Like basically all of us, Guinevere Beck (who goes by Beck) on the Lifetime-turned-Netflix original series YOU craves human connection, and she uses social media to keep up with her friends and acquaintances. The grad student and aspiring writer has a lively running group text with her besties and a healthy Instagram presence. She's an average 20-something in that broadcasting her life to the world is second nature — which is exactly what makes her demise at the hands of her manipulative stalker boyfriend Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley) so scary.
That's precisely the point of YOU: to invert classic rom-com tropes, revealing the danger that lurks underneath and the ease with which one can be manipulated thanks to the availability of online information. Joe is a psychopath who sees his overprotective, manipulative actions as romantic gestures; though he's convincing himself he's protecting Beck, he's forcing her into isolation that will ultimately make it easier for him to take advantage of her. Despite his initial charms, it's clear Joe is the show's villain, even if there are some who continue to incorrectly idolize his toxic behavior. But not enough has been said about the other, more mundane villains of this show, the ones whose complicity in Beck's death is a more subtle indictment of what it means to surround yourself with people who don't have your best interests in mind: Beck's friends.
The audience’s first introduction to Beck's friends Peach, Annika, and Lynn paints them as a good support system for our weary protagonist. Beck is crying in the bathroom after trying to explain her money troubles and the difficulty of living in New York City as a grad student to her mom. She’s stressed and desperate, so it’s a relief when they FaceTime her asking her to “come play” while calling her “Beckalicious.” When she asks, “You guys love me?” they respond like that’s the dumbest question in the world. “Of course” they love her. And, “Why would she ever say that?!”
Despite this seemingly positive first impression, it soon becomes clear that Beck’s friends are only nominally supportive of her passions. When Beck invites them to her open mic night, Peach calls her a “wannabe" behind her back. Even Joe admits early on that the object of his affection has poor taste in friends, though it's easy to brush that off as the inner monologue of a psychopath because, well, it is. Later in the series, Beck and her friends admit that they all hate Peach deep down, and yet they're still desperate to please her.
The scary part of the friendship between Beck, Peach, Annika, and Lynn is that it’s not uncommon. In fact, when you watch it, a part of you understands. Peach is cruel, yet she can’t stay away from Beck. And Beck, Annika and Lynn are consumed with the need for Peach’s approval.
It’s a classic Mean Girls’ situation, but YOU underscores how dangerous that is in the age of social media. Apps like Instagram and Twitter connect us with people, yet at the same time they keep us apart. Why do we need to call a friend when we just watched her Instagram story? We’re not concerned about our friend’s well-being because she just tweeted an hour ago. Our generation is increasingly concerned with acquiring followers while the relationships in our lives are becoming devoid of actual connection.
According to Dr. R.I.M. Dunbar, a professor in the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford, our brains aren’t wired to maintain hundreds of online connections. “We are fooling ourselves,” he explained to Healthline. “You can certainly sign up as many people as you like, but that doesn’t make them friends. All we are doing is signing up people that we would normally think of as acquaintances in the offline world… The time you invest in a relationship determines the strength of the relationship.”
If you believe this reasoning, then Beck doesn’t have any true friends. Peach, Annika, and Lynn are probably on Beck’s Close Friends list on Instagram. But does that mean they really know anything about what’s happening in her day-to-day life? Beck is more of a follower to them than a friend and vice versa. It’s this false sense of intimacy that social media provides that creates a culture of people who have 2,000 followers and zero real friends. Your Instagram followers know you got a new job, but they aren’t checking in with you to see how you’re doing — and that real-life connection is exactly what could have saved Beck, or at least given her a fighting chance of becoming free from Joe.
In Beck’s final moments held captive by Joe, she writes,“You surrounded yourself with the girls you’ve always resented. Hoping to share their power and you hated yourself. And that diminished you even more.” Beck realizes that she chose the wrong friends, but by that point, it’s too late. When Joe approaches Annika and Lynn — while lying about Beck’s disappearance — they don't even question his version of events. He has the photographic “proof” that she’s safe at a writers’ retreat. Yet she’s locked in a cage in his bookstore’s basement. She could have lived, but no one was looking for her.