Last week on You, Joe (Penn Badgley) forgave Beck (Elizabeth Lail) for cheating on him with Dr. Nicky (John Stamos). What he did not anticipate was that, shortly after the makeup sex and the exchanged “I love yous,” Beck would uncover exactly who her beau really is: her stalker, a murderer many times over, and a completely unhinged individual with a passion for that glass cage in the basement of his bookstore.
That’s exactly where Beck wakes up in the beginning of this episode. It’s horrific, of course — the realization that the man she proclaimed to love less than 24 hours ago is now her captor — but what’s more disturbing is that Joe is convinced he and Beck still belong together. This is not Beck’s permanent prison, but a place where she must learn a lesson.
That lesson is understanding that Joe knows what’s best for her, and therefore “deserves” to be with her, despite every awful thing he’s done. The entitlement of a white man has rarely felt more real on television.
As Beck cries, screams, and curses at Joe from behind glass, Joe reveals his dirtiest deeds — and he has a semi-logical explanation for each one. The whole “stealing Beck’s underwear” thing? Beck is wearing his Nirvana shirt, so he wants to know: what’s the difference? Both are mementos! He also uses this logic to wave away the more terrible accusations against him. Yes, he killed Benji (Lou Taylor Pucci) but Benji was a murderer who killed a kid during a frat party. Peach (Shay Mitchell) technically tried to kill him first, and anyway, she was stalking Beck! He was just trying to protect his gal.
Beck’s not sold (duh) but Joe doesn’t really give her a choice. He leaves her in the book cage with a typewriter and instructs her to write... with a pee bucket in the cage as company. As a writer, I found this part of Joe’s plan most torturous.
As Joe leaves Beck alone with her thoughts (probably about how she really does have the worst taste in men ever), Joe goes home to solve a different problem. Ron (Daniel Cosgrove) has put Claudia (Victoria Cartagena) in the hospital, and Paco (Luca Padovan) is nowhere to be found. When Joe goes to Claudia’s hospital bed to demand that she end things with Ron for Paco’s sake, Claudia tells Joe that the only reason she’s with Ron is because, as a probation officer, he has connections who would happily remove Paco from Claudia’s home should Claudia ever leave her abusive partner.
“They don’t write books about women like me,” Claudia says bitterly and, since Joe lives his life by the written word, it causes us to realize just how little honest perspective we’ve really gotten in this story.
Paco, meanwhile, has had enough of Ron hurting his mother and, armed with a baseball bat, goes to hunt Ron down. Big mistake. When the baseball bat fails to knock Ron out, Ron pursues Paco outside, threatening to kill him — until Joe comes in. With one swift motion, Joe stabs Rob right in the throat as Paco, who is traumatized for life now, watches.
Joe convinces Paco not to say anything. Joe, ever the expert on impromptu murder, will get rid of the body, and keep texting from Ron’s phone so no one is wiser about his death. In a way, Joe has indeed saved Paco’s life, but at what cost?
As Joe is adding another person to his body count, a private investigator for Peach’s family comes snooping around. The Salingers are convinced that Peach would never kill herself (despite her multiple overdoses and hospital stays) and, for some reason, the P.I. thinks Joe may have had something to do with her death. They did find that jar of pee Joe was so paranoid about leaving behind… which must have been real weird for the cops on the scene.
Beck tries and fails to escape the cage, begging to use the bathroom only to have her eyes give away her plan to make a run for the stairs. It’s only later that Beck realizes she must play by Joe’s rules if she wants to get anywhere — which is what leads to her detailing her relationship with Dr. Nicky via Joe’s typewriter.
Joe is flabbergasted — did Beck seriously just throw Dr. Nicky in his face? But no: Beck has an actual plan here. The relationship she depicts is a fictionalized version of the real thing, that paints Dr. Nicky out to be the villain in her story. Beck suggests Dr. Nicky was obsessed with her, and that Peach warned her to dump him — implying that, perhaps, Uncle Jesse really killed Beck’s BFF.
