Following the release of the second season of Netflix’s You, actor Penn Badgley discussed the main focus of the show in an interview, saying: “You is about how far we are willing to go to forgive evil white men.” Badgley stars as the show’s central character: Joe Goldberg (Will Bettelheim in Season Two), a sociopath who stalks his love interests and kills those who get in his way. However, on the surface Joe can be funny, honest, and sensitive – the classic “good guy” to anyone who can’t hear his innermost thoughts. You merges the nice guy persona with the twisted villain trope to create the ultimate antihero.
Told through his point of view (POV), the audience becomes well aware by episode one that Joe is a stalker and a killer. But it’s this same POV that You manipulates into painting Joe as a nice, relatable guy. He shares inside jokes with us, scoffs at everyday annoyances, and laughs at his own self-deprecation. As viewers are unable to escape Joe’s conscious, You simultaneously tries to humanize Joe while exposing him for who he truly is: a cold-blooded murderer. To rephrase Badgley, this is the show’s core: to what extent, if any, are viewers meant to sympathize with Joe?
As our society witnesses violence at the hands of mostly white, toxic masculinity, You challenges viewers to confront their own biases and empathetic tendencies. Joe should not be romanticized – he tortures and kills people, and then convinces himself he’s the hero. Yet despite Joe displaying toxic masculinity at its absolute worst, a handful of the show’s viewers have admitted to falling under his spell. One person wrote that they didn’t care if Joe was a killer, since he was distractingly good-looking. Another fan tweeted at Badgley that he “is breaking [their] heart as Joe. What is it about him?” Badgley, known for calling out those who defend the character of Joe, responded: “A: He is a murderer.”
Though You may not offer solutions, it certainly makes a point. The willingness to watch Joe and potentially overlook his malignance offers an insightful reflection of ourselves and the culture that shapes us.
Take Action! Let us know your thoughts on You. Do you see the series as being forgiving towards Joe, or critical of our society’s tendency to excuse the behavior of privileged white men?