“Pilot” (Episode 101)
September 9, 2018
A new psychological thriller for this Fall television season, YOU represents the intersection of personal obsession and our society’s pre-occupation with social media … at the expense (and loss?) of all sorts of privacy.
If interested on why you should be watching YOU, check out our “Love It Or Leave It” review here. But, once you’re ready, read on for our deep dive recap & review of the Pilot episode of YOU … after the jump (SPOILERS BEWARE)!
We open in a bookstore, a standalone bookstore – not some corporate job. An unseen man narrates an imaginary conversation with a female customer (Elizabeth Lail) who has just walked in. He’s trying to figure out who she is and what she wants. He thinks he knows. He thinks he knows everything about her. From how she doesn’t want to be ogled (loose blouse) but does want to be noticed (jangly bracelets). She reads fiction (Aisle F-K) but not for show and not the mass consumption kind (no Stephen King, no Dan Brown for her). When the woman bumps into a man and she apologizes, the voice decides that she’s embarrassed “to be a good girl.”
It’s not until we’re a few minutes in that the voice and the woman interact. The woman asks where the Paula Fox is and the voice belongs to Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley). When he compliments her pick, she admits to feeling “weirdly validated.” Interesting. Joe shows her the books, which is in celebrity authors (Paula Fox is Courtney Love’s maternal grandmother). This leads to a brief conversation on why people buy books.
“That’s sad. People buying books because what’s popular. Not because they want to be moved or changed in some way.”
Joe couldn’t agree more and they make fun of a guy buying Dan Brown. Internally, Joe is noticing the woman’s bra and “knows” that the woman wanted him to notice it. At the counter, Joe narrates internally that she’s using her credit card so he’ll know her name (she’s got the cash to cover it) and they do in fact exchange names. Guinevere Beck meet Joe Goldberg. Just call her Beck though. After she leaves, Joe’s assistant, Ethan (Zach Cherry) chastises him for not pursuing Beck harder and says he would be Googling her hard. Joe comments to Ethan that that is pretty aggressive. Note that for later.
“I swear. At the end of the day, people are really just disappointing, aren’t they? But are you, Beck? Are you?”
Joe heads to the window and watches Beck as she heads to the subway. We pull in hard on his eyes. A fuse has been lit.
That night, Joe heads to his apartment as he narrates to Beck that he was in love once, but was hurt badly. He notes on humanity in general that we never see the signs when we’re in love. As he comes to his apartment door, he notes his (very loud) neighbors, Claudia and Ron. FYI, Claudia and Ron will either be fucking or arguing the entire episode. Right now, they’re arguing and Claudia’s son, Paco (Luca Padovan), is sitting outside the apartment. Joe is a bit of a “Big Brother” figure for Paco and gives him his sandwich as a way of diverting his attention from his mom and asshole stepdad arguing. Paco, like Joe, is an avid reader and Joe, clearly, is his dealer.
“The point, Beck, is that love is tricky.”
Alone, Joe begins to Google Beck hard. Ethan would be proud. With all of her social media accounts set to public, Joe is able to unearth all of her basic life details without effort. Of note, she was born and raised on Nantucket, parents are divorced, dad doesn’t appear anywhere, and she’s in New York pursuing an MFA degree in writing. But, she hardly ever writes. Why? Joe posits that it’s because she’s too busy posting about every minute of her life online, including the purchase of the Paula Fox book. But, when Joe notices he didn’t figure into her social media posts, he realizes that its because her online life is a creation – it’s not reflective of Beck’s real life. It’s a show.
The next day, Joe is doing some on the ground detective work. He visits Beck at her apartment at 171 Bank Street (thank you Internet). The apartment that is really nice (student house, he guesses) and has no curtains. Joe can see Beck from the street; she’s walking around in only a towel. Joe is intrigued and wants to know if there is any substance to the woman of his dreams.
We return to a montage of Beck’s day as detailed by Joe (who is following her around town incognito style). Teaching a yoga class to TA’ing a college class (with a gross professor who definitely wants to bone Beck – I agree with Joe here) and then off to write. BUT, a wrench in the works! Joe notes that Beck’s (much wealthier and therefore, lazier) friends have awoken and yearn for Beck’s attention. Lynn (Nicole Kang), Annika (Kathryn Gallagher) and Peach (Shay MItchell), the wealthiest and bestest of the friends.
