Warning: contains major plot spoilers for You season 1 & 2
Meet Joe Goldberg. He’s a good guy who wants to keep you safe. Because Joe loves you and will save you. He’ll save you from your terrible friends and your terrible exes and your terrible self and from this whole terrible world. Granted, he’ll do it with a hammer, a glass murder tank, and a shallow grave, but that’s not the real him. He’s just a romantic who does what he does out of love.
In season two, Joe (Gossip Girl’s Penn Badgley) actually met Love (played by The Haunting of Hill House’s Victoria Pedretti). True to her name, Love turned out to be every bit the psychopathic serial killer that Joe is. Love just wants to keep Joe safe, you see, because he’s family now that she’s having his baby. That’s right, in a poetic ‘HA’ twist, after two seasons of stalking and murder, Joe ended up trapped as the object of someone else’s twisted obsession. It was a beautiful turn of events.
Let’s rewind to the beginning. Who is Joe Goldberg? He started out as a bookish kid with a violent, abusive father who put cigarettes out on him, and a serially adulterous mother who regularly abandoned him to meet her lovers, whom she thought would save her from her brute of a husband. Aged nine, Joe shot his father dead to protect his mother, who told him that the murder wasn’t his fault because deep down, he was a good boy. What happened next isn’t totally clear, but it seems that Joe’s mother ran out on him, which left him to be raised in a Group Home where he was in and out of trouble. POSSIBLE RETURNING PLOT POINT: Is Joe’s mother alive? Could she come back?
In the ludicrous and high-colour world of You, the above is all the explanation you need for Joe’s peculiar psychology. He’s a traumatised man who does terrible things for which he absolves himself because deep down, he thinks he’s a good boy. He’s also a serial obsessive and stalker of women, whom he idealises while fearing being abandonment by them and being extremely paranoid that they’re going to cheat on him, which – to be fair to Joe’s instincts – they usually do.
When Joe was a teenager, he got into trouble with the wrong man – NYC bookstore owner Ivan Mooney. We don’t yet know what made Ivan Mooney into the person he was, but chances are it involved his mother and a rare First Edition of The Count of Monte Cristo. (You isn’t just a serial killer show, it’s a literary snob serial killer show, so you can’t go five minutes without encountering the kind of Raymond Chandler or Dostoevsky quote you’d find printed in typewriter font on a craft beer mat). Mooney locked teen tearaway Joe in the climate-controlled glass cage he keeps for rare books in the basement under his store, and then him bullied into becoming his apprentice and adopting his book-based moral code.
Years later, after Mooney suffered a debilitating stroke that left him paralysed and unable to talk, Joe took over the running of the shop and Mooney’s vintage car, though the exact circumstances of all that are murky. POSSIBLE RETURNING PLOT POINT: Was Joe more responsible for Mooney’s current state of ill health than he lets on? After all, Mooney did have some pretty incriminating intel on Joe, who’d run to him after committing what we think was his second murder (but could equally have been his ninth or sixteenth, depending on how future flashbacks pan out).
Now grown-up and working at Mooney’s, Joe was dating aspiring NYC musician Candace, but beginning to suspect that she was cheating on him. Joe followed her, spied her in a compromising position with high-end record exec Elijah and later, confronted Elijah, who said Candace had never mentioned a boyfriend, so Joe pushed him off a city rooftop. Mooney though, told Joe not to sweat it and that some people deserved to die, which is exactly what Joe needed to hear for his next move.
Joe’s next move was to confront Candace, and then, when she told him that she’d never loved him, to knock her unconscious, tie her up, prepare a picnic basket, and drive her to their favourite romantic spot in the woods, at night. Candace made a run for it, but was caught, and in the ensuing struggle hit her head and passed out. Thinking her dead, Joe buried her and in one of his many fool-proof plans, told everybody that she’d moved to Italy on a whim. But Candace wasn’t dead! She crawled out of that grave and went to the police, who were worse than useless. Candace spent four months in a sanatorium, then patiently bided her time so that she could pop up alive in the season one finale to freak Joe the hell out, and really destroy him in season two. (She won’t. Candace ends up dead in the trunk of a car, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.)
After ‘murdering’ Candace, Joe went into a depression, during which time Ivan Mooney suffered his stroke and Joe took over the shop with co-worker Ethan (who’s in a relationship with Blythe, the second best character in You after Peach Salinger, whom we’ll get to). Then one day, Joe came out of his funk and fixated on a customer named Guinevere Beck. Beck is a yoga instructor and poetry grad student whose friends are named things like Peach, who we’re coming to. Joe decides Beck desperately needs his protection and love to become her best self so he stalks her, breaks into her place, steals her underwear and diary, engineers ‘accidental’ meetings, and swipes her phone so he can snoop on her communications. It’s your basic rom-com start to a relationship, with the murderous creep vibe turned up to 11.
