By: Maria Ordoñez
Warning: The following article contains multiple spoilers. Read at your own risk.
Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley) is a charming bookstore manager who reads to kids, saves old books, and keeps his young neighbor out of trouble. He’s practically the perfect guy, except he’s still recovering from his latest heartbreak. Just when he’s about to give up on love for good, a beautiful, young poet named Guinevere Beck (Elizabeth Lail) walks into his life. From the moment she picks out his favorite Paula Fox novel, he knows it’s meant to be. And so, embarking on a series of crazy antics, Joe will stop at nothing to get the girl of his dreams.
And when I say nothing, I mean nothing.
See, what sounds like a synopsis for the perfect rom-com, is in fact the plot of Lifetime’s latest psychological-thriller series,“You.” The series, which was recently renewed for a second season, has seen a dramatic increase in popularity since being picked up by Netflix in December. With over 15,000 total posts in the last month, one thing is clear – viewers everywhere are hooked on this addictive new drama, and more importantly, they’re hooked on Joe.
Why wouldn’t they be? After all, I did say he’s “practically” the perfect guy. Except for the part where I forgot to mention that he’s an obsessive stalker, and that his “crazy antics” include everything from breaking and entering to the occasional murder. And yet, the template of this story feels oddly familiar…
That’s because “You” is everything we’ve seen in every rom-com ever. The only difference is that it depicts what would happen if instead of on a movie screen, these scenarios were playing out in real life. It’s what would happen if the barista from Starbucks actually showed up at your house in the middle of the night to profess his love for you based on a handful of conversations about the weather. “You” portrays this flip side of rom-coms that we need to start talking about.
In its subversive exposé on the dark side of these movies, “You” has multiple moments of self-awareness where the characters reflect on rom-coms as they make morally questionable decisions. And by characters, I’m referring to Joe.
Take, for example, Episode 1 where he spends his first day “with” Beck. After following her everywhere from yoga class to work, he ends up breaking into her apartment, where he hacks into her computer and steals a few personal items. Then, when Beck comes home earlier than expected, Joe finds himself hiding in her shower, thinking to himself:
This is problematic, mostly because it’s true. I mean, we’ve all seen movies like There’s Something About Mary. The plot of that story involves, not 1, but 6 different guys stalking the same girl. The worst part is that they actually succeed in winning her over. The normalization of this type of behavior onscreen unintentionally sets an example for day-to-day relationships. It makes guys like Joe think, “Well, if it worked for Ben Stiller, then it can work for me.”
That brings us to the scene in Episode 6, where Joe, having followed Beck up to Peach Salinger’s (Shay Mitchell) estate, finds himself in a similar predicament. This time, though, he isn’t trapped in a shower, but rather under a bed, bearing witness to Peach’s latest sexual encounter. Here, he makes a reference to the classic movie When Harry Met Sally, saying:
Although Harry never does this per se, some would argue that he and Joe have some similar issues with boundaries. I’m not saying that Harry is a murderer, but he doesshow up to Sally’s party uninvited, he doesn’tleave when she asks him to, and he doesn’ttake her “I hate you” as the explicit rejection that it is. It’s like Joe is taking pages straight out of Harry’s playbook, and just taking them one step further.
To top it all off, in the surprising season finale, there’s no doubt that Joe is all about going big or going home. I mean, when Beck finds out what a creep he really is, he literally keeps her prisoner in a glass cage. As if this wasn’t concerning enough, Joe goes on to justify his behavior as an act of true love. He claims:
You got me again, Joe. It is the stuff of a million love songs. The Police told us “Every breath you take, I’ll be watching you;” Lady Gaga sang “I’ll follow you until you love me;” and even The Beatles said “I’d rather see you dead, than to be with another man.” Everywhere we look, the media is telling us that if love isn’t obsessive, then it isn’t true love.
Of course, most love songs and rom-coms are meant to be entertaining, not to be taken literally. However, the reality is that all media, whether fictional or not, can have an influence on the way people behave in the real world. I’ve met my fair share of “nice” guys who lurk outside the workplace, show up to places uninvited, and think “no” simply means try harder.
In the era of the #MeToo movement, “You” shows up at the right time to shed some light on the issues of boundaries and the abuse of power. Most of all, though, it leaves us with a lesson for all people of all genders:
Forget what the rom-coms have taught you, you don’t want to end up like Joe.