“You have questionable taste in friends.”
The Gilded Pig. The friends meet for Annika’s birthday and there are vapid comments about overly expensive gifts and Joe (who of course is here) notes that these friends are the worst and that Beck desperately wants to be like them. Later, Peach calls Beck out on the expensive gift and how she knows Beck is broke. Joe notes that it sounds like Peach actually cares about Beck and also, is totally condescending to her.
“Is that the best friend you’ve got? If so, Beck, you really are alone.”
Later that night, just as Beck sits down to write (Joe, who is watching, approves), another wrench appears. A man gets out of a cab and Beck lets him in. “Beck? Who the fuck is this?,” Joe asks, concerned.
Inside, Benji (Lou Taylor Pucci) makes some excuses for the third party blowjob he received and it’s not long before Beck forgives him and they fuck. As Joe passes the time outside, he does some research on Benjamin Ashby III (“Oh, there’s 3 of them.” HAHAHA!). Benji is a privileged white kid douchebag who previously tried being a model and launching a dating app (Lovehooks!) and is currently the CEO of Home Soda Artisanal Beverages.
“Not to sound judgey, but this guy is everything that is wrong with America.”
The couple finish inside, well, Benji finishes – Beck probably didn’t. He throws some condescending and belittling nuggets of wisdom at Beck as he gets dressed and takes off. He really just went over to get laid, Beck’s life makes me sad. Once alone, Beck grabs her green pillow and begins to go town on herself. A girl needs to get off, amiright? Joe watches from the stoop across the street and then imagines himself inside her apartment. He imagines her taking him in lieu of the pillow. It’s all in his imagination. We know this because the fantasy ends and we’re back on the street as an old lady comes out of the apartment building he is currently jerking off in front of … awkward. Don’t worry, he gets it put away in time. He evens help the old lady get a cab.
Casa de Joe. Joe finds Paco outside his apartment again and the boy asks if they can go get another book … like now. Joe objects but when he realizes that Claudia and Ron are now in the fucking phase of their tumultuous relationship, he agrees. It doesn’t go unnoticed by Joe that everyone is getting action tonight but him. He couldn’t even jerk off in public in peace, for goodness sakes.
Mooney Rare and Used Bookstore. In answering Paco’s questions, we get a little background on Joe. Mr. Mooney (the owner of the bookstore) is a dick but he gave Joe a job and taught Joe to love books … so he wasn’t all bad.
Joe takes Paco downstairs and shows him the cage. Which isn’t a euphemism or anything, it’s a literal Plexiglas cage built into the basement with a steady 65 degree temperature and constant 40% humidity – it’s where the rarest and most valuable books are kept in pristine condition. As Joe explains this all to Paco, we get an intercut flashback of Mr. Mooney admonishing a Young Joe (Gianni Ciardiello) on the importance of being responsible for the valuable books. Joe presents the lessons to Paco in a less harsh tone than it was taught to him but make no mistake, Joe learned his lessons well from Mr. Mooney. Paco thinks that this is all a lot of work fr some old books …
“The most valuable things in life, are usually, the most helpless. So they need people like us to protect them.”
Joe hands over an old edition of Don Quixote and gives a quick tutorial on chivalry and the premise of the book. Paco is nervous about being responsible for the book but Joe tells him that he trusts him.
Casa de Joe. As Joe and Paco return, Ron (Daniel Cosgrove) is waiting out in the hallway. He sends Paco inside after scolding him for going off with strangers (Joe is a stranger in his world). Alone, he tells Joe tp stay away from his girlfriend’s kid. A parole officer 15 years, Ron says he sees exactly who Joe is. Is he going for child molester, here? Joe narrates internally that Ron is an “alcoholic shitbag who beats women” … interesting that he doesn’t say that out loud. Ron threatens to cut Joe’s freak eyes out with a knife sooooo, that guy is well adjusted.
Left alone in the hallway, Joe narrates to Beck that there are scary people in the world. You can see Joe placing a pin in his Ron problem and he says that being safe necessitates what he’s about to do. Commercials.
