Penn Badgley as Joe Goldberg
|First appearance||Novel: |
|Created by||Character |
Developed for Television
|Portrayed by||Penn Badgley|
|Full name||Joe Goldberg|
|Alias||Will Bettelheim (identity theft)|
Joey (by Sandy)
Former bookstore manager
|Family||Ivan Mooney (adoptive father)|
Sandy (biological mother)
|Significant other||† Guinevere Beck (ex-girlfriend) |
† Delilah Alves (hook up)
† Candace Stone (ex-girlfriend)
Karen Minty (ex-girlfriend)
Love Quinn (girlfriend/wife)
|Children||Unborn daughter (with Love)|
|Home||New York City, New York|
Los Angeles, California
Joseph Goldberg is a fictional character and main protagonist of the You book series, written by Caroline Kepnes, as well as the television series of the same name, where he is portrayed by American actor Penn Badgley and by Gianni Ciardiello and Aidan Wallace as a youth. Joe is a serial killer, stalker and former bookstore manager, who upon meeting Guinevere Beck at his workplace in New York, starts to develop an extreme, toxic and delusional obsession. After moving to Los Angeles, to escape his sordid past, he meets avid chef Love Quinn, and starts to fall into his old habits of obsession and violence in order to avoid the fate of his past romantic endeavors.
At the story's outset, it is revealed that Joe born April 8th was orphaned at a young age. From flashbacks, it is revealed that Joe's biological mother, Sandy (Magda Apanowicz) was abused by his biological father. In addition, it is highlighted that he was subjected to neglect and abuse by his father. On a particular day, Joe notices that his mother is getting abused and grabs a gun. Arming himself, Joe (Aidan Wallace) shoots his biological father to death. Soon after, his mother comforts Joe, telling him that he is not responsible for his father's death and that he was protecting her at all costs. Sometime after, Sandy approaches Joe and tells him that she is currently not fit enough to care for him. Moments later, a Child Protection Services worker takes him away and sends him to New York State’s Irving Group Home For Boys.
After a few years in the foster care system, it's implied that Mr. Mooney (Mark Blum) adopted Joe, took care of him and gave him a job at the bookstore. Though, it is later highlighted that Mooney subjected Joe to a similar abusive treatment, locking him in a plexiglass cage vault, below his bookstore, against his will. As part of his "lesson", Mooney would teach the value of reading and books to Joe, in order to show his affection and reverence towards such activities.
Joe, now a bookstore manager, tries to win over MFA student Guinevere Beck (Elizabeth Lail) by manipulating everything and everyone around her. They first meet at Mooney's, the Lower East Side bookstore where Joe and his co-worker Ethan (Zach Cherry) work. Right after their encounter, Joe starts to obsessively find everything about Beck that he can through her social media accounts. He justifies his actions by stating that in order to pursue Beck, he wants to make sure that she is worth it and won't break his heart. He continuously implies that a similar instance occurred in the past with his ex-girlfriend, Candace Stone (Ambyr Childers), who is presumed to be dead.
Meanwhile, Joe is good friends with his kid next-door neighbor, Paco (Luca Padovan), who has an abusive home life and is always trying to escape by reading tons of books. Joe has a soft spot for Paco because he sees a lot of his childhood in Paco's. As Paco's situation at home with Ron (Daniel Cosgrove), his mother's abusive boyfriend, deteriorates over time, Joe finds himself getting more and more involved. As a response, Ron admonishes Joe's actions, stating that he is suspicious of him and warning him to stay far away from Paco.
