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“You” and the paradox of a loveless marriage
Content warning: violence, murder, and suicide.
December 9, 2021
Marriage, an institution as old as time, holds many blindly optimistic couples hostage through the enticing idea of true love. From religion to blind optimism, reasons for marriage vary but it all ends the same — many feel stuck in this vicious cycle of lost love. However Joe and Love Quinn Goldberg, despite their seemingly unorthodox and rash actions, ventured through the treachery of marriage in the only ways possible for this sociopathic love story. You season three is a satirical representation of marriage, exacerbating the realities of a broken relationship to emphasize the pitfalls of their situation but also to highlight the more relatable issues of everyday relationships. In order to fully examine the treachery of their situation, it has to be broken down, episode by episode — meaning there will definitely be spoilers.
Achona alum Grace Neal said, “So far season three of You is better than I expected! After two successful seasons, a third season can be risky when it comes to developing new storylines and keeping the audience interested. I am only three episodes in, but they surprised me in steering away from the typical You formula and incorporating Love in more of the conflict and drama alongside Joe. I am excited to see what else happens since I am early into the season, and it feels like so much has happened already. Having been a Gossip Girl fan since I was at Academy in high school, it’s exciting to see Penn Badgley in another drama packed show that everyone seems to be talking about again.”
“And They Lived Happily Ever After”
Everything starts out bright and exciting. For the newly christened Goldbergs, this meant moving into the paragon of suburbia, Madre Linda — a decision that enticed Love far more than Joe. This is a common theme throughout the season as Joe is constantly sacrificing his happiness out of the fear that one misstep will awaken Love’s homicidal rage. This feeling of entrapment is one many viewers can resonate with as many unhappy couples often feel pressured to sacrifice themselves to make their partner happy rather than destroying the stability of their lives and that of their children, similar to the way that Joe feels about Henry. Joe soon learned all he needed was a place of solace and that place was the Madre Linda Library. Love, on the other hand, was adjusting quite well to Madre Linda — making friends such as “momfluencer” Sherry Conrad and finding a space to fulfill her lifelong dream of opening a bakery. This bakery would be the site of this season’s first murder, as she kills her neighbor Natalie Engler for becoming her husband’s newfound fixation. This opening episode sets the foundation for the pairs’ future issue along with establishing a rapport between them and the audience. By giving them relatable problems that they feel can only be solved in outlandish ways, the show validates the unbridled emotions many feel when they are stuck in similar situations. Making the basis of their problems the flaws of their relationship, viewers are able to recognize the outcomes if their own problems go untreated.
“So I Married an Axe Murderer”
Joe is called upon to aid in cleaning up the murder: an event the couple hashed over in couple’s therapy, yet another meaningless but obligatory action taken to fix their irreparable marriage. This constant dependency to solve problems together can cause each to overly blame the other as they try to relieve themselves of their own accountability. Love reveals that she enjoyed the attention she received from their teenaged neighbor Theo, but she was unhappy it came from a stranger rather than the man she has pledged her life to. Whilst reburying the recently deceased, the pair get into a screaming match, yelling about their perceptions of one another. By the end of their session, they realize that they both fear losing those they love and rekindle their romance by getting back to the things they share —building a glass cage to entrap their future victims of course. With this episode arises the discussion of the differing perceptions of Love and Joe. One could argue that Love is portrayed as the epitome of evil while Joe is acting only as a vigilante to protect the women he loves. As the Love says, “You act all pure and noble like you have reasons for why you do what you do. But when I do it, I’m crazy, right? I’m some manic nutjob.” However, while both have psychological reasons for acting the way that they do, neither Joe nor Love can be excused for their actions. The show was written so that the characters acted so outrageously to emphasize their flaws, but also from Joe’s perspective so that we are predisposed to shame Love for the very things we might pity Joe for.
“Missing White Woman Syndrome”
In the tertiary episode of the season, You tries its hand in the realm of social commentary. News has broken about the “vanishing” of Natalie Engler and Joe’s co-workers criticize the news for its “Missing White Woman Syndrome” — the tendency of news stations to only report on the disappearances of upper-class white women while there is an excess of cases involving women of color. Meanwhile, the couple work to navigate detectives and reporters amidst Henry’s unfortunate case of measles. Joe is similarly infected, causing him to reveal his own tragic backstory: he was never vaccinated because of his forgetful, absentee mother. Driven by his paranoia, Joe works to erase all suspicion that his family might have been involved with Natalie’s disappearance, but backtracks as soon as he learns how devastated her husband Matthew is. Love, protective as always, discovers who sickened her newborn, the children of their mutual friend Gil who did not see the necessity in a vaccine — and takes defensive action against this newest obstruction to her perfect life. This episode is written to be in aggressive support of the Covid-19 vaccine. While this is not at all a bad thing, this subplot resembles that of a filler episode, episodes whose plots serve to take up space rather than to contribute to the main plot. These episodes work best in sitcoms, but serve very little purpose in show’s with such fast-paced plots such as You. This blatant reference to the political issues revolving Covid-19 was jarring to the audience being that most viewers hope to use watching shows and movies as an escape from reality. While this plot gives the show its next victim, it does so in a way that sacrifices some of its satirical absurdity.
