How is it that a show with such a toxic environment can be so addictive to watch?
Warning: Mild Spoilers Below for You Season 1
The main story of You season one revolves around Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley), a bookstore manager, who meets Guinevere Beck (Elizabeth Lail), an aspiring writer. After their brief encounter, Joe becomes obsessed with the idea of her. He scours her social media to learn more about her life and to track her whereabouts. As he manages to integrate himself into her life, Joe will stop at nothing to keep Beck around. Even if that means dealing with people in her life that he thinks are toxic for their relationship.
You is an interesting type of show because it takes its audience on an exhausting, downright deplorable journey and yet we are fixated by it. There is by no means any redeeming qualities to the characters, their actions and how they justify themselves. It bounces between genres from the rom-com set-up to stalker thriller. The bad boy being remade by a good girl to a girl leaving her old past behind to redefine herself in the big city. Yet at the same time this show manages to make itself an excellent commentary on society and perception.
It looks into how privacy has been slowly taken away by society. Our consumption of technology has caused us to become blind to the dangers of revealing too much of ourselves online. Even if that person isn’t who we truly are. Ten years ago, parents warned their children of talking to people online as if it were equivalent to a stranger in a white-panel van. Yet now we live in a society where people update their lives regularly through their social media presence. They reveal intimate details about their personal lives, their location and even search for human connection. You is a representation of how that can be dangerous with Joe playing the defacto villain.
He dives into Beck’s life without consent and finds out everything about her. Where she is, what she does, her family history. Everything is accessible and that’s terrifying to comprehend. This plays further into the perception of this story. It is all from the eyes of Joe’s nice-guy persona. He does not care about the stories of other people because to him they are non-existent. Instead, he justifies his immoral actions by framing them as chivalrous decisions to further his relationship with Beck. He is not a good guy, but a troubled, naive man-child who took all the wrong messages from his harsh childhood lessons.
Beyond the show’s commentary and themes, it manages to be quite the invigorating thrill ride. It takes a while to get going, with a lot of set-up and dragging narrative, but once Joe’s obsession starts to become murderous the story picks up speed. His actions paired with the ongoing stories of the people around him push forward its edge-of-your-seat narrative. This culminates in the season’s finale which is nothing less of jaw-dropping. The conclusion is very easy to spot with the direction the story is heading, but it does not take away from the suspense and thrills when they eventually happen.
There were a few things that bugged me throughout the season beyond the slowly moving narrative. For starters, how could Joe get away with many of the things he did? The man literally stands a couple feet away from Beck on numerous occasions and somehow a baseball hat masks his identity? Seems like a very Marvel-esque disguise that shouldn’t work in reality. It also makes no sense that Beck would consistently have her large windows open for the world to peer into, especially when she’s changing or has someone over. These are just blatantly unrealistic scenarios regardless of the stalker tone it wants to set.
Penn Badgley’s performance is hauntingly layered and manages to tread between a genuinely nice guy and sociopath. However, the female lead is a bit of blank slate making it hard to truly connect with her. This is most likely due to the fact that this story is told through Joe’s eyes and therefore her personality does not matter much to him. It could also be attributed to the story trying to make Beck an easy set of shoes to fit into for people who have dealt with similarly toxic situations. Either way it plays back to the show’s general commentary which is where it shines.
This season of You is a smart, satirical tragedy that is equals part romantic comedy and stalker thriller. The characters can be a bit bothersome with some lacklustre dialogue and unrealistic situations. Thankfully, the layered storytelling and deep psychological themes make for a thrilling atmosphere. This is all centred around a devilishly charming lead performance that makes it hard for you to not become obsessed. From its layered, interwoven story to its dark themes, this season manages to make a statement about toxic relationships and the difficulties of getting trapped in one so I’m going to say it’s worth the watch.
What did you think of the first season of You? Let me know in the comments!
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