After a day of following Beck around in the shadows, Joe stalks her to Greenpoint, Brooklyn, where she gets drunk and reads her poetry to disinterested hipsters at an open mic night. Uncomfortable, Joe retreats to the New York City Subway stations, where an inebriated Beck arrives and falls onto the train tracks. He successfully saves Beck from imminent death before the train arrives. Later, it is revealed that he stole her phone while helping Beck. She replaces it and he is able to read her text messages synced to the cloud. While spying on Beck, Joe discovers Benji Ashby (Lou Taylor Pucci), her current hook-up buddy and a pretentious trust-fund baby. Joe believes that Benji is an obstacle to his future relationship with Beck. Posing as a New York Times columnist, he tricks Benji into meeting him for an interview, and hits him over the head with a mallet, keeping him captive in a climate-controlled cage for rare books in Mooney's basement. To not raise any suspicions about Benji's whereabouts, Joe starts using his phone and social media accounts to keep up the ruse that Benji decided to travel somewhere remote without any notice. This move more or less works for Beck who tries to put Benji behind her. Joe is adamant about getting rid of Benji due to his knowledge of Joe's complicity in kidnapping him and stalking Beck, which poses a great risk and threat to his future plans. Resorting to a final decision, he kills Benji by using his peanut allergy against him. After Benji dies of anaphylactic shock, Joe wraps his corpse and burns it in the middle of the woods.
After Benji is out of the picture, Joe and Beck start dating and he is introduced to her wealthy Ivy League friends. His condescension towards Beck's social circle is magnified by the introduction of her spoiled best friend, Peach Salinger (Shay Mitchell), who is suspicious of his intentions from the start and ridicules him for working in retail. Joe is suspicious of Peach as well, and starts following her for information. He soon finds that Peach is secretly in love with Beck and just as obsessed and manipulative as he is. Joe sees Peach as another obstacle in his relationship with Beck, so he decides to eliminate her. He follows her during her jogging routine in Central Park and hits her with a rock at the back of her head. After Peach survives the incident and is later discharged from the hospital, he decides to take advantage of the opportunity to kill her after she invites Beck to a retreat at the Salinger estate in Greenwich.
After Paco attempts to kill Ron by giving him an overdose of sleeping pills, Ron passes out outside Joe's apartment, where he savagely beats Joe upon waking. While Beck and Peach are on a weekend getaway, Joe follows them but ends up crashing his car on the way. After he wakes up, he realizes that he needs to get to Peach's estate but encounters Greenwich Police Officer Nico (Michael Maize) who questions his identity. After giving the officer a fake identity and an explanation surrounding his accident, he convinces him to let him go. Moments later, he successfully breaks into Peach's estate and waits for the right opportunity to dispose of her. After Beck furiously leaves the estate at the end of a confrontation to return to New York, Peach discovers Joe is there and they have a stand-off. Holding a gun and pointing it at him, she realizes the truth behind Joe's sinister facade, but he threatens her. Stating that he knows all her secrets and is willing to expose them, he taunts her before starting a fight. After fighting over the gun, Joe shoots Peach and frames her death as a suicide.
Beck starts dealing with grief in the aftermath of Peach's death by returning to therapy, which threatens Joe's perception and role in the relationship because he wants to be the person she can confide in. He starts getting suspicious of her relationship with her therapist, Dr. Nicky Angevine (John Stamos), and begins to think she is cheating on him. In a flashback of Joe with his ex, Candace, he finds out that she cheated on him throughout their relationship. In the present, he commits to several therapy sessions with Dr. Nicky using a fake story, in order to uncover the truth. After one session, he plans to kill Dr. Nicky, but then comes to the realization that he was wrong about the situation and concludes that Beck needs time and space to figure out what she wants. After their relationship ends, Joe begins dating Karen Minty (Natalie Paul), the babysitter of Paco. Joe likes that Karen knows who she is and that the relationship is easy. Meanwhile, Paco's mom, Claudia (Victoria Cartagena) breaks up with Ron, with Joe's encouragement, but soon relapses back into drug addiction.
