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|First appearance||Novel: |
|Created by||Character |
Developed for Television
|Portrayed by||Penn Badgley|
|Full name||Joe Goldberg|
|Alias||Will Bettelheim (identity theft)|
Spencer Hewitt (pseudonym)
Paul Brown (pseudonym)
Joseph (by Peach Salinger)
Joey (by Sandy)
Bunny (by Candace Stone)
Old Sport (by Forty Quinn)
Former bookstore manager
|Family||Ivan Mooney (adoptive father)|
Sandy (biological mother)
|Significant other||Love Quinn (girlfriend) |
Karen Minty (ex-girlfriend)
† Delilah Alves (hook up)
† Guinevere Beck (ex-girlfriend)
† Candace Stone (ex-girlfriend)
|Children||Unborn daughter (with Love)|
|Home||New York City, New York|
Los Angeles, California
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, Aidan Wallace and Jack Fisher 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 May 19) 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 and that he was subjected to neglect and abuse by his father. Seeking to protect his mother, Joe (Aidan Wallace) shoots and kills his biological father. Sometime after, she tells him she is currently not fit to care for him and a Child Protection Services worker takes him 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 (Gianni Ciardiello), 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 the bookstore's manager, tries to win over MFA student Guinevere Beck (Elizabeth Lail) by manipulating everything and everyone around her. 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.
Joe is also 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 books. After Paco attempts to kill Ron (Daniel Cosgrove) by giving him an overdose of pills, Ron passes out outside Joe's apartment and savagely beats Joe upon waking. Paco's mom, Claudia (Victoria Cartagena) breaks up with Ron, with Joe's encouragement, but soon relapses back into drug addiction.
After a day of following Beck around in the shadows, Joe saves Beck after she falls on to a train track. At the same time, he steals her phone and after she replaces it, he is able to read her messages synced to the cloud. He believes her friend Benji Ashby (Lou Taylor Pucci) is an obstacle to his future relationship with Beck and tricks Benji into meeting him, hits him over the head, and keeps him captive in a climate-controlled cage for rare books in Mooney's basement. He eventually kills Benji using his peanut allergy to induce anaphylactic shock and burns his remains in the woods.
Joe and Beck start dating and he is introduced to her wealthy Ivy League friends. Her best friend, Peach Salinger (Shay Mitchell), is suspicious of his intentions and ridicules him for working in retail. Joe sees Peach as another obstacle in his relationship with Beck, so follows her in Central Park and hits her with a rock at the back of her head. He later kills her after she invites Beck to a retreat at the Salinger estate in Greenwich, framing her death as a suicide.
Beck returns to therapy to deal with her grief, and Joe becomes suspicious of her relationship with her therapist, Dr. Nicky (John Stamos). He attends therapy sessions with Dr. Nicky using a fake story. He initially plans to kill Dr. Nicky, but decides to give Beck space and begins dating Karen Minty (Natalie Paul), a friend of Claudia's.
Beck misses Joe and pursues him again. After he breaks up with Karen, they begin another relationship. However, she grows suspicious when he continually avoids 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.
Later, Joe discovers that Beck slept with Dr. Nicky and confronts her. After Beck apologizes to him for her erroneous behaviour, he states that they can work on these issues in their relationship as long as they trust each other. After the pair have sex, Joe subsequently leaves the apartment in the morning to get some breakfast for Beck. Moments later, Beck encounters Paco who asks for Joe. Paco inadvertently exposes the location of a secret place Joe uses to hide things. After Beck discovers a box in the ceiling of Joe's bathroom containing souvenirs and stolen items from her house, from Peach, and dental remains from Benji, she tries to escape, but Joe kidnaps her and traps her in the basement of his workplace.
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 that Beck will never love him. Shortly after, he kills her. Months later, Beck's book is published and Dr. Nicky is incarcerated. Candace shows up at the bookstore, leaving Joe stunned.
After Candace's return, she explains how she survived the night that Joe thought he killed her. She taunts Joe with her knowledge of his complicity in Beck's death and threatens him. After escaping from her grasp, Joe quickly heads to Los Angeles. At Los Angeles International Airport, he notices a public frenzy surrounding a famous stand-up comedian, Henderson (Chris D'Elia). Joe later encounters Will Bettelheim, (Robin Lord Taylor) a hacker from a Craigslist meeting. When Will cannot create an untraceable identity for him, Joe kidnaps Will and imprisons him in a plexiglass vault hidden in a storage facility. Using Will's name, Joe secures an apartment and befriends the building manager and neighbor, Delilah Alves (Carmela Zumbado) and her teenage sister, Ellie Alves (Jenna Ortega).
Joe meets Calvin (Adwin Brown), the manager of a trendy family-owned, health-conscious grocery store, Anavrin, and is hired as a clerk in the book cafe of the store. Joe then meets Love Quinn (Victoria Pedretti), a widow who works in the kitchen and her addict-riddled brother, Forty Quinn (James Scully). Love makes advances on Joe, but he initially resists. They meet again and Love believes that their encounters are attributable to fate. Later, it is revealed that Joe manipulated circumstances to get his job and apartment and secretly orchestrated his encounter with Love.
