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You (season 3): Toxic Relationships



In season 3 of Netflix's You, everyone's favorite problematic lover boy, Joe, has finally settled down into marital bliss with Love. Not all is perfect in this cookie-cutter, little boxes town as Joe and Love’s relationship begins a sharp decline. Turns out that staying together for a baby and because you know each other’s murderous secrets isn’t enough to keep a relationship afloat. Gabe delights at the hilarious season that pokes fun at the characters and fans of the series. Kat explains how Joe and Love embody the phrase “our trauma is not our fault, but it is our personal responsibility to heal from it when we become adults”.

Other Reviews on You, season 3: About Love and Joe’s psyche: We Had A Psychologist "Diagnose" Joe From "You" And It Seems Pretty Accurate A therapist explains how 'You' gets its characters' twisted psychology right Sherry & Cary’s relationship: Three Cheers for You Season 3's MVP Couple: Sherry and Cary - TV Guide Joe’s backstory: Who Is Nurse Fiona In 'You'? Joe's Memories Are Tragic You - Joe Childhood Flashback Scenes Also covered in episode 6, and 9 More General: You Season 3 Twist Ending Explained: Every Question Answered You Season 3 Is the Best The Series Has Ever Been 'You' Season Three Review: an uneven but entertaining turn toward suburban domesticity - The Brown Daily Herald ‘You’ Season Three Review: A Refreshing Look at Murder in the Suburbs | Arts | The Harvard Crimson

 

Media from this week's episode:

You:

A dangerously charming, intensely obsessive young man goes to extreme measures to insert himself into the lives of those he is transfixed by.


Book: Caroline Kepnes

 

You, Season 3: Marriage, Suburia and Murder by Gabe Castro


RED: Quotes, someone else's words.


Season 3 of Netflix’s You finds Joe married to Love in a suburban hellscape with a newborn. Last season, Joe nearly killed Love in a fit of rage after she murdered his last love interest. However, his murderous rage was cut short when Love informs him of her pregnancy. After a quick marriage, the two begin their life of wedded bliss in Madre Linda.


Not all is perfect in this cookie-cutter, little boxes town as Joe and Love’s relationship begins a sharp decline. Turns out that staying together for a baby and because you know each other’s murderous secrets isn’t enough to keep a relationship afloat. Despite the idyllic suburb and picturesque life, Joe is going to Joe. He sets back into his toxic ways, setting his eyes on their married neighbor, Natalie. While Joe slips into old habits, Love, aware of his fascinations, takes matters into her own hands to preserve their marriage.


What we get with this season is a whole lot of toxicity and murder. Love murders because Joe isn’t attracted to her and as she explains, screaming in the rain (while trying to bury a body she murdered) “If you’re not attracted to me, you may kill me!”

Joe continues his lustful ways, stalking new victims despite his wife’s new murderous defense mechanisms. Even their therapist is alarmed by their complicated relationship though she insists they are “many things but neither of them are murderers.” (she says to two murderers).


In an article on Washington Post, ‘You’ Season 3 is its best yet, thanks to its true horrors: Marriage and suburbia, writer Inkoo Kang explains how well Joe and Love fit into their new neighborhood, one full of villains just like them (only with less murder). “But as much as Joe hates the suburbs, feeling like a predator forced to cage itself, it’s an unexpectedly fitting habitat for him: He’s surrounded by inveterate liars and chronic pretenders just like him, like mommy influencer Sherry or TV journalist Ryan whose sobriety story is just too good to be true. Joe and Love may roll their eyes at the private-school strategizing and self-optimization tips that are supposed to pass for conversation in their town, but in the end, the couple spend all their time putting on a happy front, just like everybody else.”


What I loved about this season was the humor. I found seasons 1 and 2 funny, sure, and a great introduction to a complicated character like Joe. But season 3 is hilarious and self-aware. The season spins classic wedded woes into something more sinister. It sees a husband’s complaint about his wife’s crazy personality and raises it with literal murder. It sees a wife’s worries at her husband’s infidelity and raises it with the threat of her own death. Their complaints about their partners mirror real-life woes and only they and the audience know the heaviness behind these lines. When Joe fantasizes about running off with Henry because Love is dangerous, he concedes that Henry needs a mom. It’s a playful mix of reality and the absurd with each episode. Placed against the backdrop of suburbia, they could be mistaken for any desperate couple, stuck together for the sake of their child’s future.


