This review contains spoilers.
In celebration of an upcoming season two, let’s take a moment to look back at a show that’s truly binge-worthy: You. The Netflix adaptation of the book is magnetic, relatable, horrifying: both equally surreal and realistic. But what exactly makes You so compelling?
Here lies the story of romantic obsession taken too far; a fatal attraction. And this is what makes You so hugely popular: it’s an amplified picture of relationships that many people are in. Many of us will relate to having an overbearing partner or feeling jealousy. But ordinary, these issues are worked out, or if not, won’t cause the other partner any real harm. We may argue from time to time. We may get a bit passive aggressive and grouchy, but then make up. Or the relationship may end; but both parties will move on, and then meet people they are well matched for, once they have themselves become better people. This, as we know, isn’t quite the case in You. Beck, beautiful and sweet as she is, becomes the unfortunate object of Joe’s obsession.
But, let’s back up; who is Joe? Well, at first glance, Joe is charming, humble, handsome, intelligent, and funny. He’s just a tad mysterious. He’s calm and collected. But we soon learn of Joe’s darker side, and Joe quickly becomes the epitome of the abusive boyfriend. While many us can see some of our own less noble qualities within him- jealousy, possessiveness, clinginess, and negative thinking- Joe encapsulates the extremity of all such traits. He is pathologically obsessed with Beck, duplicitous, un-empathetic and calculated. He lies constantly. Joe just so happens to be a psychopath.
Yikes! It’s easy to watch a psychopath on Netflix, harder to learn that we’ve likely all crossed paths with one. Comprising 1% of the general population, psychopathy is not as uncommon as you may think. That number skyrockets to as much as 25% of male offenders in federal correctional settings. Psychopathy is a personality disorder, ‘characterised by persistent antisocial behaviour, impaired empathy and remorse, and bold, disinhibited, and egotistical traits.’  The kick is that the very traits that constitute a psychopathic brain are the same traits that keeps one’s psychopathy hidden from ordinary people. Psychopaths are often superbly intelligent and aware of social norms, and are thus able to hide any violent or antisocial tendencies from other people, all the while following their own agenda- which often includes behaviours that comes at the expense of other people’s wellbeing. Rhonda Freeman, neuropsychologist and relationship expert, states “Control, power, antagonism, and arrogance are primary pillars of their character. They operate…particularly with individuals who are close to them (e.g., significant other/ children).”  Sorry, Beck!
So, okay, we can learn to hate Joe. He sucks. (Spoiler!) He kills Beck. But, wait; there are a number of people who actually like Joe. Yes, admire Joe. Say what?! Let me explain.
The producers and author of the book have noticed a growing fanbase for Joe; mainly, younger girls and women. These defenders of Joe’s behaviour tend to notice the good in him just as much as the bad, empathise with his plight to cultivate true love, and sympathise with all the darned things going again him. Many girls love the idea of ‘fixing’ a broken man or showing him a happier life with them. Because ultimately, he’s the underdog, right? He works a crappy job in a bookstore. He’s not super tall or built. His dad used to beat him up. His neighbour is unnecessarily mean to him. So Joe really has been a victim in ways. But it doesn’t excuse his behaviour. Like, you know, when the girl you like wouldn’t really like you if she knew who you really were, so you just have to fabricate an identity and control her life and all the information she receives about you. ( Don’t you just hate it when that happens?) I think you can tell I don’t own a Team Joe t- shirt.
It makes sense; I can see that, objectively. It’s not a high flying job or car or killer abs that gets these girls. It’s that Joe is smart, charming, dominant, emotionally stoic and in control. He has redeeming qualities. He’s pretty sexy, in that way. He cares for his neighbour’s son, Paco, becoming his surrogate father. He has genuine care for Beck, albeit in a twisted way. But the fact that many of the teen girl audience love Joe despite his obviously heinous ways rings alarm bells for me. Are these the same kinds of girls who are likely to enter and stay in abusive relationships? Who fall for domineering, controlling men, being both revering and robustly afraid of them? Is this a naivety that fades with age, or are these women likely to be taken advantage at any age, by men perhaps less dangerous, but still operating in the same field, as Joe?
It does make me wonder. But the bottom line is: Joe is attractive, whether we like it or not. Poor, lovely Beck is overly naive and non-critical: she assumes the world to be as warm and kind as she is. She’s exactly the type to fall prey to Joe, and as soon as Beck meets him in the bookstore that first time, her fate is sealed.
You is unique in incorporating A LOT of social media presence in its production. Many scenes are just of Beck and Joe texting back and forth, or Beck posting online, or Joe scrolling through Beck’s phone, or stalking Beck’s Facebook… you get the picture. I’m glad: it’s a warning from author Caroline Kepnes about social media. Oh, you just ran into your ex-boyfriend at a bar when on a date? How coincidental! Are you sure he didn’t just see your post and dash to the bar to crash the party?! These are things that wouldn’t have even crossed my mind until watching this show. Hopefully younger people will think twice about what they post and who they give their details out to, after watching Joe and Beck’s story unfold.
So, what can we learn about dating from You? (*Ahem*):
- Boy should have friends. You should meet said friends.
- Boy should have a social media presence. You should see his social media posts.
- Boy should have hobbies . (You know, aside from stalking you.)
And that, I believe, is the quick and simple checklist of how to avoid dating a psychopath. (Reverse the genders if you’re reading as a male). Next week we’ll do a checklist on how to flee the country once your realise your boyfriend is the aforementioned psychopath. (I’m kidding).
To wrap up, this show brilliantly raises issues on privacy, obsessional love and social media within a captivating storyline played by phenomenal actors. If you haven’t seen it, carve out some time: you won’t be disappointed! While we can only speculate what the next season will bring, I hope that Joe will be brought to justice eventually. However, I have a feeling there’ll be a few more female victims before that happens….