During their time apart, Beck relays to Blythe (Hari Nef) that she needs to focus on her work. She later realizes that she misses Joe and starts to pursue him again. After he breaks up with Karen, they begin another relationship. Some time later, Beck starts to get suspicious of Joe's avoidance behavior when discussing the topic of his ex-girlfriend, Candace. Through flashbacks, it is revealed that Joe killed Elijah Thornton (Esteban Benito) after he discovered that Candace was sleeping with him in order to get a record deal at his company. In the present, Joe discovers the brutal truth: Beck slept with Dr. Nicky. He furiously asks Beck whether she ever loved him and chastises her for cheating on him. After Beck apologizes to him and consoles him, he states that they can work on these issues in their relationship as long as they trust each other. Later, they end up having sex and Joe subsequently leaves the apartment in the morning to get some breakfast for Beck. Moments later, Beck encounters Paco who asks for Joe. Telling her that he wanted to give the book that he borrowed back, he inadvertently exposes the location of a secret place that Joe uses to hide things. After Beck discovers a box in the ceiling of Joe's bathroom, she opens it and finally uncovers the horrifying truth: it contains souvenirs and stolen items from her house, her deceased friends, as well as dental remains from her former fling and ex-boyfriend, Benji. As she tries to escape, Joe preempts her move by kidnapping her and trapping her in the basement of his workplace. While he tries to come up with a plan to resolve the situation, he comes across her friends, Annika (Kathryn Gallagher) and Lynn (Nicole Kang). He is able to convince them with a fake story explaining Beck's sudden disappearance and strange behavior in the relationship at a local cafe. Shortly afterwards, he comes across Ross (Ryan Andes), a private investigator hired by the Salinger family to investigate the discrepancy of the case surrounding the death of Peach. Joe finds out from the P.I. that the forensic team have found evidence at the scene and are waiting for the DNA analysis. Joe later goes back to Mooney's to check up on Beck.
Beck writes a novel implicating Dr. Nicky in her murder to convince Joe that she understands him. He later leaves her again at night and kills Ron. Later, Paco helps Joe cover up Ron's murder because of how grateful he is. In his last conversation with Beck, Joe finally understands the truth: Beck will never love him. Shortly after, he ends up killing her. Months later, Beck's book is published and Dr. Nicky is incarcerated. Candace shows up at the bookstore, which leaves Joe stunned.
After Joe is stunned by seeing Candace at Mooney's, she asks to continue their conversation in public to discuss their troubled history. Sitting in a cafe in New York, Joe appears to be in distress, wondering how Candace is alive. Candace fills in some of the missing details, including surviving the night that Joe almost killed her. Further taunting Joe, she states that she is aware of his complicity in Beck's death. Joe becomes increasingly alarmed and later asks her if he can go to the restroom before they continue their discussion. Candace is quick to discern Joe's true intentions, and rushes to the room but Joe has escaped from her grasp. In retaliation, Candace calls Joe, who picks up and gets a scorned reminder that he can't truly escape from her and that he will eventually get his comeuppance. After Joe hangs up and throws his phone to the ground in fury, he takes a taxi to the airport in order to catch a flight to Los Angeles.
After arriving at Los Angeles International Airport, Joe notices a public frenzy surrounding the famous stand-up comedian, Henderson (Chris D'Elia). As he passes by, Joe manages to get his luggage from the baggage claim area and proceeds to the city. Sometime later, Joe encounters Will Bettelheim, (Robin Lord Taylor) a hacker from a Craigslist meeting. As Will suggests to Joe that he cannot fulfil his request to create an untraceable identity in a limited timeframe, Joe kidnaps Will and imprisons him in a plexiglass vault hidden in a storage facility that he rented. Using the kidnapee's name as a pseudonym, Joe secures an apartment and befriends the building manager and neighbor, Delilah Alves (Carmela Zumbado) and her teenage sister, Ellie Alves (Jenna Ortega). With limited funds, Joe searches for a job in Los Angeles and later, meets Calvin (Adwin Brown), the manager of a trendy family-owned grocery store, Anavrin. After persuading Calvin, Joe is hired as a clerk in the book cafe of the store. Upon leaving the interview, Joe encounters Love Quinn (Victoria Pedretti), a spirited local who works in the kitchen and later, unknowingly meets her troublesome addict-riddled brother, Forty Quinn (James Scully). Joe tries to befriend him, but is initially met with derision and condescension by Forty. Love comforts Joe and mentions that he doesn't have to worry about being fired. Soon after, she tries to make advances on Joe, but he initially resists, citing his contentious history with his previous partner. Later, Joe ends up at the DMV to acquire an ID card. After meeting with Love at the field office, Love offers to take him on a food tour of the city, including Anavrin, to get to know him. Joe finds himself attracted to the idea and agrees on the plan. Later, Love believes that their encounters are not mere coincidences but attributable to fate. It is later revealed that Joe in many instances manipulated the circumstances to get his job and apartment and secretly orchestrated his encounter with Love, in order to get closer to her.
