I’m watching You

**SPOILER ALERT: 2nd season of You details are revealed**

I see you, sitting by yourself. On your laptop, 5 tabs open. Does it count as studying if your reading assignment is on the screen but you’re just scrolling Insta on your phone? iPhone 7 I see. Frugal? Or just not into material things. You’re more refined than that. You sigh, wishing you were on the beach right now, instead of studying for this test. Oh, is that a cell diagram I see on your open tab? Yes! Mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell, but all the squiggly lines look the same. It’s okay. I took intro bio. Trust me. I can help you–I can fix you….

Season 2 Trailer of You (from Youtube)

The popular Netflix series You, starring Penn Badgely, is a psychological thriller, crime drama, and romance all woven together and presented through the mind of a guy named Joe who is inevitably a serial killer. With over 43 million views, the show has risen to a level of fame where it has made its way into daily conversations among friends and small talk with coworkers during lunch breaks. Many people, including myself, could not help but binge the entire series within a couple of days.

But what about You is so compelling, so drawing to the viewer? Psychological thrillers and portrayals of serial killers are not new. Perhaps it is the way that the viewer sees the world through Joe’s eyes and memories, learning about his past to understand how he rationalizes and justifies his various acts which range from creepy, cringey, and plain criminal. For those unfamiliar with the series, it can best be summarized as a twisted romance in which the pursuer goes to extreme lengths to gain love, including murder, kidnapping, and stalking.

As the writer Robert Heinlein is credited with saying, “Man is not a rational animal; he is a rationalizing animal.”

Although there are a myriad of analyses that can be written about You, in this post I focus on Candace, Joe’s ex-girlfriend. Portrayed in the first season as a mysterious character who seems to have vanished from the face of the earth–based on what Joe wants us to believe–she returns in the second season with a mission to prove to everyone how dangerous Joe really is.

To recap, in season 1, Joe believes Candace is dead and feels haunted by her. In season 2, through flashbacks we learn that Joe buried Candace alive after pushing her and knocking her unconscious, mistakenly thinking he had accidentally killed her. Unbeknownst to him, though, she survives and goes to a police station, covered in twigs and dirt, to file a report. Because of a lack of evidence at the crime scene, she is unable to obtain a warrant and the case is dismissed. After living under the radar for a while, she finds Joe in Los Angeles, and assumes a fake persona to join Joe’s new social circle with the goal of warning them about Joe, but is gaslighted and labeled as “crazy” before meeting her tragic death.

What Joe did to Candace

Candace’s character trajectory seems to be a manifestation of the current policy in crime investigations that require evidence for a case to be made and warrants to be issued. In theory, this makes perfect sense. How can someone accuse another person of committing a crime if they have nothing to show for it except their own memory, which could be mistaken or fabricated? This also raises more questions, such as what really constitutes evidence in law and how does this affect the number of crimes that really get solved versus those that slip through the cracks?

According to the legal definition, evidence includes any type of proof that can be presented at a trial, including witness testimony, photographs, physical proof, etc., that can be used to put the pieces together to form a possible narrative of what ensued. In Candace’s story, since she did not have the necessary legal proof, her case was dismissed and she lived in fear of what Joe could do next, which probably added to her paranoia and appearance of being “crazy.”

Candace’s character also reflects the double standard between men and women, especially with the usage of the label “crazy.” Historically, for example, women were medicalized as “hysterical” by predominantly male doctors. And even today, a man’s word is taken more seriously than a woman’s, which is one of the issues addressed by the MeTooMovement.

Part of the genius of the writing of the show is that even though the audience sees that Joe is clearly a terrible person and has done all the things Candace accuses him of doing, part of us is still tempted to think of her as annoying or crazy, while being a bit more forgiving of Joe. He did these things because he had a traumatic childhood. He only wants love. She has no proof, maybe she’s making it up. This cognitive dissonance, knowing Joe is bad yet still agreeing with his rationalizations, reflects how society is still more lenient towards certain groups of people, especially white, cis-gendered men.