Joe believes himself the answer to all problems, knowing exactly the kind of man a woman wants. He molds himself to fit what his new “you” needs, or what he thinks they would want. It is only when they reveal themselves to be more than the 2 dimensional, perfect beings whose personalities he has filled in for them, that he loses interest, snaps, and murders them. In Madre Linda, his assumptions have evolved from that of simply what a woman wants to the idyllic husband archetype he strives to be. When Love shows herself to be less than or other than the wife he believes wives should be, he is ready to throw her away. She is not wrong to worry. She is, however, wrong to murder about it. That Washington Post article goes on to say, “His previous soliloquies revealed him to be an unhinged sociopath whose idea of love couldn’t sustain a real relationship. Now, his efforts to fall back in love with his wife expose him, terrifyingly, as one of us.”


The show knows it's absurd. It knows people love Joe and they love Love. And more than that, they love drama. The show laughs at the petty squabbles of this clearly toxic, no-good-for-each-other couple and instead shows us an annoying, surprisingly-the-most-healthy couple instead. The irony is that Joe and Love, at times, make sense. They are just broken, awful, and messy humans who don’t know how to communicate. The problem is that their love language is murder. They haven’t healed from their own traumas, at all, and are therefore in no place to give or receive love. Joe struggles with his troubled past full of abandonment, abuse, and murder while Love struggles with the loss of her other half, her brother, a mysteriously dead husband, and a toxic marriage by her parents. They are two people in need of a lot of support, understanding, and a mirror.


The show gets real about the horrors and toxicity of the suburbs, tech junkies, and fitness trends. It goes even further by stepping away from the problematic Joe and turning to look at fans of the show. Critiquing the fan’s fascination with the villain and his victims. In episode 3 of the series, aptly named Missing White Woman Syndrome, love interest and best person in Madre Linda, Marienne (played by Tati Gabrielle) explains the phenomenon behind the obsession with missing white women. She expresses an annoyance towards the underreported cases of missing women of color in the news and society. The Venn diagram of fans who watch You and those who love True Crime content is one circle. Romanticizing Joe is a problem, one we discussed in our first episode about the program. Even Netflix had to tweet to discourage folx from falling for him, releasing scenes without his narration to show how truly unappealing Joe was as a partner: quiet, contemplating, and judgemental. Targeting an upper-class white woman with an affluent husband was a bad move for the couple, leaving them at a high risk of getting found out, the risk is not new to Joe who previously targeted Peach Salinger, an equally popular and cared for human. Marienne’s lesson isn’t necessarily for Joe, it’s for us, fascinated with Joe’s endless missing white women.


Sherry & Cary

The most surprising part to me was the breakout couple, Sherry and Cary. At first glance and our first interactions with the beautiful couple, they are superficial and problematic. Sherry is known to give snide digs at her “friends” and more than a few troublesome moments with Love. In one scene, after Love is subjected to a number of veiled critiques about her physique she responds, “Is it just me or is everyone saying that I’m fat?” this comes after she just had a baby and is clearly uncomfortable in her new surroundings (murderous husband notwithstanding). Later Sherry erupts into a rage after Love fed her twins cupcakes with fruit on them. Even worse, is Sherry’s framing of herself at the center of Natalie’s missing case, propping herself up as her “best friend” and the only one who cares about her.


Cary is toxic male energy made human. He is as Joe describes him “Carysexual”, believing he knows the best way to exist. As annoying as they are (truly terrible friends), they are the most healthy couple on screen. They communicate with one another honestly. They never ask more of their partner, have no warped understanding or desire for their partner to be something else. When they invite Joe and Love into their bedroom, it is with the understanding that they are so strong and firm in their love for one another, adding others to the mix serves no threat. Meanwhile, Love is murdering people if Joe so much as looks at them too long. After being kidnapped by the disastrous duo, the couple checks in with each other, they get real and open, and through that are able to survive.


Differences in the Book:

I read the first two You novels by Caroline Kepnes. The Joe in the books is an unhinged, disgusting predator that is in no way redeemable and is laughably absurd in his thoughts. The book Joe is the show Joe x10 and exactly what actor Penn Badgley wants you to understand about the villain. The number of people who lust after this murderous creep is hilarious, the only thing funnier than that is hearing Penn lay into the truth of the character. The book spends the entire time in Joe’s mind. We get a front-row glimpse into his twisted psyche, yes even more twisted than in the show. Book Joe steals Beck’s used tampon and masturbates in her bushes outside, he is not cute. I am in no way defending show-Joe, he is also a disgusting, murdering monster. We certainly get a glimpse into his thoughts in the show but that’s all we get in the books.