Joe corresponds with a man named Jasper Krenn (Steven W. Bailey), who is after the real Will Bettelheim for owing him money without giving adequate documentation and a foolproof alias for disappearing. After Joe manages to secure the funds by selling a fake first-edition book for cash, he finds Jasper outside Anavrin. When Joe reveals that he has the $3,000 in cash up front, Jasper states that he owes him more than that. Joe promises him that he will deliver the $50,000 by the end of the day, but is met with a surprising response. Jasper pins Joe down and severs the tip of one of his fingers. Joe bleeds uncontrollably while Jasper explains that if Joe can stop the bleeding, he'll have about 12 hours to get his fingertip reattached. Prior to leaving, Jasper mentions to Joe that he will keep the fingertip in a cooler of ice as ransom. He further adds that he would exchange it with Joe as soon as he receives the funds. Will instructs Joe to go to a house party at San Fernando Valley in order to retrieve the rest of the cash from a man named Rufus. When Joe arrives to the party, he notices a few familiar guests including his neighbor, Delilah, and Henderson, the comedian he saw earlier at the airport.
In 2014, Caroline Kepnes released her first novel of the thriller series, You. The author stated that her inspiration for creating the character of Joe Goldberg, stemmed from a personal loss. Kepnes explained the darkness of You, which deconstructs the romantic-comedy tropes highlighted in many films and shows, by making the protagonist, a violent stalker and serial killer, saying it was written in a dark period of her life, the year her father died of cancer, and in which she experienced several other personal challenges. Later, Kepnes was initially hesitant on labeling Joe, as a few readers argued that his actions, classified him as a serial killer. The author then, clarified her position on the matter, citing that "I remember when I wrote You and someone first referred to Joe as a serial killer. I argued 'he’s not a serial killer, he meets these terrible people and has these awful thoughts, but he’s very sensitive'. It’s very strange to realise you have written a serial killer."
Sera Gamble, the showrunner and co-creator of the television adaptation mentioned in an interview with Collider, that when envisioning Joe, the main protagonist of the series, she wanted to delve deeply into the root cause of the pathology of his behavior that shaped his amoral position to justify and rationalize stalking, kidnapping and killing his victims. When she was writing the character, she stated that "I want to understand what coaxes behavior of this nature out of that very tiny percentage of men. I like to think it’s a very tiny percentage of men who would cross a line like the line that Joe Goldberg crosses". In an interview at The Contenders Emmys 2019 panel, Gamble highlighted the importance of casting the right person to play the role of Joe Goldberg. She stated that "it had to be a love story and a horror movie in every single scene", further adding that if they "cast someone who was sort of creepy, then the story wouldn’t work; the idea is that it’s a lead in a romantic comedy who works in a bookstore and a woman walks in, they have a cute meet and fall in love and live happily ever after. That’s the show."
Expanding on her commentary on the show's themes and origin, Gamble stated at The Hollywood Reporter's roundtable interview, that she was not surprised to hear an overwhelming reception to Joe's character amongst online fans and viewers, citing that "There's a very vocal contingent of fans of Caroline Kepnes' book [on which You is based] who were like, "I heart Joe." Essentially what she's done is taken the classic romantic hero and just peeled back the gloss and sheen and John Cusack with the boombox and she followed it to its logical conclusion. I mean, if you turn off the sappy music and turn on a David Fincher score, romantic comedies are stalker movies. The plot of pretty much every one I can think of — and we have watched all of them many times in the writers room — is contingent on the guy … well, first of all, he has to do a certain amount of fucking up so she can forgive him. And he has to get over some of her shortcomings. I mean, that's love, right? But also, he's chasing her through a fucking airport, chasing her on a freeway, watching her sleep because he feels protective. Romantic comedy behavior in real life is criminal! And that was basically the starting place for the show."
