Netflix’s new stalker drama, You, is creeping people out all over social media.
The series, which streamed in late December 2018, highlights our vulnerabilities in a social media age in which chronicling the minutiae of one’s life for public consumption is common place. That gives the show its authenticity; we could all be Beck, putting ourselves out there for whichever stranger happens to Google our name or lands on our Facebook page. If not, we probably know someone like her. (Not to mention the bad taste in men and the naive inability to see the truth in people).
Warning: There will be spoilers for episodes 1 and 2 of You in this article. You, which first ran on Lifetime before streaming on Netflix, stars Penn Badgley of Gossip Girl fame (some fans see the resemblance between the two characters).
Here’s what you need to know:
A Chance Encounter in a Bookstore
Guinevere (known as Beck to friends and played by Elizabeth Lail) is a doe-eyed college co-ed trying to make it in New York. She’s a dreamer and a wannabe poet hanging out with a circle of vapid friends with no goals or direction except spending money, partying, and living lives of leisure. She has a tortured thing for a hipster trust-fund-baby boyfriend who’s clearly using her for sex when he’s not engaging in frivolous pursuits with daddy’s money, such as selling artisanal soda (with cumin in it) or cheating with women in bathrooms.
Enter Joe Goldberg, the nerdy guy with the intense eyes at the book store, whose chance encounter with Beck ignites his inner stalker. He has the proper disdain for all of these ridiculous characters swimming around in Beck’s life, and her inability to disengage from them, and maybe we share it, but it’s the extent he’s willing to go that differentiates him.
They bond with a quick repartee over a book written by Courtney Love’s relative, and Joe is hooked. He’s the kind of guy who’s destined to be perpetually friend-zoned and his life seems devoid of enough actual relationships and touchstones to make him the ideal stalker type: A guy who latches onto a sliver of connection and extrapolates it into a story of soulmates and destiny.
In the first 2 episodes, the remarkable thing is that, as creepy as Joe is, you wonder if he could possibly be worse than the other men circling around Beck’s life. There’s Benji, the trust fund baby boyfriend who is a chronic letdown, showing up when he feels like it. He’s a guy who’s able to twist being caught cheating into a conversation about curing cancer. “I don’t just want to be some guy you sleep with,” Benji tells Beck. But of course he does. He’s a narcissist too (the show is a parable to malignant narcissism in men). However, he’s not as dangerous of one.
There’s Professor P. Leahy, the creepy thesis adviser who invites Beck out for drinks and declares, “the world is your bright, red apple,” and then threatens her TA-ship when she rejects an advance. “I’m starting to think I’m some kind of magnet for dudes with serious issues,” Beck says. To say the least. But she’s not doing a very good job of weeding them out, either, enabling bad behavior while constantly regaling her friends with the drama and pain it causes.
Meanwhile, Joe, watching all of this from afar, becomes ever more convinced that he is Beck’s savior; she needs him. He justifies his stalking by convincing himself that he’s the guy who’s going to rescue her from the wreckage of her life. It’s narcissism, again, at its clearest. But what else is social media in which we’re all living in narratives of our own creation? Social media is the age of narcissism.
The first episode has a little Girl on the Train mixed with Rear Window voyeurism to it. Joe starts out with garden-variety stalking – i.e., he creeps on Beck’s social media pages. However, he soon takes it even farther, venturing off social media and into real life, standing outside her apartment and watching through the window, even masturbating in a hedge. He watches her in restaurants and out with friends, and then he saves her when she falls drunken on the subway tracks. This starts a real-life “relationship,” which, unbeknownst to Beck, has been orchestrated by Joe from the start.
However, things aren’t going as he planned. Beck invites him to a rich friend’s party (Peach, who seems suspicious of Joe from the start), but she’s soon spending more time talking to another guy (Benji 2.0) and a rooftop encounter with Joe ends with her head on his shoulder and the comment all guys are afraid to hear: “I’m glad we met. Glad we’re friends.”
Just how far will Joe go? We learn that Joe’s ex, Candace, left suddenly, supposedly with some guy in Rome. Following her bliss, as Joe says. But what happened to her really?
The series turns even darker when Joe eliminates a love rival by kidnapping Beck’s errant boyfriend, Benji, all in the quest of saving her, to use his stalker’s rationalization process. He keeps Benji in a glassed-in room in the basement of the bookstore where he works (even a love of books becomes creepy in this series). The ridiculous Benji bargains for better food in captivity (he doesn’t eat gluten) and he meets his fatal end when Joe gives him a drink with peanut oil, knowing Benji has a peanut allergy.
By the end of episode 2 we, thus, know how far Joe is willing to go. And, since Beck is now interacting with him in real life, we cringe to imagine the peril that awaits her or anyone who might stand in his way. It’s revenge of the nerds but more dangerous.
The show has its fans: