Featured Image: Lifetime
Article By: Taylore Fox
Love is complicated. It throws us head over heels. It can hit us at first sight. But they also say that you can love someone to death and that there’s a thin line separating it from hate. When that line begins to soften, we are left with something that we don’t recognize clearly and something that may not even be able to identify you.
“You” is an adult novel turned Lifetime TV series about a young man—Joe—who meets an attractive, slightly troubled MFA-seeking creative writing student—Beck—while working in a bookstore. They talk, they laugh, they flirt. Beck is beautiful and charismatic. Joe is funny and charming. On the outside, it’s a picturesque beginning of an inevitable romance. But when the viewer/reader looks deeper into Joe’s mind, the picture is ugly and twisted, blurring the line between an alluring love and a sinister obsession.
In literature, the word “you” is used in the second person point of view. Writing in the second person is difficult, and it can be unclear exactly to whom the narrator is addressing. It’s less common than the first or third person, but in this plot, it fits perfectly. It’s necessary. Joe narrates the story as if he’s speaking to Beck, directly declaring his love for her and his deadly contempt for almost everyone else in her life. He rationalizes his malicious behavior to himself and as he “speaks” to an unsuspecting Beck, telling her his side of their story.
Inside Joe’s Head
But “you” doesn’t just refer to “her.” “You” is also “us,” the audience. As Joe rationalizes his obsession masked as love to Beck and himself, the author justifies it to her audience. She puts us directly into Joe’s head and manipulates the line between romance and obsession even further by taking us back and forth between it.
Even though we are aware of Joe’s sinister obsession from the very beginning, we often find ourselves rooting for him and their relationship. We watch him follow her around New York City; we watch him intercept her emails, we watch him stand outside her apartment in disguise and look through her window. But we also watch him protect her from squalid men, we watch him defend her from two-faced friends, we watch him read and collect the stories she writes. Joe loves Beck in his own mind. And because we are placed into the story with him, it appears that way in our minds as well.
A second person narrative is different than a more commonly used first or third person narrative because it forces the audience to participate. “You” manipulates us as readers and viewers by taking us out of our own views and morals and intertwines them with Joe’s so that instead of condemning his behavior, as most of us probably would, we support it. Instead of merely seeing him for what he is—a stalker. Our perspective of Joe becomes much more complicated, because of the way he sees himself is more complex. Romance and obsession are the same in his eyes, creating a different and unfamiliar perspective for the audience. This complexity in view is what establishes the line between romance and obsession in the first place.
Love is Complicated
Like I said, love, is complicated it can make us do things we usually wouldn’t do. It can make you see someone in a way that you may not otherwise. It uncovers the deepest corners of ourselves, making our flaws transparent and our secrets visible. There is a sense of yourself that exists, in part, in relation to someone else, a unique sense of knowing, the feeling that someone sees you for you. It makes us feel safe.
If “You” straddles the line between love and obsession, then there is a line just as thin in between what makes us feel safe and what makes us vulnerable. Joe sets out to know everything there is to know about Beck in order to provide this sense of safety, but since his idea of romance is perverted by his obsession, then that obsession manipulates his understanding of what constitutes security.
Romance vs. Obsession
Joe creates a false sense of security, manipulating not only the audience’s perspective but also Beck’s, by forming the illusion for both of us that she is safe and that they are perfect for each other. The story can create this asylum for its audience because it places us into Joe’s head and forcedly masks our idea of safety and love with his and at times we don’t see it for what it really is.
But Joe’s idea of Beck has the same effect. He reads her emails, learns her class schedule, traces her social media accounts, and watches her move about her apartment to learn everything he can about her. He knows where she grew up, he can list her friends, and he knows where she’ll be at any given time. On the one hand, he knows her to the point where he is almost omniscient. But on the other, it’s questionable whether he actually knows her at all.
Her beauty seduces him, and he is fascinated by her charm as she browses through the shelves in his bookshop. That is what he becomes so obsessed with, what he desires so heavily, and that desire fuels this image. This is the “you” he is referring to, but it isn’t even really her. He creates a perfect picture of her, an alluring woman who is honest, who loves attention, who doesn’t read Faulkner just to say she reads Faulkner. But the real Beck has the ability to surprise him, to do things he doesn’t expect, to lie to him. The Beck that Joe thinks he loves is a version of Beck he knows from afar, and yet it’s a version that’s too close to be real at the same time.
The Real Beck vs. Fantasy Beck
They say love is blind, that it only allows you to see what you want to look at. But it’s also supposed to persist when the less desirable parts that you avoided before are brought to light. Joe can’t accept the parts of Beck that he doesn’t like and can’t take the cracks in the image he paints. Where the audience may have once found itself aligned with Joe, this is one moment in which the line between love and danger becomes more clear. The story creates the space to break free of Joe and see his passion for what it really is.
“You” shatters expectations of the portrayal of love and repositions the barriers between a plot and its audience. It shows us a version of love as it shouldn’t be, in order to portray it as it actually is—unpredictable and complicated. It’s a reflection of how we see each other, through the glass and blurred lines, too close and yet too far away to see clearly.