Hello, You: The Treatment of Serial Killer Characters Joe Goldberg and Love Quinn

Society has a strange fascination for serial killers. We have a desire to understand their psyche and reasoning behind killing, picking apart every detail as if we are psychologists or detectives solving the case. This must be why we are captivated by true crime podcasts, docuseries, and television shows like Criminal Minds. Yet, there is also a romanticization of these killers, most prominently with Ted Bundy, who has gotten a slew of television shows and movies in recent years.  But there is one recent show that has taken the world by storm and transformed the way we view serial killers, and that is Netflix’s You.

Based off the book series by Caroline Kepnes, the show was developed by Sera Gamble and Greg Berlanti, the former also being the showrunner and credited with writing the majority of the episodes. The first season premiered on Lifetime before being picked up by Netflix, which has released every season since, the third season recently dropping in the beginning of October.

You stars Penn Badly as Joe Goldberg, a man who fixates on a woman, stalks her, and ultimately kills her once the fantasy he built in his head has ruptured. Of course, there are other casualties when someone else gets in the way of his fantasy. But, his primary victim is always women, stemming from his mother rejecting him after he had killed his father to protect her from his abuse. Joe is not supposed to be likable. After all, he’s a killer. Badgley has also consistently told viewers, especially the young women and teens who watch the show, that Joe should not be romanticized or glamorized.

In season two, a new character was introduced by the name of Love Quinn, played by breakout TV star Victoria Pedretti from The Haunting of Bly Manor. Although we get hints of it throughout the season, it isn’t until the finale that it is revealed she is a killer too, although her motives are far different from Joe’s. The audience gets to see Love at a greater extent in season three, with her exerting her violent side more than we’ve ever seen before. Nevertheless, the way the two of them are written—as individual characters, and as a couple— certainly plays into how men and women are treated in this world. The fact that Joe and Love also happen to be killers adds to that, because there’s a stark difference in how male and female serial killers are viewed by society at large. Yes, it has all to do with sexism, toxic masculinity, and patriarchy. Just like everything else in this world, those three overarching ideologies have a lot of control on how people are viewed, and how as individuals we interact with each other. 

Prior to Love, our focus is solely on Joe. He has an extremely high standard for women, wanting them to live up to the ideals he believes makes up a perfect woman. Yet, even when he fixates on someone, he criticizes their actions, taste in men, and unwillingness to see that he could treat them better than anyone else. These women are multi-dimensional, with personalities, history, and yes, faults, resulting in Joe not seeing them as a full person. He blames them for their faults while being blind to his own. At times, it seems like he doesn’t believe he has any. This was how he was with Beck. She was certainly a flawed individual, just like everyone else on this planet, but Joe’s narcissistic and slightly male chauvinist behavior ultimately leads him to believe that she was not the one for him. Simply because after time, Beck saw Joe for who he really was. A man riddled with toxic masculinity, misogynistic tendencies, and deeply rooted trauma that has influenced the way he acts towards and treats women. Unfortunately for Beck, her realization of who Joe Goldberg is leads to her demise.

When Love is introduced as Joe’s new fixation, we slowly learn that she is much different than Beck. She has a dark, traumatic past herself, relating to Joe in a way Beck never could. Love’s journey in season two culminates in her killing both Delilah and Candace to protect Joe from being found out. That is the first difference between the two killers. While Joe kills for a need to protect himself and his idea of a perfect woman, Love kills to protect those she cares about, although sometimes it is in a jealous rage. We see that jealousy frequently in season three, starting right in episode one when she kills their neighbor Natalie, who Joe was beginning to fixate on.

What I noticed in the third season is that there was a significant distinction in how their killings were viewed. Echoing what I said earlier, sexism, toxic masculinity, and patriarchy plays an enormous part in that. Joe has a heightened sexist view towards Love and her actions throughout the season, repeatedly calling her crazy and impulsive. Two things that women are often called by men who aren’t able to self-reflect and acknowledge their own toxicity. Joe was just as impulsive as Love this season, yet he doesn’t view it as such. It was aggravating watching him act like an almighty person who could do no wrong while he continued to push Love aside, especially when he developed a new fixation on the librarian Marienne. He put all the blame on Love, and his attitude towards her became progressively more manipulative towards the end of the season, when he decides to run away with Marienne and his son Henry, leaving Love behind.

On the other side of that, it was sad to see Love making these choices to preserve her and Joe’s relationship, not realizing until it was too late that he no longer felt the same way she felt about him. She believes she is doing the right thing as well, because she believes herself to be a protector of her husband and son. Love has always been someone who craved being seen and being loved. In the beginning of her and Joe’s relationship, he satisfied both cravings. But, that slowly dwindled and she became hungry for it, constantly seeking validation from him, and taking it out on the Madre Linda residents who were getting more attention from him than she was.

In the season finale, there is a beautiful moment between Love and Marienne, where the latter says how loving yourself is the most important thing and that you don’t need a man to be happy. It’s as if you see the wall breaking down in Love’s eyes when she hears those words from the person she was about to kill. At that moment, she realizes she doesn’t need Joe. But, before she is able to rid him of this Earth for good, he unfortunately is able to outsmart her and kill her instead. Truth be told, I was hoping she would kill him. His former fixation taking him down so he’s unable to fixate and hurt anyone else would have been incredible. Alas, that is not how it went, and Love’s story comes to a close.

Going into the next season without Love will be an adjustment for sure. She was an incredible addition to the show, primarily because the audience was able to see the dichotomy of the male and female serial killer. I would not be surprised that now she’s gone, Joe will have more spite in his heart, and his fixations and killings will show evidence of that. Although he now recognizes, at least partially, why he is the way he is, and has accepted it, continuing to see his character act in a narcissistic, sexist manner will remain unchanged for me, and I hope that he meets his maker. If Love couldn’t do it, though, it’s difficult to say who can. Nevertheless, You has done a fantastic job highlighting the complexities of these killer characters, while also creating a distinction between the two, and acknowledging that the majority of the time, they will be intoxicatingly unlikeable. We can’t help but be drawn to them; be intrigued at what makes them tick. That is why the show has become so successful. We can thank Sera Gamble for that. Joe Goldberg and Love Quinn are two characters that will live on long after the show ends.

All three season of “You” can be streamed on Netflix. Happy binging.

Isabel Maina

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