You’s second season is somehow scarier than the first

Joe Goldberg—or Will Bettelheim—is back in new Netflix episodes

You's Joe is disturbingly familiar and dangerous.

Netflix released the second season of You at the end of December, proving to viewers just how much an attractive white man can get away with in our society.

The series follows Joe (Penn Badgley), a seemingly ordinary bookstore manager with a tendency to obsessively stalk women, murdering anyone who gets in his way. The narrative is from Joe’s perspective, leading viewers to root for him as he commits horrific, violent crimes in the pursuit of what he believes to be love.

The first season aired in 2018, startling audiences with an intimate picture of a deranged, obsessive serial killer. Joe isn’t just the show’s main character, he’s also the narrator, which gives viewers an unusually unfiltered view of his thoughts, actions, and self-justification.

The second season doesn’t disappoint.

Leaping off from last season’s cliff-hanger ending, Joe flees from New York to Los Angeles to escape his ex-girlfriend, Candace—who he kidnapped and almost murdered—and begins a new life under the name Will Bettelheim.

Even though Joe escapes New York, in L.A. he’s haunted by images of Beck (Elizabeth Lail), an aspiring writer and MFA student who was the object of his obsession in the first season.

Joe tells himself that he will be different now, that he’ll no longer stalk and kill people. Through his internal monologue, we know he is aware that his past actions caused him problems, and lead to the eventual death of Beck, and that he aims to avoid repeating the same fate.

Despite his internal insistence to not go down the same road he went down in season 1, he instantly finds a new object of his obsession: Love Quinn, a chef at his new job at a natural foods store. Then, he devolves into similar patterns of obsession and violence.

Watching this show is darkly fascinating. Objectively, I’m horrified by Joe’s behaviour, reeling from his merciless killings and wanting him to be caught. Yet, somehow whenever there’s a real moment he could be stopped and brought to justice, I desperately want him to get away. When you’re constantly in the mind of the self-defending narrator who believes what he’s doing is right, it’s hard not to feel like Joe’s accomplice as you find yourself rooting for him.

When you step away from this show, you’re forced to reconcile your own values, morals, and prejudices with how you feel while watching the show. What seems like simple entertainment is actually a disturbing portrait of how powerful white male privilege is, how affluent white men are given infinite chances, and how we can be too easily convinced in our lives to root for the worst kind of person.

The show is meant to horrify and disgust you, while also forcing you to understand the toxic and deranged mind of a serial killer. His crimes are diminished through his narration, his reasons become almost rational, and his gentleness is almost genuine.

One second Joe is genuinely trying to do the right thing, like saving a child from harm, and the next, he’s grinding up someone’s limbs in a sausage maker. The show keeps you on your toes, immersing you in psychopathic behaviour and then ripping you back into reality at a breakneck speed.

Why can Joe get away with what he does for so long? Is he that clever? I would argue no, because the man truly believes a blue baseball cap is a viable disguise.

Is it because he is charming, conventionally attractive, and white? That’s more likely.

At points, he almost seems normal, attractive, and desirable. Memes about how Joe can manage to kill people and still text his girlfriend back circulate Twitter, with some even saying that girls shouldn’t “settle for less” than that. While this is clearly a joke, the sentiment behind it is real: Joe, if you took away his obsessive, murderous traits, would make an excellent, attentive boyfriend.

That’s what makes him disturbingly familiar and dangerous.

“It says something about how much we’re willing to be patient and forgive someone who inhabits a body that looks something like mine,” Penn Badgley said in an interview about You. “The colour of my skin, my gender, these sorts of things, these sorts of privileges and how much less willing to forgive people who don’t fit those boxes.”

The show presents us with this narrative as a reflection of the world we live in. We must be critical about what privileges we give and to whom.

You is meant to horrify and entertain. It does both well enough that you’ll walk away unsettled, and hopefully, reflecting on your own prejudices.

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