Beck, who runs with a wealthy crowd despite being broke, is still sleeping with her ex, Benjy, a trust-fund hipster with an artisan soda company. Joe lures Benjy to a dark alley, hits him with a hammer and locks him in the very same glass murder tank in which Mooney locked him as a teen. An excellent mimic of hipster douchebaggery, Joe sends a string of social media posts from Benjy’s phone so his pals think he’s still out there somewhere living that #sodalife. Then Joe deliberately spikes Benjy’s juice with peanut oil, which triggers his allergy and kills him. Joe pulls out all of Benjy’s teeth and puts them in a jar in the box where he also keeps Beck’s stolen underwear and the video of a hazing murder Benjy committed with his frat boys (which he was holding over them as potential blackmail material. Not a prince, this guy). Joe burns Benjy’s corpse in the woods, has a close call with a cop and a couple of hikers, but slides out of trouble at the last moment. (Despite his many crimes, Joe literally can’t get arrested. Roughly every other episode he’s pulled over with a corpse in the trunk of his car or a murder weapon in his hand, and they just wave him off with a smile.)
Benjy wasn’t the only problem element in Beck’s life that Joe wanted to clear, there was also Peach Salinger (yes, that Salinger. Literary snob serial killer show, remember). Peach (Shay Mitchell, who is great in this role) was a rich girl who turned out to be obsessed with Beck, and had a cache of hidden photos she’d taken of her asleep and naked. Peach was no dope though, or maybe creep recognises creep, because she had Joe pegged from the start. They fought a war over the territory of Beck, which started with Joe hitting Peach over the head with a rock in Central Park, and ended with her realising Joe had killed Benjy, so holding him at gunpoint in her family’s Greenwich mansion. After a struggle, Joe shot her dead and staged it as a suicide. POSSIBLE RETURNING PLOT POINT: While creeping about Peach’s house watching her watching Beck, Joe was caught short and peed into a jar he left on a shelf. Last we heard, a PI investigating Peach’s death found the pee jar and is testing it for DNA.
Claudia, Paco and Ron
To show that Joe’s not a conscienceless or arbitrary killer, but a fellow with a (skewed, admittedly) moral code, a carbon copy of his childhood plays out in the apartment next door in season one. There’s sweet bookish kid Paco, abused mother and addict Claudia, and violent brute of a stepdad Ron. Ron’s a parole officer who tells Joe to keep away from Paco because he can see that Joe’s a freak like the creeps he deals with every day, and he kind of has a point. But we hate Ron, obviously.
Joe knows exactly what’s happening in Paco’s life, because he once was Paco, so he’s kind to the kid. He gives him books and sandwiches, and, when Paco attacks Ron with a baseball bat and Ron tries to kill Paco in return, Joe stabs Ron in the throat and disposes of the body. Unlike Joe and his mother, Paco and Claudia stay together and move to California for a happy ending of sorts. POSSIBLE RECURRING PLOT POINT: Ron’s death is listed as a disappearance but someone could come looking for him.
Beck, The Captain and Dr Nicky
From Benjy to Joe to her skeevy married-with-kids therapist Dr Nicky, Beck has bad luck with men. That’s all down to her sketchy relationship with her dad, says You, which draws a straight line between childhood trauma and adult chaos. Beck’s dad (aka The Captain) was a heroin addict who OD’d and then got clean and married a Christian mommy blogger, but Beck prefers to tell everybody that he’s dead. Beck starts dating Joe, who lies to her, stalks her, and murders both her ex and her best friend (see above). After Peach’s ‘suicide’, Beck’s grief led her to therapy with Dr Nicky. In characteristic form, Joe suspects Beck of cheating on him with Dr Nicky, but initially failed to find any evidence. Joe and Beck break up, during which time he starts seeing Karen, a friend of his neighbour Claudia.
All this time, Joe is having therapy sessions with Dr Nicky, disguising himself as a gay man named Paul Brown. Joe eventually cheats on Karen with Beck and the original pair gets back together. Then Joe mugs Dr Nicky for his phone and discovers that he was right! Beck and Dr Nicky were having an affair! Vindication!
