Twisted, but close to home

Rosie Chandler-Wilde watches You on Netflix

In case you’ve missed Netflix’s highly popular show, You, it follows the character of Joe Goldberg – a bookshop assistant whose obsessions with women lead him to commit multiple murders. In later seasons, he meets Love Quinn, an equally obsessive and murderous woman.

Most people would class Joe and Love as psychopaths, but flashbacks to their past reveal they are suffering from attachment disorders. In fact, almost every character in the show is plagued by absent parents and traumatic childhoods. The show explores love addiction, co-dependency, and the extreme ways malfunctional relationships with parents can affect us. Through Joe’s narrative voiceover, we get an insight into a serial killer’s mind and although we condemn his actions, we understand his twisted logic.

Clever camerawork sucks you into his world. His first love, Beck, seems to disappear into a ray of light after she leaves his bookshop – she is almost angelic, yet appears to cease existing when Joe is not present. This allows us insight into Joe’s projection of moral purity and perfection onto the women he falls for, whilst at the same time, dehumanising them. They are not real people with real lives, but potential stuffing for the emotional void his mother left.

Joe’s mother was inconsistently available as a parent. She eventually gave him up for adoption, leading him to believe he is unworthy of love. This affects his adult relationships, in which he has little self-esteem and is possessive and jealous. In typical co-dependent style, his sense of self is wrapped up in his relationships.

When Beck finally admits she cheated on Joe, the camera distorts on him, but remains steady on Beck. When something threatens his relationship, his world crumbles. However, as Beck explains her own insecurities, the camera steadies and we see a moment of potential growth in Joe. Beck is not perfect and she cannot give Joe everything he needs. Joe must give the love he craves to himself.

Season three explores Joe’s relationship with his next love interest, Love Quinn. She seems perfect but after he discovers her murderous past, he loses interest. Love is a mirror of Joe, forcing him to confront his true self. He cannot love her because she is a reflection of himself, who he deems unworthy of love.

Love is also co-dependent. She is everyone’s saviour, finding it impossible to say no. It becomes clear that this is also a product of a traumatic childhood and poor self-esteem. She is a complicated and interesting character.

Watching this show, you are split in two: one half of you knows Joe and Love deserve nothing more than a prison sentence. But most people cannot shake the other half that wishes they could be happy together.

Forty per cent of people display an insecure attachment style, according to 2014 research for the Sutton Trust led by Sophie Moullin. We probably didn’t have childhoods as stressful as Joe’s or evolve into serial killers, but few parents are perfect, and children are sensitive to abandonment cues. We can see that Joe and Love are motivated by a fear of abandonment… maybe that hits too close to home.

As Penn Badgley – who plays Joe Goldberg – suggests, ‘there is a little bit of Joe inside all of us’.

-       Reviewed by Rosie Chandler-Wilde, Crisis Recovery Worker at Mental Health Matters

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