The Hero’s Journey Applied: YOU

I just finished watching the Netflix show YOU and I thought it would be fun to break it down using the Hero’s Journey plot structure especially considering how interesting the protagonist Joe is. I’ve read and watched many things about stalking but never from the stalker’s point of view and I think that’s what makes YOU so good. By the way, I’m breaking this down based on the show, not the book. I’ve haven’t read it yet, but I’m curious about it. If you’ve read the book, is it very different from the show? Comment below if you’ve had, but let’s get started on the breakdown of YOU using the Hero’s Journey plot structure.

1. Ordinary World

The everyday life of the protagonist is shown along with their fundamental problem within society.

Joe is an average guy who works at a bookstore trying to get over his ex-girlfriend, Candace, who broke his heart. He lives in an apartment building where he takes on a mentor role for his next-door neighbor’s son, Paco. Claudia, Paco’s mom, is in an abusive relationship with a parole officer, Ron, who doesn’t like the interest Joe takes in Paco’s life. This is Joe’s everyday life; working at the bookstore, helping Paco, oh, and of course, we can’t forget the occasional stalking.

The fundamental problem within this world is abundantly clear. Joe is clearly a stalker but is unaware he is one.

The Ordinary World = Joe’s an average guy who works at a bookstore.

The Fundamental Problem = Joe’s a stalker who doesn’t realize he is one; he still hasn’t gotten over Candace who broke his heart.

2. Call to Adventure

The balance of the ordinary world is disrupted by an event that results in the protagonist being faced with an opportunity, challenge, or dilemma.

Despite Joe meeting Beck in the very first scene of the show, Beck is not apart of Joe’s Ordinary World. If Joe had been watching Beck months ahead of that scene then she would be a part of his ordinary world. But since Beck is an anomaly, Joe meeting Beck for the very first time is what disrupts the balance of the ordinary world. And the moment Joe meets Beck, he becomes obsessed, following her everywhere because he wants to figure out who Beck really is. While searching through Beck’s life, Joe realizes just how much of a mess it is. Her financial situation isn’t good, she barely has time to write, she’s a teacher’s assistant who is being harassed by her boss, she has rich snobby friends, and her boyfriend, Benji, is a jackass.

Seeing that Beck’s life is a mess, Joe feels compelled to make Beck’s life better. He believes that if she was with him, he could make her ten times happier.

Disruption = Joe meets Beck.

Call to Adventure = Beck’s life is miserable and Joe thinks she needs saving.

3. Refusal of the Call

If the protagonist isn’t eager or doesn’t have a choice, they will refuse the call to adventure.

Once Joe meets Beck, he becomes fixated with her. This becomes painfully obvious when he’s outside of her home watching her have sex with her boyfriend. Because Joe believes he will be Beck’s knight in shining armor, he never hesitates on finding a place in Beck’s life.

Refusal of the Call = There is none.

4. Meeting the Mentor

The protagonist finds the motivation, courage, or training they need to accept the call to adventure through a mentor or an event.

Though Joe doesn’t have a Refusal of the Call, it doesn’t mean that he misses the Meeting the Mentor step either. Remember, Meeting the Mentor, is not about meeting an actual mentor but the protagonist finding the motivation he needs to cross the threshold and go on his journey. When Joe watches Beck, and he sees how miserable she is, this is what gives him the motivation to want to save her.

Also, he’s pretty excited when he sees that Beck sent her friends a text about him and sees this as a sign that she wants to be with him. However, I have a feeling that whether Beck sent the text or not, Joe would have still pursued her.

Meeting the Mentor = Beck complaining about how miserable her life is.

5. Crossing the Threshold

The protagonist has accepted the call to adventure officially taking their first step on their journey, where there is no turning back.

Joe crosses the threshold on his goal of fixing Beck’s life by kidnapping her boyfriend, Benji, and locking him in a book vault in the basement of the bookstore. Apparently, he’s saving Beck from herself so she won’t keep sleeping with her sleazeball boyfriend who is cheating on her.

Crossing the Threshold = Kidnapping Benji.

6. Tests, Allies, Enemies

The protagonist will be tested in achieveing their goal by enemies who give them obstacles and allies who help them along the way.

Joe is constantly tested with three things: keeping his secret from Beck, cleaning up Beck’s life, and helping Paco. It’s hard for Joe to secretly stalk Beck while being her boyfriend. Sometimes he has certain moments where he slips up and has to quickly figure out a way to clean up whatever he said. Then there is the fact that though he does kidnap Benji, there are other problems in Beck’s life like her best friend, Peach, who doesn’t like Joe. And because Ron, Paco’s mother’s abusive boyfriend, is an asshole, Joe has to find a way to protect Paco and give him guidance in whichever way possible.

And then there is his past with Candace that he doesn’t want to talk about because she really broke his heart by cheating on him. This is important because it makes Joe paranoid and wary of falling in love with someone again who will cheat on him.

Tests = keeping his secret of stalking Beck from her, cleaning up Beck’s life, helping Paco, dealing with Peach who is suspicious of him.

Allies = Paco, Annika, and Ethan.

Enemies = Benji, Peach, Ron, and Candace.

