Sunday, September 9, 2018

REVIEW: 'You' - Joe Becomes Obsessed with Beck and Goes to Extreme Measures to Control Her in 'Pilot'

Lifetime's You - Episode 1.01 "Pilot"

Joe meets Beck, falls in love and goes down a social media rabbit hole to learn everything about her. He becomes so obsessed that he tracks her IRL (and they meet again!) This might be a real shot at real love. But there are some things standing in the way... like her ex, Benji. If Joe's serious about Beck, he's going to need to get serious about the problem of Benji.

Lifetime's new drama You presents such a strong deconstruction of the nice guy narrative. Joe believes himself to be the best of his gender. He believes he stands tall as the guy who is genuinely good for and supportive of Beck. He is immediately smitten with her when she first comes into the bookstore. The entire narrative is framed around that meeting and how it instantly changes Joe's life. Throughout this hour, it's clear that he has spiraled down these obsessive tendencies in the past. But now, he just has the freedom and ability to continue doing it all over again with Beck as well. He sees her sheer presence as a sign that she is welcoming him into her life. It's so absolutely creepy and twisted. And yet, the show is very delicate in revealing how Joe is caught up in the romantic connotations of this relationship while still making Beck a strong enough character on her own despite not seeing how creepy her new stalker so clearly is. That's a very delicate balance that the show has to strike in this opening episode. The audience should feel some sympathy towards its characters. But it condemns them as well. None of them are good. In fact, many of them are terrible because of the society they are living in and their own twisted beliefs about what is now acceptable behavior. Joe believes he is good because he's not sexually harassing Beck from a position of power, demanding blind support and faith in a struggling business or just demanding her to be happy and upbeat all of the time. But he is still the picture of a toxic male who believes he is the savior who will swoop in and save Beck from the life that she is currently living. He has romanticized all of the behavior that he does throughout this premiere. He believes himself to be good because he's not physically hurting anyone. Even that is a notion that the audience can't prop up by the end of the premiere though. Joe is very bad and this narrative is only going to make him more desperate for Beck's approval and love. How everyone responds to that will be so crucial because they too are all caught up in the idea that he is a good guy.

There is a version of this story where Joe and Beck could be a couple as well. They have such solid banter whenever they are discussing books or poetry. They are both well-informed. They are well versed in literature and are able to have discussions about the many great works of fiction that have been released across the centuries. Their banter at the bookstore is sweet and charming. Throughout all of it though, there is Joe's inner monologue that highlights how he is perverted the moment he first sees her. This isn't a narrative that changes him. He doesn't become obsessed the more he digs through her social media feed. He doesn't become desperately addicted to her and needing to find out who she really is. It's not a story about him also being surprised by his own actions. Instead, it's all there from the start. This is the story of Joe as he is narrating it to Beck. He believes his perception of her life is the clarity she needs to fix many of her problems. He sees a life that is completely false. It's just the peace and beauty that one presents on social media. Those profiles aren't who people truly are. They are just the version of ourselves that we are willing to present to the world. It offers Joe so much information about Beck though. He learns everything about her family and her circle of friends. Plus, he is even able to find her address in a matter of minutes. This information brings him right to her doorstep. That's the first indication that he is nothing more than a stalker who believes in his own self-importance in a stranger's life. He just met Beck. He believes himself to be the one who can change her entire life. But right now, it seems inevitable that he is going to completely destroy it in order to fulfill this fantasy that he has completely concocted in his own head.

It also highlights how men view women in society. When Beck pays for the books with her credit card, Joe sees it as a sign that she wants him to know her name. He sees this woman as leading him on and flirting with him. She is teasing him with her curiosity about his life and playing into his games. And yet, there's nothing inherently personal or suggestive about handing over a credit card to pay for something. It's just simpler than having to deal with cash and change. That's probably all that Beck was thinking about this encounter. Joe just had to take it one step further. Meanwhile, her ex-boyfriend, Benji, isn't apologetic in the slightest about cheating on her. He acts with complete confidence that no matter what he does Beck will still have sex with him on a regular basis. She is upset and rightfully able to call him out for his abhorrent behavior. And yet, she's dependent on him for support. She is desperate for the approval of others because she needs that support in order to continue chasing her dreams. The people in her life aren't good at all. Her friends really aren't supportive of her poetry ambitions at all. None of them really seem interested in the professor who is trying to have sex with her. They just want to go out and party. They want a good time and are willing to just glaze over the horrible things that happen in the world. Beck wants to perform her poetry at an open mic night in the hopes of getting the support and strength she needs to keep writing. Instead, she is greeted with a heckler who just wants her to be more happy and positive. That too highlights the double standard between men and women. Men are allowed to convey a wide array of emotions. Meanwhile, women are expected to fit into a very specific mold and are criticized the moment they try to stop outside of it and embrace darker subjects. It's such a crushing time for Beck. That's what makes Joe seem so endearing in the moment.

