Psychological thriller You arrived on Netflix on December 26th 2018. The series, based on Caroline Kepnes novel of the same name, follows Joe Goldberg, (Penn Badgley) a book store manager who falls in love with Guinevere Beck (Elizabeth Lail) and quickly becomes obsessed with her: a one-time customer at the store and a total stranger.
Right from the second scene you’re made fully aware of Joe’s character, his obsessions, his views on women. The beauty of You is that you follow this manipulative stalker who goes so far as to commit murder in just the second episode – and find yourself almost sympathising with him.
You begin to make excuses for his behaviour, watching him interact with Beck and her friends and feeling sorry for what he has to put up with in order to gain her trust and love.
The show does a marvellous job of portraying just how easy it is to be manipulated by someone charismatic and charming, but the danger of such a show lies in this very fact.
In a society where we’ve been conditioned to excuse the behaviour of toxic or manipulative men, is it really a good idea to have a show that wholly focuses around this?
To the show’s credit, they bring Joe crashing off his high horse at the very last second and remind you just how awful a person he is, but is it done too late? Penn Badgley himself is quick to remind fans of the show who his character is and that, well, you’re not supposed to like him. But is a reminder after the fact really all that powerful? The whole point of the show was to get you to fall for him.
The show even goes into some detail about Joe’s past and what damage he was dealt with as a child and in his past relationships. Season 2 seems to be following on this arc with the arrival of his ex in the last released episode, but is it safe to excuse his behaviour to this extent?
Does the crazed, psychopathic stalker who murdered two people after forcing his fantasies into fruition really need an excuse for his behaviour? It’s just another step in the wrong direction: your past can be horrific and lead to a lot of things, but we shouldn’t be teaching anyone, let alone the younger generation, that it’s okay to excuse toxic behaviour. Your past traumas don’t make you a bad person.
In a society where “one of the greatest love stories of all time”, The Notebook, opens a relationship with a threat of suicide and continues with physical and emotional abuse, is a show like You really the right move? Love shouldn’t hurt, and we shouldn’t be reinforcing this idea, no matter how we choose to tackle it.
But let’s not forget the toxic women in this show: Beck’s best friend Peach (Shay Mitchell) is as twisted as they come. Pit against Joe, we slowly begin to see her behaviours unravel and are left with the idea that no one in Beck’s life is who they seem to be.
I commend the show for this. For showing the manipulative behaviours of women (although the behaviours are also those of men), and that it’s possible to be fooled by everyone. But I question the way it was done: is pitting her against a man who has done worse, and who we are being taught to sympathise with, really the best move? I spent episodes thinking that Joe was insane for even trying to go up against Peach. So again, while they’ve tackled an issue well, the damage lies in the fact they’ve tackled it at all.
Are we not taught to see women as particularly crazy and bloodthirsty, while forgetting the behaviour of men? Peach’s quieter and slow manipulations are no better or worse than the grander gestures of Joe, but the veil created around Joe leaves this idea behind.
A good intention to show such behaviour head on, but a complication when you’re only asked to love one character.
We don’t need a season 2 of You for a multitude of reasons, but I fear for the way we’re approaching the younger generation and what we’re teaching them. No amount of warnings can change the views the show itself created after you’ve portrayed a character so volatile. The number of times Badgley has to remind fans of who Joe actually is, and the declarations made by Millie Bobby Brown, 15, on social media that Joe was simply just in love with Beck, are incredibly worrying. Yes, Brown has since taken back her claims, but let’s not forget the fact she was on episode 2 when she made them, when Joe had already committed murder because of his obsessions.
Nobody should think that such invasions of privacy, manipulations, and gaslighting is exactly what it means to be in love.
You itself was a spectacular show and tackled such difficult issues head on. It should be commended for its portrayal, but I’m not looking forward to what’s coming next. I need Joe’s story to have ended on the last episode, when all love for him should have ended as well.