You Episode 2 Review: The Last Nice Guy in New York
Joe proves how far he is willing to go for Beck's "love."
This You review contains spoilers.
You Season 1, Episode 2
When I first saw Joe clock artisinal soda entrepreneur Benji over the head in the You series premiere, I assumed he had killed him only to find out slightly later that he had only given him a dangerous, bloody head injury and locked him in his book/murder vault. After seeing the second episode of the season, which is ostensibly an hour of Joe trying to work out whether or not he should kill Benji for reals this time, I’m so glad Benji didn’t bite it in the series premiere. This is so much creepier and so much better.
You showrunner/writer of this episode Sera Gamble is a narrative mastermind, particularly when it comes to playing with tropes and subverting audience expectations in productive ways. Plenty of storytellers can pull the rug out from under the viewer/reader/etc., but only the best do it for a good reason past surprising their viewers, a reason that transcends past the moment to make the story-consumer think. Gamble, as she has proven again and again in her phenomenal work on The Magicians, is a storyteller like that.
In “The Last Nice Guy in New York,” Gamble uses the hour to launch into intense character studies of Benji and Beck through the eyes and perspective of Joe—which means it is really an intense character study of Joe himself. What do we learn about the sensitive bookstore manager and part-time killer? We learn how patient and methodical he is. There are rare moments when Joe acts impulsively—telling Beck that the older couple in the restaurant is them in 30 years, for one—but, most of the time, he is in complete control of his actions and, to a certain extent, the actions of the people around him. (Or at least he likes to think so.)
It’s that delusion: that Joe can control the situation to the degree that Beck will fall in love with him that drives everything Joe does. I have zero background in psychology, so I am sure there are people out there who could diagnose Joe’s myriad of mental health issues, but, from a layman’s perspective, Joe is obsessed, delusional, and has some serious control issues. He has created a logic for the world, himself, and the people around him that he is not able to see past.
Joe doesn’t seem to see other people as people so much as characters in a story that he is writing. Therefore, the weight of, say, killing one of them doesn’t seem to land so heavily on Joe. He didn’t kill a fully-realized person. He is the only fully-realized person. He did what was necessary for the story, for his story, for The Last Nice Guy Living in New York. Something tells me that didn’t give Benji much comfort in his final, gasping moments.
We understand just how much Joe relies on books for guidance, just how sacredly he holds them. We see a flashback to when he was younger and the owner of the bookstore slapped Joe across the face when he admitted to not having read all of the Oz books. He locked Young Joe inside of the book-murder vault with the presumed intention that he wouldn’t be let out until he had read them all. Now we know where Joe learned it.
We learn a lot about Benji in this episode, too. Mostly that he is the worst: entitled, selfish, and not used to having to face consequences of any kind. He also once accidentally killed someone during a hazing ritual and kept the video evidence as potential blackmail on his friends who were also there. That‘s the kind of guy we’re dealing with here. In many ways, Benji’s terribleness is helpful to Joe. It’s pretty convenient that the person you are looking for blackmail of the highest order on once manslaughtered someone and has video evidence. If there exists an easy out for someone in Joe’s position, then this is it.
Which is why it says so much about Joe that he doesn’t take it, instead deciding to murder Benji via peanut allergy. His reasoning? He does it for Beck, of course, so that she won’t ever be forced to become the kind of girl Benji makes her. Again, this takes all measure of autonomy from Beck. To Joe, she isn’t a full person who is responsible for her own decisions. She is a treasure to be one, a princess to be saved.
The scariest part of Joe’s logic is that there is usually a kernel of truth to it. He sees a reality of the world, but learns the wrong lessons from it. For example, as Joe is torturing Benji, Beck spends much of the episode dealing with her creep of a college professor. When he makes a move on her and she rebuffs him, calling him out on it, he takes away her TA position with him, which will also mean her losing her student housing.
The professor is forcing Beck into a role and, as a poor female grad student, she only has so many options. The episode even plays with the idea that Beck might choose to accept her professor’s advances, to play this narrow role society has left her. Joe sees this, and wants to save Beck from the patriarchy. But this is like fighting fire with fire. He’s totally taking away Beck’s choice.
Luckily, Beck sees another way out of the situation. She gives Professor Creep another chance—one, I must say, he doesn’t deserve, asking him to find her another position with a different professor. He tells her that he can’t “in good conscience” ask another professor to take her on midway through the semester. He actually uses the phrase “in good conscience,” which did make me want Joe to lock him in the murder-book vault. (I see what you did there, Gamble.)
Instead, Beck goes full-on Veronica Mars. She finds six other women who has also been harrassed by Professor Creep and threatens to go to expose him. This probably wouldn’t have mattered even a few years ago, but, now, the #MeToo movement is gaining enough power and momentum that Professor Creep has to reconsider. He accepts Beck’s demands, and I am left worrying about those six other women and if they told Beck their stories in the hopes that he would finally be brought publicly down. That Beck, she’s complicated!
She’s also totally into Joe. Or at least into the idea of him. She visits him at the bookstore to give him a thank you doughnut and kiss for his helpful advice when it came to dealing with Professor Creep. She’s totally falling for his Nice Guy routine and why wouldn’t she? From the outside, Joe seems great: a patient, down-to-earth lover of books. And Beck is far too concerned with her own stuff to worry if the guys she just started casually dating is secretly stalking her and murdering her ex-partners.
However, that’s not going to be true forever. I am both very excited and very nervous to see what will happen if and when Beck begins to grow suspicious, and what Joe looks like when he starts to lose control of the narrative. I’m sure Sera Gamble has something terribly fantastic in store for us.
What happened to Candace?! It is strongly implied that Joe murdered her, too. According to Candace’s friend, she disappeared to Rome with some new guy without any notice. Did Joe kill her? Or does he have her locked up in another soundproof room he has access to?
I kind of love that one of Joe’s tests of Benji is basically a Buzzfeed quiz: “What Your Five Favorite Books Say About You!”
Joe’s distracted fake Benji tweets that are still so incredibly on brand are some of the highlights of the episode, and also one of the many layers of information this show feels comfortable throwing at its viewers at once. Thank you for having high expectations for your viewers, You!
Is it just me or is Joe really bad at in-person spying? He’s always just, like, right there. I don’t know. Maybe this works better in NYC?
I’m super intrigued by Benji’s insistence that Beck is not what she seems. Like, who is? And this observation has gone through the filter of Benji’s life perspective, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something to it. I am looking forward to learning more about Beck.
I like that Joe is a murderer who is also like: I don’t want to kill you. Like, that doesn’t make any sense. That would be a lot of work.
Wait… how is Peach related to J.D. Salinger??? Also, is she into Beck? It seems like she might also be in love with her. Also, how is she already on to Joe? I’m impressed. And have a lot of Peach-related questions.
It feels like Paco might eventually be Joe’s downfall? The kid knows that Joe is up to something sketchy in the basement and he knows about Joe’s trick of hiding things in the ceiling. Or Paco will become Joe’s murder apprentice. It could go either way.
Ethan, Joe’s bookstore employee, is far too pure for this world. I am very worried about him.
Kayti Burt is a staff editor covering books, TV, movies, and fan culture at Den of Geek. Read more of her work here or follow her on Twitter @kaytiburt.