Joe Goldberg

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Joe Goldberg
You character
Penn Badgley as Joe Goldberg.png
Penn Badgley portrays Joe Goldberg
First appearanceNovel:
(episode 1.01)
Created byCaroline Kepnes
Portrayed byPenn Badgley
Gianni Ciardiello (teenager)
Full nameJoseph Goldberg
OccupationBookstore manager
FamilyIvan Mooney (adoptive father)
Significant otherGuinevere Beck (ex-girlfriend)
Karen Minty (ex-girlfriend)
Candace Stone (ex-girlfriend)

Joseph "Joe" 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 as a youth. Joe is a bookstore manager, who upon meeting Guinevere Beck at his workplace, starts to develop an extreme, toxic and psychotic obsession. He begins to stalk her through social media and technology to track her whereabouts and eliminate any potential obstacles that stand in the way of his relationship with Beck.

Character biography[edit]

Early life[edit]

At the story's outset, it was revealed that Joe was orphaned at a young age. Although, the details of his past are yet to be revealed, it was implied in the first season that he was subjected to neglect by his biological parents. After he was put into foster care, Mr. Mooney (Mark Blum) adopted Joe and took care of him. Though, it is later highlighted that Mooney would subject Joe to a similar abusive treatment, locking him in a glass 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.

Season 1[edit]

The first season follows bookstore manager, Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley) as he tries to win over MFA student Guinevere Beck (Elizabeth Lail) by manipulating everything and everyone around her. They first meet at the Mooney's, the book store where Joe and his co-worker Ethan (Zach Cherry) works. Right after their encounter, Joe starts to obsessively find all the information on Beck that he can on 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, which 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 stepfather, deteriorates over time, Joe finds himself getting more and more involved. As a response, Ron admonishes Joe's actions, by stating that he is suspicious of him and that he needs to stay far away from Paco.

After a day of following Beck around in the shadows, he stalks her to one of the New York City Subway stations, where she falls on the train tracks. He successfully saves Beck from imminent death, before the train arrives. Later, it is revealed that he stole her phone during his attempt at helping Beck and starts to read every content, she has shared with her friends, workers and family members. Going through her messages, Joe uncovers the identity of Benji Ashby (Lou Taylor Pucci), Beck's ex-boyfriend and current hook-up buddy. Joe starts plotting how to get rid of Benji from Beck's life because he believes that Benji is an obstacle to his future relationship with Beck. He tricks Benji into having a business meeting with him, and hits him over the head with a mallet, keeping him captive in his book 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 remotely travel somewhere without any notice. This move, more or less works for Beck who tries to put Benji behind her. Though, 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 suffocates to death, Joe wraps his corpse and successfully burns it in the middle of the woods.

After Benji's out of the picture, Joe and Beck start dating and he is introduced to her world and friends that he doesn't really fit in with. Beck's best friend, Peach Salinger (Shay Mitchell), has been suspicious of Joe from the start. Joe is suspicious of Peach as well, and starts following her for information. He soon finds that Peach is just as obsessed with Beck as he is. Joe sees Peach as another obstacle in his relationship with Beck, so he decides to eliminate her. Eager to get rid of Peach, 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 finally decides to take advantage of the opportunity to kill her after she invites Beck to a retreat at her family's estate in Connecticut.

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 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 her. After Beck furiously leaves the estate on the way back to NYC, Peach finds out that 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 later attempts to threaten her. Stating that he knows all her secrets and that he 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 going to therapy, which threatens Joe's perception and role in the relationship because he wants to be the person she can confine in. He starts getting suspicious of her relationship with her therapist, Dr. Nicky (John Stamos), and begins to think she is cheating on him. As the events in the present unfold, a flashback of Joe with his ex, Candace, appears, where 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 a particular session, he planned 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 the help of 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. Though, she later realizes that she truly misses Joe and starts to pursue him again. After breaking up with Karen, they begin another relationship. Sometime later, Beck starts to get suspicious of Joe's avoidance behavior, whenever 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; that Beck slept with Dr. Nicky. He furiously asks Beck, whether she ever loved him and chastised 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. After Joe leaves the apartment for some shopping, 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 certain things. After Beck discovers a box at the roof of Joe's bathroom in his apartment, she opens it and finally uncovers the horrifying truth; that it contains souvenirs and stolen items from her house, her deceased friends, as well as dental remnants of 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 his situation with Beck, he comes across her friends, Annika (Kathryn Gallagher) and Lynn (Nicole Kang). After convincing them with a fake story explaining Beck's sudden disappearance and strange behavior in the relationship at a local cafe, he succeeds in fooling them. 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 their daughter, Peach. After 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 becomes alarmed. Joe later goes back to Mooney's to check upon Beck.

