Netflix’s You: Get Inside The Mind Of A Sociopath

With culture's renewed interest in serial killers, YOU is another story of not-so-romantic love.

you elizabeth lail penn badgley

It is not surprising that the Netflix series YOU went entirely under my radar for a while. Produced by the makers of Riverdale, with actors from Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars it seemed to be another teen drama that I wouldn’t be attracted to watching. I had my doubts – the trailer did not engage me at all – it was only by the force of a very persistent friend that I finally bit the bullet and gave the first episode a try – and then the second – and the third. Ten episodes down and now I am a hardcore fan. If you haven’t had the pleasure of watching this psychological thriller let me tell you a few reasons why you should grab some popcorn and nestle in for this binge-worthy series.

I’ll start by giving you a brief overview of the story without giving away too many spoilers. Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley) is a New York City bookstore manager who meets an attractive customer while at work named Guinevere Beck a.k.a. Beck (Elizabeth Lail) who is a student and aspiring writer. This encounter quickly leads to Joe falling madly in love and developing an obsession with Beck. With the assistance of social media, Joe can feed his infatuation for Beck, and he soon learns where she lives, what her daily schedule looks like and much more. It’s easy to see that Joe is willing to do anything for the girl of his dreams and that nice guy Joe may not be so nice after all.

Joe’s fixation with Beck gives rise to him stalking her. He manages to do this effortlessly due to her openness on the internet. As for hunting methods, the internet seems like an easy way to keep track of people, highlighting the dangerous side of using social media, not in the futuristic dystopian way of shows such as Black Mirror, but in a way that makes you want to change your privacy settings right now, today.

The main thing that stands out from this series is the use of internal dialogue. We all love it when we can get inside the mind of a psychopath. The increase of ‘getting inside the mind of a murder’ type shows are evidence of this. Even the famous meme ‘Netflix and Chill’ has now been adapted to ‘Serial Killer Documentary and Chill’. We can’t get enough, and YOU is another way we can get our fix.

Hearing Joe’s internal thoughts allows us to witness his reasonings and motivations. Joe believes that his actions are for a good cause, to save people, to help people – even when those actions are morally questionable and even downright wrong. The internal dialogue easily transports you into Joe’s world, and it became harder and harder not to sympathise with him, despite the fact he is a complete sociopath with some serious boundary issues.  

Other TV shows, such as Dexter and Mr Robot, also use internal narration to describe what is going on inside the characters head. It is a brilliant way to show hidden depths. Mr Robot – an anti-social, psychotic hacker, Dexter – a charming serial killer, and Joe? Well, he is the stereotypical nice guy/ sociopathic stalker. The inner dialogues really help to bring these characters to life. Especially as each of them has a secret. Who they seem to be on the outside is not who they are on the inside. We get to witness their perspectives and find specific motivations drive them. Mr Robot lusts for justice, Dexter lusts for killing killers, whereas Joe lusts for love. The big question is, how far would you go for love?  

However, the inner monologues in these shows are executed very differently. Dexter’s inner monologue is witty, and very explanatory, giving the audience critical pieces of information. Mr Robot has deep, philosophical thoughts, and sometimes the inner monologue is acted out in scenes, only to be shown that it was all happening inside his head. Whereas YOU uses the internal dialogue in a way that is very true of real life – we can hear him bouncing ideas around, reasoning with himself and I think this is what makes Joe so relatable.

Most of the time his thoughts speak to Beck, what he would be saying to her if he could be honest and open – but in between this are the kind of normal thoughts we have all experienced, like when someone we are with gets a text and inside we say “ignore it, ignore it”. We all have talks with ourselves and sometimes find ourselves arguing with ourselves. We get to experience this by listening to Joe’s thoughts. The realness to the monologues is what makes YOU one of the best new series.

While is it is exciting to be inside Joe’s mind, there was one episode where the perspective switches from Joe to Beck and we get to experience Beck’s inner thoughts. She gets a chance to share her side of the story. What was so fascinating about this switch is that I could see that the characters think they understand each other, but they are both so wrong – which made me realise that even if I think I know someone, I will never be able to understand them fully. This switching of the main characters was a brilliant tactic and a unique aspect that was a pleasant surprise.

The show did let itself down a little concerning realism. Beck, of course, has big windows with no curtains, no passwords on her phone or laptop, and somehow Joe seems to go around completely unnoticed by Beck, even when he is right next to her, by simply wearing a baseball cap and looking down. A few of these moments really call for a cry “that would never happen in real life!” at the screen.

Unrealistic scenes to build drama aside, this 10-episode series had the ability to jump from one genre to another magnificently. It lures you into looking at a scene from a trashy romantic angle and then switches, almost instantly, to be a dark thriller – and then back to romantic, just for kicks. These jumps were done excellently throughout the series.

The same type of genre hop is common in other shows – for example, in Dexter, the change is often from drama/thriller to comedy, and it does have the element of fun within quite a dark topic. Although I think the merge of dark thriller and comedy is pretty standard. YOU, however, knits together romantic drama and psychological thriller into a beautiful package – the lines between romance and thriller are blurred. I believe this is done purposefully to highlight how one event can be seen in many different shades – what you may have seen as love, could have darker sides. A good act with good intentions, may not be seen that way by others. In this case, from Joe’s point of view, stalking a girl isn’t a bad thing, but done out of concern for her safety. Of course, the other side is that stalking is not an act of love, but one of possession and control.

We all like to think we are good at reading other people – the truth, however, is that we are not too good at perspective taking. TV shows often try to get you in the ‘frame of mind’ of the characters by using tactics such as music. Have you ever watched a horror movie without the sound? Well, like magic, the once-terrifying scenes become meaningless and forget about jumping out of your chair. Though, with TV shows that include an inner monologue, we don’t have to rely on the use of other cinematic tricks to understand a character’s perspective.

We all go through life with our inner thoughts for company. We don’t often say everything that is on our minds. When we see someone at the local supermarket muttering away to themselves, we tend to think they must be a little crazy and avoid going to grab the milk until they have left the dairy aisle – you can’t be too careful. TV and film have a unique chance to let us experience the minds of other people. YOU does this exceptionally well. We get to see Joe as a multi-faceted character who we can all relate to on some level.

Full disclosure – watching this series can lead to moral confusion. Nevertheless, if you are into that kind of thing (and let’s face it, who doesn’t like a little moral confusion every now and then) this show will leave you questioning your own version of right and wrong, good and evil, hero and villain. Chances are you will also update all of your online security immediately after viewing. Above all, the phenomenal internal dialogue will make you see humans as the complex creatures they are – and that who a person seems to be might not be who they truly are.

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