“Well, this is relatable”, I said to my husband, watching a montage of serial killers Joe (Penn Badgley) and Love (Victoria Pedretti) talking to their therapist in the Netflix series You – interspersed between scenes of the pair killing and burying their neighbour in the woods.
No, I’ve never been involved in hiding a body! Yet the relational dynamics felt eerily similar to the push and pull of a marriage between two ultimately selfish people. The depiction of the real stressors of first-time parenthood and relational difficulties are what makes Season 3 of You perhaps the most impactful yet.
This season focuses on the relationship between Joe and Love as they become parents and try to put their violent past behind them. Moving to the sleepy town of Madre Linda, at first they seem focused on improving their turbulent relationship – although they quickly become embroiled in violent crimes, all in the name of “protecting” their love for each other.
Love murders a woman she sees as a threat to their relationship, then Joe helps her cover the evidence. Love hits an anti-vaxxer who gave her son the measles with a baseball bat and Joe helps her frame him for their previous murder. Love attacks her lover/neighbour Theo, who thinks he has discovered proof that Joe killed his stepdad’s wife, and Joe goes to clean up Love’s mess.
But it’s the scene after the first murder of the season, following their meeting with a couple’s therapist, which provides the most insight into how the characters efine love.
Love: “I would kill for you, Joe.”
Joe: “I would kill for you, too.”
Love: “Good. Now I will do everything in my power to make sure you never have to do that.”
The love the pair share, amid unfaithfulness and unrealistic ideals, is most deeply expressed by the fact they are willing to kill for each other. Their relationship is an oddly twisted parody of the way love is defined in the Bible: being willing to die for another person. “No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
This idea that love is linked with self-sacrifice is fleshed out further in Roman 5: ”‘But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (v8). Jesus performed the ultimate act of love. Not that he was willing to kill for us, but that he gave himself up for us instead.
While Joe and Love are dedicated to each other, their ultimate motivation is self-centred. Joe is willing to cover up Love’s murder, but only as long as it doesn’t cost him his freedom. Love is willing to forgive Joe but ultimately conspires to kill him when she fears his attention has waned.
The only true moment of sacrificial love (NB. major spoilers from now on) comes at the end of the season when Joe understands his son Henry will be better off without him. He leaves Henry with a blind co-worker rather than take him along as he flees the country. Dante raises Henry and protects him as though he was his own son.
When Love eventually dies at the hands of Joe, her final words are “We’re perfect for each other”. And in a way, she's right. Joe and Love have a surprising amount in common, from their troubled past to their willingness to turn to violence. However, it takes more than being willing to kill for someone to make the perfect love story.
It takes being willing to die for them.