Joe Goldberg in "You"

Should You Feel Sorry For Joe Goldberg of ‘You’?

Why is the murdering main character of the Netflix show garnering so much sympathy?
March 4, 2020
9 mins read

“Well, hello there. Who are you? Based on your vibe, a student. Your blouse is loose. You’re not here to be ogled, but those bracelets, they jangle. You like a little attention. Okay, I bite. You search the books. Fiction, ‘F’ through ‘K.’ Now… Hmm, you’re not the standard insecure nymph hunting for Faulkner you’ll never finish. Too sun-kissed for Stephen King. Who will you buy? You sound apologetic, like you’re embarrassed to be a good girl, and you murmur your first word to me.”

What Is “You”?

That is the first of many inner monologues by the main character in the television show “You.” “You” is a popular series on Netflix that follows the life of Joe Goldberg, also known as Will Bettelheim, as he tries to understand the difficulties of love and relationships. The series originally debuted in 2018 and has gradually become a popular show that everyone is talking about.

The show is surprisingly dark and suspenseful, as the main character tries to express his feelings for his current love interest. While some people believe that Joe is just a cold-blooded murder, it can be argued that he’s a murderer with a cause and has shown personal growth over the past two seasons.

It’s well known that “You” is based on a novel by the same name written by Caroline Kepnes. The book series, categorized as a thriller, portrays the true horrors depicted in the television series. The book was adapted into the Netflix show, but there are actually a few differences between the two. However, even with the differences, the show conveys Joe’s stalkerish and murdering tendencies that Kepnes manages to perfectly highlight in her novel.

The Sticky Past of Joe Goldberg (or is it Will Bettelheim)?

During both of the seasons, we were given a few flashbacks; we see how Joe was as a child. The first season mainly featured moments of Joe with his mentor and guardian, Mr. Mooney. We don’t know much about Joe’s family life until the second season, where it’s revealed that he had a troubled childhood, and he often witnessed his mother’s abuse at the hands of others. Joe’s mother would often tell Joe how unhappy she was, which drove him to murder his mother’s boyfriend.

The flashbacks of his mother played a big part in people feeling sorry for him. His rocky childhood and warped understanding of love led to this obsession with loving people the wrong way. After he saved his mother from an abusive relationship, she ultimately abandoned him.

It’s safe to say this is when Joe met Mr. Mooney and learned how to properly appreciate books. Another part of his past that becomes clearer as the show unfolds is the mystery of Candace Stone, a past girlfriend.

The appearance of Candace sets up a pattern in Joe’s behavior. In parts of the first season, it is teased that Candace is dead and was murdered by Joe. It’s later revealed that he attempted to murder her because she cheated on him. In Joe’s mind, he does everything in hopes that he can prove his love to someone and protect people that he loves. Is this something honorable or the easy excuse of a seasoned murderer?

Murder for a Good Cause?

In the first season of the show, Joe met the character of sweet Guinevere Beck, a graduate student living in New York City. Just a few minutes into the series, it becomes clear to the audience that Joe is madly in love with her and will do anything for her. Through his monologues, the audience sees that Joe has what seems to be a genuine love for Beck.

During their time together, Joe managed to kill four people and keep it a secret from Beck, until she put all the pieces together toward the end of their relationship. At the end of the first season, Joe murdered Beck because he believed she wouldn’t understand his overbearing love for her.

While he murdered so many people in the first season, he actually managed to cut the murder tally down in the second season, with only two. The people he killed in the second season did not garner much sympathy. With the work that he did in therapy during Season 1, Joe has evolved as a person, which shows in Season 2 with his relationship with Love.

The introduction of this character also mitigates the evils of Joe, since she is considerably crazier than him. The love story he has with Love showed him what his own behavior was like and why his love interests always believed he was going overboard with his gestures.

Should People Feel Bad for Him?

With the revelations of Joe’s past and the fact that he’s shown character growth during the course of the two seasons, people are starting to feel sympathy for him. He’s had a rough childhood, and he just wants to protect the people that he loves.

The show creates the illusion that the audience should feel sorrow for Joe, and that’s mainly due to the thoughts and actions of the character being explained and justified.


The decision to feel sympathy for him is easy to fall for until you realize that he is a murderer. But these murders can be justified, right?

The show “You” is successful because of its ability to make a bad character look like the good guy. It’s a classic case of conditioning that the audience doesn’t fight off. This can be seen during the first death that happens on the show with the character Benji, who is Beck’s horrible ex-partner.

Joe lures him through a dark alley and into a basement where he hits him in the head with a mallet. Although this is a crime, the audience is able to understand why this happened and sympathize with Joe’s actions.

At the end of Season 2, we see Joe seemingly happy to be in a relationship with Love — they even have a baby on the way. The scene as they enter their new home begins to bring closure for the audience, and everyone is content with seeing Joe happy.

However, it’s revealed by another monologue that Joe is forming another obsession with their new neighbor. While this may be frustrating, it causes the audience to question exactly what is going through Joe’s mind. His obsessive behavior and stalker tendencies will lead us to another exciting season in 2021. With his growth over the past two seasons, maybe this time he won’t kill anyone. Maybe.

Kayla Placide, University at Buffalo

Writer Profile

Kayla Placide

University at Buffalo

Hello! My name is Kayla and I’m a freshman who is trying to pursue a future career in publishing YA books and fiction. My hobbies include reading, writing, gaming and playing music.

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