The Art of Manipulating Your Audience

Friday 17 January 2020

Joe Goldberg, the stalker. Or, Joe Goldberg, the dude who thinks he’s invisible whenever he has a hat on. Whatever you know this guy for, you can agree with me that he’s done some pretty bad sh*t. 

Played by actor Penn Badgley, the charmingly evil lead from Netflix’s You is one of those characters who can break into your mind for a split second until you shun them, only to fall for their gab again, then again, if you’re not careful. 

Due to the show’s increasing popularity, you might have a loose notion of the plot by browsing Netflix or by word-of-mouth. Let’s just recall: Joe, a purportedly laid-back manager working at Mooney’s bookstore, meets avid reader and aspiring novelist Guinevere Beck. Joe immediately falls for Beck, somehow steals her phone, and stalks her entire life from that point on. 

“But who doesn’t stalk a crush these days?”

Ah, you got me. We’re all “stalkers” when it comes to a prospective partner, sure. Except Joe’s stalking is a step further, and not in a good way. Little does Beck know, the man is dangerous—he’s willing to hurt whoever gets between them. Badly. 

(By the way, season 2 aired on Netflix this past December with a binge-worthy new plot. But I won’t spoil it, of course.) Oh and if you'd like to read the pilot script of the first season, click here

Here’s the controversy: millions of Netflix users have been watching You since the very first episode, and not everyone agrees that Joe is a complete monster. For starters, actress Millie Bobby Brown generated a bit of a fuss when she defended Penn Badgley’s character last year: “he’s not creepy, he’s in love with her, and it’s okay.“, she said. 

She’s wasn’t completely wrong—that’s the “protective” image Joe portrays, one that should be countered early. Otherwise, the viewer could start to agree with every word he says, and therefore think he’s not so evil after all. 

Millie later apologized saying that she “gathered an analysis too quickly”.

Before we get to the good stuff, I wanted to know my followers’ honest opinion on the topic. On Instagram, I directly asked a few people who watched the show: “Can you think of any reasons why viewers would defend Joe Goldberg’s actions?”

I got a bunch of varying replies, some of which were:

“The gaslighting works. In certain moments, I felt like his actions were justifiable”.

“Whenever Joe describes his actions and motivations behind them, he ends up inviting the viewer to feel for him. He’s still a creep, though.”

“Sometimes, the way he acts lets your guard down.”

Is this the same way you feel about Joe Goldberg? If yes, sit down ‘cause I’ve got answers to your why's. Using Joe as an example, let’s see what makes the viewer able to sympathise with such a complex character, and how to successfully 'manipulate' the audience into doing so . 


If you’ve heard Joe speak, you’ll agree that his voice is honeyed and his sentences are articulate. He’s a keen reader and an undoubtedly smart guy, which shows clearly in his speech. We couldn’t expect less from someone who sells and reads books day in and day out, among other things. 

The creepiest thing about him, however, is his intelligence: he knows just how to switch our suspicions on and off. It’s easy to feel for him when he talks about cooking for Beck and loving her unconditionally. You can’t help but go “aaawwh”, especially if you haven’t had that kind of treatment for a while. 

Everybody deserves that kind of treatment in a relationship, and those who agree with Joe even for a split second have fallen prey to his sweet talk. 

“I’ll cook for you, I’ll make our bed, I’ll do everything for you” sounds like something a perfect boyfriend would say, doesn’t it? You’re allowed to dream, but don’t forget to come back. 

He’s still a stalker. 

A troubled past

Joe’s obsession with locking his victims in a plexiglass book vault didn’t happen out of nowhere. 

Mr. Mooney (bookstore owner and Joe’s Boss) made him go through the same experience when Joe was just a boy. He would teach little Joe to care for collectibles and first editions in a peculiar manner: by locking him inside the glass until he read every last book in there. 

Now, when people take a step back to evaluate Joe’s past, their heart might mellow a little bit. He suffered a lot in the hands of Mooney, and that’s probably all he knows in life. 

This results in Joe projecting his traumas onto other people. Justifiable? Not at all. 

But it makes you ponder and feel bad for him, which leads us into the next topic.

A possible mental illness

Regardless of the condition, mental illness is never the sufferer’s fault. He or she, however, will have to hold themselves accountable for their actions regardless.

No mental illness is mentioned in the series, although it’s pretty obvious by the choices Joe makes. In this case, some people might find his actions aren’t his fault at all if a mental illness is involved. 

He could always get help, yes. That would be a solution, but we all need a well-structured plot, don’t we? Maybe in a third season.


Come on, is there anything more attractive than a guy who loves books and is willing to do anything for the woman he loves? (Yes, a guy who won’t lock me up somewhere, thank you.)

This one will require a bit of a story that perfectly illustrates my point.

I remember watching You in my little cousin’s living room with all of her girlfriends. They were all 14-ish at the time, and they were all madly in love with Joe. 

I can’t count how many times I’ve heard sentences along the lines of “I’d let that guy kidnap me!!!”. Yeah, I know. Sometimes attractiveness is all people really notice, thus leading to similar, unsound opinions like the previous one.

Please, there’s nothing wrong with the plot or the show; it’s this mentality that’s wrong and even dangerous for such young girls, or even for anyone who’s “into” that kind of thing. Joe is handsome, smart, mysterious...and a killer. That’s why this opinion is wrong in so many levels.

By the way, Penn Badgley himself would like his fans to stop romanticizing Joe. Check out this tweet:

A will to change

We start off Season 2 with a Joe who’s willing to restart. Live a new life, be a new person, and leave the past behind. It all works out fairly well in the beginning, until something (or someone) comes back to blackmail him. 

When a character is evidently trying to shake themselves out of their own chains, they deserve a vote of confidence, a second chance. Joe does, too. It’s too bad that he breaks his own promise to not fall in love or hurt anyone again. 

The bottom line is: if you caught yourself rooting for Joe at some point, don’t sweat it—that means the show did exactly what it’s supposed to do. 

Laila Resende is a 20-year-old freelance copywriter and a Feature Writer and Social Media Assistant at Into The Script. Her insatiable passion for movies and blogging is perfect for her role as Feature Writer & Social Media Assistant at Into The Script. 

Laila shares all of Into The Script's news on her Instagram page (@lailarsnde) and Facebook.

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