(Spoilers ahead for the first series and book ‘You’)
First thing’s first: I didn’t expect to like this series. I tested the waters tentatively about a year ago, and for whatever reason the first episode did not capture me. I remember thinking that the protagonist and villain, Joe, didn’t seem intimating or frightening to me, and feeling insecure in the face of his obsession- Guinevere Beck, and her glowing beauty, yoga bending body and flourishing life as a twenty something in New York.
However, once season two had been out I gave in to the persistent Netflix screen and positive reviews I had been getting wind of. By the third episode, I was completely hooked. Not necessarily by Joe, who in-spite of his murderous and stalking tendencies has a hardcore female fan base, but for me was simply the unreliable yet tangibly real feeling narrator to the story. Along with the wonderfully intense atmosphere, the dripping gold cinematography of New York and entertaining supporting cast, it was Beck who truly drew me in to the story and didn’t let me go until her (untimely) end.
Many of my female friends balk at this. They find Beck inconsistent, self absorbed, hypocritical, and a pretty bad girlfriend to boot. I however, see her as much more. She is indeed all those things, and many other negative qualities evident in young aspiring writer or artist trying to make it in the big city. She is also however, open, talented, insecure, alluring, sweet, naive, glowing golden in Joe’s gaze, and painfully self aware of her own shortcomings. As a woman in her mid to late twenties (check), studying creative writing (check), living in a city and apartment she can barely afford (check check), wondering wether she will ever amount to anything (check), always feeling a little the outsider (check) and never to be as good as the friends she surrounds herself with (check), I felt myself connecting to this character whilst in the back of my mind knowing, she was inevitably doomed.
Besides wishing I had even a tenth of the actresses beauty (Elizabeth Lail), there were more similarities between myself and the object of Joe’s affections than I could keep count of. At first I thought I was deluding myself with this parallel, complimenting myself that I was in anyway similar to this creative beauty, and object of many men’s (and indeed women’s) desires. Once I recommended the series to my brother however, the similarity was confirmed. He called me on the phone to rave about the climax of the first season, myself very keen to hear his thoughts on the entire thing. Yet, the first words out of his mouth were ‘It’s like this series was written for you!’. My brother is a working psychologist in London, so my ears are always pricked to his insights and views on characters and the human condition. When I asked what he meant, he went on ‘You realise you are basically Beck?’. I was immediately and guiltily flattered. Someone else thinks so too. I demurred in the only way you can when you’re actually thrilled with the feedback you’re hearing. He continued, ‘You even look like her- how can you not see it?’. I felt flooded with a mix of emotions. Being compared to such a central character and gorgeous leading woman barely ever happens to me. And the parallels of our lives were undeniable, down to even a few of the romantic dynamics between her and Joe (both negative and positive). It felt so refreshingly good to feel like for once, I had a mirror to view myself in a popular series, someone I can in a way feel connected to and aspire to, in spite of her many flaws. Yet, underneath all that, I felt the uneasy truth that she is not the victorious heroine in which I can place my hope for a grand future. While she does in fact realise her great potential and writes an (unfortunately posthumous) bestseller (see her heartbreaking monologue in Ep 9 ‘Blackbeard’s Castle’), she is brought down by the end, alone, fighting for her freedom, Joe’s hands grasped around her neck in the dark basement of the bookshop.
Her end is that of the tragic heroine, and makes me wish for so much better for her, myself, and every other woman out there. Whilst imperfect, she is unfailingly hopeful in her own talent, her love affairs with men who use her for sex (and who at times she uses too) and her unending search for her own true Prince Charming. It is this hope that keeps her with Joe, and leads to her tragic demise, and yet also contrasting artistic victory under the saddest of circumstances. I suppose what I would like to say, is that yes, there is a fair amount of Beck within me (down to the face and golden hair), but that there is probably a Beck in so many other young women out there too. Let us treasure her loving heart, her search for success and adoration (both romantically and creatively), and talent, but have our stories end in the daylight, after a life well lived, with our true prince by our side, not with our captor in disguise, down there in the dark.