“Hands Across Madre Linda”
With Gil in the cage, the couple now faces the dilemma of how to handle him without putting themselves in any more hot water. Even dredging out his deepest secrets, from embezzlement to hidden assaults, they could not seem to free their marriage of its newest plague. As they unearth more secrets from one of the residents of the seemingly perfect Madre Linda, it emphasizes the duality of appearances. Joe dreaded his future there as he worried he would die of boredom, but as is often the case, there was much more beneath the surface. Eventually, the pair conclude they could kill two birds with one stone in an all too literal sense. The discovery of Gil’s hung body presented them with the perfect suspect to pin Natalie’s murder on. With this heinous act, the Goldbergs sought a return to normalcy, but try as they might, there are always some habits that you cannot resist. Once again mistaking kindness for something more, Joe developed a new obsession — his boss Marienne.
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“Into the Woods”
The alleged progress that comes with therapy often leads couples to thinking they no longer need it, despite the discrepancies in their personal progress. After six months in this “white picket purgatory,” Love has completely assimilated into suburban motherhood. Joe, on the other hand, has yet to make any friends, putting pressure on Love to entertain him at all times. This highlights another, more relatable fear, that comes with the amount of attention you give your partner. Love, as do many others, feels drained by having to serve as her partner’s sole support system. Love’s push for him to branch out was the least of their worries as each half of the pair inches towards an adulterous relationship. In an attempt to find his place in Madre Linda, Joe joins Cary and his friends on their annual detox trip into the woods. Joe and Cary get into a physical altercation because of Joe’s lack of enthusiasm. Joe pushes him off of a ledge, and thinking Cary is dead, he prepares to dispose of his body. When Cary comes to, he is enthralled by Joe’s aggression and Joe finally understands the purpose of the trip — to be okay with the aggression that Joe has fought so hard to subside. This new friendship is one of the only healthy actions taken by Joe as he has finally found himself a productive outlet for all of his emotions that he can utilize in the future — well, at least one can hope he will.
Love faces the repercussions of her actions as she discovers she might be pregnant. On a wellness retreat with her mother Dottie and Sherry, she confesses her actions and fears to her mother. Despite how many friends Love has, she still lacks a support system, increasing her emotional dependence on the success of her marriage. After being shamed for her devious actions by Dottie, she turns to the only person she could ever depend on, her deceased brother Forty. She continues to communicate with him — texting his phone and even imagining he is there with her, but she is eventually able to separate herself from him. This episode provides us with the only real reference to Forty from Love and shows the viewers how difficult it is to grieve someone you are incredibly close to. When juxtaposed with the way that Dottie is grieving her son’s death, viewers are able to compare a seemingly healthy grieving process with a obviously harmful one. Joe, taking advantage of this time alone, finds himself working after hours, and kissing Marienne in the rain of their broken sprinkler system. Despite all of their “in house” issues, outside forces continue to impede in their personal progress as Matthew exploits the data from his tech company to find the truth of his wife’s death. Love, however, decides to use her hidden relationship with Theo to their advantage and calls on him to uncover exactly what his father is doing.
Why would Dottie be a granny when Glamma is so much more fitting pic.twitter.com/0VRyOsBRAb
— YOU (@YouNetflix) September 25, 2021
“We’re All Mad Here”
As the charity for the library arrives, so does the drama. Love, continuing her affair with her teenage neighbor, realizes that Joe must have lied to her — as Marienne gave her a different explanation for Joe’s repeated late nights that he did. However, she has to temporarily redirect her anger as her mother kidnaps Henry and, while under the influence, takes him while she burns down the vineyard she would have lost in her divorce. This issue is solved as Dottie is swiftly sent to rehab — but not before conversing with Joe and alluding to the idea that Love killed her first husband James. Their problems are never truly over as their distraught neighbor, through extensive sleuthing, has managed to eliminate everyone in Madre Linda as suspects in his wife’s dubious murder — everyone except for the Goldbergs of course. This episode truly emphasizes how Love and Joe were meant to both mirror each other’s actions, such as their inclination to murder, but also constantly contradict themselves — like Joe’s disturbance at the idea that Love killed her husband. Ever since he learned how violent she is in season two, Joe has been uneasy around Love because they are so similar, and watching the way that she acts and reacts forces him to inadvertently confront his own irrational actions.