It’s via this story that we finally see some good writing from the MFA student (no offense, Beckalicious). She basically sums up the thesis of You when she talks about how she often wished for Prince Charming to save her from all the awful men in her life, like her absentee father, sad excuses for boyfriends, and shitty one-night-stands. But, when she finally found the person willing to do anything to be with her (on paper, it’s Dr. Nicky, but in Beck’s head, it’s obviously Joe) she realized that “Prince Charming and Blackbeard were one and the same.” Could she love a man capable of unspeakable evil, if these evil actions were all to slay Beck’s own dragons?
The answer is no, though Beck does an excellent job convincing Joe that she still does love him and understands exactly why he did what he did. They share a moment together in loving embrace… until Beck uses it as an opportunity to turn the tables on Joe and lock him in the cage.
Joe has experience in this cage. Mr. Mooney (Mark Blum) used it to teach Joe a lesson time and time again. Joe, a man abandoned by his abusive and neglectful parents and who has never known true love in his life, saw Mr. Mooney’s little games as a sign of genuine caring. It was time in this cage that fueled Joe’s passion for reading great works of literature.
When Beck locks Joe in the prison of Mr. Mooney’s design, she gloats, telling Joe she would never, ever love him again. It echoes Candace’s (presumably last) words to Joe, who begged her not to leave him once upon a time. And we all can infer what happened to her.
But, Beck gloats far too prematurely. When Beck reaches the top of the stairs, she finds it’s not just the cage that was locked, but the door to the basement, too.
And though Joe understands the significance of getting cage time, he is not crazy about accidentally locking himself in this prison. That’s why he keeps a spare key inside the cage, just in case.
Paco is in the bookstore and hears Beck screaming. But as Beck begs for Paco to let her out of the basement because Joe is a murderer who has “killed people,” Paco remembers that Joe is the person who killed his stepdad and saved his life. Paco makes a life-defining choice. He turns away, suggesting Paco could become Joe 2.0.
It’s in this Paco moment that I know things really are over for Beck — and I read Caroline Kepnes’ novel, which shows Beck suffering the same ultimate dark fate. Though we don’t see Beck’s death here (in the book, Joe shoves pages of a book down her throat, suffocating her) it’s deeply impactful because women die at the hands of men like Joe, everyday.
We then flashforward to four months after Beck’s death. Joe has not been caught, and instead sells a posthumously published book of essays by his ex-girlfriend at the bookstore. Beck has become a bestseller thanks to Joe, who secretly and happily takes credit for all her career successes, whether Beck was alive or dead.
Dr. Nicky, on the other hand, is taking the fall for Beck’s death just as Beck planned for in that essay she wrote to appease Joe. It’s this essay that was published (with the help of Blythe) to great fanfare because if there’s one thing that the world loves, it’s a good tragedy. Beck predicting her own murder? Well, that’s the kind of stuff that readers just eat up.
As for Joe? Well, one can only presume that some other girl will walk into the bookstore, and the cycle will continue. But all hope is not lost for Joe to face consequences for his actions. The private detective investigating Peach’s death doesn’t buy Beck’s bullshit essay, and clearly has his eyes on Joe.
And Joe, in the last few minutes of the episode, has his eyes on someone else. A woman wanders into his bookstore, and immediately Joe assesses her: What does that dress, that hoodie, those sunglasses have to say about who she is, underneath?
It turns out that Joe doesn't have to write a story about this woman after all. He already knows exactly who she is.
"Hey, bunny," a very much alive Candace says to a shocked Joe. "I think we have some unfinished business to talk about."
Well, well, well — wasn't that a cute bait and switch. Does this mean Joe believed he killed Candace, only to have failed? That's possible but, well — Candace doesn't seem pissed off enough. So many questions!
Fortunately, they will be answered — in season 2, that is.
Joe is, seemingly, headed to the west coast. Kepnes wrote a California-based sequel to You, titled Hidden Bodies, which will be the framework for the show’s sophomore season. With Paco and Claudia moving to Los Angeles for a fresh start, it’s worth wondering if Joe will use this as an excuse to make his way to the City of Angels.
As an Angeleno, I’ll be buying my books from Amazon. Just in case!