People Are Shipping Joe and Rhys … And So Am I

This is what fanfic is made of.

The sometimes-apologetic serial murderer Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley) is back and … certainly not better. You isn’t a perfect series (despite its popularity) and has slightly fallen victim to humanizing Joe rather than letting him be a terrible person. As if we’re tuning in to see a stalker’s redemption story. Shows like Hannibal for instance don’t sugarcoat their characters or make excuses for them. Not to mention how the queer characters on the show aren’t depicted as flawless. That’s part of why Hannigram (Hannibal x Will) is a pairing many of us hardcore ship. If you clicked on this article, then you already know where I’m going with this.

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Joe’s stalker this season isn’t a woman with money, style, and severe familial issues (R.I.P Love Quinn, you’ll be in our hearts always). His stalker this time around happens to be a man with money, style, and a tortured past. Rhys (Ed Speleers) being revealed as Joe’s stalker is actually a pleasant surprise for those of us who noticed their chemistry. Plus, those messages Joe was getting were laced with tension. Some folks are already shipping Joe x Rhys—and I am one of them.

Joe’s first encounter with Rhys can even be seen as how some pairings begin. They click immediately at a party where Joe is a fish out of water and very vulnerable (due to not being sober). Joe feeling comfortable around another man is a change of pace for him. Topping the chaos that was Joe and Love seemed like an impossible feat after the season 3 finale, but the pairing that Joe and Rhys could be (if the show were brave enough to give us what we want) is on a different level because Rhys embraces who he is.

Rhys is precisely what Joe would be if he stopped fighting and running from his true self. It’s partially why the ship is interesting at its very core, not just because we can never have enough chaotic queer ships, but also because they are so alike. They are two (white cis) men who had rough upbringings and ultimately became killers. Of course, Joe’s motivations are more about his twisted ideas about love. Meanwhile, Rhys’ motivations revolve around how he hates the ultra-wealthy and what they represent.

Sure, you could go the simple route and reduce their interactions and connection as Rhys just wanting to be friends with Joe. But considering the texts, their interactions before Joe finds out Rhys is his stalker, the little joke Joe makes about being in a relationship with Rhys, etc., it all comes across as twistedly romantic. Rhys even went as far as to find out who Joe really is (Love did the same with her connections and relished what she found out) and was delighted.

The subtext (or just text depending on how you view it) is too blatant to ignore and the buzzing on social media hasn’t really slowed down. It’s fun when a fandom engages with pairings like that because of the content (check out AO3) that’s often produced. And just like I said earlier, we can never have enough chaotic queer pairings. Shipping them doesn’t make you or anyone else a horrible human being either (if it did then watching this show in the first place would already be problematic). The show is likely not going to put them together and that’s a shame. But it’s not going to stop folks from unpacking their interactions like I just did.

(featured image: Netflix)

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Vanessa Maki
Vanessa Maki (she/her) is a queer Blerd and contributing writer for The Mary Sue. She first started writing for digital magazines in 2018 and her articles have appeared in Pink Advocate (defunct), The Gay Gaze (defunct), Dread Central and more. She primarily writes about movies, TV, and anime. Efforts to make her stop loving complex/villainous characters or horror as a genre will be futile.