One of the ways I kept myself entertained over Christmas break was by watching the show “You.” Before I dive into it, I want to give a heads up for spoilers of both seasons.
Based off what I’m seeing online, I’m a bit concerned that people romanticize Joe (similar to how people romanticize real killers like Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer), and that’s a very dangerous message to take away from the show, as well as a serious misinterpretation of the message.
The show’s protagonist, Joe Goldberg, works in a bookstore where he eventually meets Guinevere Beck, an aspiring writer.
He becomes obsessed with her. He eventually spirals out of control and kidnaps and kills the guy she’s hooking up with, and her toxic best friend then covers both murders up.
Toward the end of their turbulent relationship, he finds out she’s having an affair with her married therapist. She finds a box of evidence from his stalking and multiple murders, but he catches her before she can report him. He traps her in the basement of the bookstore, kills her and frames her therapist for the murder. He then publishes her memoir posthumously.
One of the most concerning things about Joe is that no one really suspected him.
In the first season, his neighbor has an abusive boyfriend, and her son Paco is often neglected as a result. Joe takes in Paco, brings him food and shares his favorite books with him.
At one point, Paco gave the abusive boyfriend an overdose of sleeping pills, and Joe saved him so that Paco’s life wouldn’t be ruined (although Joe eventually kills the boyfriend.)
In season two, he protects his landlady, Delilah’s, younger sister from the predatory comedian who date raped her as a teenager. Joe attempts to expose Henderson as a pedophile and rapist.
He breaks into Henderson’s house and catches him drugging Ellie’s drink. Joe accidentally kills him in self-defense when trying to get a confession, and frames it as a suicide.
He also digs up some evidence he anonymously mails to Delilah, who’s also a reporter, so she can write an article exposing Henderson.
As the show progresses, the audience is given some details about Joe’s traumatizing childhood. He killed his abusive father, his mother made it look like an accident and he was taken in by an abusive old man as a teenager.
I really enjoyed this show, but I find a few things concerning about how people may interpret it.
I feel like it’s important to remind everyone that just because someone was abused or went through trauma doesn’t mean it’s OK for them to continue the cycle.
It is their responsibility to be aware of their actions, so they don’t continue to hurt people.
It’s important to note that just because you’ve had a positive experience with someone doesn’t mean that everyone has.
Abusers are good at grooming allies and gaslighting anyone who has suspicions about them. Joe is a perfect example of this. No one expects him to be this evil person because he acts like a regular person who’s just a bit shy.
Additionally, just because someone does some good things doesn’t mean they’re a good person. Yes, Joe helped two children who were in danger because of bad life circumstances, but that doesn’t absolve him of all the evil he did.
I believe the show was written and acted so that people could see all these things. Often, abusers are not overtly “weird” or “creepy,” and they’re not strangers in the bushes.
They can be friends, partners, family members, co-workers or other people we trust. If you watch interviews with the cast, especially Penn Badgley, who plays Joe, this message becomes even more clear.