That feeling when a book you’ve written ends up being featured on a TV show about a serial killer…
So yeah, that’s a thing that happened.
I’ll be honest. I’ve never watched the Netflix serial killer series You. I’ve never even heard of the Netflix serial killer series You until my wife told me, “Hey Franklin, did you know your book was on this show?”
And yeah, that’s a weird thing to hear first thing in the morning when you haven’t even had your tea yet.
I don’t normally follow shows about serial killers. I never watched Dexter. (Well, I think I watched about a third of one episode once; I dimly recall a scene where a character is passing out donuts from a box, and when all the donuts are gone, he says something like “the box is empty, just like me.” I’ve now told you everything I know about the show.)
So I watched this episode, aaaaaaand…
It was an interesting experience, by which I mean it was a spectacular, and horrifying, trainwreck in ways I totally didn’t expect (though it was fascinating for one character to read something I wrote and another character to say “well, that’s not crazy.” Though given the context, I’m not sure what that’s worth.)
The fact a TV show about a serial killer who stalks and kills women is popular enough to get three seasons and counting whilst Firefly was cancelled after only one season is proof positive, as if we needed any more, that something is deeply rotten in the state of contemporary society.
But I digress.
The representation of polyamory (and swinging and such, which the show’s characters conflate, cue laugh track) was the first thing I can honestly say I’ve ever seen Hollywood be even less accurate at than the way it portrays hackers. There were some real gems here, and I mean that in the worst possible way. “Polyamory, aka, swinging, aka, the lifestyle, aka a flatlining marriage’s dying gasp” makes about as much sense as “I have to route the virus through a polymorphic packet filter to get it through the firewall,” for many of the same reasons.
There was also the female serial killer saying “it wasn’t safe for me to be angry” about her previous relationship, with, apparently, a guy she killed… There is, it seems, a trope where people say a partner was terrible because “I wasn’t allowed to be angry” when in fact the thing they aren’t allowed to do (in the sense that it tends to lead to consequences they don’t like, anyway) is, you know, express that anger through violence. Where does that even come from?
But again, I digress. Moving on:
The show’s ideas of non-monogamy were…um, I’m struggling to find the words, but “relentlessly peculiar” springs to mind.
Like the bit about the swinging contract.
I’ve been to swing clubs, I’ve had group sex more times I can count, and I can’t say anyone’s ever slapped an NDA on the table before the shenanigans start. I’d like to say “maybe this is a New York thing,” but nah. It really isn’t.
“Any STIs?” “No.”
Okay, Hollywood shows normally take place in a strange parallel land where sexual health isn’t a thing at all, so +1 for mentioning it, and -100 for this being the entire conversation. Like, seriously, in my experience at least, people in non-monogamous relationships spend a lot less time typing up non-disclosure agreements and a lot more time on the whole STI/sexual health thing.
Yeah, in some circles, I guess this is true. I wish it weren’t, but yeah, fair cop. On the other hand:
I don’t even know what this means.
Dirty little secret of the swing scene: male-male sex is very often treated like that person who ate a whole can of beans and chased it down with onions and Camembert before stepping onto a crowded elevator.
A lot of ethically non-monogamous people like to think they’re on a higher ethical plane than the mere unwashed rabble, well above the common petty prejudices of the less enlightened bits of the society. Some of them believe the marketing.
Don’t let them fool you, they’re just people, with the same old prejudices and bigotry as any other group.
Okay, so I do have to give the show’s victims of the day credit for nope-ing out at this point, though why they came back, I can’t fully grasp.
Props for getting the word out there, -10 for the context?
Now this is the point where the episode takes a serious left turn into weirdness. I mean, it was a fustercluck up until now, but it was a fustercluck in ways I expected.
The bits I didn’t expect:
Look, I’m not dissing recreational drug use. If that’s your jam, fill your boots. Full disclosure: I think drug prohibition is ridiculous and harmful, and I think it should end.
But I’ve never been in a group sex situation with people who pack an expanding drug kit for the occasion. It all seems a bit excessive, you know? Kudos for the level of preparation, admittedly, I doubt I’ve ever managed that except with packing sex toys.
In fact, I had this creeping feeling watching this scene that, by show’s end, the character who brought the drugs would end up dead, and part of what would make that palatable to the audience is the popular stigma against drug users. I mean, I could be wrong, but that seems so very Hollywood, dunnit?
No spoilers, but yeah, it goes about where you’d expect at this point.
Speaking of polyamory and the media, though, apparently Newsweek noticed the book in the show, and ran an article about it, so yeah, that happened, too. Not only does a program about a serial killer who stalks and kills women get (at least) three seasons, but Newsweek has an entire column dedicated to a postmodernist deconstruction of every book the main serial killer reads on camera.
I don’t understand some people’s tastes.
Wikipedia says “The author of the novel, Caroline Kepnes, explained the darkness of You, which deconstructs the romantic-comedy tropes highlighted in many films and shows, by making the protagonist, a violent stalker and serial killer,” so I guess I can get behind that, but I’d still rather watch two more seasons of Firefly myself. And I’m told a lot of viewers romanticize the main character, which…well, I don’t even know what to make of that.
Anyway, I have a lot of complicated feels around this. A lot of complicated feels about More Than Two generally, in fact.
On the one hand, I believed then and believe now that it’s a good book. It’s the book I’m second most proud of having co-written (the book I’m most proud of co-writing won’t be released until late 2022, and it’s an entirely different kind of book, not about polyamory at all; watch this space!).
And I am gratified the show didn’t have the main character actually weaponize More Than Two to manipulate other characters. (That’s a thing I’ve seen people do in the real world. Please don’t do that. If you find yourself picking out quotes you can use to justify a desire to hurt or control your partner, you need to rethink your approach to self-help books.)
On the other hand, it’s a little weird…no. It’s a lot weird to see something you brought into the world, rooted in decades of work, in this context. Seeing it through the eyes of people who don’t really know anything about that history is…strange. It’s an intimacy unlike anything else you can imagine. Yeah, once you release something into the world, you can’t control where it goes. Death of the Author and all. But still. It’s my child, my labor of love, you know, and it has been for a long, long time. I get that.
At least my most recent books are unlikely to end up on a TV show about serial killers, for, err, whatever that’s worth. Though of course, I’d have said that about More Than Two before this, so I’m making no bets for the future.