Women. Know. Better. We identify toxic behaviour in movies and TV shows a mile away—ask anyone about Bartise in Perfect Match. We see a predator on TV, and we know to hate him—or so we thought. Netflix’s You has its entire viewer base questioning their sanity because we just can’t hate Penn Badgley’s Joe Goldberg.
You is currently in its fourth season on Netflix, and it has been one of the top-watched shows on the platform. Between February 6th and 12th, You Season 4 Part 1 remained in the number one spot with over 92 million hours viewed. I wish we could say it’s because we love to hate the stalking, murdering, abusive, manipulative protagonist, but it’s not. It’s because we can’t get enough of Joe Goldberg.
But why? What is it about this character that is so incredibly intense? In each season, he delves into the deepest parts of his new obsession. We’ve seen his obsessions with Guinevere, Candace, Love, Marienne, and now this season, Kate. We see inside his head as he develops each fixation, and somehow it all feels so incredibly romantic. That is, until it’s not.
“You has its entire viewer base questioning their sanity because we just can’t hate Penn Badgley’s Joe Goldberg.”
Somehow, even when viewers can clearly see Joseph Quinn Goldberg crossing that line from intense to frightening, we can still sympathize with the character. We simply say things got out of hand and ‘ship him with women who clearly aren’t interested, despite him having redeeming qualities. He knows he is not a good guy and what he does is wrong. More importantly, he often tries to stop. He fights his urges but ultimately, the need to stalk his obsessions becomes a slippery slope dragging him back down.
I think that part of what truly makes this character so dynamic is Badgley’s ability to snap in and out of reality, flashing between endearing and alarming so smoothly and seamlessly. Surprisingly, I’d never seen Penn Badgley in anything else before—except apparently, Easy A as Woodchuck Todd. Who knew? I was not one of the Gossip Girl fans in the early 2000s, but I might be looking for something new to binge on! I couldn’t imagine any other actor in this role, and I think that is a huge part of the appeal.
If you ask Badgley anything about his character, he will assure you that he is absolutely not good and that he finds our obsession with the man frightening, to say the least. The actor has taken to social media on multiple occasions to share his distaste for his character. On Twitter, he responded to fans romanticizing Joe Goldberg, reminding them, first and foremost, that he is a murderer. More recently, Badgley has become popular on TikTok for making light of the series.
What else do we love about Joe Goldberg in You? He is surprisingly relatable. He truly cared for Ellie Alves—Jenna Ortega’s character—like a sister. He hates the people we hate and loves the people we love. He just happens to cross some boundaries along the way—or all of the boundaries. “A circle of the most privileged douchebags” is just one of his asides from You Season 4 Part 1. He is snide, quick and witty, which is just another part of his charm.
Throughout the four seasons of You, we see different progressions of his character, his humanity, and his demons. In season one, it almost feels like a love that has gone too far, way too far. After obsessing over his new love interest, we see him kill in the name of love, a romantic gesture of sorts, which leads to him caging Beck when she finds out.
In season two, he meets a character actually named Love, and we have hope for the man. If he just meets the right girl and settles down, everything will be okay, right? Wrong. They settle down alright, right into You Season 3, where Love becomes Joe’s ultimate match, both in love and in the ring. In season three, we watch that fight play out as Joe is met with a taste of his medicine. Finally, a real match with Love, but it doesn’t quite play out the way he hoped.
Now here we sit in You Season 4. Joe Goldberg has found his way to London, missing a toe or two, and finding himself in that sea of douchebags I mentioned earlier. He goes by Johnathan Moore, hiding from his past yet again. Unfortunately, I don’t find his love interest Kate compelling just yet (nothing against actor Charlotte Ritchie, the character just isn’t right for my Joe). However, I am hoping to see more Marienne drama in Part 2, but that is beside the point.
Going into You Season 4 Part 2, Joe—Johnathon?—is in trouble. Someone knows who he is (I won’t name names for the sake of spoilers) and wants to use it to their advantage. This time, Joe really does seem to be up to his old tricks for a good cause this time and is essentially fighting for his innocence.
In this season, he almost feels redeemed. Like Joe Goldberg really is a changed man. He has made his way through a young and impulsive stage, to settled down and responsible, though met with challenges. And now, he is moved on from all of it, ready to start fresh—and more importantly, good. If I don’t explain all the stalking and murder, it almost sounds like a reasonable character arc for someone the audience loves.
On Twitter, I’ve even found comparisons to fellow murderer Dexter, with the audience rationalizing everything he does. This is the type of character that gets inside your head, much like that ex that you believed was good for far too long. Seeing things from their point of view manipulates the narrative and has us siding with the real villain, thinking he might be the hero after all.
You Season 4 Part 2 launches today on Netflix. In its fifth season, just announced, we will see where Joe Goldberg’s story ends, but will we love him or hate him when it’s all over?