by Isa Meyers //
The third season of Netflix’s thriller series You was released in October 2021. The season’s mere 10 episodes document the manipulative and murderous Joe Goldberg (played by Penn Badgley of Gossip Girl) alongside his equally violent wife Love Quinn (played by Victoria Pedretti) as they struggle to raise their son in the fictional Bay Area suburb Madre Linda. While this season received critical praise and a whopping 96% on Rotten Tomatoes (a higher score than both the first and second seasons), this next installment in the series involves largely the same themes and plot points: secret obsession, lots of sex, and murder.
A Problematic Point of View: The White Male Gaze
Ultimately, despite being entertaining, You’s third season does little to confront the liminal perspective of Joe. In turn, the series perpetuates the undeniably white male gaze found in popular film and TV. Through silly gimmicks and satire, You attempts to be seen as “woke,” when, in reality, it merely tells the “tragic” story of yet another white man.
Joe is a perfect definition of an unreliable narrator. However, what makes the audience sit on the edge of their seats are not the bloody ax swings or the crime scene clean-ups, but rather the psyche of Joe. Using the second person point of view to address the audience as though they are the woman he’s currently obsessed with, Joe establishes a sense of narrative intimacy with each viewer. Additionally, while the real viewer may hate Joe and see him for his monstrous self, Joe’s character has control of this narration, which inherently positions the series to be seen from the white male gaze.
White Masculinity & Extremity
The intention of giving Joe this power is for the audience to feel as though they are in on it—as though they, too, are implicated in the countless murders of Madre Linda residents. This is for entertainment’s sake, but it also appeals to other “Joes” and their perspectives to make it feel as though the show is offering an astute critique of white masculinity. Joe is meant to give the audience a sense of superiority. You’s showrunner Sera Gamble states in an interview with New Musical Express Magazine that:
“We’re just interested in being deeply in the point of view of this guy, because we’re trying to explore, whether in the misapprehensions that [viewers] detect, what are the things that he believes. Coupled with the unique propensity for crossing lines that are part of this particular character. A lot of us might be really screwed up about love, but most of us don’t go out and kill about it. So [Joe’s] just the most extreme example, which is what makes it interesting to explore.”
Joe’s extremity offers viewers respite of knowing that we are not like him, that we don’t kill for love.
The average viewer does not watch You because they sympathize with Joe. But his positioning as not only the protagonist but also as the narrator reproduces yet another fabled story. Cristina Escobar writes for Medium, “We get too much media from the white devil’s perspective—we don’t need more.”
The Danger of White Femininity
Additionally, Joe’s white masculinity co-constructs something equally as harmful: the image of the delicate white woman. Escobar argues that love interest Beck (played by Elizabeth Lail) of Season 1 and Love capitalize on their fragility as white women, stating, “What these white girls have in common is the shared understanding of the preciousness of their femininity. They both see themselves as something to be protected, particularly by the men in their lives.” Beck allows Joe to protect her, and as Escobar puts it, ignores the mysteriously strange things occurring in her life to be loved. Love, on the other hand, uses “her femininity as a shield—both to avoid becoming a murder suspect as a teen and later to avoid Joe’s violence, thanks to the embryo growing inside her.” While Love proves to be Joe’s murderous match, her femininity allows for her to evade accountability.
It is not until this third season that we are introduced to Joe’s first obsession of color. While he dated Karen Minty, a black woman, in Season 1, he never grew obsessed with her in the same way he violently stalked Beck, Candace, Love, and (briefly at the start of the new season) his white next-door neighbor Natalie. Then comes Marienne (portrayed by Tati Gabrielle): the sexy, haunted, intelligent, artist and head librarian at Madre Linda’s public library. To Joe and the audience, Marienne is a breath of fresh air in a white suburban nightmare.
You Season 3’s Virtue Signaling
While each season of You grapples with issues such as selfishness, toxic masculinity, social media, consumer culture, and what it means to connect with someone in the 21st century, its third season uses its mass viewership to call out vaccine skeptics and the media’s “missing white woman syndrome.” In its third episode titled “Missing White Woman Syndrome,” Joe talks about the ‘missing’ Natalie with Marienne and coworker Dante (played by Ben Mehl). Dante comments “Madre Linda has her own missing white woman,” to which Marienne responds: “Missing white woman syndrome is America’s favorite pastime next to porn.” Joe asks what this syndrome is, and remarks “Well, the media has a thirst for anything salacious, right?” Both Marienne and Dante cringe at his comment, informing him that he completely misunderstands what the message of this syndrome sends to women of color. In the words of Marienne, “White ladies deserve to be rescued. The rest of us can fend for ourselves.”
While calling attention to how the media disproportionately cares for the lives of white women helps to engage the audience in a relevant social issue, You does so only to pat itself on the back. Rather than seriously confronting what Joe’s role is in perpetuating white masculinity’s violence and white femininity’s fragility, the show uses buzzwords as a “Get Out of Jail Free” card.
In this same episode, Love and Joe’s baby develops measles due to an anti-vaxx family in the community. The father of the unvaccinated children (Gil) approaches Love to apologize for causing the outbreak. He ultimately tells her that they “don’t believe in subjecting [their] kids to toxic injections they don’t need.” Love retaliates by hitting him over the head with a rolling pin before locking him away in their basement cage for all their murder victims. Set in a post-COVID reality, this season attempts to bring light to the dangers of anti-vaxx beliefs but only as a plot point to advance the series. Gil eventually takes his own life in the holding cell, allowing Joe and Love to use his suicide as a way to cover up Love’s murder of Natalie.
The gimmicks deployed by You serve to distract the audience from the realities of Joe. They allow viewers to believe the show is making these vastly edgy social and political statements in the name of denouncing the very thing they’ve created: another white male narrative.
Netflix’s third season of You certainly lives up to the gory expectations of its preceding seasons. Should you watch it? Yes, if only to keep up with the influx of memes, Tik Toks, and Tweets about it. Should you also think critically about which voices and stories this show chooses to showcase? Yes.