In the books, Joe’s reasonings are our entire experience; his point of view our only lens. Because of this, we only get a very 2 dimensional, vapid and annoying Love. Book-Love is California superficial with nothing much underneath. Her relationship with Joe is also quite fleeting, not as interesting or charming as Season 2 of the show made it out to be. In the show, there is a passion and fascination for Love from Joe. In the book, she represents a potential future but is always at odds with his reality. Love is only an addition to what Forty is for Joe. Forty presents him with an opportunity to write a script. They write one together and it isn’t until Forty screws him over that Joe reconsiders his relationship with the two of them, a package deal.


Joe’s thoughts are so drastically absurd, they leave no room for redemption or fantasising. I would audibly laugh out loud at some of the things he truly thought in the book (the show is also funny but they missed out on some truly raucous lines such as my favorite that went something like, “He got to experience my favorite place in the whole world, Love’s vagina.” this was in reference to his child being born, for context.


In Hidden Bodies, Joe’s lies and tangled strands of dead bodies, secret identities, and hidden evidence pile up into an undeniable record of his villainy. A lucky detective stumbles upon one discrepancy that unravels two books' worth of deceit resulting in Joe’s arrest. Even in the face of the mountains of evidence including photos of his face and his literal DNA, he laughs at the idea of being held accountable for his actions. He scoffs at the officer’s attempt at making him feel guilty. Yes, he’s killed before but he’s different now, a father, and therefore doesn’t deserve to be held responsible for the actions of past Joe. Its preposterous but a truly Joe line of thinking that we see glimpses of in the show as he makes excuses for his redemption. Now that he has Henry, he’ll be a better human, a better father, and further, a better husband. If only his damned crazy wife wouldn’t keep murdering people and leaving him to clean up the mess!

 

Trauma is not Our Fault, But Our Choices are our Responsibility by Kat Kushin


RED: Quotes, someone else's words.


My section is less of a facts section and more of a I didn’t realize I would have such strong opinions about this show. It’s an opinion based on logic and factual information, more than it’s actually about facts. So take that as you will.


In watching this show there was so much to unpack. All the characters are interesting, complex, and deeply flawed. These flaws make them authentic in ways that I don’t always see on TV, and the acting is some of the best I’ve ever seen. This season in particular got me in my feelings multiple times. Mostly in that it activates my own personal trauma in witnessing adults failing to protect children. Trauma is never a child’s fault, and it was hard watching the children in the show, including young Joe, be harmed by the adults in their life. It always gets me even hearing an adult speak of their trauma from when they were a kid, and it’s something that I’m happy I empathize with, but do catch myself before I start drifting towards excusing unacceptable actions. One thing I’ve learned in my personal journey is that we can understand why something happens and at the same time not accept it. The flashbacks to Joe’s childhood that we see in Season 2 and further expanded in Season 3 provide additional context to Joe as a character. We get some additional context for Love as well, and I left the last episode wishing we got more from her perspective. Wishing we got to hear more of her voice, and less of Joe’s perception of who she was.


Joe and Love unfortunately embody the phrase “our trauma is not our fault, but it is our personal responsibility to heal from it when we become adults”. Joe and Love both refuse to do the healing work, and actively make harmful choices. We see the adults in their lives mimic this back to them, in Love’s mother, and with the flashbacks to Joe’s mother and father. Many of the adults in Joe’s life, at least while he was a child, follow a similar pattern. In not healing from their own trauma, and in their decisions, they cause active harm. Joe perpetuates this in his own adulthood, but in a more extreme way through his serial murders, stalking, and desperate attempts at control. The characters of Joe and Love are hard to navigate because there is a complicated way of humanizing Joe and Love that they do in the show. I do think this helps in some ways, that in humanizing him you realize that murderers aren’t fantastical monsters of pure evil. Most times they have the ability to deceive and present themselves as nice people, and even possibly see themselves as such. The inverse and the problem with it is you do at times end up sympathizing with Joe and Love, and even maybe rooting for them in brief moments. All while knowing they actively murder people…


