Every show needs a hero. And boy, does Joe Goldberg think he is one.
As we all know based on Joe’s unrelenting inner monologue (and ever-growing body count), Joe is a sadistic murderer with no real regard for anyone but himself. You focuses primarily on the women he victimizes, detailing Joe’s warped perspective of his romantic pursuits that almost always end in bloodshed and season 2 is certainly no different. He is, by all accounts, a bad guy.
But Joe himself doesn’t ascribe to that narrative. Instead, Joe believes himself to be the show’s protagonist, a flawed but ultimately good-hearted leading man. He strives to be better, as he says many times throughout You season 2.
However, there’s another facet to Joe’s personality that is less explored but just as present in the series: his white savior complex. Because Joe is not only looking to be “a good guy,” he’s looking to be the protector, the savior. And this desire is directed particularly toward young, non-white characters, manifesting specifically in subplots within both season 1 and season 2.
White savior complexes are usually associated with white, wealthy people “saving” black people, particularly Africans, from their impoverished countries. Think: celebs adopting black children from underdeveloped African countries or even Daenerys “saving” the people of Yunkai.
But Joe has his sights set on Latinx children, particularly those without proper parental guidance or resources.
In You season 1, Joe Goldberg’s murderous habits are juxtaposed with his kindness toward his neighbor Paco, a young Latino boy who reads books in the hallway of their shared apartment building while trying to tune out the sounds of his mother and her abusive partner fighting inside. Joe takes Paco under his wing, lending him books and buying him dinner. Sure, Joe may have violently abused and ultimately murdered girlfriend Beck, but as long as he lent Paco a book, he could still tell himself that he was a “good guy.”
After all, he was protecting Paco from a life of domestic abuse and introducing him to higher-brow literature. He evens goes so far as to kill the mother’s boyfriend Ron, taking care of Paco’s problem.
In the same vein, season 2 Joe shows a similar protective inclination toward another young, Latina character, this time a 15-year-old named Ellie (played by Jane the Virgin‘s Jenna Ortega) who is hanging out with a much-older sexual predator.
Joe spends much of season 2 convincing himself that he is not the same person he was when he murdered Beck in season 1 and largely channels this delusion into protecting Ellie and trying to save her from the same fate as her older sister Delilah. As long as he is protecting Ellie, he seems to tell himself, he is a good guy. A hero.
But why would Joe, a clearly murderous psychopath, feel inclined to be benevolent toward Latinx children? As Joe tells himself, “altruism is dangerous.” Even he knows that there is rarely altruism for altruism’s sake; there is always a more deeply-rooted, self-serving motive at play. Because, at the end of the day, saving Paco and Ellie isn’t really about them, it’s about him. He’s desperate to prove to himself that he is not the villain of the story.
And not only does saving Paco and Ellie make him feel better about himself, but it also gives himself the chance to right the wrongs of his own turbulent childhood. Just like them, Joe grew up with unstable parents and domestic violence. He even had to shoot his own father to protect his mother at only 9 years old — his very first “heroic act.”
So if Joe can’t save himself, the very least he can do is save these impoverished, down-on-their-luck Latinx kids. He even goes so far as to help Ellie run away from Child Protective Services (a fate he was unable to avoid himself) to Florida and promises to send her money indefinitely.
But why is it that Joe cares about protecting children of color, yet doesn’t seem to harbor that same instinct toward Latinx women? Despite having a romantic entanglement with Delilah, he doesn’t seem to care about protecting her the way he does Ellie and Paco, nor does he harbor the same white knight fantasies that he exhibits toward Beck and Love.
Perhaps saving Delilah doesn’t give him quite the same rush. She is, after all, already damaged goods. Is she even worth saving?
Meanwhile, the upper-class white women he loves seem “pure” and the lower-class brown kids he wants to protect are still innocent enough to be saved.
But Delilah? She’s seen things. She’s not the vulnerable, easily-manipulated victim he looks for, he yearns for. She serves no purpose in his life and can do nothing for him or his narcissism.
And worst of all, she’s on to him. While Joe’s white knight shtick gets past many, Delilah’s radar for assholes is finely tuned. After detailing stories of past scumbags, she tells him,
“You nod as if you’re somehow not one of them. You act nice because you’re not. And I may not know what kind of bad you are, but I got my radar the hard way. So stay the f*ck away from me and my sister.”
You season 2 is currently streaming on Netflix.
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Feature Photo Courtesy of Netflix
Michelle Vincent is a project manager and freelance writer. She enjoys traveling, is worried she won’t love her future children as much as she loves her dogs, and is actively recruiting podcast recommendations.