Knowing Beck is not at home (Joe knows every minute of Beck’s day), he fakes a gas leak to gain entry to her apartment (really, its scary how easily he gets in – this is all terribly plausible if someone was so inclined. Disturbing). Once inside, he begins the next stage of his Beck research. “I just need to know who you really are,” Joe rationalizes. This includes laying in her bed, gaining access to her laptop and reading all of her emails. Also, her dad is dead because of an Overdose. Password protecting your devices is a major lesson of YOU.
Across town, Beck is being blackmailed by her creepy professor into having drinks with him later that week. She tries to reach out to Benji for comfort but he begs off seeing her.
Back in Beck’s apartment, Joe’s reverie is interrupted (and just as he found a mention to himself in a chain email) by Beck returning home. Beck is on the phone with her mom and telling her about her money issues and the gross professor as she goes through her apartment. As she break down, her good cry is interrupted by her friends calling on her to come out to Greenpoint (Brooklyn) for night time fun. Of course she agrees to go. Joe overhears all of this because he has picked the shower to hide in which, as he admits, is standard rom com shenanigans. Joe (wet from a shower mishap) eventually makes his escape without Beck being any the wiser.
“I never go to Greenpoint. But, the things you do for love, right?”
That night, we see Joe walking to the bar where Beck is meeting her friends. In the bar, Joe has taken up a listening point to eavesdrop on Beck and her friends. He overhears them talking shit on Beck’s plan to do open mic night while Beck is at the bar, getting them all drinks. Shitty ass disloyal friends. Which is what Joe thinks, too.
Beck gets up on stage, after several drinks drunk too fast, and introduces herself as a poet. UGHHHH. Anyway, she’s horrible and as pretentious as you’re worried she’d be. Its a maudlin piece of sappy, love puppy crap. Blech. And she gets heckled and it’s actually really sad. Joe can’t watch any more and he leaves.
Down in the subway, as a drunk homeless man is singing Engine Engine Number 9 over and over again, Joe is ruminating over Beck and her unrequited love for Benji. His thoughts are interrupted when a drunk Beck comes weaving drunkenly down onto the platform. Watching her drunk texting, Joe begins internally screaming for Beck to pay attention to what she is doing … which is when she falls on to the tracks. As the homeless man gets stuck on screaming, “pick it up” over and over again, Joe gets Beck back up on to the platform just in time as a train comes through the station. She thanks him by throwing up on him. The things we do for love, indeed. Commercials.
When we return, we’re back on the street and Joe is still vomit covered. At least Beck seems more sober now. Upside! Joe begins trying to hail her a cab when she confesses she knows him … but really, she’s not a stalker. He plays dumb for a second and then is all, “ooooohhh yeah!!!.” Weird! Small World! They laugh. She asks him to share her cab as a thank you for saving her life. Seems fair.
In the cab, Beck has an honest moment of confessing that she came to NY to be some body but it’s not working out, she’s just running in circles wondering why. She realizes she might be oversharing but Joe tells her that he knows exactly what shes talking about. He tells her about how life can be unbearable for people over a certain IQ. She definitely agrees with this. Ha! The two have made a connection.
At her place, she thanks him for saving her life and helping her sober up but their moment is shattered by fucking Benji rapping on the window. Beck tells Benji who Joe is and what he did tonight and Benji’s response is, “great job, Bro.” Profound. Joe asks for her number before she gets out but A. she’s lost her phone and B. offers to give an email instead. BeckInRealLife@gmail.com
Alone in the cab, Joe internally scolds Beck for not locking her phone … which he has in his pocket. Also, for falling for men like Benji.
“What you really need is someone to save you. I can help, Beck. Let me help you.”
Casa de Joe. As Joe arrives home, he finds a teary Paco out on the street. What’s wrong he asks with genuine concern? Paco explains that drunk Ron came home drunk and flew into a rage and long story short, Ron destroyed Joe’s Don Quixote.
Joe is very understanding which is good, because the guilt on Paco’s face is heart breaking. He takes Paco to Mooney’s to fix the book. Down in the cage, Joe begins walking Paco through the steps of book repair and surgery.
