It's Not Me, It's 'YOU'

Warning: This article contains major spoilers for the TV show ‘You’

Last week, fueled at first by a desire to procrastinate on reading, and then by two days off from classes thanks to freezing temperatures brought on by the polar vortex, I began and finished ‘You.’ The Lifetime series, based on the 2014 novel of the same name by Caroline Kepnes, appeared on Netflix in late December and quickly became somewhat of a sensation. I was encouraged by friends to begin watching, and like many others, was soon drawn in. The show follows Joe, a seemingly charming bookstore clerk who becomes obsessed with a customer, Beck, to the point of stalking her, tampering with her relationships, and eventually, committing murder for her.

The show is marketed as a cautionary tale about romance-gone-wrong, as well as a message to viewers to be careful, suggesting that—especially in the digital age—you can never really know someone. Because of course, as romantic as they seem, they could be creeping around your apartment when you’re not home. Essentially: “Stranger Danger” on steroids.

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To say ‘You’ is a bit sensationalist would be an understatement, but it’s entertaining, and after a long week of struggling to understand writings by Marx and Engels, I was totally up for a few hours of dramatic, guilty-pleasure TV. So, like many others, I watched Beck—the graduate student studying poetry whom Joe fixates on—remain blissfully (or infuriatingly) unaware that her supposedly perfect new boyfriend was spending his free time following her around New York City, rooting through her underwear drawer, or kidnapping and eventually killing the boy she hooked-up with or her best friend. I found the show engrossing, if slightly ridiculous, up until the last episode. Spoiler alert: Beck eventually realizes what Joe has been doing behind her back, understandably freaks out, and ends up locked in a literal cage in the basement of his bookstore. After several attempts to escape, Beck eventually convinces Joe, ever-delusional, that she loves and forgives him for stalking her and killing her friends, and manages to make her way to freedom. Of course, though, right before she can, Joe catches up and murders her. Later, he spins Beck’s murder as well the others on her therapist (who’s played by John Stamos, which isn’t super relevant, but somehow feels important), and ultimately faces absolutely no consequences for the havoc he has wreaked.

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What made the episode especially heartbreaking for me was that Beck’s murder comes right after she seemingly comes to a new understanding of her own self-worth. In a poem she writes while trapped in the basement—the show’s only real foray into her complicated past—Beck describes feeling like she needed love in order to solve her problems. Beck eventually uses the poem to trick Joe into releasing her, and it is clearly meant to pander to his twisted idea of being her “savior,” and though he is unable to see the irony behind her repeated phrase, “didn’t you ask for this?” the poem seems to actually represent Beck’s realization that she doesn’t need a man to save her. It is a climactic moment and represents her character development throughout the show. This development, however, is subtle and given very little serious treatment in the episode, which quickly moves on to scenes of Joe dealing with police and detectives growing increasingly suspicious of his actions.

At first, I was shocked that the show would go so far as to kill off one of its two main characters so abruptly. Then, I realized that despite featuring heavily in every episode, furthering the narrative, and fueling every one of Joe’s missteps, Beck is not a main character. In fact, she’s hardly a supporting character; the show is accompanied by constant voice-overs from Joe’s perspective, and at times seems almost to use his “tragic backstory” as, if not an excuse, an explanation for his behavior. The show provides minimal details about Beck’s backstory and only a few scenes from her perspective over the course of 10 episodes. Upon reflection, one realizes how inessential Beck is. As a character, she is entirely replaceable, having never been given the opportunity to develop past knowledge of her basic background and personality traits. As critics have pointed out, we never learn much about Beck’s career goals, her family beyond her father, or even her personality outside Joe’s clearly romanticized version of her. Why? The simple answer is that she exists as a character for one reason: to be fetishized, and ultimately destroyed, by Joe.

As if this wasn’t made clear enough by the show’s finale, ‘You’ has now been confirmed by Netflix for another season in which Joe moves to Los Angeles, finds another girl to obsess over, and presumably begins the whole process over again, underscoring the fact that it doesn’t matter who he is targeting: the show is not about the woman, it’s about the man who stalks, harasses, and murders her.

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To be fair, the show makes a significant effort to keep its audience aware that Joe is not to be viewed as desirable in any way. He’s consistently painted as delusional, hypocritical, and downright disturbing. Moreover, I am aware that these issues are not entirely the show’s fault. Beck’s death is consistent with the novel that the show is based off, but killing her so soon after she finally realizes her worth seemed particularly cruel, ultimately unnecessary (considering the show diverges from the book at other points), and perhaps indicative of a larger problem in Hollywood: of the way female characters are presented, again and again, as disposable.

Despite all of this, I plan on watching the second season of ‘You’ when it airs, mostly in the hopes of seeing Joe finally go the hell to jail, but if it seems to be going in the same direction as the first season, I don’t know that I’ll make it all the way through. Personally, I’m just a little tired of seeing women in TV and movies be tortured and killed for the sake of entertainment.