You fulfills almost every Gossip Girl fan’s imagination of what Dan Humphrey would be like 10 years into the future. There are striking similarities with “lonely boy” icon Dan Humphrey and You protagonist Joe Goldberg, from their love of literature and roots in Brooklyn to their peculiar interests with blonde girl-next-door characters. The only difference is, Joe will stop at nothing for someone he loves– even if that means murder.
What makes the series so unique is the fact that the whole show is from the abusers perspective. You is guided by Joe’s narration as he stalks Beck, a twenty something college student with a love for poetry and books. He gains full access to Beck’s phone and stalks Beck, her friends, her family, and overall tries to control her relationships and her life so she’s only with him. Joe speaks about all of Beck’s friends as obstacles, specifically Beck’s best friend, Peach, played by former Pretty Little Liar star Shay Mitchell.
It’s hard to initially dislike Joe because most of us are guilty of his actions. In the beginning, everything he learns about Beck is from her social media. He scrolls through her feed to learn more about Beck’s personality through her pictures and commentary. Although we don’t say it aloud, most of us are guilty of falling into a social media hole of scrolling through other people’s lives. The only difference is Joe takes the social media prowling to another degree when he goes out of his way to find Beck at a spoken word event where they “coincidentally” cross paths and everything goes downhill.
Penn Badgley didn’t play Joe as the stereotypical rough, rigged, and violent abuser. Joe was timid, quiet, and sweet (at least to the outside world). Joe was kind to his co-workers, a father figure to his next-door neighbor Paco, and introspective in his relationships. In an interview with People Magazine, Badgely stated:
“…I focused on his intense curiosity and sensitivity. That, and making him very human, because he’s longing deeply for human connection, for a sense of his own humanity, so therefore he looks for it in a relationship…”
Some viewers have criticized the writers for romanticizing Joe’s abusive behavior. There are moments when you root for Joe. When Beck leaves the spoken word event, none of her friends support her or chase after her. But Joe’s there to catch her fall in the subway tracks and pushes her to go after her dreams. By showing flaws in Beck this also allowed the viewer to sympathize with Joe. Beck lied about her past, slacked at her job at Joe’s bookstore, and Joe’s abuse became less obvious. Penn Badgely also stated in an interview with Vulture,
“…I can say there’s a certain accountability — an emotional and psychological responsibility — that we hold the viewers and Joe to… We don’t want to reward Joe more than how he’s already being rewarded… To me, a conversation I hope it starts is, What is it about the show that’s compelling? Why am I watching it? Am I enjoying it? Am I agreeing with Joe? What about all of this do I enjoy most?”
Most of us are also guilty of revealing a little too much of ourselves online, and after watching You, I’ve been a bit more careful about what I post on my social media and what makes a person inherently good. You is confirmed for a season two, only a short while after premiering on Netflix. The Haunting of Hill House fan favorite Victoria Pedretti is set to play Joe’s next victim.