This marks my first post in the new decade. Previously, I managed to create one hundred and eighty-four posts, most of them in the last three years and change. It’s a brand-new year and with that comes new goals, new series, new books, and new movies. Today, I’ll just focus on one in particular, the Netflix series called ‘You’.
‘You’ is a psychological thriller that focuses on Joe Goldberg, played by Penn Badgley. The first season deals with his turbulent relationship with Guinevere Beck (Elizabeth Lail) in New York City. He obsesses over the girl, following her both in person and online. He desperately inserts himself in her life. He murders others just to prove himself worthy, so no one could come between them. At the same time, he feels for his neighbours, especially the kid, Paco. The latter is caught in a toxic household with Ron, his mother’s abusive partner. He often finds Paco reading a book in the hallway. He takes the kid under his wing in much the same way as the old bookstore owner took to him. He gains the boy’s trust, even telling him a good hiding place for his books. The show offers a new perspective than the crowded dark dramas, superheroes, or the overdone zombie apocalypses. The first season is based on Caroline Kepner’s book, which shares the same title.
The initial run is more than just about Beck and Joe. It’s about control, sadism, and feral instincts. Loyalty and trust are recurrent themes in the season, as is friendship. Joe and Beck become closer as the series moves forward, and the former makes sure that the coast is clear. Beck’s meddlesome friends, her beau, even her therapist (John Stamos), are all second acts to the Joe show. It is narcissism at its finest, where everything must go. Joe’s paranoia and subterfuge make this compulsive viewing. While Joe’s bookstore job defines him in the beginning, he quickly sheds this aura with his tech-savviness, his pursuit of Beck’s world, and his double life. On the outside, he is a charming booklover who always seems to be at the right place at the right time. However, the John Mayer-lookalike is hiding some dark secrets. He has a cage in the basement of his shop where he imprisons the apparent collateral damage in his quests. He likewise keeps mementoes of his kills. He is a most unlikely serial killer, much in the same vein as Dexter Morgan.
Eye candy and Searching
Lail provides much eye candy as the struggling writer in season one. She is the veritable damsel in distress who needs saving from a pack of lions. She has three best friends, her dad’s backing, and can afford the finer things. Her pals though are manipulative, and Peach, in particular, is nasty. In some cases, saying that she is as twisted as Joe isn’t surprising. Beck is also hit with a tremendous wave of writer’s block and a tendency to procrastinate. She is written as rather naïve, and Joe constantly gets away with lying. Beck is incredibly disappointing for someone who sees Joe as the most understanding and therefore deserving person in her sheltered life. For both the initial and subsequent seasons, there is a heavy dose of digital devices: from texts to Tweets, emojis to status updates, Internet searches to pics. This reminded me of Searching. I felt for Beck when all she wanted was to be productive, but she ended up writing one page. Yet when she started writing about things that were familiar to her, the floodgates had opened. I guess what the show is trying to tell us is to stick to the things we know. You have a better chance of creating something worthwhile if it’s up your alley.
The second season sees Joe migrating to LA after his deranged ex drove him out of Gotham. As such, the series follows the path of the book sequel, which was also set in LA. The second stanza is almost a clean slate, with new characters, locations, and storylines galore. This is similar to ‘Narcos’, ‘American Vandal’, and ‘The End of the F…king World’ (all Netflix Originals). Candace, the ex, was a bit player in the first season but joins the main cast in the second salvo. If the first season had Peach, the second one had Candace as the resident bad girl. Love (Victoria Pedretti) is the answer to Beck in season two. Joe does some nifty identity theft and now presents himself as Will Bettelheim. As he struts the streets of LA, the real Will is imprisoned in his private storage unit.
Thanks to his knowledge of ‘Crime and Punishment’, Joe immediately gets a job at Anavrin. Here he meets Love and her twin brother, Forty (James Scully). The Quinn siblings are scions to a local business empire. Joe instantly falls for Love and the feeling is mutual. However, Candace and Beck cast shadows on Joe’s feelings for Love. Forty’s behaviour is also distracting, as he seems to always get in trouble just as things are looking up for the star-crossed lovers. In this sense, it reminds me a bit of the Chenowith siblings in Six Feet Under, with Brenda always bailing Billy out of his mess. You can deduct that Forty is a trying hard wrecking ball, but I could see right through him. I had my suspicions that he’s gay in real life, though his on-show machismo tells otherwise. A bit of web-based research later, my suspicions were well-placed.
Throughout the season, Love and Will have an off-again, on-again partnership even though their mutual attraction is no secret. Will has to navigate his landlord, Delilah and her super smart sister, Ellie. He also has a love-hate relationship with the City of Angels, where he meets his love interest but likewise stumbles onto predators. He is told that the writer Raymond Chandler would be his new best friend. The season is not one for the faint-hearted as there is a gruesome digit scene and a mince-making gem straight out of ‘Hostel’. Will gets to meet Love’s circle of friends, who are a lot more likeable than Beck’s. Towards the end, Will has to babysit Forty as they are both caught in a trance and they try to finish the script of his would-be blockbuster. No less than ‘The Hurt Locker’ director is waiting for it. Will survives the night only to find a cage of horrors, not knowing how it all came to this. I also learned from watching that celery juice is a deadly meal substitute, especially if you’ve had nothing else for a few days.
As Will gets to pay for his sins, he realises that Love harbours dark secrets herself. Here, more and more shades of ‘Dexter’ come to fore. Love is Hannah McKay, Dexter’s deadly partner in crime. There’s even an unfortunate passing in the end that is another Dexter plot device. Love also drops a bomb just as Joe finds out the ugly truth. In season 2, we get to know more about Joe’s past, his relationship with his mother and his abusive father. We learn about his difficult childhood and the challenges he faced as a kid. We witness his relegation to child services after he terminated his dad.
Meanwhile, Joe urges Ellie to do a runner and head to somewhere like Florida, and that he’ll take care of her, no worries. She tells him to ‘burn in hell’. However, in a funny twist, he gets a postcard from Florida three months later, telling him to ‘send me the $$’. There’s also another priceless scene where Forty tracks down Dr Nicky and asks him questions. Suddenly, Dr Nicky goes on a religious rant about his saviour. The rant is not funny, just the timing. Forty clearly wants some answers but has to contend with this inspired rant instead. Then there’s the seven signs that you’re an Angelino for life. I remember the pack of coyotes, the ghetto bird, the superhero costume, the stroller…. how unlikely that Will would stumble on this in a matter of days when others would need a full lifetime. The series is full of characters finishing others’ sentences, almost telepathic. In being a very lucky guy in sidestepping tight spots, Joe is very much Dexter reborn.
All in all, ‘You‘ is a wonderful indulgence into the dynamic of others. Rarely do we get to see a series that’s this different and yet this relevant. Where the next instalment is set will be interesting. After all, as of today, Kepner has not penned a sequel to the sequel. ‘You’ is very well-reviewed, meaning I’m not in the minority when I give it full marks.