Joe literally saves Beck. He is stalking her and that's why he is conveniently there when she falls onto the subway tracks. She is drunk and stumbling around with her phone. She falls down and he has to quickly decide if he is willing to drop his cover in order to save her life. It's played as this grand romantic gesture. It's sweeping because the train is racing towards her and she has to actively choose whether to be saved by a stranger or die because there's nothing in her life. She chooses to live. That's the way that Joe frames all of this. This is his first step towards actually being a good influence in her life. He takes care of her and makes sure that she gets back home safely. Of course, she has no idea that he broke into her house earlier that day by calling in a fake gas leak. He had freedom to look through her personal belongings and stalk every single aspect of her life. Her privacy was completely invaded. And now, he is continuing to take advantage of her. He continues to chastise her for not protecting more of her identity online. Her phone and computer aren't password protected. He is able to access them so easily. However, it's still so abusive for him to sneak into her house and steal her phone later that night. It's all about him remaining in control. Beck leaves to go spend the night with Benji. And so, Joe continues his deep dive into who Beck really is. Stealing this information allows him to get more personal with her. It's all built on a lie. He is doing this because he is obsessed with her not knowing who she truly is. She is not offering these details up to him because she is striving for that kind of relationship. Instead, she is appreciative of this cute guy who has saved her. She wants to believe in the good in people. But all of this showcases just how horrible that concept can play out in the real world. Joe is dangerous and he makes that completely clear during the final moments here.

Joe lures Benji into a trap just so he can attack him. He wishes to disrupt the bond that Beck has with her ex-boyfriend. He doesn't do this by standing up as a nice and genuine guy who is more supportive than Benji ever was. Instead, he is doing that by eliminating Benji from the picture completely. It's such a shocking moment when Joe takes Benji into the basement of the bookstore and knocks him out. It presents as him becoming a killer in that moment. The show walks that back a little bit by revealing that Benji did survive these injuries. But he remains a prisoner. He's locked away with the rest of the precious books stored below the store. This is Joe's own personal sanctuary where he is allowed to manipulate and control whatever he wants. He decides who gets to visit this place. Even though Ethan also works at the bookstore, Joe has no fear that he is about to discover what his co-worker is doing in the basement. Instead, Ethan is just cheering Joe on for playing things so cool and confident with Beck. He is proud of the work that Joe has done. He has absolutely no clue just how despicable his friend can be. And again, Joe believes he's the savior. He is saving the world from despicable men. He is just doing so in a way where he has to be absolutely controlling of what is going on in Beck's life. He can't leave anything up to chance because then he would miss out on this connection. And yet, the extremes he is willing to go to only further highlight just how wicked the world can be especially when these male are propped up as people who can do whatever they want.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Pilot" was written by Sera Gamble & Greg Berlanti and directed by Lee Toland Krieger.
  • Social media has become such a huge aspect of the world and has influenced dating in so many ways. This story highlights the many ways it can go wrong. Joe has the smarts to know where to look even though all of this information is public. Meanwhile, no indication is given as to how much information about Joe is out there. Nor does it seem like anyone is going to examine him in the way that he is doing with the people in Beck's life.
  • Shay Mitchell shows up as one of Beck's friends, Peach. That too is an unusual name. She also presents as possibly the one friend who is actually nice and good for Beck. She is concerned when Beck spends too much on another friend's birthday present. They are allowed to be real with one another. And yet, Peach is also critical when it comes to the open mic night because she really doesn't care for Beck's poetry goals.
  • There is already a sexual compulsion to this relationship as well. Joe is watching Beck and knows if she is sexually satisfied or not. It's arousing to him too. He takes pleasure out of watching her from across the street. However, the show makes a point in saying that he isn't able to finish. It's completely random but the world needs to intervene in order to ensure this behavior isn't tolerated.
  • Joe also sees himself as a good influence for the kid next door. Paco is always sitting outside the apartment because his mom and her boyfriend are always either fighting or having loud sex. As such, Joe is the only person who treats him well and actually encourages him to learn. He is just as intrigued by books as Joe was at a young age. And so, Joe takes him under his wing. And yet, his wisdom may only lead to another generation of perverted men. 
  • It's also clear that Joe is only willing to step up and attack an abuser when it comes to his sexual obsessions. With Beck, he is very quick to make a move against Benji. He just sees him as such a cruel and careless influence in her life. Meanwhile, the men sleeping with Paco's mother is physically abusive and Joe basically does nothing. That too is its own form of twisted justification for horrible actions.