Intercut with the Don Quixote surgery, we see Benji getting all excited because he got an invite from Jeff Pavenzi, “the culture guy from New York Magazine.” Jeff says he wants to meet up and try out some of Benji’s soda water. His hipster soda water partner, Jono (Shehzad), tells him to, “hit him back, bro.” Benji begins to narrate his response text and OMG, these two are the kind of people you want to hit with a frying pan in the face over and over again.
The next day, as Joe finishes the surgery on the book, we see Benji carrying a 4 pack of his artisanal beverage (UGH) and meeting with Jeff.
“Jeff.” Because Jeff is Joe. Joe is Jeff. “Jeff” leads Benji down a sketchy alley to a place he calls, “an incredible afterhours, very exclusive.” Benji, who is vaping. He’s Vaping For Fucks Sake. GAH! Anyway, Benji says he’s been here a few times which “Jeff” finds surprising since they are actually going into the back entrance to the bookstore basement. Benji is just that kind of asshole, though.
In the basement, Benji finally gets some red flag feelings when he sees the cage and the musty basement vibe and as he turns around and begins to protest … Joe hits him across the fucking face with his book hammer. Blood flies every where and Benji goes down like a ton of bricks. It’s violent but also, kind of awesome. Cause Benji sucks, dude.
Joe stares down on Benji’s lifeless form and its not totally clear if he’s worried about what he’s done or if he is more just annoyed he has to do any of this to begin with.
Sometime later, Beck comes into Mooney Rare and Used where she meets cute with Joe over the train tracks debacle. Joe narrates that he knew she was coming in – she had told her friends and Joe still has her phone. SHe gives him a present with an inscription that makes a reference to the “Engine Engine Number 9” homeless guy and Joe loves that they already have “in jokes.” They make plans to see each other and Beck leaves.
Once she’s gone, Joe makes an excuse to head to the basement.
“I’m not always right. I’m human. I make mistakes. You’ll see … hell, maybe I’m just a fool in love. But I’m right about you. And I’m going to help you get the life you deserve Beck.”
In the basement, a Benji is battered and bloodied but he’s alive. He’s also locked in the cage. He tries to tell Joe he has the wrong guy but Joe assures, no no, he’s definitely got the right guy. And then gives Benji the warmest (and so suuuuper creepy) smile.
Wow, what an introduction to a show. What do you do with a stalker like Joe Goldberg? I think you’ll agree that for most of this episode, you find yourself agreeing with his assessments of people, of Beck and her friends and of Benji. Of Ron and Claudia too. He’s spot on when he calls them all on their bullshit. He’s also charming and funny and unflappably confident. But, you know, he’s also a total stalker. A stalker to the Nth degree. And, as we saw at the end, capable of great violence.
But, he’s also capable of great compassion and dare I say, even caring. Look at how he is with Paco throughout the entire episode. He cares for Paco and has not alternative motive for doing so – his life would be easier if he ignored but he doesn’t. Something about Paco speaks to Joe and resonates with him … maybe its a shared shitty childhood that draws him but you cannot deny that Paco goes a long way towards humanizing Joe. Normalizing him I would even say. Is that problematic? Do we want to humanize a violent stalker? Especially in this day and age of rampant abuse, emotional and physical? Is Joe Goldberg easily definable as good or bad? He’s flawed for sure but is he irredeemable?!?
Time will tell on the latter and I think we need to be very cautious when accepting Joe’s good parts with his being extremely critical of his flaws. Sure, Benji is a shit bag of the worst kind but does he deserve a hammer to the face and cage captivity? I don’t know.
We need to keep an eye on Joe and how he proceeds in his pursuit of Beck. Does he have a line he won’t cross to make sure she’s “safe”? To demonstrate his “love”? Probably not. And that’s a problem. Everyone needs a line they won’t cross or else, we go through this world unmoored and unchained from morality and socially acceptable behavior.
On the question of “love,” in my “Love It Or Leave It” review, I commented that there is little real love in this show – I think Joe’s relationship with Paco is the thing most closely approximating that emotion but these characters, Joe chief among them, certainly think they are experiencing love. Wallowing in it and nurturing it and making a perfect world.
Stay with me all season as we examine Joe’s quest for love with Beck. And for God’s sake, please lock your phones and computers!! I’ll be seeing you!