Penn Badgley was cast in the lead character of Joe Goldberg in June 2017. Prior to the show's premiere, Badgley mentioned his disinterest in playing the character of Joe Goldberg in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, saying that "I didn’t want to do it — it was too much. I was conflicted with the nature of the role. If this is a love story, what is it saying? It’s not an average show; it’s a social experiment." However, he was strongly convinced by the script and the social commentary around the series, adding that "what was key in me wanting to jump on board were my conversations with Greg Berlanti and Sera Gamble, the creators, and understanding Joe’s humanity. I knew that I would be conflicted about the role from day one till the last day, and that is why they thought I would be good for it, is that I’m not psyched to play somebody of this nature." Relaying similar thoughts in an interview with GQ, Badgley again raised his concerns of portraying Joe, noting that he was first apprehensive at the role but later changed his mind, expressing that "no one in any position of authority could ever try to act as though we don’t know that sex and murder sells, but how can it work in a different way we’ve not seen? That’s where I think this show does something that none of us could have said for certain that we would nail. It could have been really irresponsible. It could have fallen flat and been like, whoa." In another interview at The Contenders Emmys 2019 panel, Badgley mentioned that his character was "the hero of his own story...every serial killer is" but added that Joe is "ultimately, the word that’s coming to mind is un-saveable". The actor highlighted that though, there is an apparent affinity to Joe's character, it is somewhat of a "Rorschach test of a kind for us," adding that "we’re failing..."
Penn Badgley's portrayal of Joe Goldberg has received critical acclaim. Many reviewers gave praise to Penn Badgley's performance and comparing the eerie tone and terrifying approach established in the series to the themes of violence and stalking, reminiscent in contemporary thriller films and series like Dexter, Gone Girl and American Psycho. Certain reviewers have also highlighted that the series provides an alluring but, disturbing insight into the mind and profile of a psychopath, who charmingly manipulates his way through his anti-hero charisma, motives and warped sense of morality, in order to convince the audience "to sympathize with a stalker" and "serial killer".
Alicia Lutes of IGN gave praise to Badgley's performance in her review of the series, highlighting that he is "doing some of his best, most unhinged work in the series. His charming nature and playful face are the perfect, twisted mask for the “Nice Guy With Control Issues” lurking underneath" and further adding that "Joe’s inner monologue frames the series in a way that shows just how malcontented a guy he really is despite his warm smile and cool demeanor."
Tiffany Kelly from Daily Dot praised the performance of Badgley in her review of the series by stating that he "shines as a bookstore manager and bone-chilling stalker in this surprisingly good thriller." While reviewing the first season, Anna Leszkiewicz from New Statesman praised Penn Badgley's performance, by declaring that the "Netflix series You does what it says on the tin – offering surprise twists, drip-fed reveals, a magnetic villain in Joe, the horrible suspense of knowing more than his clueless victims and satisfyingly gory murders." Christina Radish of Collider named Joe Goldberg as the "Best TV Villain" of 2018. Radish wrote that, "thanks to the performance given by Penn Badgley and some terrific writing, the character has layers that make him complicated and intriguing, even though you know he should be making you cringe and recoil. Joe Goldberg is a character that does horrible things, but also keeps you so engrossed that you can't stop watching."
Samantha Highfill from Entertainment Weekly mentioned You in her wish list of contenders for the 2019 Emmy Nominations. Praising Badgley's performance, she notes that the series "presented a different look at a serial killer, one that took viewers inside the mind of Joe Goldberg, thereby presenting them with the reasoning for his actions. By never shying away from Joe’s dark side, the show’s freshman season unraveled a beautifully paced modern-day thriller about what people do for love…and what is acceptable to do for love."
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