“Swing and a Miss”
Joe agrees to be a character witness for Marienne in a custody battle against her ex boyfriend Ryan, while Love continues her affair with Theo. Her special task for Theo leads him to be kicked out while the Goldbergs have more important matters in mind. As many couples do, Love and Joe decide to “try new things,” hoping that becoming polyamorous might somehow fix the brokeness of their relationship without ever having to address the root of the problem. This idea is a common one, and as You pokes fun at this idea, viewers are able to confront their own problem-solving methods. This fails miserably and leads Cary and Sherry to where their friends often go, back to the glass cage. In the twisted way that the Goldbergs work, Love and Joe manage to “resolve” their grievances by strengthening their strongest love language, violence. The idea that violence, the thing that is eroding their relationship, is the same thing that strengthens their relationship highlights how truly destroyed their dynamic is — hopefully allowing more couples to acknowledge similar flaws in their own dynamics. As the court rules against Marienne and the injustice of the situation is unmasked, Joe decides to focus his rage on a new target — Ryan.
I don't think I've ever gone from hating a character so much to them ending up being one of my favorite performances 😅 #YouNetflix https://t.co/4hmO12aZvJ
— tatiana (@moviemakeHER) November 13, 2021
Unlike our central pair, Sherry and Cary’s relationship continues healthily, despite the added glass element of their situation. The contrast of Sherry and Cary, a quirky and seemingly disfigured couple being unexpectedly healthy, whereas Joe and Love, a seemingly perfect couple lack any true stability, once again shows how nothing is ever what it seems in Madre Linda. Joe and Love have spent so much of this season building a facade, but had they genuinely worked to fix their problems — or better yet broken up — all that has happened and what is still to come could have been avoided. Joe finds Marianne at the liquor store where she reveals her plans to move to New Jersey with her daughter. After bonding over their shared struggles — and Joe’s lie that divorce is in his future — they move to make their new relationship official. Meanwhile, Sherry works to convince Love that there is a way for her and her husband to be released without incriminating the Goldbergs. After saying Love and Joe’s marriage was destined to fail, Love gives them an ultimatum — if one of them can kill the other, the survivor can walk free. Unconcerned about the events at the bakery, Joe kills Marienne’s ex, hoping to make his escape with Marienne easier. Theo discovers Joe’s involvement in the staging of Natalie’s murder, and Love attacks him to protect their secret.
“What is Love?”
In a marriage like the Goldbergs, your unhappiness starts to impact the relationships of those around you. This manifests itself in Sherry and Cary’s nonfatal shots at each other — one in Sherry’s ear and the other in Cary’s leg. The Conrad’s stark transition from healthiness to taking their anger out on one another allows the viewers to see the repercussions a failing marriage can have on those around them — and while the show’s critique of this is overly sensationalized, there is still truth to this. Back at the Goldberg’s residence, Joe musters up the courage to ask for a divorce to which Love reveals that she killed James by accident, claiming that she wanted to temporarily paralyze him, but gave him the wrong dosage of wolfsbane. However, she gives Joe the right one. While Love is away, Matthew finds Joe on the floor, but cares about nothing other than Theo’s location. Once Joe reveals he is safely at the hospital, Matthew admits that he hopes he gets what he deserves. Marienne shows up, per a text from Love, and after learning about all of Joe’s lies — and murderous past — she implores Love to leave him if she ever feels unsafe. Once Marienne has left, Joe reveals he knew Love was growing wolfsbane and that he took an antidote before going to dinner. Of course, it was never written that they survived, just that they managed in the only way possible, that is, until they could live in their situation no longer. While injecting her with the fatal dosage, he whispers, “We’re perfect for each other but bad for Henry.” He then stages a murder-suicide complete with a note from “Love,” delivers Henry to Dante, and sets off to find Marienne — ending the tragic love story of Joe and Love Quinn-Goldberg. This show crafted the Goldbergs relationship with elements of a classic tragic love story, even down to the Shakespearean murder-suicde, but unlike the traditional star crossed lovers, they are not victims of circumstance as all of their problems stem from actual things they have done. Making each of their motivations jealousy while also having an affair emphasizes their main problem — their contradiction. Joe and Love are so similar that most of their actions are replicated by the other, but once they see the other’s actions they are disgusted — like Joe with Love’s murderous tendencies and Love with Joe’s affair. By making them face their flaws through each other, the show harnesses the idea that they were not a couple that was not built to last being that the repeating characteristics are the ones that they hate most about themselves. This show’s satirical critique of love and marriage shows the audience that when the proper actions are not taken, love is quite messy in a very literal sense.
“The third season did a really good job of subverting the formula of You. I think if the entire season had been about stalking and falling for Natalie it would’ve gotten stale really fast. Instead, it was shocking to see her die within the first episode. I think the dynamic between Love and Joe was really fun to watch. It was so different than season 2, with them having a baby and being open with each other about being murderers. I liked this season less than the last one, mostly because it made it impossible to root for Love, who was my favorite character last season. However, I think this season did a good job of doing the unexpected. There were multiple moments when my jaw literally dropped in shock,” said Madison Kwo (‘23).
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