Writer: Francesca N.
Visuals: Erica N.
Editor: Norbu D.
CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR YOU SEASON 1:
What if the watchful eye of the dashing stranger across the bookstore was more than the beginnings of a harmless love story? Netflix’s series, ‘You’, has taken pop culture by storm. Played by Penn Badgeley, the titular character is a Brooklyn neighborhood’s “average Joe”… who also stalks blonde aspiring writer Beck.
After meeting Beck in the bookstore he works at, Joe proceeds to go beyond an innocent Facebook stalk to scouring her neighborhood, peering through her windows, breaking and entering into her home, and stealing her personal belongings. Furthermore, he spies on her text messages, locks people in underground glass cages, and enacts several murders. This, he says, is “all for you”, to show his undying love for Beck. And it’s juxtaposed to the sweet glimpses of Joe and Beck’s relationship sans the aggressive methods it took to get there, and Joe’s deluded narration where he portrays himself as a smitten hero who would “do anything for love”.
Some believe the show romanticizes his obsessive behaviors. Despite Joe’s cruel nature, fans have still fallen in love with the character. What is the cause for this romanticization? Badgeley’s intimate performance. Viewers are inundated with Joe’s thoughts, a chilling stream of consciousness displaying blatantly selfish and jaded justification of his motives. “Everything I do, I do for you,” laments Joe repeatedly throughout the first season.
In this way, audiences are also brought into his head through introspection, making an incredibly immersive viewing experience. On the other hand, his thoughts have potential to assimilate into viewers’ minds. This creates a dangerous sense of empathy between viewers and the show’s antihero. More importantly, Joe is charming, savvy in small talk and even goes as far pelting rocks in Beck’s window to woo her back. Joe’s face value qualities spark off the screen. If the show took place from the perspective of one of Beck’s unassuming friends, Joe is the perfect boyfriend. The first person perspective lets us take a deeper look and see Joe’s manipulative tendencies which could be overlooked in the face of his charming first impressions. Concerns are valid, and Badgeley even insists on talk shows and promotional clips with a fervor that Joe is a bad person.
However, this is what makes the story so gripping. Soapy as ‘You’ may be, it is an art in its own way. Its adaptation of a novel exploring the twisted psyche of stalkers and killers wouldn’t have the same effect were Joe to be typecast as brutal and unlikeable. It may even serve as an effective warning for viewers to approach all relationships with caution; it is a reminder that the most monstrous beings may reside within the most innocent-seeming of people. It may be a good thing that psychopathy and stalking is getting mainstream attention it deserves through this show – victims need to keep a sharp lookout and predators need to be aware that this is an issue with powerful repercussions. Audiences are constantly left on the edge, and Joe’s actions and blind declarations of “love” are irresistible in their unexpectedness. It’s a form of escapism to observe a character with such a gray moral code and a red flag on the excessiveness of love, allowing viewers to redefine their perspectives on attraction and obsession. Like Beck, the audience is swept into his charm – but luckily for them, they are reminded of its dangers. The show paints shades of gray over clearly criminal actions purely for entertainment value, and the show’s audiences should be mature enough to distinguish between right and wrong beyond Joe’s insane monologues. Joe maybe the one audiences spend the most time with, but that doesn’t mean the show is trying to romanticize his behavior. By showing such a saccharine side to his psyche, ‘You’ does nothing more than paint an accurate picture of a killer’s psyche – and the moral repercussions are anything but romantic.