The show itself skirts the line between exposing Joe as a monster, and providing the audience with points of sympathy towards him. What is most important to recognize when looking at characters like Joe and Love, is that they have responsibility for their actions. While Joe’s childhood impacted his perception of right and wrong, as well as his approaches to relationships and love, his choices and actions are what define him. In becoming a killer, he made a monsterous choice, something he never at any point takes responsibility for. The reality being that Joe and Love have both murdered people in their journeys, and instead of taking responsibility for those actions, they search to justify them. This need to justify their actions is all in the pursuit of maintaining the perception that they have good intentions, and that their actions are necessary.


The show is in many ways a highlight of the cultural belief that to be good is inherent, when it is in fact an active decision. Especially within white culture, being a good person is often totally separated from actual actions and choices and is instead viewed as a state of being, an instinct, or intention. Many times throughout the show, an adult in Joe’s life tells him he’s a “good person”, or a “good boy”. These statements are fed to him at conflicting moments where he makes choices that don’t align with the ideal of goodness. After murdering his father, Joe’s mother tells him something to the effect of “you are a good boy, you were just protecting me. You wouldn’t do a bad thing on purpose, because you are good”. Morality as a result is subjective to his surroundings and those he seeks approval from.


What was especially interesting to me was watching Joe and Love adapt to this new environment in very different ways that stemmed from their unique personal histories. Where Love is able to adapt and assimilate, Joe struggles. Love being raised in an upper class California environment, and being socialized as a woman, Love has learned to adapt in ways Joe never has. She picks up on social cues in ways that Joe doesn’t notice the subtleties of. We see this in her friendship with Sherry and the other locals. She is able to form connections with others, even if inauthentic and shallow, she is able to blend in. Joe struggles to blend in, and even understand the people he is stalking/hunting and this hurts his usual method of falling into the background. He is noticed when going on his stalking adventures, noticed by his neighbor, and he even has instances of being wrong in his interpretation of others. This can be seen in his perception of Marienne’s ex, failing to realize his awareness about him at the AA meeting, as well as his drug addiction. He’s failed to realize that the upper class California environment is one that always has eyes on you, and this almost gets him caught more than once. It’s invasive right back to him in the way that he invades other people's privacy, and he is not accustomed to being watched.


There is also something to be said about the way they showcase the descent into hysteria the more murders take place in a way that reminded me of the Last of Us 2 video game, but with far better pacing. We watch Joe, and Love unravel more and more over time, as their makeshift version of normal literally burns to the ground. We also see them lose their touch, fumbling to maintain control throughout their experience. This descent makes the story feel even more authentic, because after each murder they lose a bit more of their grip on reality.


We see a clear glimpse into Joe’s logic and thought process in episode 10. In this episode we see Kid Joe as he talked to his friend Paulie, while they looked on as Nurse Fiona’s office was being cleared out.

Kid Joe: “It was her boyfriend…I could have stopped him. The last time it ruined my entire life.”

Paulie: “You mean, like, with your mom…?”

Kid Joe: “It made her hate me so much, she put me here. So I thought, with Fiona, I didn’t want her to hate me too.”

Paulie: “For the record, you don’t know how your mom feels. You’re making it up. Hey, trust me, I do it too. But I’ll never actually know why mine left me here. Neither will you.”


What is very interesting about that last sentence for me is that we see clearly that Joe struggles with understanding the intentions of others. That he struggles to empathize with his friends' shared feeling of being abandoned. To me, that statement brought his inner voice into context, because in misunderstanding others and their intentions, he has taught himself to speak on their behalf. His inner voice is him guessing and rationalizing the choices and actions of other people without giving them the chance to answer these questions themselves. In fact, throughout the show we see him be wrong, almost every time he makes an assumption. He accepted that he would never actually know the answer to why, so he stopped listening or caring about other people in an authentic way. Joe as a child in these scenes is defining his logic that he carries into adulthood. With Fiona, he was trying to learn from the mistakes he experienced with his Mom, but in her being murdered by her boyfriend, to rationalize that situation he defines the right thing to do as murdering. If he murdered Fiona’s boyfriend while he had the chance, she’d still be alive. This combined with his anxious attachment style, and compulsion to control, pulls Joe out of exclusively hiding and watching, and instead into action.

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