The Phenomenon of “You”: How A Stalker Mesmerized Viewers

I think many people can agree that “You” is one of their guiltiest pleasures. The third season of the hit television show was just released on Netflix after a far-too-long hiatus. This article will not summarize the plot, but rather delve into the phenomenon of the show’s success. 

This season is centered on Joe Goldberg, played by Penn Badgley of “Gossip Girl” fame, and his wife Love Quinn’s new endeavor living in a quaint suburban neighborhood. Season 3 revisits the same tropes viewers have come to expect — the stalker is still as murderous as ever, which begs the question: why do so many people love watching the show? 

Ranked No. 1 in the U.S. today by Netflix, “You” has amassed 94 million views between the releases of the first two seasons. 

Credit: Pinterest

I do not believe the gore is what attracts viewers to “You.” Instead, the show plays into a psychological form of deception, one which makes you truly believe that Goldberg’s actions may be justified. 

A psychological thriller where a man stalks a woman is not a new concept, and if anything, could arguably be deemed overdone. But, the writers of “You” execute it so perfectly that the concept feels brand new. 

When I first started the series, I was enamored. I binge-watched it within one day, and I was so enthralled by the creator’s use of Goldberg’s internal dialogue. The psychopathic character is sneakily charming, charismatic and honest, with his later characteristics almost outweighing the first. 

As a viewer, you are constantly questioning: Are his good intentions ruined by his misled behavior? Is Goldberg just a misled, misraised, logical man? While it can be concluded that these pros do not outweigh the cons, they are portrayed in a pretty convincing way. 

Every decision the character makes is met with deep internal conflict and deliberation. Growing up with a tumultuous childhood in an abusive household, Goldberg was never able to develop a true sense of reality, leaving him struggling with the consequences of his actions. He is able to manipulate just about anyone, including police officers and those he holds hostage. In Season 2, he goes as far as to befriend his hostage after releasing him, and the two foster a relatively normal friendship. 

The use of internal dialogue in “You” is very important. There is a lot of curiosity within our culture about what goes on in the minds of criminals. This is clear by our consumption of true-crime TV shows, documentaries and podcasts. According to Edison Research, Crime Junkie is the third most listened to podcast from 2020 to 2021. Many people become invested in determining what killers think about, and “You” shows them just that. The narration, although jarring at times, feels realistic enough to mimic that of an actual serial killer. 

Credit: IMDb

Goldberg’s relationship with the rest of the cast further solidifies him as a character somehow worthy of your trust. Beck, his love interest in Season 1, is tactfully made out to be an all-around unlikeable character, whether that be based on her lack of motivation, spoiled attitude or blindness to reality. The contrast of the good-guy pining over the less-than-worthy girl solidified their relationship dynamic in my eyes, viewing him ultimately as the right-doer. 

Viewers fall into the same trap as the women in the show do: Badgley does such a tactful job playing the role that you almost forget he’s acting. The casting of “You” brings to mind another crime-based movie, “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile,” where Zac Efron plays infamous serial killer Ted Bundy. Critics were quick to call out an obvious romanticization of the late killer, as audiences applaud Efron’s looks as opposed to recognizing the real-life tragedies that the movie was based upon. Badgley, a conventionally attractive man, appeals to viewers in a similarly glamourising light. 

Between our generation’s obsession with crime and the unknown, “You” gives breath to a new form of psychological thriller that is just too unrealistic to be frightening, but realistic enough to captivate the minds of many. 

If you need a new binge-worthy show, I would suggest logging into Netflix and giving “You” a chance, and see if you find yourself caught up in Goldberg’s trap just like the rest of us. 

Credit: Netflix

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