What Happened in Joe’s Childhood In 'You' Season 2?

What makes Joe Goldberg tick? Well, thanks to You season 2 on Netflix, we now know a bit more about the serial killer's backstory.

(Image credit: Beth Dubber/Netflix)

Spoilers for season 2 of You ahead. What makes Joe Goldberg tick? Well, thanks to the second season of Netflix's You season 2, we know a little more about the serial killer's backstory. True to form, the show doesn't dive too deeply into Joe's memories—his flashbacks are usually brief, and the show loves to make his perspective ambiguous—but what we do get makes for compelling and horrifying context. As Joe goes after yet another "dream girl," here's what we know about Joe's past, and how it might play a part in future seasons (if we get them).

We already learned about Joe's childhood in season one.

It wasn't a ton of info, but let's break down what we learned: Mr. Mooney, the bookstore owner, took Joe in as a young boy and taught him how to run the store and how to refurbish old books. He was also a monster, locking young Joe up in that glass cage until he learned how to be obedient and grateful (so that's where Joe learned it from). We later learned that Moody was left incapacitated by a stroke, and Joe had only found him after several days—at least, that's the story Joe tells Beck.

Whether or not Joe "helped" Moody by inducing a stroke or deliberately left Moody incapacitated to punish him was never made clear by the show. Given that Joe has a propensity to harm the people in his life, to put it mildly, it's not outside the realm of possibility.

Basically! Whatever happened to Joe in his early years scarred him deeply and contributed to the broken, highly charismatic, deeply violent person you see before you.

And season two brought more details.

It's quite bleak, to be honest. Joe's dad is a straight-up asshole, yelling at his son and burning him with cigarettes. Joe's mom vacillates between care and neglect, regularly leaving him by himself in favor of her sexual encounters. She shows Joe the gun she plans to kill his dad with, and Joe ends up using it on his father when his father's attacking his mom. It's not totally clear whether the two actions are correlated, but Joe is taken away from his mom shortly after. She says she can't take care of him and that he needs a dad.

There's not a lot of resolution there—his mom might still be alive? Did Joe go to a juvenile detention center for killing his dad? Did his mom pass it off as an accident, as she said she would?—but it least gives us an understanding of the neglect present in Joe's young life.

Interestingly, the aggregate effect of all of this is to make us feel somewhat sorry for him, but not too sorry. There isn't an actual shot of Joe getting burned with a cigarette, or of him being harmed by a stranger while being left alone by his mom. That could be tact on the part of the showrunners, but I also think it has something to do with the fact that we're not meant to sympathize with Joe too much. Penn Badgley has warned his fans off from feeling too positively about the character, because he is, in fact, a psychopath. And a stalker. And a serial killer. You know, not a great dude.

Here's my current theory: If there is a season 3, I bet his family history will make a reappearance.

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(Image credit: Beth Dubber/Netflix)
Katherine J. Igoe
Contributing Editor

Katherine’s a contributing syndications editor at Marie Claire who covers fashion, culture, and lifestyle. In her role, she writes stories that are syndicated by MSN and other outlets. She’s been a full-time freelancer for over a decade and has had roles with Cosmopolitan (where she covered lifestyle, culture, and fashion SEO content) and Bustle (where she was their movies and culture writer). She has bylines in New York TimesParentsInStyle, Refinery29, and elsewhere. Her work has also been syndicated by ELLEHarper’s BazaarSeventeenGood Housekeeping, and Women’s Health, among others. In addition to her stories reaching millions of readers, content she's written and edited has qualified for a Bell Ringer Award and received a Communicator Award. 

Katherine has a BA in English and art history from the University of Notre Dame and an MA in art business from the Sotheby's Institute of Art (with a focus on marketing/communications). She covers a wide breadth of topics: she's written about how to find the very best petite jeanshow sustainable travel has found its footing on Instagram, and what it's like to be a professional advice-giver in the modern world. Her personal essays have run the gamut from learning to dress as a queer woman to navigating food allergies as a mom. She also has deep knowledge of SEO/EATT, affiliate revenue, commerce, and social media; she regularly edits the work of other writers. She speaks at writing-related events and podcasts about freelancing and journalism, mentors students and other new writers, and consults on coursework. Currently, Katherine lives in Boston with her husband and two kids, and you can follow her on Instagram. If you're wondering about her last name, it’s “I go to dinner,” not “Her huge ego,” but she responds to both.