“You” is one of the most popular shows on Netflix, and one of the many reasons behind its popularity is Penn Badgley’s portrayal of fictional serial killer Joe Goldberg.
Before starring as Joe Goldberg in You, Badgley made a name for himself by playing Dan Humphrey in Gossip Girl (so in one sense already Joe and Dan are the same person). Similar to You, Gossip Girl was popular because it was essentially a teen soap opera about rich people with little to no morals doing insane things. It was amazing.
You tells the story of a likable serial killer, which is a pretty crazy premise for a TV show. However, fans of the show believe that both shows exist in the same universe and that Joe Goldberg is actually Dan Humphrey later in life. As someone who loves both shows, I can’t help but agree.
Dan Humphrey vs. Joe Goldberg
In case you’ve never seen Gossip Girl, here’s a quick rundown on Dan Humphrey. The show started with Dan as a 16-year-old from Brooklyn who lived with his dad and sister and went to an elite private school in Manhattan. His shyness and lack of wealth made him one of the least popular kids at school, but he rose to popularity when he began dating Serena van der Woodsen, played by Blake Lively.
At first, Dan seems like a genuinely good guy who loves to read and spend time with his family, but he develops a sense of "nice guy syndrome" as the show progresses. However, what happens in the finale is what makes him one of the most hated characters on the show.
When it’s revealed that Dan is Gossip Girl, he goes beyond being an utter jerk and finds himself in pure psychopath territory. This man spent YEARS spreading rumors about his loved ones and ruined their lives. He’s revealed to have no moral compass and no empathy, making him similar to Joe Goldberg.
Like Dan, Joe Goldberg loves books, has a hard-core case of nice guy syndrome, stalks the women he loves (there’s no way Dan had all that dirt on Serena without stalking her), has little to no empathy for others, and is good at manipulating the people around him. Sure, Dan isn’t a murderer, but Joe Goldberg’s Dan Humphrey vibes have led fans to think they’re the same person.
The Fan Theory
Though this theory originated after the first season of You aired, it has regained popularity since the release of the third season last month. The theory is surprisingly simple: after Dan outed himself as Gossip Girl, he created a new identity, Joe Goldberg, and moved to a different part of Manhattan. Joe said he was originally from Brooklyn, which adds validity to the theory. The love of books carries over as well.
These may seem like minor coincidences, but I think the most persuasive evidence comes at the start of the second season: Joe moved to Los Angeles and changed his identity to hide from his ex-girlfriend. This shows he’s perfectly capable of changing his identity, so he could have done it before.
Joe Goldberg is perfectly capable of changing his identity, so he could have done it before.
The main inconsistency in this theory is that we see Joe’s tragic backstory unfold in all three seasons of You. Though the explanation behind this isn’t in any fan theory, I’ve come up with my own explanation: Dan is a good writer and storyteller. He had to possess these skills to run the Gossip Girl blog for so many years, and he used those skills when changing his identity from Dan to Joe.
Joe’s backstory is heart-wrenching, which is why I think Dan made up Joe’s tragic backstory, so the audience feels sorry for him. We know he’s capable of being manipulative.
Of course, this is a fictional show, and it’s fun to share theories about the characters (I still want someone from Gossip Girl to make a cameo and call him Dan), but it’s not just the fans who see the connection. Penn Badgley also sees the similarities between the two characters.
“It’s the same role. But now he has blood dripping down his face."
When asked about the fan theory in an interview with The New Yorker, Badgley said, "To me, Joe is privilege embodied. He’s the blindness that privilege entails. This is the whole strangeness of the show. In some ways, it’s this bizarre kind of fantastical, binge-able thing, like Gossip Girl. At the same time, it’s, like, Ugh! It’s horrifying!"
He continued, “It’s the same role. But now he has blood dripping down his face." Though this doesn’t confirm the popular fan theory, nobody knows Dan and Joe as well as Badgley. If he can see the strong similarities, maybe there is something to the theory.
From their mutual love of books and stalking women to a narcissistic nice guy complex, Dan Humphrey and Joe Goldberg have many similarities beyond being played by the same actor. Could they be the same person? I think there’s plenty of validity to the theory, but we’ll have to wait until the fourth season of You to see if the showrunners believe the theory as well.
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