“You” is the haunting story of a deranged stalker turned unhinged murderous love interest, Joe Goldberg. Portrayed and narrated by Gossip Girl star Penn Badgely, the story follows Joe as he meets and becomes infatuated with struggling writer, Guinevere Beck. Working at a bookstore himself and strongly versed, if not obsessed with fine literature, he develops a one-sided affinity for her that spirals into a compulsive obsession. Over the course of the first season, he indulges in a self-composed narrative that develops into a hero-complex, honestly believing himself to be the only one who can fix her life and turn her into the writer he wants her to be; eliminating every obstacle between them.
The Narration is a Conversation with His Victim
Badgley, as Joe, spins a sickly narrative web of dark intrigue that comes off as if he were having an intimate conversation with his prey. He speaks to the audience and uses his narrations as if he were talking to Beck directly and cultivating a relationship with her, however this internal dialogue only further indulges his own sociopathic tendencies to justify his actions and intent.
While Badgley’s narration for the character serves as a plot device to give the audience insights into the twisted and fractured mind of Joe Goldberg and push the story along, he sees it as developing a relationship with the subject of his obsessions. He truly believes he’s doing good, and any minor instance of self-doubt in his actions is swiftly dealt with and rationalized. Especially when contrasted against the reality of his behavior, Joe’s narration is nothing short of sick and depraved. As the audience, we’re privy to these manic and obsessive thoughts – we get an inside look at the mind of someone with a severe and dangerous mental illness. Every line of narration adds a new layer of delusion to Joe’s fantasy; every word takes him further down the rabbit hole and every rationalization brings him closer to Beck.
The more he indulges and justifies his own depravity, the more he needs to do to facilitate it. The closer he gets to Beck, the further he goes to ensure her dependency on him. Joe makes himself indispensable and readily available to Beck, even when she’s already in a relationship with someone else. He clones her phone and intercepts her text messages and social media, burrowing his way into her life and wedging himself between Beck and her inner circle of friends. There is no limit to what Joe is willing to do in order to be a part of Beck’s life and his narration goes to painstaking lengths to show us that.
The Narrator is Mentally Ill
In Joe’s mind, he’s the only one who understands her; he’s the only one who can give her the life she wants – or at least what he’s decided she wants. He’s deluded, and manipulative; stalking Beck’s life and twisting her world around a fingertip as he sees fit. Joe might be compulsive, but he knows how to get what he wants and which buttons to push.
On a good day, Joe is cold and calculated, casually acting out each articulated and depraved whim as if it were second nature. On a bad day, his thoughts are scattered and Joe runs on raw unchecked emotion – that’s when he’s at his most terrifying. Joe needs to be in control of every situation; he craves it like a drug. When things are outside of his control or don’t go to plan, he’s most dangerous. He usually ends up finding a reason for what he’s done after the fact, blaming his victims for interfering or wronging the object of his desires.
A Narrator in Denial
Joe truly believes that his presence and guiding, or rather, the manipulative hand is what’s best for Beck. His narration punctuates this over and over again to the point of insanity; his psychosis is made tangible by a narration that manifests itself in sick idealizations and self-assuring toxic confidence. In his own mind, Joe is fixing things; he’s doing her a service and righting wrongs. Everything Joe does, he genuinely believes is for her betterment. Like the prized first edition novels he repairs and hides away from the world in his glass sterile room, he wants to fix Beck, but be the only one to touch her. He wants others to see her, but only under his controlled and calculated supervision. Even through his narration, he almost never calls Beck by her name – but by the proposed title to the series, You.
He’s a narcissistic control freak with antisocial tendencies, but worst of all, he has some redeeming qualities that call our perception of him into question from time to time. He does care, albeit in his own enigmatic, twisted and self-serving way. Joe legitimately thinks that he’s doing it all for Beck’s benefit, but as an audience, we know better.
As an audience, we hear his descent into madness; we understand his self-assured delusions and witness the mental gymnastics he puts himself through to hold onto the notion that he’s a good guy. His narration takes us into the thick of it and we’re only along for the ride – just like Beck, we’re helpless against what Joe wants. He’s intelligent and manipulative, but prone to slip-ups when his emotions get the better of him. Any time he begins to doubt himself, he plays it off as a mistake and tells himself exactly that.
To Joe, his cause is noble and consequently, has no conscience. Through his voiceover, we don’t just hear Joe’s thought process and the way he justifies his behavior; we get a glimpse into the mind of someone with severe mental illness, but who has a redeeming quality or two.
Joe has Redeeming Qualities
What is both haunting and gut-wrenching about Joe’s narration is that it is meant to convince himself. The story he creates is so elaborate that as a viewer, a small part of you can’t help but want to see him succeed. He’s insidious, cruel and obsessed, yet paradoxically caring and nurturing. As horrible as he is, there is good to him and the narration sums it up well. He cares about his young neighbor and tries to shield him from abuse; in Joe’s mind, he’s a protector, and to some degree, he is.
With no such thing as absolute evil and the assumption that every villain is the hero of their own story – and Joe is no different. He’s simply the hero. But in Joe’s mind, he’s the hero of Beck’s story.
The reality of the situation is that Joe idealizes Beck and puts her on a pedestal – he’s enamored with the story he’s told himself about her, not the reality of who she actually is. Layer upon layer of self-contained narrative conversation, he builds up the reality he wants to see. Joe thinks he’s in love with Beck, but the love he feels isn’t real – it’s an obsessive fantasy about who he wants her to be. Joe takes it upon himself to sculpt her life into what he considers perfect.
A Narrator that Writes the Story from the Inside
Joe’s goal is to help Beck become a famous writer who could move people; he needs Beck to fit the persona he crafts around her. But when she fails and rejects him, he snaps and takes her life in a blind fit of rage. Beck couldn’t live up to the image he projected onto her and how could she, that person never existed. But through her death, Joe can fix that – he’s the good guy, after all. He’s here to help. In the end, he writes her book for her and makes Beck famous.
Ironically, his escape route to cover up her murder accomplishes everything he wanted for her. Her book, actually written by Joe, gains critical acclaim and he did good by her memory – he loves her. It only further justifies his own delusional behavior. He is the hero of the story – not her. He wrote her book – he made her famous. He did all of this for her – right?
Kim Handysides is an award-winning voice artist, and coach. Among her 20K+ narrations you have heard her on Discovery, Netflix, and the major networks, in iMax, the White House and the Smithsonian.