But the fact that we can catch ourselves thinking these thoughts and know they are wrong says something about how this type of media, influenced by current events, can go full circle and influence society and policy. Question is, will we actually take these discussions from Twitter to a place where they actually can make an impact?

-Deniz

5 thoughts on “I’m watching You

  1. Hi Deniz – interesting post! I can’t say that I have watched You, but I definitely saw a lot of complaints online about how many young viewers seemed to have a twisted crush on Joe. Despite being a violent serial killer, people were tweeting obsessively about how he was “misunderstood.” As you suggested, I guess part of the reason is that Penn Badgley is widely seen as attractive, but it’s a bit unsettling that the major crushes didn’t roll in until he played a stalker in You…

    I’m curious as to why this show’s alarming themes haven’t received more backlash; after some quick searching, it doesn’t seem like You received nearly as much criticism as other “edgy” shows. Are people becoming more desensitized to disturbing TV content such that this one is pretty mild? Since many parents used to blame video games for making kids more violent, I wonder if any similar research has been done with regard to if shows like 13 Reasons Why and Euphoria negatively influence youth behavior. With more shows like these ones rising in popularity, it will be interesting to see how attitudes toward TV content (and respective parental guidelines) continue to change.

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  2. Your explanation of Candace being buried alive (and of her ex-boyfriend getting away with it) made me think about racial prejudice in America. We see an insanely high incarceration rate of minorities for minor offenses like drug possession, yet a while male who buries his girlfriend alive isn’t even sent to trial. Hopefully, this wouldn’t happen in real life.
    It’s crazy to me to think about how much money our government spends on incarcerating marijuana users, for example, in comparison to violent criminals like rapists. Joe Pinson’s case is notable; he was sentenced to a mandatory jail term of five years in 1993 for his first offense of marijuana possession and cultivation. A 1992 study by the US Department of Justice found that rapists spend an average of only five years in jail – the same amount of time that Joe Pinson was incarcerated for. I would argue that a rapist is much more dangerous to society than an asthma patient (Pinson) who grows his own weed. Apparently, the early ’90s justice system didn’t agree. I think these flaws in our justice system speak to your analysis of the show’s social commentary, particularly about equal rights for women.

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  3. This is a great post! I got really excited when I saw the title because I recently binge-watched You over winter break. It truly is addicting, and your points relating it to criminal justice and privilege are extremely compelling. Diverging slightly from your topic, I wanted to mention another issue raised by the show: data privacy. One of the most fascinating and terrifying aspects of the show to me was Joe’s ability to use technology to infiltrate the lives of the women he becomes obsessed with. He can track their phones, hack into their devices, and analyze their social media presence to discover how to get close to them. The show makes it seem relatively easy to access intimate details of a person’s life by manipulating the technology they use. Stalking is an all-too-real issue, and Joe’s methods provide a perfect example of the potentially life-or-death importance of personal cybersecurity and data privacy policy.

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  4. This is a really interesting take on this show! Although I haven’t seen it myself, I have similarly heard of others speaking about it online and in real life. I haven’t heard anyone analyze the character of Candance, though. Like you mentioned, the series is slanted in favor of Joe, which is only enforced by the stereotypes of “rational” men and “hysterical” woman. The series not only challenges the audience’s prejudices on violence of women on men, but also challenges the legal definition needed to charge someone with a crime. By creating a character who is so obviously twisted while denying his victim legal and societal justice, I wonder if the main point of the series is to present how women are believed less often than men and how the justice system has such obvious flaws. And even though it is a work of fiction, “You” brings many womens’ greatest fear to life: that they will be manipulated and victimized by a man while those around them fail to notice and punish him. The series is not a thriller because it has an element of the supernatural or the unordinary, but instead is terrifying because it seems so real. The issue now is if we will do anything about it. Will we learn from “You” and lower the standard of evidence needed for a temporary order of protection? If not, what will it take for that to happen? I think that your connections to the plot and the questions they provoke are a great way to relate media to a modern day issue!
    – Jessica Prus

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