The Netflix series YOU is all anyone can talk about these days. It’s a psychological thriller though it can easily be mistaken for a romantic series, given the first few minutes of the show features what seems to be a classic meet-cute at a bookshop. A young writer, Guinevere Beck, meets the bookshop manager, Joe Goldberg, and there’s an instant connection between them. “Almost like you think you’re watching Gossip Girl,” Penn Badgley, who plays the lead role, said. Everything makes a dark turn when Joe turns out to be a psycho-stalker who’s willing to do anything and everything for “love.”
Honestly, YOU wasn’t on My List. I had to watch it for work, but once I did, I was instantly hooked. Seriously, I couldn’t get enough of it and binged the whole season through. Obviously, I wasn’t alone.
The obsession on the series speaks volumes about our generation and the present society we’re living in. Its storyline heavily relies on social media and the digital age, “something all of us can pretty much relate to, no matter where you are in the world,” Shay Mitchell, who plays Beck’s bestie Peach Salinger, pointed out. One reason why it’s such a hit is it tackles something so sensationalized yet believable. YOU opened further the existing discussion on the dangers of oversharing online. Despite the extreme themes, it remains relatable because it shows how we can all easily see ourselves as the protagonist. Asked if she thinks Beck was partly at fault because she made it easy to be stalked, Shay digressed and said that aside from not putting blinds over her apartment windows (!!!), Beck essentially did what everyone does. “She uses [social media] just like I do, you know,” she insisted. “I think that we all use it pretty similar to her and we just have to be cautious. I mean, I think I would say that the takeaway from this should be to really think about when you post and how you post.”
It’s easy to see how YOU could just be a cautionary tale for all users. But both Shay and Penn made the case that, more than that, the show resonates because viewers are able to see themselves not just in Beck’s shoes, but also in Joe’s. So just as people can fall victim to stalkers, they can also be the stalker.
“We’ve all done a little creeping in our lives. I think it really made us question, ‘Is that borderline stalker what I did, or not?’ So, I think that we all see a little bit of ourselves in Joe,” Shay said. She further stressed that in a way, Joe physically stalking was just an extreme interpretation of what we do every day. “We’re all using social media to meet new people; to find out more information on people. Jobs are doing it. They’re trying to get to know as much as they can about future people they could work with. Obviously, in a relationship you do the same thing. It’s what we did on Google before there was social media.”
Penn additionally said that in a lot of ways, Joe is basically an Internet troll brought to life. “He isn’t doing anything that’s super high-tech. He’s just like creeping on other people. So, what’s the difference on creeping on people in real life?” He recalled one instance where one fan tweeted something that basically romanticizes Joe’s character. A troll responded that maybe he could do to her what Joe did to Beck. Penn pointed out that, as sick as it may sound, it could be rationalized that Joe is actually “brave” for doing what these trolls aren’t capable of doing in real life.
And Joe trying to rationalize everything he does—right down to the murders—is another reason why he’s got such a hook on viewers. Penn and the show’s writers have done such a great job of humanizing him. Creepily so. “He is a charming guy and that was obviously what they wanted,” Penn shared. “I was encouraged to not lean into the idea that he’s a killer, and lean into the idea that he doesn’t understand that part of himself very well, and to make them human. And I think that was the right thing to do.”
He also stressed how YOU sheds light on how easy we let these kinds of men continue to exist in society. “It’s been proven time and time again that charming, powerful men are capable of [doing] really awful things. And we’re also often willing to sort of forgive them almost every step of the way.”
But are men like Joe still worthy or capable of redemption? That’s a hard no for Penn. “I think it would be too problematic, because then we’d be seeing just an evil white man looking for forgiveness. And if we’d be willing to give it to him again, in 2019, and 2020… We don’t need any more of that.”
So it’s safe to say that Joe will continue on that dark path in the second season that’s already been confirmed.
As for us viewers, while it’s true Joe can be you and me as he is our dark penchant for stalking realized, let’s hope we won’t enter that path at all.
Photos courtesy of Netflix
Art by Marian Hukom
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