Meanwhile, Beck has been investigating Joe’s ex Candace, which leads her to discover his secret box of teeth, underwear and stolen murder victim phones. She confronts him, so he knocks her unconscious and locks her in his glass murder cage, telling her it’s the low-tech writers’ retreat she always wanted. She writes a memoir in the cage, which retells everything that’s happened but frames Dr Nicky for Joe’s crimes. Beck offers it to Joe as an escape route, but it’s all a ruse – she just wanted him to let her out, so she could lock him in the cage and call the police. Unluckily for Beck, Joe stashed a key in the cage, so he gets out and – off-screen – kills her, then dumps her body and frames Dr Nicky for her murder. Dr Nicky goes to jail, and Joe publishes Beck’s memoir posthumously under the title ‘The Dark Face of Love.’ It’s a hit. The only person who doesn’t fall for it is the PI hired by Peach Salinger’s family. POSSIBLE RETURNING PLOT POINT: is there any chance that Beck isn’t dead, seeing as we didn’t witness the murder itself? Probably not, but worth keeping in mind. And will the Salinger family PI return?
Will Bettelheim‘s Fresh Start
Season 2! Joe, having made no attempt to disguise his appearance, has moved to LA – the last place on Earth, he thinks, that anyone would go looking for someone as judgmental and uninterested in fame as he is. There, he meets a forger named Will Bettelheim, but unable to wait for his fake documents, takes him prisoner in the glass murder tank he’s built in a storage compound, and steals his identity. Unluckily, his identity owes $50K to Russian gangsters, so that’s a thing, but then Joe murders and dismembers the heavy, so it all goes away. Joe lets the real Will out of his cage, gets a fake passport, and they stay in touch as pals. It’s sort of nice. POSSIBLE RETURNING PLOT POINT: will the other gangsters ever come looking for their colleague and their money?
Delilah, Ellie and Hendy
Joe’s LA neighbours are cynical twentysomething gossip columnist Delilah and her cynical, precocious, movies-obsessed 15-year-old aspiring filmmaker sister Ellie. When Delilah was a 17-year-old stripper, she was drugged and raped by famous comedian and actor ‘Hendy’, with whom Ellie is trying to get an internship. Joe, naturally wanting to protect women from creepy guys, investigates and discovers Hendy’s underage roofie abuse dungeon. Being a good guy, he roofies Hendy and takes him hostage and, after a struggle, Hendy falls down the stairs, hits his head and dies. Joe stages it as a suicide but the cops soon realise it was murder. Ellie – who was drugged by Hendy but not assaulted thanks to Joe – is the chief suspect in the murder, and so Joe gives her money to run away to the East Coast. She sends him classic movie postcards from time to time asking for more cash.
While all that was happening, Joe and Delilah started sleeping together, until her cop fuck-buddy told her that he suspected Joe of Hendy’s murder. Delilah investigated and found Joe’s glass murder tank, so he locked her up in it to buy himself time. When he returned, her throat had been slit and Joe can’t remember if it was him so he does a The Hangover to retrace his steps. It turns out it wasn’t him, it was Love all along. Love who? Read on!
Love and Forty
Using Will Bettelheim’s identity, Joe gets a job at an LA grocery store run by rich twins Forty and Love (their parents like tennis). He obsesses over Love and starts his old stalking tricks, initially trying to restrain himself but eventually giving in when she gags him and initiates sex. Love is a trained chef and young widow whose deaf husband James died of cancer, and whose friends are named things like Sunrise.
Love’s twin brother Forty is a recovering addict who happens to be writing the movie adaptation of Beck Guinevere’s memoir ‘The Dark Face of Love’. The film’s financier is his girlfriend Amy Adam, who is secretly Candace from season one, there to take revenge on Joe. Forty wants Joe to give notes on his script (awkward) so takes him to a hotel, spikes him with acid and tells him that he murdered his au pair when he was a teenager, and that his rich parents bribed the police to call it a suicide. Forty has a brainwave reading Beck’s memoir and realises that Joe/Will killed her and framed Dr Nicky, whom he goes to visit in prison. Dr Nicky confirms he didn’t kill Beck, but says he’s cool with prison because he’s been such a dickhead that he deserves it. It seems like prison’s been good for Dr Nicky.
In fact, it was Love who murdered the au pair and made Forty think it was him. She did it to protect him, just like she also murdered ‘Amy Adam’ with a broken bottle when she found out that she was really Candace and was accusing Joe of all the murders he’s done. Love is an unhinged killer pregnant with Joe’s child, who’ll do anything to protect her new family. When Forty tries to convince her that Joe’s evil and holds him at gunpoint, he’s shot dead by Delilah’s police officer buddy.
The season ends with Joe and a very pregnant Love moving into a suburban house with a white picket fence. It’s a fitting punishment for him, Joe thinks. Until he spies a neighbour reading Jane Austen and Aldous Huxley in her garden, and thinks ‘hello’. Could new lady be The One? Gulp.
You Season 3 is available to stream on Netflix from Friday the 15th of October.