Comment Editor Amelia Hiller takes a look at Netflix’s addictive thriller You, to see what has got viewers swooning for stalkers
Based on the bestselling novel by Caroline Kepnes, You premiered on Netflix on Boxing Day after screening on U.S channel Lifetime in the autumn. With people talking about the show across my social media channels, it seemed like a good idea to abandon the essay I was writing for a few days and watch it.
The first few minutes of You were perfectly normal. Enigmatic bookstore manager Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley) lays eyes on grad student Guinevere Beck (Elizabeth Lail) and is immediately attracted to her. He tells his colleague, ‘That’s pretty aggressive, Ethan’ when he remarks that he’d be ‘Googling the hell out of her’ if he was Joe. Pretty ironic considering soon afterwards Joe has found all of Beck’s social media accounts and discovered her address. This is just the beginning of a string of obsessive actions which become the focal point for the rest of the series.
By this point (about twenty minutes into the forty minute pilot episode) I was already hooked. If I’m being honest, I thought Joe was charming. He clicked with Beck, was genuinely moved when she smiled and laughed at his jokes, and noticed small, sweet things about her which I associated with love and affection (staring at her top to see if she’s wearing a bra aside, though). But I was so very wrong. As the series continued I was appalled at the levels Joe met to vie for Beck’s attention; this wasn’t love, it was obsession and Joe would (and did) literally kill for Beck.
Though addictive, I did identify a few issues with You which were also voiced in a plethora of social media articles about the show. Why aren’t Beck’s gadgets password protected? Why doesn’t she know how to unlink her social media from her old phone? Why does nobody ever go down to the basement of the bookshop? Most importantly, where are Beck’s blinds? If her Dad can send her $500 for a Charles Dickens’ style dress, he can definitely afford some cheap blinds from IKEA. These small issues continued to unravel throughout the series and though they are minor, it dampened the terrifying realisation that oversharing on social media can be far more dangerous than it initially appears.
The biggest issue fans have is whether Joe is a cold-blooded killer. I think that looking at the facts there’s no denying it; he deserves to go to prison for life. He’s undoubtedly a complete sociopath, having intentionally murdered five people (that we know of) by the end of episode ten. But many disagree, and it’s safe to say Joe has positioned himself as an anti-hero. His personality is complex; at first glance he is a quiet booklover with a kind nature, and takes Paco (the child living in the flat nextdoor) under his wing. He recognises that murder is wrong, admitting that ‘Things were starting to feel a little dirty’ when searching Beck’s flat for any evidence that might expose him as a subject in Peach’s death. But this just doesn’t cut it for me. Joe seems to believe he is doing the right thing by monitoring Beck’s social media, stalking her every move and keeping a ‘G. Beck Journal’. When he does kill, he justifies it by presenting the victim as a bad person, as someone who deserves to die. It’s this contradiction in personality which may lead to the conclusion that Joe possesses a complex, psychological problem rather than being a homicidal sociopath, point-blank. Whether this is the case or not, I don’t think that tweeting you wish Joe Goldberg was stalking you is a healthy thing, and I’m beginning to wonder if those idealising his character were watching the same show as me.
Overall, You is an addictive, thrilling (in parts, in others it better resembles a teen drama) and extremely bingeable addition to Netflix. It’s well worth a watch, though the ending was in my view a little anticlimactic. It felt like Beck’s death was inevitable from the moment Joe’s true nature was exposed, so watching it play out was pretty predictable. After all, isn’t the female victimisation card already played enough in the series?
However, there’s plenty for the second series to explore, primarily Candice. I’m surprised she escaped Joe’s clutches alive, and there’s now scope for a whole new storyline to develop in the sequel. Currently all we know is that a second series has been confirmed for this year, and I’m sure it’ll be just as popular as its predecessor.