Victoria Pedretti has never online dated, but she has a theory as to why we’re all on edge about it.
“It all goes back to fears about being vulnerable,” she says, in a matter-of-fact tone that would give my therapist a run for her money. “You give your information to someone else, you choose to share something personal about yourself … It’s scary what can be done with it. It takes a lot of vulnerability and trust to build a relationship with somebody.” Layer in the very legitimate fears of what people can do with your information on the vast and lawless internet, and, well, it’s no wonder many of us would prefer to spend a potential date night at home in our sweatpants, binging TV shows that can’t hurt us the way a partner might.
You is one of those shows, but it also doesn’t serve as complete escapism from the terrors of trying to find your true love, given it explores and exaggerates the looming dangers of opening yourself up to romantic experiences. Season 2 of the breakaway hit series released December 26 on Netflix introduces us to Love Quinn, a health food store heiress played by Pedretti. She’s the newest object of Joe Goldberg’s obsession — as Penn Badgley’s unnerving narration quickly establishes, it takes almost no time after meeting Love for him to decide he wants to spend the rest of his life with her, this time under the stolen name Will Bettelheim. But Love has a life of her own, with supportive friends, a codependent twin brother, and parents who are very much in the picture. As the season unfolds, viewers quickly learn there’s more to Love than even Joe’s thorough stalking can uncover: She is just as murderous and possessive as he is.
Pedretti first auditioned for Season 1 of You, reading for the role of Gueneviere Beck, Joe’s doomed love interest played by Elizabeth Lail. While she didn’t land the part, she instantly connected with Love: “She’s a really self-possessed, confident woman who’s full of life and wants to embrace the opportunity to be alive, not take life too seriously, and focus on the things that matter, like love and joy and a good baked chicken,” the 24-year-old, who studied at Carnegie Mellon University, says with a laugh. While she had seen Season 1 before filming, she compartmentalized knowing there was a fandom and anticipation, focusing instead on the “good challenge” presented by Love, a character who is at once well-adjusted and wholly capable of murder.
The actor isn’t a fan of crime shows, and especially of true crime programming — though she makes the distinction that You is “completely romanticized and Joe and Love aren’t real people. But I find true crime shows are often exaggerated and make people scared of going outside their house, and I can’t do that to myself. I am already perfectly aware of how scared I should be in the world. I don’t need to stir more of that up.” She prefers shows like FX drama Atlanta, which describes as a perfect example of how life “isn’t one note. It’s a symphony.”
It’s that complexity that informed her portrayal of Love, whose dangerous edge is not dulled by sympathy, as with Joe, who is consumed with guilt for, and denial over, his misdeeds. She owns her past as much as she can — after all, being open about how her brother’s babysitter died would likely land her in jail — but doesn’t necessarily let it define her future, or her identity as good or evil.
“I think something we’re missing a lot culturally is this idea that people can do bad things, but that doesn’t make them bad people,” Pedretti says, or that bad people can do good things, but that doesn’t make them good. “The beauty in life, so often, is what is ambiguous and what is gray. Don’t judge a book by its cover, and try not to allow yourself to think you know people before you allow them to tell you who they are.”
That projection serves as the undoing for almost everyone in the series, but especially for Joe, who is so busy judging the people he meets that he loses himself in his own conflicting inner monologue. “Our characters start off with extremely different energy,” Pedretti says of how Love’s bright realism first clashes with Joe’s nihilism — she shows him how to live in Los Angeles, even though he has vowed to hate the city, and plunges headfirst into their relationship despite his awkward mind games. “For her, it was always about opening him up.”
Even so, Love can only do so much to mold her boyfriend — the rest is up to him. Slowly but surely, the new age siren song of the Anavrin grocery store, as well as Love’s own family and friends, wins Joe over. He tries reiki. He goes for a hike (to stalk Love’s new boyfriend, but hey, you have to start somewhere). He even endures a wellness weekend unfortunately dubbed a “wellkend” and hosted by Love’s parents, where cultural appropriation abounds in gauzy tents, crystals, and a live wolf that can ostensibly read people’s auras.
“Oh my god! It was sickening to be there,” Pedretti says of filming the episode. “I was like, ‘This can’t be real. You are exaggerating.’ But cultural appropriation is a huge issue, and people are really doing this shit.”
That privilege also paves the way for the sinister depths Love will go to protect both the people she loves, and the money her family has amassed for themselves. “There’s a normalcy to extravagance and these huge trips, and so anything that gets in the way of that is a threat. When you have an ordinate amount of money you want to protect that, apparently.”
She points to Love’s decision to hire a private investigator to tail people, and her family’s ability to pay the police off so they won’t investigate multiple homicides. Badgley has said that the show is about how far people will go to forgive an evil white man, but Love complicates that narrative; once again we are left discussing the ways in which society is rigged to excuse and absolve whiteness more broadly.
“I don’t think that people are unaware of the fact that white people in this country possess a lot of privilege, and our inability to let go of control and power and money is deeply seeded in the way our society is structured,” Pedretti says. Joe and Love are that privilege personified — the internet’s enduring thirst for Joe, despite the fact that he is a killer, could serve as exhibit A in ways in which we selectively forgive people for their worst actions.
Whether Love and Joe will finally be served their just deserts remains to be seen; on Tuesday (January 14), Netflix announced the romantic horror will return for a third season. Pedretti is currently working on The Haunting of Bly Manor, a follow-up to The Haunting of Hill House, and You fans have less of a roadmap or clues as to what will happen next season, given Caroline Kepnes has yet to publish the third book in her series. We do know that Joe is already up to his old ways, and has officially transferred the doomed “you” to a new neighbor reading by the pool — this, despite how he and Love have moved in together, in a suburban house with a white picket fence. Oh, and surprise! Love is pregnant.
“Joe got far more than he deserves,” Pedretti says. “He got a loving, amazing partner who protects the shit out of him. And she might be crazy on her own, but she’s no worse than he is. So they really could have been great.”
Alas, You was never made to be the story of a happy ending — the ways in which our dream people let us down is part of its whole point. Even so, Pedretti was initially “disappointed” to learn that Love and Joe were pretty much doomed from the start. “It would be a lot nicer on the soul if we could have a real love story,” she adds, wistfully. A beat, and then, pragmatically: “That’s not what the show is.”