The Netflix original show calls into question the fundamental nature of love.
*Spoilers for seasons one and two of the Netflix original series, “You.”
Imagine: one day you’re working at a bookstore, heartbroken over your recent love loss when out of nowhere, the girl you thought you killed walks in and blackmails you. The gall!
The second season of “You” forces Joe Goldberg, the lead of the series, into a corner when his ex-girlfriend, Candice, shows up to his workplace. Although Joe is no stranger to violence, he is forced to submit to Candice because she is the only character who knows of his murderistic tendencies –– and she wants revenge.
“You” has been highly criticized for humanizing a stalking, mass-murdering psychopath throughout its two seasons. But as a matter of storytelling, it is actually Joe who makes the audience and himself believe he is a debonair, lovesick man through his use of monologues.
Throughout the show, Joe (who goes by “Will” in season two), rationalizes his behavior by blaming his victims for giving him no other option. According to Joe, everything he does is in the name of love. Whether he seeks to get rid of romantic competition, preserve the love he currently has or protect a loved one from people he views as threats, Joe always takes extreme measures.
To escape Candice, Joe moves to Los Angeles, a city he hates, with the determination to not make the same mistake. But he’s not avoiding murder, nor stalking, nor stealing women’s property. No, he still does all that.
Rather, the mistake he is trying to avoid is falling in love.
This is made difficult when he spots a beautiful, funny woman whose real name is Love Quinn. Along with her brother, Forty, Love works at her parents’ establishment, Anavrin.
The attentive viewer will notice several twisted metaphors in the beginning of this season. “Anavrin,” for instance, is “Nirvana” spelled backwards, indicating that this place of peace is backwards and dangerous. Love’s name depicts one of the strongest human bonds a person can have. But within the show, love has never been a trustworthy emotion, as demonstrated through Joe’s actions. Her last name, Quinn, might also remind viewers of a harlequin or a masked character used in entertainment.
These hidden metaphors suggest there is something off about Love. But it’s only towards the end of the season that Joe discovers what it is. Love is just as crazy as he is, capable of murder, stalking and covering up unfortunate events with her parents’ money.
“You didn’t break me,” Love confesses to Joe. “You opened your heart to me. We’re soulmates, Joe.”
This shocking reveal calls the thesis of the show into question. With both Love and Joe being unstable, psychopathic criminals, is it possible that what they are feeling is love? Can it really be love if so much violence is involved? What even is love?
Love answers these questions in the final episode of season two.
“You know why this is happening?” Love asks Joe. “Because while I was seeing you — really seeing you — you were busy gazing at a [expletive] fantasy — a perfectly imperfect girl. You saw what you wanted to see.”
What Joe and Love feel is not true love. They do not care for their partners’ safety, nor give their partners any freedom. They blame their partners for their actions, rationalize abuse and manipulation and call it “love.” Joe’s obsession with finding someone who loves him back blinds him from the people around him, viewing them as objects rather than real people. When an object doesn’t work, it’s thrown away. When the love proves to be false, Joe kills it.
By viewing the story through Joe’s eyes, we can believe him when he says he is a good guy. We trust him when he says he’s in love. We are able to push aside all of the violence and say, “If they never hurt him, he wouldn’t do that.” At the end of the day, Joe is able to manipulate the audience because he really believes he is a good person.
A show like this forces viewers to look critically at themselves and ask what they convince themselves of in daily life. Are we all less-violent versions of Joe, claiming we did what we had to do for a good cause?
The show proves that no matter how much a person wants to be loved, love can never thrive in an abusive, toxic environment.