joe goldberg

Why Do We Like Joe Goldberg?

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Spoilers for Joe Goldberg in You season one and two below, if you haven’t seen it yet, this will spoil plot-points.

Many of us know Joe Goldberg from the popular TV show You. He is a seemingly nice guy who helps people in need. He builds trust amongst these people by swooping in and saving the day when things are starting to look bad. However, we quickly see that he isn’t the hero he appears to be. Behind closed doors, he relentlessly stalks and obsesses over two specific girls, different each season. The question that remains, however, is why do we still root for Joe Goldberg even though he is a murderer?

You‘s Joe Goldberg In Season 1

In season one, he finds and pursues the social media of a girl named Guinevere Beck. Living in New York, he quickly learned everything he could about her, using her social media posts to his advantage. She never suspects a thing. Her friend, Peach, consistently tells her that something is off about Joe and he doesn’t seem trustworthy.

Penn Badgley in Netflix's hit show, You.
Lifetime / Netflix’s You: Joe Goldberg (2019)

Much to Peach’s dismay, Beck wards off her concerns and continues to see Joe. Seeing that Peach is starting to find out too much about him, Joe makes the decision to kill her. It isn’t until the end of the season that Beck starts to notice things about Joe that aren’t normal, but by then, it is too late for her. She tries to get away, but he won’t let her escape. By the last episode, he had killed her.

You‘s Joe Goldberg In Season 2

In season two, we pick up in Los Angeles where Joe Goldberg has taken on the new identity of Will Bettelheim and has found a new girl to obsess over, Love Quinn. Similar events unfold, but in a plot twist at the end, Love turns out to be just as insane as him.

Is Joe An Antihero?

Although clearly not a hero, it can be argued that Joe Goldberg is an antihero. According to Merriam Webster, an antihero is “a protagonist or notable figure who is conspicuously lacking in heroic qualities.” Joe Goldberg is definitely somewhat lacking in these qualities. He only does things for his own benefit or to further his own agenda. Some of these actions may appear heroic, but he is only doing them to get what he wants. He doesn’t take heed of anyone else’s concerns or feelings but chooses to do things simply because he wants to do them or needs to get them done for reasons only he believes to be good.

Penn Badgley in Netflix's hit show, You.
Lifetime / Netflix’s You: Joe Goldberg (2020)

For example, in season two, Joe moves into his new apartment in LA and starts becoming friends with his landlord, Delilah. Delilah has a little sister named Ellie who Joe notices starts getting involved with a suspicious comedian, Henderson. Joe quickly learns from Delilah that Henderson sexually abused her when she was younger and that she never told anyone. Jumping into hero mode, Joe tries to keep Ellie away from Henderson as much as he can.

Does Joe Deserve Redemption?

Ultimately failing to keep Ellie away from Henderson, Joe sneaks into Henderson’s house while Ellie is there, preventing Henderson from drugging, and most likely sexually abusing her, as well. In the process, he ties up Henderson in a secret room that he has in his house. Once Henderson regains consciousness after Joe drugs his drink, Joe, wearing a mask, demands Henderson to confess to sexually abusing Delilah, and many other girls, on camera.

Henderson refused at first and eventually, Joe got heated enough to pull his mask off and reveal himself. After a brief conversation between the two, Henderson manages to escape and bolts for the stairs. Joe catches up to him and accidentally throws him down the stairs. He falls all the way down before smacking his head on the concrete below. This instantly kills him. Joe, panicking slightly, hurries to clean up the blood to try to make it look like a suicide.

Penn Badgley as Joe in Netflix's hit show, You.
Lifetime / Netflix’s You: Joe Goldberg (2019)

Ellie wakes up and leaves the house herself without seeing anything. Once Joe leaves the house, he keeps thinking about Henderson’s death, going back and forth between hoping he was different now from New York, where he also killed people and thinking that Henderson deserved it. He tells himself that he had to do it, to keep Ellie safe and prevent her from suffering the same fate her sister did.

Why Do We Like Him?

Despite all of these things, we can’t help but root for Joe. He is manipulative but charming, charismatic, but compulsive. We can’t help but want the best for him. In these cases, we hope that he gets away with it. We want him to get what he wants, which in this case, is Love. We think they deserve to be together and live happily ever after. Joe deserves a happy ending. He didn’t get it in New York, so we want him to have it in Los Angeles. We get tense when he almost gets caught and breathes sighs of relief when he talks his way out of it.

Penn Badgley as Joe in Netflix's hit show, You.
Lifetime / Netflix’s You: Joe Goldberg (2020)

Maybe we root for him because we find him incredibly charming and fascinating. We, like the characters on the show, fall prey to his smooth-talking. He almost always gets away with it. Perhaps this could be the reason we want him to succeed. We see him smooth-talking his way out of these things. We watched him murder, hide the evidence, and escape the police. Because he is capable of doing these things. We want him to keep going and escape.

We see, through snippets of flashbacks throughout the show, that Joe’s childhood wasn’t the best. His mother wasn’t around much and his father was abusive. He always saw his mother with other men and she never once stopped to ask him how he felt about these men or if he liked them. We can understand why Joe is the way he is in the present, because of his traumatic past. Although this doesn’t excuse his murderous behavior, it does make it more comprehensible.

Joe Goldberg, For The Win?

Maybe we think the reasons he gives for doing the things he does are good reasons. He justifies killing Henderson by saying he was saving girls in the future from the same fate that Delilah and others suffered from. He justifies his own actions by convincing himself that they needed to be done to either save others or save himself. Joe truly believes that he has only good intentions for doing all of the things he does: the murders, the lying, the breaking-and-entering.

Penn Badgley as Joe in Netflix's hit show, You.
Lifetime / Netflix’s You: Joe Goldberg (2020)

He justifies all of these by telling himself that these things needed to be done, for a greater good, to save other people, but we, the audience, know the truth. We know that just because he justifies his actions doesn’t make them okay, but somehow, we still find ourselves on his side anyway.