By Linnette Cruz, 11th Grade
You, yes you. Welcome. Don’t worry, this is a spoiler-free zone here. Honestly, who would’ve thought that we as a society would be so addicted to a TV show about an unconventionally attractive twenty-something-year-old man named Joe killing beautiful white women in the name of love (and if you’re not, congrats, consider yourself normal–or stuck under a rock)? The enormously successful Netflix thriller released its third season on October 15, 2021, and boy, is it something. “You” –yes, that’s the name–, starring Penn Badgley, tells the story of our friendly-neighborhood psychopath Joe Goldberg. If you’ve suddenly started to second-guess yourself after watching You, then you most definitely are not alone.
Initially set in New York City (A.K.A. the city that never sleeps, oh wait–), Joe is a seemingly normal bookstore manager who would do anything and everything to get the girl he has his eyes on, including protecting her at all costs through manipulation, stalking, and ultimately, killing. In the first season, we are introduced to Guinevere Beck. Blonde, easily-trusting, and pretty, Beck was the aspiring writer and poet Joe became quickly fixated with. I did promise you a spoiler-free review, but let’s just say that her fate involves a lovely glass cage, rare books, and an interesting manuscript written in the hopes of salvation. Ah, love, a blessing, and a curse – or more like a death sentence when it comes to Joe. Speaking about Love, season two takes us to the west coast, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves here.
So, how did You quickly become one of Netflix’s most-binged shows? The fascinating romantic comedy is not without its faults. I mean, come on, the guy never gets caught. Even while simply wearing a baseball cap during his periodic stalker strolls to observe his prey, I mean, crush, no one ever bats an eye. The show fails to be realistic, from the lack of password protection of phones, the mention of COVID-19 even though they had masks on but under their mouths and noses during the hospital scene in season three, and lack of curtains even though you live on the first floor of a Manhattan apartment. It certainly makes you wonder if Joe could ever get away with his tendencies in real life.
It is also important to note that Joe has a way with words. Even though we know everything that he is doing is wrong, through his narrations, you can’t help but root for the guy. Joe Goldberg is manipulative and violent, but man does he have a charm you can’t find anywhere else. Even Penn Badgley himself has expressed his ever-growing concern with the way fans fetishize his TV persona, especially when they come up to him and simply ask him to “kidnap” them. Nevertheless, I can’t blame them, who wouldn’t want to be kidnapped by a handsome guy who reads classics such as The Great Gatsby.
Public appeal for Joe Goldberg is quite justified. The guy doesn’t have to do much to make you feel sorry for him. For starters, Joe had a horrible childhood. His mother experienced domestic abuse from his father, which escalated to Joe grabbing his father’s gun and straight up just shooting him, leading to him ending up in foster care where he was repeatedly abused. From this moment on, he believes that every crime he commits–good or bad–serves a higher purpose in the name of love and protection. His calm composure and easily found confidence make you want to swoon for the man. Suddenly all red flags are green with him.
It’s not that we’re bad people just because we root for the psychopath (trust me, I had to reread this sentence a couple of times too). If we’re completely honest with ourselves, a part of us relates to Joe in one way or another. Sure, he locks people in cages, but he’s also a hopeless romantic. Now, don’t get me wrong here, the man is insane, but every crime he commits is a crime of passion. He doesn’t kill for the sheer joy of it all, but out of necessity. Additionally, the people that he kills are not kind, and that does not mean that they deserve to die, but we can see why he chose to do what he did. He targeted cheaters, homophobes, and liars, all characters that we can’t say we aren’t glad they’re dead. All he wants is to be loved, to be the hero of his warped fairytale.
Joe is a top-notch example of what an anti-hero with a savior complex with a little charm sprinkled into the mix looks like. Instead of focusing on the fact that he is a cold-blooded murderer, viewers choose to see what drives him and dive deep to look for ways in which his character can have some sort of redemption. His inner thoughts show one thing, but his actions depict another. Now, I did not mean to seem like a Joe-apologist at any point in this review. Joe’s egotistical, misogynistic, and murderous ways are not something that should be applauded at all. He definitely needs help, that’s certain. Nevertheless, even after all his murders, we still feel like we can empathize with him.
The romanticization of Joe Goldberg can also be widely blamed on the misogynistic tendencies embedded into our current way of life. These ideas come from the feeling that this aggressive nature of a man is just for show on the outside, but that in reality, inside there is just a really sensitive man in need of salvation and love. Thanks to society, women are expected to take care of noisome men just because they have been hurt in the past. We shouldn’t be so willing to overlook the extensive list of bad qualities of a white man just because he’s hot, but hey, human empathy works in mysterious ways.
Overall, I hope this review has convinced you to try to watch at least the first season of You. If you’re into the whole true-crime fiction genre starring a white man who gets away with violent crimes time and time again, then this is the show for you.