Joe corresponds with a man named Jasper Krenn (Steven W. Bailey), who is after the real Will Bettelheim for money. Joe promises to deliver, but Jasper pins him down and severs the tip of one of his fingers. Jasper explains that if Joe can stop the bleeding, he'll have about 12 hours to get his fingertip reattached and that he will keep the fingertip in a cooler as ransom. Will instructs Joe to go to a house party at San Fernando Valley in order to retrieve cash from a man named Rufus. Before heading to the party, Joe cancels his invite to Love's lunch gathering with her friends. Later, Joe finds Rufus, but he offers him a bag of pills instead of cash. Joe later lures Jasper to his storage facility and kills him. He has his fingertip reattached and then dismembers and disposes of Jasper's body.
Love confronts Joe, revealing that she has uncovered his lies through talking with her brother Forty. He later apologizes and they decided to just be friends for the moment. Joe tries to resist his growing attraction to Love and befriends Forty as a distraction. When Forty has a meltdown at a party, Joe calls Love to assist and they later begin a sexual relationship. But Joe's relationship with Love is challenged by Forty's emotional dependency.
Delilah tells Joe she was drugged and raped as a teenager by Henderson. Joe later catches Ellie hanging out with Henderson and promises to protect her from the predator, having already secretly installed a control chip in her cell phone. He infiltrates a party at Henderson's house and steals his laptop. After giving Will the pills, Joe has him go through the laptop but finds nothing. He later learns from Forty that there is a secret room in Henderson's place. Will gives him information that allows him to enter the room, and Joe finds photos of unconscious women, including Delilah. Joe discovers Ellie has disabled the chip on her phone and is heading to Henderson's house. Joe spikes his drink with GBH, then tortures him. Henderson attempts to escape, and Joe knocks him down the stairs, killing him. Joe is later confronted by Delilah’s cop friend, David Fincher (Danny Vasquez) who catches him for jaywalking, but lets him go with a warning. Back at the vault, Joe frees Will after he promises to disappear and not report him.
Forty tells Love he has met a woman named Amy Adam, who turns out to be Candace, who has tracked Joe down seeking revenge. Love, Joe, Forty and Candace attend a wellness retreat with Love and Forty's family. After Forty has another breakdown and Love confronts her mother, she confides in Joe about Forty's childhood sexual assault. Joe opens up his father's physical abuse and Joe and Love feel closer than ever. However, Candace warns Joe that the truth will come out and it is revealed that she has convinced Forty to write a script based on Beck's novel.
Love becomes suspicious of Candace's behavior and hires a private investigator to follow her. Joe goes to Candace's apartment to kill her, but she goes to his apartment, where she exposes the truth about his past to Love. When he returns, Love confronts him but he convinces her that he left New York to escape Candace's lies, but they later break up.
Joe and Delilah have a short-lived fling and Love begins an affair with Milo Warrington (Andrew Creer), her late husband's best friend. Joe and Delilah are arrested for lewd conduct in public, but Joe manages to get Forty to use his connections to get them out of jail. When Fincher reveals his suspicions about Joe to Delilah, she takes his keys and goes to his storage facility. He finds her there and locks her in the vault. Before he can return, Forty sets up an elaborate self-abduction scheme by locking himself, Joe and Ellie in a hotel room to fix his script. He eventually drugs Joe with LSD. Joe and Love reconcile, and Love convinces him to stay in Los Angeles. Forty eventually finishes the script, correctly inferring that Beck's ex killed her in a crime of passion. Forty confesses to Joe that as a young man he killed the au pair who assaulted him as a child.
By the time Joe returns to the storage unit, he finds Delilah dead. He later gets a call from Will, who did not report him but took a trip to Manila. Candace discovers the location of the vault and arrives to find Joe with Delilah's corpse. She locks him in the vault and calls Love to prove that Joe is a dangerous killer. Joe decides to confess the whole truth to Love, who reacts unexpectedly, luring Candace away from the vault and killing her to prevent her from calling the police.
Love reveals to Joe, that she created the conditions to make him fall in love with her. She mentions that she was the one who killed Forty's child rapist and framed him for the murder. She also reveals that she killed Delilah to prevent Joe from being forced to flee. Love explains that she intends to frame Ellie for Henderson's murder, fake Delilah's death as a suicide, and build a new family with Joe and Forty. Alarmed at Love's machinations, Joe tries to kill her, but stops when she divulges that she's pregnant with his unborn child.
Forty continues to uncover the real mystery of Beck's murder and interviews Dr. Nicky at a correctional facility in New York. He uncovers the truth and heads back to try to get Love away from Joe, saying he is a serial killer. Forty claims that his sister has always been crazy, and is then killed by Fincher just before he manages to kill Joe. Love uses the power of her family to clean up Joe's criminal record and frames her deceased brother for the murder of Henderson. By the end of the season, Joe has returned to his obsessive nature, and, after moving in with Love in a suburban house, begins plotting a way to get to a new neighbor.
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." Tilly Pearce from Metro gave high praise to the actor's performance in the second season, noting that "Penn Badgley is perfect in this role, as is Victoria Pedretti, and we can’t wait to see what season three (assuming it happens) brings."
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."
Team TVLine ranked the performances of Penn Badgley and Victoria Pedretti at the top of The TVLine Performers of the Week list. Praising the two, the team notes that "embodying a sympathetic serial killer is no easy feat, yet Penn Badgley has spent the past two seasons of You making the process appear effortless. And just as his character, Joe Goldberg, finally met his match this season in the form of a woman named Love, so too has Badgley found the perfect on-screen companion in Love’s portrayer, Victoria Pedretti."
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- Nicolaou, Elena (October 2, 2018). "How Caroline Kepnes Created You's Joe Goldberg, The Man Of Your Dreams & Nightmares". Refinery29. Retrieved October 11, 2019.
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