This article may contain spoilers
After recently finishing the thriller ‘You,’ starring Penn Badgley and Elizabeth Lail, I have been feeling all sorts of emotions. Unsettled is one of them.
For those who haven’t watched the series or read the book yet, ‘You’ centers around bookstore manager Joe Goldberg and struggling writer and graduate student, Guinevere Beck — known simply as Beck.
Both characters share minor similarities at first. To the outside world, they appear charming and carefree. Their lives seem centered, but we quickly learn that on the inside, they are both struggling with their own personal demons.
‘You’ isn’t just a story about a sociopath and his quest to stalk and slowly obtain the damaged woman of his dreams, but also serves as a cautionary tale between the chaos that often erupts within the entanglement of toxic love.
From the moment Beck first walks into Mooney’s, Joe takes an immediate interest in her and describes her as if she’s a highly valued gemstone up for the market. He decides that he must know everything about her to make her his. From day one, she is nothing but an object and a prize that must be obtained.
While Beck tries to maintain the perfect persona via her social media, Joe soon discovers that in reality, her life is far from perfect.
Beck is a woman that never truly seems to love herself, which is why she surrounds herself with vapid friends and is always finding excuses as to why she can’t write or focus. She also sleeps with shallow men like ex-frat boy, Benji, to help ease her internal suffering. This only seems to draw Joe to her even more.
He believes that Beck belongs to him and only him. Underneath a somewhat charming exterior, is a sinister and calculating man that believes that he is meant to act as the white knight and savior to an emotionally damaged and struggling writer.
Day by day he stalks his prey, confidently narrating the story and picking off each and every detail of Beck and her daily habits, even including the habits of her close friends. Joe is highly observant in his descriptions, but they always come off as narcissistic. In his eyes, he can do no wrong, and he finds absolutely nothing creepy with the fact that he is a stalker.
Joe constantly convinces himself that he loves her, and will stop at nothing to make sure they can be together.
Beck’s own toxic qualities and traits are what ultimately help make her an easy target for Joe in the first place. She is vulnerable and has a hard time seeing the bigger picture. She is merely floating by, trying to exist and figure out her main purpose in the world, and Joe wants to help her unlock her full potential as long as he remains the prime focus in her life.
It’s only inevitable that once Joe calculatingly enters the picture, he becomes her new distraction. Joe has carefully portrayed himself out to be the nice guy — the guy moms can trust their kids with, and the good samaritan that holds the door open for little old ladies. Beck is convinced that he’s the real deal, and the one guy she’s been waiting for.
Except Joe is anything but. He’s controlling and manipulative, and just another selfish narcissist.
A Toxic Recipe for Disaster
Continuing to mask his true self, Joe plays the doting boyfriend to Beck. He is completely devoted to her and needs her love and undivided attention to survive, and although she questions certain personality traits of his at first, she remains fooled and always comes back to him. Joe is the master manipulator. She needs him and he needs her, and quitting one another just means that they have to face the reality of their dismal lives again.
Despite the small arguments they have throughout the series, Beck is still convinced that he is sweet, caring, and charming, but for Joe, it’s just all an act. It was never entirely all for Beck, but for Joe’s own selfish and twisted ego. Beck is his drug, and he can’t quit her.
The pair end up developing a type of codependency with one another, thus leading to further bad choices down the road.
As the story progresses, Joe’s actions become more chaotic and we come to realize that he is delusional and an unstable sociopath. He is far worse off than Beck could ever be.
One can argue that Beck is to blame for her own reckless behavior and eventually, even her own demise, but when one looks beneath the surface, Joe is still very much the main root of the problem. We learn about his ominous past, and that Beck was just another target and obsession for him. Because of her vulnerable state, Joe was able to easily manipulate her and convince her that she needed him.
In a twist of fate, Joe technically saves Beck on several occasions, and if it weren’t for him, Beck might not have even been able to live out the remainder of her days in the first place. That is the cruel irony of this complicated story.
Either way, these two souls were doomed from the start.
‘You’ reminds us that when two people don’t confront or deal with their personal and past issues, it can erupt back into the surface to bring everyone else down with them.
Joe and Beck are two individuals that saw an escape in other people. Through Joe’s obsessive tendencies and Beck’s constant infidelity, the pair are never fully satisfied. There must always be some drama or form of destruction around them in order for them to feel alive — until one of them is finally not.