You (TV series) - Deconstructing toxic romantic behaviours
Updated: Apr 30, 2020
Who said bad people only hide in dark alleys ? Lifetime's TV series You plays with our idea of what a villain is, how they look like and how they behave. It follows the story of Joe, a seemingly normal bookseller, as he falls in love. However, Joe holds inner demons that come out as the relationships develop.
The first season open on a young woman, Beck, coming into a bookshop while Joe describes her in voice-over. The narration is light, flirty and funny. Our entry point is Joe, an attractive young man. Brilliantly played by Penn Badgley, he is the archetype of the good guy you will bring home to your mum without a doubt. Badgley's previous interpretation of Dan Humphrey in Gossip Girl is here used to reinforce this idea of a good, trustworthy man. But just as Dan Humphrey, Joe has his secrets. He sees her again at a subway station, passes in front of her flat and sees her in the window of her flat as he walks down the street. It all seems a little bit weird but innocent. Then, he breaks into her flat and snoops for information. He stalks her on social media to understand who are the important people in her life and if anyone is holding her back. He goes on to kill her boyfriend and make Beck believe he has left her with no explanation. His obsessive behaviour leads her to cheat on him and a break up.
Joe does not understand he can not keep on controlling her life. He does it with the best intentions at heart. He believes she needs him to make tough calls for her to thrive in her life. He arranges her best friend's murder to look like a suicide. Nothing can come in his way. He breaks into her therapist's office and reads the notes. He can not trust Beck even when they get back together. He wants to feel like the all powerful god of her life which is impossible. Her thirst for freedom inevitably lead to death. She finds out everything Joe has done and, as anyone would, freaks out. Joe wants her to love him but she can not. By meddling, he made it impossible for her to accept him. If he can not control her, she is a hazard for him and must be terminated.
Joe is the embodiment of toxic. His behaviour is shown without excuses except the ones he makes for himself. He is the narrator therefore the point of view of the audience is Joe's. It shows without condoning any of his actions. The audience is given all the tools to be able to judge him on their own.
He is without a shadow of a doubt a villain. He is a complex character which gives him more depth and substance. Even the choice of his name is telling. He is Joe just like the average Joe. He is anyone. He is an ordinary man. It subverts the idea that bad guys hide in alleys, look creepy or are ugly. They can be anyone.
You shows that toxic relationships are not romantic or passionate, they are wrong and can be life-threatening. When your partner tries to control you, it is not love or care. When the TV series got released some teenage girls tweeted that Joe is cute, Penn Bagdley was very quick to react and say that Joe was a criminal. If some of us can not recognize it, it shows that somewhere the society has failed and endangered us with unhealthy romantic behaviours. The expectations created by romcoms can actually be creepy and create the basis for toxic relationships. Joe is a proof of it. At the end of the first season, he manages to escape his crimes. In the next season, he moves to Los Angeles to start over. He rents a new place, uses a new name and finds a new job. He is determined to change and fight his demons. Of course, it takes him one look to fall for Love, chef of the shop and daughter of the owners. She comes with baggage - her clingy twin brother Forty. Joe is very careful to not slip again.
A question pops into our heads : maybe he deserves a second chance ? He lets her go when she goes away. He tries to not get with her. When he does, he is very careful with what he does. Seeing that relationship unfold is fascinating. The audience is waiting to see him slip into his old ways but he holds on until he kills a sexual predator. He is there trying to protect a teenage girl whose sister has been abused by the same man. This unleashes his dark side. Soon enough his past comes back to haunt him. Candace who he believes he has killed is in fact alive. She tries to show his true nature to protect Forty and Love but does not live long enough to achieve it. Beck comes back to haunt him too. Forty has bought the rights to her book and wishes to make a film out of it. Under the influence of drugs, Forty figures everything out. He discovers Joe has killed Beck and framed the therapist. But Love's beloved twin brother has his own dark secret. He believes he killed his au pair when he was a teenager.
As Joe feels like everything is slipping away from his grasp, he discovers he has met his match. Love is nothing more than the female version of Joe. She has killed the au pair instead of Forty. She has killed to protect Joe. She is twisted but looks like a daydream. They are the two pieces of the same puzzle. This time, Joe experiences it from the other side. He is Love's "Beck" manipulated into loving his prison guard. He is tempted to avenge himself and kill her but she reveals being pregnant. Using her family's connections, Joe is put above suspicion and the cases are buried.
The season 2 ends with pregnant Love and Joe in their new house - perfect representation of the white picket fence family. It is Joe's ultimate chance to be the parent he needed and never had. It might be his road to redemption but of course he notices the female neighbour reading Anna Karenina - a foreshadowing of the tragedy about to unfold.
You flags toxic and dangerous behaviours in romantic relationships. It is giving teenagers and young adults tools to recognize dangerous patterns in their own relationships and keep them safe. Above all, You reminds us that the wolf tales warn us about comes into the disguise of a lamb.
Available on Netflix.