Molly Atchison | Editor-in-Chief
Lifetime’s new series “You” recently hit Netflix, which blew the show’s viewership out of the water. Netflix purchased the show and is picking it up for a second season, and “You” is sure to join “Bird Box” and “Stranger Things” in Netflix’ hit thriller repertoire The series’ cast includes stars like Penn Badgley, who many know better as Dan Humphrey on “Gossip Girl,” and Shay Mitchell of “Pretty Little Liars”. Elizabeth Lail plays opposite to Badgley as the effervescent and elusive Guinevere Beck, an aspiring writer who stumbles into the path of bookstore clerk and hopeless romantic Joe Goldberg (Badgley).
Sounds amazing, right? Well, if you’ve seen the show you know that the hopeless romantic quickly turns to obsessive creep, and the bright shiny demeanor of our leading lady is tarnished as she navigates a precarious situation. Without giving too much away, let’s just say that “You” is a twisting thriller that leaves you feeling like you just watched a rom-com gone horribly wrong. What is so ingenious about this bingeable show is how the characters play into each other’s power dynamics, and the message behind the madness. It truly makes you question exactly how well you know that special person in your life.
The show not only highlights toxic tendencies in relationships, but also the way social media and technology make our personal lives much easier to access than perhaps we knew before. Badgley brings his Gossip Girl character back to life and amps up the creep factor by 10 to portray a seemingly “average Joe” who falls for a girl and will do anything — literally anything — to keep her in his life. With a glamorous upper-east-side setting and a classic struggle between “old money” and “no money,” the setting and characters are compelling and easy to watch.
Unfortunately, while the series is a standout hit and portrays an easily understandable surface message, Lifetime may have made viewers slightly too empathetic to Goldberg’s character. The point of the show was to highlight how easily someone can slip from being a normal human to being a complete psychopath and how difficult it is to see the signs before it’s too late. Perhaps the writers simply misstepped in including a sympathetic backstory for Joe, or perhaps they played up his relationship with his next-door neighbor’s adorable kid a bit too much; whatever the case, fans of the show ended up finding Joe’s rationale and actions all too convincing, and many went so far as to say they were actually rooting for his character.
The fact that fans were able to sympathize and support a psychotic, obsessive character makes another point startlingly clear: Many people are unable to distinguish the boundaries of a truly healthy relationship and are willing to validate the actions of abusers based on their own self-rationalization. With an unreliable narrator and a cast of imperfect characters, the writers created a perfect storm to prove a point. It’s just up to the audience to understand that while everything in the show leads us toward liking and supporting Joe, in reality, he is everything we should learn to look out for in a toxic relationship.
While the show is fantastical and fairly outrageous at times, to others, especially to women, it’s a danger that is completely believable and tangible. “You” certainly lived up to expectations in many ways, but what the show provided was so much more than simply entertaining television. We saw through the psycho’s eyes, heard all the inner dialogue and got an inside scoop on what a toxic relationship looks like, and just how subtle the toxicity can be.