Realistic Terrors Come to Light in Netflix’s “You”

Starring Penn Badgley, affectionately known as Dan from “Gossip Girl,” and Shay Mitchell, also known as Emily from “Pretty Little Liars,” the Netflix original series “You” quickly drew an audience of viewers who had pined for the plights of their teenage heroes. Upon scrolling through Netflix, most viewers probably thought they were about to watch another corny teenage soap opera when it premiered on Lifetime on Sept. 9 and Netflix on Dec. 26, but its audience was in store for a much darker tale.

This American psychological thriller developed by Greg Berlanti and Sera Gamble does not fetishize romantic obsession, but instead exposes how horrific it really is. Badgley goes full-blown anti-hero as Joe Goldberg in this television series based on Caroline Kepnes’ 2014 novel. 

Joe’s obsession with aspiring writer Guinevere Beck, played by Elizabeth Lail, locks his viewers in a constant cringe as they watch him manipulate everyone around him and insert himself into her life for 10, hour-long episodes. Not only does he have Beck fooled, but he’s also managed to convince all her close friends that they are “end game.”

Well, almost everyone. Mitchell’s character Peach Salinger sees Joe for what he really is: dangerous. So dangerous, in fact, that she even believes that he is the individual who attempted to kill her via blunt force trauma to the back of the head while she was on a run in Central Park. 

Spoiler alert: she was right.

Peach is not the only individual whom Joe attempts (and succeeds) to remove from Beck’s life. The craziest part is that in eliminating those closest to Beck, he truly believes that he is doing everything for her, all while “supporting” her.

Meanwhile, Joe’s kid neighbor Paco (played by Luca Padovan) seeks out Joe’s advice as he wrestles with the abusive man his mother has brought into their home. This plotline of the show is deeply disturbing for a couple of reasons, the first being that Joe genuinely is pretty helpful in this situation.

He earns the admiration of Paco and the respect of his mother and to tell you the truth, he does kind of deserve it. This illuminates an aspect of humanity that for some reason confuses a lot of viewers. People are not 100 percent good or 100 percent bad, that’d be way too convenient. 

Joe does make a difference for Paco and his family by the end of the season. Joe, however, is still a stalker and a serial killer and to have such a powerful influence over a child as young as Paco is terrifying. Additionally, his relationship with Paco also validates him in the eyes of the women he’s trying to manipulate into loving him.

His façade does not last forever though. After Paco offhandedly suggests that ceiling tiles above the toilet are a great hiding place, Beck finds a box in this very spot in Joe’s apartment. It contained trophies from his previous murders, including Peach’s cell phone and Beck’s ex-boyfriend’s teeth.

I’ll save the horrors of what ensues next to wrap up the season, but I’ll tell you, it ain’t pretty. At least we can hope to see Joe get his upcommence in season two based on Kepnes’ follow-up novel “Hidden Bodies.”

As Beck is being held captive in the final episodes she turns again to writing. Reflecting on her life and her choices, she expresses a painful amount of self-blame and extreme self-hatred. She relives all the pain in her life and how desperately she wanted someone to save her from “the unfairness of it all.”

She tells herself to say she can live this life and love Joe and she asks herself over and over again, “Didn’t you ask for this? Didn’t you ask for this? Didn’t you ask for this?”

According to the Women and Gender Advocacy Center at Colorado State University, one in six women report that they have experienced stalking at some point in their lives. Furthermore, nearly 20 people per minute are abused by an intimate partner in the United States. Although this is a television show and the drama is glorified, in a sense Joe Goldberg is very real.

Beck’s monologue is the most powerful moment in the entire series thus far, but she is not responsible for the harm done to her by this manipulative psychopath. “You” is a sinister reminder that we cannot allow ourselves to be swept just because someone comes along that is strong enough to lift us. There are monsters in the world, many more than there are heroes, and a lot of them wear capes and suits of armor. These are the monsters that are truly terrifying.