If you have not watched this series (1&2) I will spoil everything.
I’ve just finished watching the series ‘YOU’ on Netflix, and it’s left me feeling a little unsettled. Surprisingly, not because of the various limbs that get minced by a meat grinder, or the endless women who get their throats slashed or heads beaten in. Don’t get me wrong, the gore was alarming, but what unsettled me the most was my fondness for the fucked up, toxic, control freak responsible for all of the above. Firstly, I thought it might just be because he was quite good looking, but then I quickly realised that there is so much more woven into this character, and to the series as a whole, which made me care about what happened to this relentless serial killer.
It begins with his motive. He does not hate women, he yearns to be loved by them. He is adamant that all of his actions, wrong or right are justified by love, they are fuelled by passion and a sense that true love requires the ethos of ‘I would do anything for you’. Most people don’t take this mantra to mean murder, but it is the thing of gothic novels. It screams tragedy and echoes the stakes of Shakespeare in which death and love are intertwined. There is something darkly romantic about a person willing to do anything for you, and in a dramatization of this idea, why not make it murder?
The victims, the women, do not chose for him to love them as he does. He finds them, sources them out through their downfalls so that he can swoop in and fill in the missing pieces. We watch him plot, plan and stalk his was to kind and thoughtful gestures, yet we still appreciate the acts of kindness. Its as though we want to turn a blind eye to the creepy side of him, because without that, he has become the perfect addition to these women’s lives. He knows what they need because he has done extensive research into their inner psyche. It’s a slippery slope. Watching this exaggeration of controlling behaviours really resonated with me.
Boyfriends who knew where you were, even if you hadn’t told them. The ones who check your phone whilst you’re in the shower and claim to know what’s best for you, better than you do. A toxicity supported by this bizarre defence of love. They just care and we watch this series and think, ‘this guy is crazy!’ But how far away are his actions from that of the real world? It’s a stones throw away from the controlling behaviour that we see all too often. Yet here I am, watching, noticing the red flags and recognising some of the behaviours and I still want it to work out for him! I still don’t want him to get caught. Why?
In the climate of third wave feminism and fundamental rights, I sit watching a man, shit all over the lives of these innocent women, victim blaming his way through life, and I want him to win. Not only is his defence of love so convincing that it feels romantic but his awareness of his pitfalls and understanding of how his trauma has affected him; is relatable. Damage attracts damage. This is a heightened version of how our monsters, if we imagine that we are the only ones who have them, can manifest in unimaginable ways. It’s like our obsession with Fleabag. We love her because she’s flawed. You hardly stop to consider that her shagging her best friends boyfriend, led the best friend to suicide. We accept this darkness because doing wrong and making mistakes is relatable. Someone who openly admits to the fact that they have done things which they are not proud of, someone who lays their daemons on the table, in a world which is fuelled by perfect, is so attractive. It’s magnetic. The more our Instagram feeds project an ideal, the more desperate we are for the contrary.
Maybe I like Joe, because his intentions are good when his actions are bad. That is me most of the time. At least three times a day something which I intended to be a good deed or an action of love and kindness, backfires and becomes the opposite. Is any good deed ever good? All we truly have is the intention, and I think that it is his intention which drives the hope that he will be the hero.
This is what Luv sees, the latest female to fall victim to his obsession. She sees a darkness in him which she too has been harbouring. She falls in love with his faults, because they justify her own. Dangerous territory, but we can’t seem to remove ourselves from the fact that danger is sexy. Bonnie and Clyde, ride or die, something to fight for, something at stake. Despite the red flags and the warning signs, they all seem to stay because the intensity of love may be worth the risk. It’s a slippery slope and a balancing act between excitement and sabotage. The fact that I am so in favour of this character makes me angry. He is a personification of control and jealousy, he is a walking red flag. Yet all at the same time, he is an indication of our desire for stimulation, excitement and for a love that feels like the love of great literature. Maybe you watched this series and hated him, and if you did, bravo, you’re a better feminist than I am. But if like me, you couldn’t help but want the best for him, blame it on love and the need to see imperfections on a screen. We can’t be perfect all of the time, and although it’s extreme in this instance, there is something comforting about seeing someone who holds darkness, but despite this, intends to be good.
Admitedly, it has also made me scared of going on any dates EVER again, and I will be sharing my live location with at least three people and have a safe word next time I go out alone anywhere. And I’ll be far more aware and cautios of red flag behaviour from here on out, just in case I end up in a glass cage, with the only way of getting out being in a body bag.