While everyone was busy watching “Bird Box” and playing “Bandersnatch,” I decided to settle down and watch a Netflix Original called “You.” I initially thought it was going to be pretty generic, but I was wrong. Based on a book written by Caroline Kepnes, “You” follows the main character Joe, the manager of a small bookstore, as he stalks Beck, a college student trying to balance school, friends and romance. Both Greg Berlanti and Sera Gamble, the creators of the show, utilized the extremely uncommon second-person narrative; a form of writing that uses the word “you” instead of names, which is also a main component of the novel. This seemingly insignificant choice impacted the series in such a big way. By keeping with the theme of second-person narrative, Berlanti and Gamble leave the viewer feeling slightly unsettled. It makes it seem as if Joe is talking directly to the viewer and not Beck. This allows for a sense of urgency from the viewer, as well as a small bond with Joe. From this unorthodox perspective, one finds themselves forming an attachment and even a sympathetic view toward the protagonist.
As the series progresses, we watch Joe fall further and further into full-on stalker mode. What starts as a simple interaction and a somewhat innocent search on social media, turns into a very real and frightening scenario. Visits to Beck’s house without her knowledge, figuring out her Friday-night location using social media posts and even stealing some of her personal belongings, all reveal just how dangerous Joe is. Even though Joe’s extreme stalking is clearly a red flag for the viewer, it’s offset by his nature toward Paco, the little boy next door who lives with a druggie mother and her abusive boyfriend. The viewer can’t help but notice Joe’s good side through his interactions with Paco.
Joe even seems to have the best intentions for Beck, despite some small, internal judgements against her. At first, these seem valid, like when Joe encounters Beck’s friend circle, a group of girls who all love to party and live off of their trust funds, or with Beck’s boyfriend Benji, a guy who starts his own artisanal soda company and loves cocaine. But then the viewer notices that these judgements slowly become more common. Just like Beck, it’s too late for the viewer, having been sucked into Joe’s personality and manipulation. Adding on to this, Joe’s desire to control every aspect of Beck’s life, which includes stealing her phone one drunken night, reveals the abusive and terrible individual hiding behind Joe’s nice guy demeanor.
And once again, just like Beck, we, the viewer, fall for his sweeter side knowing the consequences. The events that unfold later in the story are foreshadowed just enough for the viewer to notice that it will become important later. At one instance in the first episode, Joe shows Paco a giant, clear compartment in the basement of the bookstore where rare copies of books are held. It is extremely obvious that this compartment will be used later, yet we are still held in the suspense of how.
As each episode progresses, we fall further and further into Joe’s irrational behavior and obsession over Beck. While Joe constantly repeats that he holds love for her, he never fully elaborates on why he loves her; a shortcoming that robs the story of much-needed authenticity.
And yet, even though we see his appalling actions, we find ourselves agreeing with Joe on certain opinions. Paco needs a better home life, Benji is a world-class jerk and Peach has more to her story than she’s revealing. It is this kind of character development that really puts “You” over the edge.
Verdict: While some thrillers keep us rooting for the obvious good guy, “You” blurs that line, forcing the viewer to question trust and just how much we really know the people we love.