Whilst, Beck writes about a novel, implicating Dr. Nicky in her murder, Joe leaves her again at night and successfully kills Ron. Later, Paco helps Joe in covering up Ron's murder because of how grateful, he is to him. In his last conversation with Beck, he finally understands the truth; that Beck will never love him. Shortly after, he ends up killing her. The season ends, months later with the incarceration of Dr. Nicky and the revelation that Candace is alive after showing up at the bookstore, which leaves Joe stunned.[1]


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".[2]


Penn Badgley was cast in the lead character of Joe Goldberg in June 2017.[3] In an interview with GQ, Badgley raised his concerns of portraying Joe, and was first apprehensive at the role but later, changed his mind, stating "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."[4] 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..."[5]


Critical response[edit]

Penn Badgley's portrayal of Joe Goldberg has received critical acclaim from critics. 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 real-life 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".[6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13]

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."[14]

Tiffany Kelly from Daily Dot praised the performance of Penn 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."[15] 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."[16] 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."[17]


  1. ^ Spencer, Samuel (January 14, 2019). "You on Netflix ending explained: What happened at the end of You?". Retrieved February 11, 2019.
  2. ^ Radish, Christina (September 9, 2018). "'You' Showrunner Sera Gamble on Getting Inside the Mind of a Stalker". Collider. Retrieved February 22, 2019.
  3. ^ Petski, Denise (June 26, 2017). "Penn Badgley To Star In Greg Berlanti Lifetime Drama Series You". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved February 22, 2019.
  4. ^ Larson, Lauren (February 15, 2019). "Penn Badgley on How He Lived Long Enough to Become the Villain". GQ. Retrieved February 22, 2019.
  5. ^ Haithman, Diane (April 7, 2019). "WBTV's 'You' Creators On Bonding With a Serial Killer — The Contenders Emmys". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved April 8, 2019.
  6. ^ Lindbergh, Nicole (February 12, 2019). "Does 'You' normalize gender violence or criticize harmful romance tropes?". Duke Chronicle. Retrieved February 12, 2019.
  7. ^ Tharpe, Frazier (January 8, 2019). "Thanks to Netflix, 'YOU,' a Show From 2018, Is 2019's First Hit". Complex. Retrieved February 12, 2019.
  8. ^ "Netflix Thriller 'You' Is Part Gone Girl, Part American Psycho And It's Back For A Second Season". GQ. January 13, 2019. Retrieved February 12, 2019.
  9. ^ Gordon, Naomi (January 30, 2019). "Like Joe Goldberg in You, why are problematic characters so readily romanticised?". Cosmopolitan. Retrieved February 12, 2019.
  10. ^ Donaldson, Kayleigh (January 15, 2019). "Serial Killer Sexy: The Repulsive Allure of Joe from 'You'". Pajiba. Retrieved February 13, 2019.
  11. ^ Evershed, Megan (January 22, 2019). "Sympathy for the devil: why so many TV series want us to empathise with killers". Prospect Magazine. Retrieved February 14, 2019.
  12. ^ Griffiths, Shannon. "How Netflix's 'You' Turns a Psychopathic Killer into a Sympathetic Protagonist". Living Life Fearless. Retrieved February 27, 2019.
  13. ^ Fraser, Emma (April 9, 2019). "The twists on horror tropes and the myth of the 'nice guy' in You". Syfy Wire. Retrieved April 10, 2019.
  14. ^ Lutes, Alicia (January 12, 2019). "YOU Season 1 Review". IGN. Retrieved February 5, 2019.
  15. ^ Kelly, Tiffany (January 5, 2019). "'You' is a disturbing show about a psychopath in the digital age". Daily Dot. Retrieved February 5, 2019.
  16. ^ Leszkiewicz, Anna (January 7, 2019). "The best thing about Netflix's You is its mean sense of humour". New Statesman. Retrieved February 5, 2019.
  17. ^ Radish, Christina (December 31, 2018). "Christina Radish's Best TV of 2018: From 'Homecoming' to 'Lost in Space'". Collider. Retrieved December 31, 2018.