Series

Joe Goldberg in ‘You’: Netflix’s single-most terrifying creation

“Hello. Who are you? All your accounts are public, you want them to see you, to listen to you, to know you. And I thank you!”– Joe Goldberg

Created by Greg Berlanti and Sera Gamble, and adapted from Caroline Kepnes’ novel, You is an unsettling and disturbing Netflix series that has won millions of hearts worldwide. The series revolves around the young and handsome bookstore clerk Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley) who grows obsessed with wooing a woman named Guinevere Beck (Elizabeth Lail) by manipulating the events around her, often resorting to cold-blooded murders. At the end of the first season, he escapes to Los Angeles under the alias of Will Bettelheim and takes a job in a grocery store. There he encounters Love Quinn (Victoria Pedretti), a widow, who is seemingly interested in him. Having learnt from his past mistakes, Joe (now Will), tries to bask in the newfound ‘normal’ friendship with Love. However, the ghosts of his past come back from the dead (literally) and force him to resort to violent measures once again to prevent his past deeds from tainting his new image. 

Joe Goldberg and his stoic, expressionless face reek of creepy, sinister motives. He is downright unnerving and terrifying. A vile and despicable manifestation of our nightmares, Joe is not only an obsessed lovesick killer but also a sadistic perverted voyeur. Despite his menacing thoughts and terrible actions, his quick wit and sardonic humour make him somewhat likeable. His abusive past serves as a redemptive quality as well. 

You dabbles in dangerous and uncomfortable realms. The invasion of privacy and the fear of being constantly watched is brought into scrutiny here. Beck is relatable, with her burgeoning social media presence and active social life. Love’s disdain and rejection of social media are juxtaposed to Beck’s addiction. The stark difference in the characters makes the narrative riveting and compelling. Penn Badgley’s portrayal of Joe Goldberg is petrifying.

Penn Badgley, whom we remember as Dan Humphrey in the teen drama series Gossip Girl, is back with a bang with a memorable character once again. On The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Badgley went on to explain how he came up with the expressionless yet frightening version of Goldberg. He said that he does “nothing” which results in the creepy face; the “real Charles Manson vibe” comes from the act of staring at the camera with a vacant expression.

“I arrive on mark …. I do nothing but lookup. And the entire crew behind the camera goes ‘Oh! Whoa, man. That is phenomenal. That is so creepy.’ And I did nothing.” 

Joe has an extreme case of saviour complex where he thinks Beck is too fragile and naive to exist alone in the world. He has an urge to save her, to shield her and protect her against adversities. “The most important things are those that are fragile and must be protected”. He is observant and sly; the creepy monologue as the beginning of the series set the mood for an ominous catastrophe. “You wear the wide blouse, you do not want to be eaten with your eyes. But your bracelets tinkle, you want to get attention.”

While Joe ends up trapping some of his victims in a cage in the bookstore basement, he fails to realise that he is the one who is trapped in this vicious cycle. He realises this at the end of season 2 which ends on a cliffhanger; Joe seems to have found his new target on whom he shall spy through the peephole. His abominable eyes search for new victims every day till he finds someone suitable:

“It’s funny how fate works. I had no idea that the cage I was building all this time was a trap for me. And when I found myself here locked in, I thought this was the end. But that’s not how destiny works. This is just the beginning because this where I had to be, exactly where I had to be … with you. There you were with your books and your sunshine. So close and worlds away. I will figure out a way. A way to get to you. See you soon, neighbour.”

The series is not a clinical portrait of a serial killer, it is supposed to be a twisted love story that sends the viewers’ stomachs twisting into several knots. The premise is dark and scary; a sense of impending doom and voyeuristic sadism pervades the screen. Nobody is safe, not even the viewer. The show received immense love from fans worldwide which are concerning. If a creepy criminal like Joe Goldberg is celebrated and romanticised for his disgusting antics, it leads us to question the fantasies and kinks the generation is into. The blatant portrayal of stalking, voyeurism and murder might cause real survivors to spiral. The question is whether such shows are suitable for viewing due to the negative impact on teenagers, especially teenage boys who might think it is alright to be the next Joe Goldberg; ‘everybody loves Joe, I should be the next Joe’. 

Joe’s controlling and dominating nature is not something that should be fetishised. A handsome young stalker is not attractive; he is as deadly and repulsive as anyone else. With his hands filthy with blood and his mind plagued with the obsession to ‘own’ Beck, Joe’s view of women is problematic and harmful. Teenage girls, out of naivete, might be under the impression that this is the kind of treatment they deserve. His notion of love and belonging is twisted and it emerges from his troubled beginnings. Joe says, “Sometimes, we do bad things for the people we love. It doesn’t mean it’s right, it means love is more important.” For him, the ‘bad things’ tantamount to homicide, ‘love’ tantamounts to his obsessive desire to be “The One” for Beck and control her. 

Glorifying Joe is not only detrimental to society but also trivialises the trauma of survivors who have been through something similar. You is a soapy melodramatic series that, despite rave reviews, is extremely perturbing; the aftermath needs to be taken into consideration before romanticising a sharp-jawed, mysterious perverted stalker. 

See Penn Badgley demonstrate his ‘Joe Goldberg’ expression on live television, below.

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