Anyone who’s seen The CW’s “Gossip Girl” most likely knows Penn Badgley as Dan Humphrey, the know-it-all outcast from Brooklyn with a knack for writing. However, Badgley sheds the character that jolted him to fame in favor of a darker persona in Netflix’s “You.”
Though it originally premiered on Lifetime in September 2018, the thriller series has just recently garnered widespread attention from bingers and critics after being released on Netflix this month. It’s already slated for a second season and has received a rating of 8.1/10 from IMDb and scored 89 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.
The show follows Joe Goldberg (Badgley), a seemingly sensitive bookstore manager with a heart of gold, who hides a bevy of sinister secrets beneath his “good guy” persona. Events ignite when Beck (Elizabeth Lail), a graduate student and aspiring writer, steps foot in his store. Initial intrigue becomes obsession, and the viewer is abruptly introduced to Joe’s sociopathic tendencies through a voiceover of his incessant thoughts about Beck.
Viewers will recognize some of Joe’s tactics all too well as he works to gain more information about Beck through social media, a common practice in modern society. It’s often successful due to users’ tendencies to document extensive life details on the various platforms.
Joe deviates from the hordes of others partaking in harmless scrolling when he starts watching Beck through her curtainless windows, stealing her phone to monitor her texts to friends and committing violent acts all for her “protection.” Joe serves as a chilling reminder to many that there’s a fine line between a harmless social media search and real world, life-threatening stalking.
What struck me about this series is how I found myself rooting for the “bad guy” at times, while remaining fully aware of the surplus of violent crimes he commits in 10 short episodes. Through all of his sinister deeds, a part of me continued to hope Joe and Beck’s relationship would survive the secrets and lies. An explanation for this feeling is the show’s astounding team of writers who created such a deeply disturbing anti-hero, while still giving him relatable, almost admirable characteristics.
Looking past the unstable psyche, Joe is shockingly likable at times, both with his quick wit and concern for his young, neglected neighbor Paco. He also possesses an impeccable ability to see through the fronts put on by Beck and her seemingly enviable group of friends — most notably in regards to Beck’s best friend, Peach Sallinger (Shay Mitchell). Her own disturbing secrets play to Joe’s advantage.
As charming as Joe may seem, Badgley’s character is intended to be a sociopath who’s entirely delusional and shouldn’t be praised for his twisted efforts to win the affection of Beck. Though the writers gave him at least one noble characteristic in the form of his affection for Paco, Joe is the most toxic person in Beck’s life. From their first encounter, he only contributes to the numerous tragedies Beck experiences.
Through the 10-episode rollercoaster of sins and secrets, “You” highlights a notable point in the case of mental illness. In the form of flashbacks, the viewer is given a glimpse into Joe’s teenage years working at the bookstore as a mentee for Mr. Mooney, an abusive old man whose “mentoring” left Joe with innumerable mental scars. While he’s unable to immediately realize it, this trauma parallels Joe’s impulsive violence in the present. Because he didn’t actively deal with the trauma he faced, he let the violence consume him. As a result, the damage to his adult psyche is extensive.
While I thoroughly enjoyed this show, there’s one aspect of the plot that concerns me. While on his spree of brutality, Joe faces a series of close calls, any of which should’ve been the moments his twisted double life unraveled. Yet, he’s able to talk his way out of each situation. He isn’t as methodical as he believes himself to be and leaves behind mounds of evidence from his crimes, yet no one sees through his good guy facade. It’s chilling to ponder how this can translate to real world relationships and endanger those blinded by love.
This dark story of love and obsession isn’t for the faint of heart. “You” gives an alarming glimpse into the twisted mind of a sociopath and shows the tragic results when the line between intrigue and obsession is crossed. The series isn’t just another low-budget stalker story — it’s thrilling and provides just the right amount of darkness, drama and jabs toward a generation’s addiction to social media. And if that’s not enough to convince you to watch, John Stamos also makes an appearance.
Contact Amy Needham at email@example.com. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.