7. Approach to the Inmost Cave

The beginning of the protagonist’s first transformation as they begin to confront the fundamental problem (fears, worries) they have avoided.

After taking care of his biggest enemy Peach who was also stalking Beck, Joe thinks he has cleared all of the problems out of Beck’s life and now they can both be happy together. The problem is that though Peach was a stalker and wasn’t necessarily a good friend, she was Beck’s best friend, a person she depended on fiercely. Beck tries to cope with the death of her best friend and Joe tries to help her by being the best boyfriend possible. The problem is that Beck feels smothered by Joe’s attention, especially when Beck starts to see a therapist and Joe becomes suspicious of her relationship with him and a person named Fox she has been texting.

By now we know that Joe and Candace didn’t end well because she cheated on him. Joe is afraid of having another woman he’s obsessed with cheating on him and he must deal with the possibility that Beck might be cheating on him with her therapist.

Approach to the Inmost Cave: The possibility of Beck’s infidelity and being burnt again.

8. The Ordeal

The protagonist must overcome their fears and take on their first big challenge at the midpoint.

Joe confronts Beck about her relationship with her therapist who she fiercely denies being with. She’s offended and says without trust they can’t be together. Joe sticks to his gut and goes to see Beck’s therapist on his own, under a different alias, to see if he’s correct. After snooping around he realizes the truth– the change in their relationship isn’t because Beck is cheating on him, but because Beck feels smothered by him after losing her best friend.

Now Joe must make one of the hardest choices and that’s to let Beck go. He realizes that he was wrong about his suspicions and in order for Beck to prosper he must let her go. After all he’s done, thinking he would be the person to make her the happiest, he hasn’t. Letting go of Beck is the hardest choice he’s ever had to make in his goal of making Beck’s life better.

The Ordeal = Joe letting Beck go.

9. Reward, Seizing the Sword

After the protagonist fights their first challenge, they gain new insight or a tool that will help them overcome the rest of their journey.

Joe realizes that he should have trusted Beck more and that he needs to back off. After their breakup, Joe continues on with his life, not stalking Beck as much as he did before. Instead of searching her on social media fifty times a day, he only does it as half as much.

During their breakup, he meets Karen Minty and starts to date her. You can also see this as a reward because Karen Minty is ultimately what leads to Joe getting Beck back. Though Beck’s life does get better, she becomes jealous when Joe starts dating Karen.

Reward = Realizes he needs to trust more and Karen Minty.

10. The Road Back

After gaining the reward, the protagonist must use that tool to fix or achieve their goal (call to adventure).

After getting back with Beck, he takes the insight he gained from the reward and no longer stalks her as much as he did before. He stores Beck’s old phone away and even gets rid of the book that he once gave Candace. But the problem is that even though he’s happy that he has Beck back in his life, he still can’t let go of that nagging feeling. So uses his instinct again and realizes the truth, that in fact, Beck had been cheating on him with her therapist.

Joe is willing to let all of this go because he loves Beck and she says that she wants to be with him. Beck even thinks he’s the one after that. Unfortunately, or in this case, luckily, she finds Joe’s creepy stalker stash with her underwear, her phone, Peach’s phone, and Benji’s teeth. She’s horrified to realize that man she thought was her prince charming is actually a stalker who had been murdering all the people in her life, which he says, was for her sake.

The Road Back = Joe tries to be a better boyfriend by stalking Beck less, but Beck finds out his secret.

11. Resurrection

The final battle or confrontation for the protagonist to use all the skills they have learned over the course of their journey.

Joe must face his biggest fear of Beck realizing who he truly is. He tells Beck the truth and says that he did it all for her because he wanted to help her. Strangely enough, the things Joe did actually does make Beck’s life better. She becomes a best-selling author after Peach died. She got the courage to call her professor out on his sexual harassment, to be honest to her estranged father about her feelings.

In many ways, Beck’s life ultimately becomes different because of Joe’s prying. But Beck, rightfully so, tells him she never told him to do any of those things and that he’s crazy. But Joe can’t seem to realize that he is crazy and thinks all of the things he did for Beck was just. Once Joe realizes Beck will never be able to accept all that he has done, he has no choice but to kill her.

Well, really, he has a choice to turn himself into the police but you get what I’m saying.

Resurrection = Joe must kill the one he loves again and accept that Beck sees him as a stalker.

12. Return with the Elixir

The protagonist has returned back to the ordinary world changed by all the lessons they have learned on their journey.

Joe goes back to his regular life as a bookstore owner after using Beck’s story to help clear any doubt that he might be her killer. Beck’s therapist goes to jail for her murder instead. Joe is sad that Beck is gone but glad that her book lives on. When Joe is working again, he sees the next pretty girl walk in but realizes she’s Candace who is still alive. I can’t wait for the next season.

Return with the Elixir = Joe doesn’t learn that he shouldn’t be a stalker.


If you’ve haven’t read the Hero’s Journey Applied for To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, check it out!

That’s all for this Hero’s Journey Applied and I hoped you enjoyed it. I’m so excited for the next season. The writers did a great job and I could not stop watching it.

So what did you think about Joe and the rest of the show?

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