Why You Need to Watch ‘You’ With a Critical Eye

If you’re looking for a show that exemplifies what it means to be in a strong and healthy relationship built on trust and communication, don’t watch Netflix’s new show You.

Based on Caroline Kepnes’ novel of the same title, You follows Joe Goldberg (played by former Gossip Girl star Penn Badgley) as he stalks his way into the life of his romantic obsession Guinevere Beck (played by Elizabeth Lail), who goes by Beck. The show recently moved to Netflix after having its first season premiere on Lifetime.

The show itself is addicting and fascinating to watch. At first, Joe’s description of his first encounter and subsequent infatuation with Beck could almost be considered sweet, even with his unnecessary observation that she isn’t wearing a bra. But maybe you think, hey, it’s not all bad. All of these observations he makes are said in what we may assume to be his voiced-over inner thoughts. Maybe it won’t all be that bad. He even gives his meatball sub to his neighbor’s son Paco when he has no food of his own, showing how caring and how self-sacrificing he is! Maybe he isn’t the bad guy here!

Then you watch the rest of the season.

From the second he sits down to internet-stalk Beck to “be sure [she was] safe,” Joe takes things from zero to 100. He stalks her and her friends on social media, finds her address through a reverse-image Google search, and watches her eat, sleep, and have sex through her apartment window from a bush across the street—and this is only the first episode!

The rest of the season is exponentially more insane. Joe goes on to stalk and kill not one, but two of the people in Beck’s life while assaulting a third, all under the guise of wanting to make sure Beck is living the life he believes she deserves. He follows her every day, lamenting to the audience about how good they would be together. He steals her phone, breaks into her apartment, and steals her belongings to take home with him. These are the things which eventually get him into trouble with Beck, but she has no inkling of any of it all until the end of the ninth episode.

Ultimately, this show is a psychological thriller. While it explores the validity of “love will prevail” and the idea of self-sacrifice, this show is not a romantic comedy—nor should it be seen as such.

The relationships in this show are all unhealthy. There’s a power imbalance within each one—an imbalance influenced by wealth, gender, age, and occupation. And Beck gets the short end of the stick in each one.

The worst part about all of this is that in nine episodes, Beck is not given the chance nor is able to get the upper hand in any of these relationships. The most tangible example of this is Joe’s position as the narrator of the series.

He describes her every move in detail, providing his own commentary on what she must be feeling or her intentions behind each action. Usually, this commentary is sexual or romantic in nature, and he paints Beck to be the damsel who Joe assumes must be in distress. Joe takes it upon himself to be her knight in shining armor when the only thing she wants is a guy who won’t screw her over.

With Joe as the narrator, Beck isn’t allowed to tell her own story. This is deliberate. Beck’s character is the prototype for the typical damsel in distress. She’s the textbook definition of beauty in a Eurocentric way. Blonde hair, blue eyes, a body that’s perfect but not in a fake way. She’s a writer who can’t seem to move forward in life without the guidance of the smart, intelligent, and all-knowing people she knows. She, according to basically everyone in her life, needs to be saved. She needs direction. She needs their help. And almost everyone who thinks this is madly in love with her.

That’s part of what makes this show brilliant. Over the course of the season, Beck doesn’t seem like she’s the brightest bulb in the package, and it doesn’t seem like she’s going to ever realize the insanity happening around her. And even if she does, would she really be capable of stopping any of it from happening?

And then she finds the box.

In the final episode, after months of Joe’s antics going uncaught and unquestioned, Beck finds a box hidden in Joe’s apartment containing her underwear, her stolen journal, her phone, and her ex-boyfriend’s phone and teeth. She finally figures it out: Joe is a psychopath. He’s the reason behind pretty much every bad thing that’s happened to her in the past few months.

And while it’s satisfying that she finally comes to this realization, this epiphany and her desire to finally fight back are what ultimately get her killed. But after nine episodes of her being a powerless victim of manipulation, we can at least sleep knowing she died fighting back unapologetically. She even successfully manipulates Joe into letting her out. For one brilliant moment, the lamb gets the best of the lion.

Watching the final episode of You answers the questions and frustrations feminist viewers should have watching the first episodes. Why is she letting this happen? Why can’t she make a decision for herself? How does she not notice Joe following her around everywhere? Why is this show, amidst the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, amidst a period of time in which sexual assault, the male gaze, and misogyny are being fought against so openly and so fiercely, even being allowed past a pilot episode?

It’s because this show exemplifies the importance of all of these things. It shows us why we need to question these things, why we need to fight against patriarchal structures so openly and so fiercely. It’s why we need to tell our own stories and why giving the powerless a voice is so important. It shows us that the world isn’t black and white, that the heroes aren’t the most obvious, and that good doesn’t always win in the end.

And most importantly, You shows us that while love is patient and love is kind, love should definitely never, ever lock you in a bookstore cage in order to teach you a lesson.

By Logan Cross

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