides to sever ties with the imaginary Rhys once and for all, throwing him into the River Thames. But what does the entire debacle say about Joe’s mental state? Does Joe have a particular medical condition causing him to split into two people? Or is he simply dealing with the trauma caused by his former actions, such as Love’s death? ELLE.com spoke to showrunner Sera Gamble to find out what’s really going on.

Why did Joe start imagining Rhys?

Joe’s relationship with the imaginary Rhys is complex. At once, he’s a confidante and accomplice, but he’s also a vessel for Joe’s dark side. By believing that he has become Rhys, Joe can separate himself from the crimes he’s committing, and exonerate himself of the guilt he might feel. As for why Joe essentially split into two people in season 4, Gamble tells ELLE.com, “We started talking about it a couple of seasons ago. In a certain way, we see the arc of the series as Joe getting a little bit more unhinged as each season goes along. It’s one way that he’s accumulating consequences.”

Gamble also notes that Joe’s body has faced some violence throughout the series, all of which has only added to his current mental state. “He’s been hit in the head a couple of times,” she explains. “He’s spiked a high fever and hallucinated. He has a propensity to do this.” In fact, Joe’s duality goes all the way back to season 1, with Gamble noting, “In the first frames of the series in the pilot, his inner monologue is really distinct. So we’ve always seen him as somebody who walks around arguing with himself, agreeing with himself a lot. So we knew this was something we were leading up to.”

By season 4, Joe has survived so much. Not only has he murdered his wife, Love, but he’s also presumed dead, having chopped off his toes to leave his DNA at the scene. Assuming a new identity has got to be wearing on him. Plus, when he tracks down Marienne, she’s scared of him and points out that he’s a murderer. Here, Joe’s identity seems to shatter, and he’s faced to confront his actions like never before.

“We wanted to wait until it really felt like Joe was all the way cooked and ready to do this,” Gamble says of season 4’s Rhys storyline.

you l to r ed speleers as rhys, penn badgley as joe in episode 402 of you cr courtesy of netflix © 2022

Netflix

It’s unclear if Joe has a personality disorder.

Given his visions of Rhys, season 4 led You fans to wonder if Joe Goldberg has a personality disorder or if he is living with an undiagnosed mental health condition. After all, there were moments during the season when he seemingly disassociated, and had no idea that he’d murdered more people. But according to Gamble, Joe’s condition is far from clear-cut.

“It depends who you ask,” she explains. “If you sit down with a psychiatrist, they will probably have a really strong opinion about [Joe’s mental state]. But I am not a doctor and the writers’ room is not full of doctors.” The team behind You has researched a plethora of conditions, but when it comes to what’s going on in Joe’s head, Gamble says, “We are not writing a show to perfectly dramatize any particular syndrome. We’re inspired by those things. But to us, Joe is one of one, and we’re telling the story of his particular psyche.”

you l to r penn badgley as joe goldberg in episode 301 of you cr john p fleenornetflix © 2021

JOHN P. FLEENOR/NETFLIX

Joe’s disturbing actions, and the ease with which he murders people, will naturally cause viewers to question what led him down this dark path, and whether he’s in control of everything he does. “There’s something heightened about telling any story on television,” Gamble says. “And I spent a lot of my career personally writing about ghosts and demons and alternate universes where there’s another one of you. So even though You is in some ways more grounded, the metaphors that run underneath stories like that are very familiar to the writers.”

Delving deeper into Joe’s personality, Insider went so far as to ask several experts what diagnosis Joe Goldberg would receive. Kelly Scott, a therapist at Tribeca Therapy, told the publication that Joe exhibits symptoms of both antisocial personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder (presumably among other more sinister conditions).

As noted by Mayo Clinic, patients with antisocial personality disorder usually can’t distinguish between right and wrong, and have no regard for other people’s feelings—which certainly sounds like Joe. They also may have a propensity for lying, law-breaking, and lacking remorse.

Meanwhile, patients with narcissistic personality disorder have an inflated sense of self-worth, and they seek out individuals who will shower them with praise, per Mayo Clinic. Deep down, their actions may stem from deep insecurities, but their outward confidence often leads to them treating others badly without any consideration.

Mayo Clinic also notes that dissociative disorders, such as Joe’s belief that Rhys is carrying out his crimes, present as a “disconnection and lack of continuity between thoughts, memories, surroundings, actions and identity.” Per the site, dissociative disorders “usually develop as a reaction to trauma and help keep difficult memories at bay,” which would certainly be true for Joe, considering his traumatic past.

There may never be a definitive answer regarding which exact condition Joe Goldberg has, but season 4 has certainly shown that his mind is more complicated than we knew.

Headshot of Amy Mackelden

Amy Mackelden is a freelance writer, editor, and disability activist. Her bylines include Harper’s BAZAAR, Nicki Swift, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, ELLE, The Independent, Bustle, Healthline, and HelloGiggles. She co-edited The Emma Press Anthology of Illness, and previously spent all of her money on Kylie Cosmetics.

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