*Caution: Spoilers for the Lifetime series You ahead*
“James Franco and I did not end well,” is just one of the absurd quips to cross the lips of Peach Salinger on Lifetime’s new stalker-drama series You.
Played by Shay Mitchell — who also played gay on Pretty Little Liars — Peach was queer and struggled with her identity in the narrow-minded world of haughty Manhattan socialites. She was the fictional heiress of J.D. Salinger and was equal parts caring and manipulative in an obsession with her best friend that spiraled beyond her control.
She was probably one of my favorite TV characters of all time, her queerness being just the icing on her bitchy cake — and yes, I’m using the past tense, because last night, Peach Salinger was killed off of You.
Though she was often cruel and conniving, she deserves to be eulogized just like every other victim of the Bury Your Gays trope. So, let’s pour out an expensive cocktail for Peach.
You is based on the novel by Caroline Kepnes and follows Beck (Elizabeth Lail) and Joe (Penn Badgley) — or rather, Joe is the one following Beck. Beck is your average starving poet who has a habit of bewitching everyone she encounters, including Joe, a hopeless romantic bookstore clerk with a dark side. (To borrow Penn Badgley’s nickname from Gossip Girl, he’s basically Lonely Boy 2.0.) He becomes obsessed with Beck and begins stalking her, then dating her while stalking her and putting hits out on anyone who treats her badly. It’s terrifying, but a brilliant testament to the writing (the writers’ room skews female) that viewers can even care about him when he’s, well, just another murderous stalker dude.
Joe’s first major roadblock is a guy Beck is hooking up with, who he murders in cold blood. But he finds his greatest enemy in Beck’s best friend from college, Peach, who we come to find out is also in love with — and sort of stalking — Beck. Because Beck and Joe are both bookworms, Peach is like a shiny, glittery celebrity when Beck first introduces them. Beck points her out to Joe and brags: yes, like “that” Salinger. Peach is always wearing the chicest and sexiest outfits, sipping swanky drinks, and popping pills in a way that only rich people on TV tend to — as in, “I’m rich, I need a Valium to take the edge off.”
Right off the bat, Joe finds out that Peach cares deeply for her best friend, and shows it in the only ways she knows how — by spoiling her with rent checks and generous offers like “let’s move to Paris together, for free.” However, he also learns not to trust Peach, and sees how she dangles her charisma, her closeness with Beck, and her generous favors over her best friend’s head like they’re in a gang together—which they’re not, but if Gossip Girl taught me anything, it’s that well-dressed, drug-addled socialites really are in their own mafia-like family.
So, if Peach is so awful, why do we love her? Well, first of all, I have a type, and it’s mean girls with defined clavicles who are Shay Mitchell. But seriously, we’ve all had that friend who holds things over our heads in a visibly unhealthy way — one that’s toxic in hindsight, but can be easily confused for a meaningful, mutually respectful relationship. So, I get why Beck loves her, and when you have so much rich history together, like they do, it can be hard to sever ties.
Plus, Peach is the most elegant monster I’ve ever seen. She traffics in chicness, exchanging favors for introductions to Manhattan’s finest—she knows everyone, and she lets you know it. In one of her final episodes, she decides she has a stalker, in that problematic, victim-blamey “I’m hot and rich, obviously somebody wants to stalk me” type of way. And even though it’s Joe who’s tailing her, she immediately assumes it’s James Franco. All of Peach’s “friends” are drug users, social climbers, and douches, one of whom gets fucked up and gropes Beck, and when Beck reports the incident back to Peach, Peach quips, “He hasn’t used since 9/11!”
Peach is iconic, from every jeer to every devilish smirk and long tress of Pantene commercial-looking hair she flips over her bony shoulders. She’s easy to worship in the same way that Regina George once was — if Regina was queer and desperately needed to be held and freed from her childhood traumas.
Late in Peach’s storyline, Joe uncovers a result of such traumas — Peach’s biggest secret: a folder on her laptop titled “GB” (Guinevere Beck — Beck’s real name), which is loaded with photos of her best friend, from as far back as college. Some of the photos are nude — most of them were taken without her permission.
Afterward, Joe monologues about how bad he actually feels for Peach, his greatest competition, having been raised in world that made her stifle who she was and who she wanted to love so much so that she buried it away, told herself it was dirty, locked it in a secret folder, and suffocated it until it screamed for air and transmogrified into a psychotic obsession.
You offers an important commentary on the real-life dangers and repercussions of repression, homophobia and internalized homophobia. So, while it’d be easy to lump Peach’s character into the trope of evil bisexuals, or the Bury Your Gays trope — she’s more complicated than that. To be fair, the show is just following the original narrative from the book, and her death wasn’t gratuitous, or all for nothing. You is definitely a queer ally — one that smirks at you with a depraved, wink-wink-nudge-nudge type of grin.
With that being said, Peach is absolutely an evil queer—but it’s just sort of awesome. In her final moments, she saunters toward Joe wearing jet black lingerie and a silk robe, aiming a handgun at his skull, and suddenly, I found myself wanting her to murder me. There I was Sunday night, sinking deep into my couch nest, wanting to get chased through the bright green grassy grounds of an heiress’s estate by an armed, evil bisexual.
Peach Salinger was sinister — every word that spilled from her glossy lips was a veiled threat. If she told you “nice jacket,” you’d know damn well not to show your face in public again in that jacket. And I know by this point I sound like the “One time she punched me in the face — it was awesome” chick from Mean Girls, but seriously; one time, Peach Salinger (allegedly) leaked a video of her friend drunkenly making racist remarks at a college party, simply as retribution—earlier that day, that same friend posted a #tbt of her and Peach before Peach’s nose job—a carnal sin.
But while I’m being the “one time she punched me in the face” girl, here’s a run of Peach’s greatest hits: She took molly and pegged a man in her mansion. She demanded Beck ask Joe to leave because “having male energy in her healing space” wasn’t “optimal.” She faked an overdose so Beck would ditch her man and come sleep over. Peach is a psychotic closet monster who’s completely devoid of any self-awareness, and I fucking stan.
But I also feel for her. A younger version of me would’ve been completely spooked and offended by any sort of predatory depiction of a queer woman on TV—but this one wasn’t necessarily predatory, even if she did get Beck high and kiss her (WHICH ROCKED), and ultimately left Beck feeling confused and manipulated. But Peach fell in love with her best friend in a world that told her she’d never be able to say that out loud, or receive that love back — and sure, she spiraled into a well of irreparable, sociopathic darkness — but it made my heart sink to watch.
So, rest in peace, Peach Salinger. I’m sorry you never loved yourself enough to feel worthy of another person’s love. I’m sorry you had to bury your secret and cover it with drug use, bombast, and drop-dead gorgeous dresses. You were thrilling to watch, and I’m devastated by the loss of another queer character, especially one this vivacious.
And though I’ll miss your cheap shots and wicked leers, I’m not mad it’s over — I’m grinning devilishly because it happened.
Header image via Getty