Netflix’s YOU is the latest series on the streaming service that has everyone talking.
The psychological thriller stars Gossip Girl’s Penn Badgley as Joe Goldberg; the manager of a bookstore who becomes obsessed with his customer Guinevere Beck. Upon seeing her, he becomes transfixed and begins to study her every move. Knowing he needs her in his life, he tactfully plants himself in hers. Joe is clever and calculated and quickly has Beck believing he’s the perfect guy. He controls her life without her even realising; taking people out of the picture when they stand in his way.
There’s no doubt that Netflix’s YOU leaves its audience feeling very conflicted. We see Joe stalking people, committing murder and being an all-round manipulative person; and yet we don’t hate him.
Why is that?
From the get go, Netflix’s YOU conditions us to see the good in Joe. We see and hear everything from his point of view so in a way, we’re already on his side. Then when he does act unlawfully, we hear him justify what he’s doing and convince himself that it was for the best. As he does this, he also convinces us. Imagine watching the show on mute. All you’d see is a guy stalking and murdering people. Would you feel the same way about him then?
Murder is ok if the person your killing isn’t all that great, right? No Joe, it’s still murder.
A: He is a murderer https://t.co/g2g4f3JvaF— Penn Badgley (@PennBadgley) January 9, 2019
The light humour of the show also masks the severity of his actions. Rather than having dark dialogue and suspenseful music, everything is a lot more upbeat than it should be.
So if you found yourself feeling sorry for Joe, that’s simply how the show is set up. As long as you understand that he is still a psychopath, you don’t need to worry about your own sanity.
Creating the show in this way helps us to see how those in Joe’s life are so blindsided by him. He’s manipulative and finds a way of twisting any narrative. We see more of his actions than any of the character’s do and yet we still find ourselves liking him. How do those in his life stand a chance? The only ones who see him for what he really is are Peach and Karen.
#YouNetflix is really great. The writing is so good. They keep making me forget Joe is a fucking sociopath and I keep rooting for him until I remember again. It’s brilliant.— Dustin @ your local basement comic shop (@Zombiepriest_13) January 6, 2019
What doesn’t help is that YOU distracts us with other villains.
Ron is instantly dislikable and has zero redeeming qualities. His physical abuse is far easier to see than Joe’s emotional abuse, but they’re still just as bad as each other. The only difference is that is that Ron has no positive qualities, whereas both Joe’s personality and image are very likeable.
Peach is another character who the audience are made to hate. She likes to be in control and doesn’t care about the consequences of any of her actions. We can see that she isn’t good for Beck just as Joe is, but yet we still seem to hate her more than we hate him.
Then there’s Beck who we’re made to feel suspicious of simply because Joe is. There’s no denying that Beck isn’t perfect. She’s a cheater and she uses people. But, none of what happened to her was her fault and our focus shouldn’t be on what she did. Joe’s charm had her spellbound and he purposely crafted himself into the perfect person for her. She makes mistakes, but ultimately the life she’s living isn’t her own as she’s not the one controlling it.
Then there’s Joe’s relationship with Paco which blindsides us even more.
This relationship is the only somewhat normal one he has in his life. It’s not an obsession and it’s not manipulated; it’s genuine. But Joe isn’t good for Paco, he’s just the only one in his life looking out for him .
Joe wants him to be safe and is able to successfully save him from his environment on multiple occasions. However, the more he does this the more he makes him believe that Joe is the one he should be listening to.
Does Joe see himself in Paco? It’s a definite possibility. When we see flashbacks of Joe and Mr Mooney, it’s almost a mirror image. Joe teaches Paco about books just as Mr Mooney taught him. When Joe kills Ron in front of Paco, he justifies it to him based on what Mr Mooney told him when he killed Elijah. This is also why Joe believes that he’s not a bad person, as he’s just going by what he was taught when he was younger.
Because Joe wasn’t controlling Paco’s life the way he was controlling Beck’s, Paco is able to get away safely. We can only hope that he doesn’t become what Joe did as he gets older.
Will Paco continue the cycle that Mooney started and become a crazy psychopath as well #YouNetflix— M (@ruskandbiscotti) January 4, 2019
When you factor in all of the above, you can see why people feel the way they do about Joe. It’s important to realise that his relationship with Beck is in no way healthy and he’s definitely not someone you want to lust after.
Appearances can be deceiving and abusive behaviour doesn’t always take a physical form.
It’s likely not coincidental that books are such a key theme in Netflix‘s YOU. Because just as the saying goes, you should never judge a book by its cover.