Odds are, someone you know is watching ‘YOU’. The season two release of Netflix’s acclaimed psycho-sexual thriller has captured the attention of critics and audiences alike, with viewership numbers skyrocketing since the series found a new home on the streaming platform.
Based on the Caroline Kepnes novel of the same name, ‘YOU’ serves as a cautionary tale about relationships in the information age. The series follows Joe Greenberg (Penn Badgley), an introspective but charming bookseller with a hidden penchant for stalking women. His bumbling romantic gestures seem at once sweet but misguided as he courts Guinevere Beck (Elizabeth Lail), a young writer and graduate student who frequents his shop. But what seems like harmless pining soon morphs into endless fixation as he tries to control Beck’s life and the people around her in a quest to retain her love.
A HIDDEN GEM FOR NETFLIX
‘YOU’ was a series poised for success from inception. Developed by legendary show creator Greg Berlanti (Dawson’s Creek, Riverdale) and experienced showrunner Sera Gamble (Supernatural, The Magicians), solid execution and audience viewership for its first season on Lifetime caught the attention of Netflix. The streaming giant later acquired the series where it garnered enough critical acclaim to warrant the release of a second season in December 2019. This most recent season marks a slight departure from the source material. Though according to creator Gamble, it’s loosely based on Hidden Bodies, the sequel to Kepnes’ first novel. Kepnes also penned an episode for the season one series.
NOT YOUR AVERAGE JOE
Despite his manipulative, selfish, and even violent nature, Joe’s character has become a favorite among viewers — to the dismay of Badgley, who took to social media during the show’s release to denounce the fan favoritism. Badgley’s character isn’t a person to cheer for. He’s a predator with a pattern: find a target, collect intel, then infiltrate their life. Rooting through social media profiles to aid in his manipulative tactics, he culls enough information about his targets to orchestrate a run-in and seem effortlessly charming in their presence. Yet he denounces those who use social media and displays a strong elitist streak. He’s so convinced of his own good intentions that he’s willing to do anything to keep the romance alive.
If anything, it’s indicative of the unsettling amount of charisma Badgley packs into the role. And admittedly, watching Joe’s fervor is compelling. He’s persistent and clever. Aided by a healthy dose of charm, and he’s a character compelling enough to last several seasons. Like most predators, Joe will strike again. He’s driven by a rampant desire to have love at all costs.
*Warning: Spoilers ahead*
SEASON TWO UPS THE ANTE
At the top of season one, Joe’s initial attempts to woo Beck are thwarted by her on-again-off-again boyfriend. Joe makes quick work of him, capturing and killing the boyfriend to position himself as the best available suitor. His plan works. Convinced her boyfriend has run off, Beck begins falling for Joe. But Joe must sustain an exhausting web of lies as Beck’s friends begin to question the disappearance. Beck discovers evidence of his past victims, and their idyllic romance turns to a terrifying cat-and-mouse game ending in her death at Joe’s hands.
Season two begins as Joe skips town for Los Angeles and adopts the pseudonym Will Bettleheim, hoping to outrun any potential trouble back in New York. But true to his elitist stance, he finds life in Hollywood to be vapid and insufferable. “Will” has convinced himself he won’t make the same relationship mistakes this time. Yet he quickly backslides into the same routine, finding himself infatuated with a local chef named Love Quinn (Victoria Pedretti). At the same time, Love’s twin brother has grown wise to his schemes and threatens to out his crimes, including the murder of Guinevere Beck. Will recalibrates as he tries to keep his past at bay and lay the groundwork for a new life with Love.
Though he’s vowed to remain good, Will soon zeroes in on another target worthy of punishment: the notorious comedian and female predator known as Henderson. Will accumulates an impressive body count by season’s end, though he isn’t the only one to commit a crime of passion. Love reveals she’s just as relationship obsessed as Will, killing an ex-girlfriend on his behalf. As they move into a new suburban home to pursue wedded bliss with a baby on the way, we garner hints that this won’t be the end of Will’s obsessive streak when it comes to women.
RIVETING RELATIONSHIP DRAMA
This is a relationship drama heightened to the highest possible degree, where breakups end in spilled blood. ‘YOU’ keeps the audience guessing at every turn with unexpected deaths, but also plays with our perspective. We are forced to sympathize with someone sociopathic because he’s convinced himself all his actions are in the name of love. Creators Gamble and Berlanti have wrestled continuously with their choice to frame the story from the stalker’s point of view. Though both Beck and Love have their own resourceful ways of uncovering Joe’s unsavory past, they don’t always come out on top. Season two presents a marked shift in the character dynamics where Joe is not always the smartest person in the room.
The unpredictability of the series remains an impressive feat as the story continues into its third season. It begs the question: how long can we watch Joe/Will outrun his bad deeds? And would we rather watch him get his comeuppance, or walk away scot-free? The one certainty audiences can count on is a season three, as Netflix announced in January of this year that the series would continue. Meanwhile, Kepnes is finishing a third novel that will follow Hidden Bodies, meaning this new season will mark a solid departure from the source material.
Production on the third season of the Netflix series has already begun and is expected for release sometime in 2021.