Like the millions of mentally healthy American adults, I spent the holidays binge watching You on Netflix. It dropped just in time for Christmas break, and what better way to wash your palate of the constant repeats of A Christmas Story and It’s a Wonderful Life
The main strength of You is Joe which is played brilliantly by Penn Badgley, with equal parts earnestness and creepiness. Plus Joe is easy on the eyes which didn’t hurt in the sympathetic character department. He doesn’t look like a monster, nor is he socially awkward. Rather, Joe’s witty, charming, and well-read–the kind of guy you want mom and dad to meet. Just like Ted Bundy.
As awful as it sounds, I found myself rooting for Joe. Of course, I didn’t want him to kill anyone, but I didn’t want him to get caught either. Perhaps its because he has some redeeming qualities–like his love for Paco, or his visits to his employer/mentor, or because he gamely reads to kids, and his obvious love for books. So even when he murders, I was hoping he doesn’t get caught. I think mainly because Joe doesn’t plan the murders in a
In an ideal relationship, the jagged pieces of each person can make the other whole. In Beck’s relationships, those pieces scratch and scrape each other, leaving each piece even more damaged than they found it.
The show makes some attempts to explain Joe’s psychopathy but I think this was missing the point of sociopaths–which is most of them come from normal, relatively benign backgrounds. In trying to explain Joe’s background, the show tries to justify or at least gives a reason for his actions, which distracts from his repugnant stalking and repeated violation of Beck.
Which leads me to Beck, the woman that fuels Joe’s passion. Of the show’s characters, I find myself unable to relate to Beck even though she is also a well-developed character. Like Joe, Beck is full of contradictions: she’s smart but she makes stupid choices, she has ambitions but she lacks drive, she has friends but she’s lonely, she wants to be loved but she fleets from one meaningless encounter to another, she’s manipulative but vulnerable, she’s curious yet blind. I think this is why it was hard for me to relate to Beck even when I felt sorry for her–she was the epitome of
Beck also choose these connections that were mired in toxicity, in duplicity, and in some sort of weird co-dependence as each person in her life, like her, is deeply damaged. In an ideal relationship, the jagged pieces of each person can make the other whole. In Beck’s relationships, from her father to her friends, those pieces scratch and scrape each other, leaving each piece even more damaged than they found it.
The secondary characters were also well-developed. I like the intellectual snobbery of
In a way, I can see what attracted Joe to Beck. At first glance, Beck is pretty, matching wits and commentary with Joe at their first meeting, commiserating and congratulating themselves at their acerbic observations. But Beck is an empty canvas that shows the worst cliches of her generation: she practices yoga but doesn’t reach the spiritual and meditative benefits of this discipline, she tweets constantly about a fabulous life that doesn’t exist, parties like she has no worries when she is full of them. Beck is essentially a