If the golden rule of storytelling is “show, don’t tell”, the narration is the rebel for no reason who, in open disregard for this rule, holds his middle finger under the director’s nose. Unless the narrative carries the dangerous risk of proving itself why Pointing is superior to telling the story of sticking your middle finger into a power outlet instead of pointing towards The Man, and making the Rebel a lot less cool. Netflix You, however, defies this rule with incredible style and delivers a narrator who is not only good, but possibly an all-timer.
You is a thriller that follows Penn Badgley as Joe Goldberg, a bookseller who perhaps more than most considers himself the hero of his own story. And his goal in the great novel of life? To tear the woman of his dreams off her feet. Over the period of YouThis woman’s story changes because he spends all of his free time pursuing his newest goal and killing anyone who gets between him and his fantasy of being with her. How the audience knows is simple: Joe narrates practically every waking moment. Even the terrible ones.
Joe’s narrative is also an elegant solution to a persistent problem with anti-hero protagonists: the natural tendency to sympathize with and take root for a point-of-view character you spend a lot of time with. How many shows about terrible people (breaking Bad, The sopranos, friends) a lot of tension in You comes from Joe Goldberg, an actual killer who avoided the consequences for his actions for three seasons. And while Joe is narrating the show, he’s not the only character it’s following. Joe is always part of a community – and because You takes care of the characters in this community, no matter how charming he is, he is always ultimately a cancerous ulcer.
The show could be blamed for repeating itself every year if it weren’t for the fact You‘S Writers aren’t interested in researching a story where a villain gets away with it. They are interested in a story that chronicles the many ways a nice, literal white person is conditioned to see women as objects of attention and obsession, and their fixations as normal or invited – to the extent that it leads to murder can. (That’s where You most closely resembles the previous series by showrunner Sera Gamble, The magicianswhich, among other things, was a deconstruction of the white male protagonist in genre fiction.)
Joe’s stream of consciousness is driving; The joy of listening is to hear him slide back and forth between his pretend self (a nice guy), his real self (a killer, with a few other problems I can’t name), and his spontaneous behavior. This is most evident in stressful moments when Joe – who denies his ability to deviate from his grueling pathways – has to clean up a crime scene he blames his partner for, sliding back and forth between safe damage control and mundane whining: “crap This, SHIT that, fuck my LIFE. ” You likes to make it clear that while Joe is capable at times, he is also pretty pathetic.
Across three seasons You puts Joe’s toxic obsessions in different contexts, each showing a more subtle form of toxic masculinity. As his environment changes, Joe becomes a more complicated type of monster; from the distant obsession of season 1 to the wildly unhealthy (but eerily real) marriage and parenting he settled into in season 3. This is another one of YouDelicious ironies: by designing such a well-realized terrible relationship, it has become one of the best shows about relationships, showing the delicate balance between individual fulfillment and collective happiness that comes with marriage and having a baby. Just replace “murder” with real, healthy ambition.
And Joe’s tale carries us through everything. As portrayed by Badgley, Joe’s voice operates on a wonderfully sardonic baseline, one that is funny and snappy but too smart to be sarcasm, with devastating disdain for deserved goals like the Wellness Industrial Complex or Alpha Bro attachment exercises. This tale is so charming, so downright funnythat the whiplash that occurs when Joe is openly, naked, a delusional guy projecting his obsession onto a random woman just living her life, is more terrible than any anxiety disorder because it feels like an accomplice: Permit Are you enchanted by this terrible man?
Thirty episodes in, You walked this tightrope walk with dazzling sovereignty and won over the audience with one of the richest voices on television – Badgley’s gift is an enormous talent for presentation, his self-centered perspective leads to spiral allusions, his resentment is embodied in a guttural growl, his despair in the most cathartic voice crap you will hear I would love it if he talked about my own life if I didn’t know what that attention from him would mean to me.
You Season 3 premiered on October 15 and is streamed on Netflix. A fourth season was announced.