- Maya Thurman Hawke, a gift to the world from the ‘90s gods of symmetry. Let us all worship her. May she start dating Frances Bean Cobain and make all of the dreams we didn’t know we had come true. Ok, enough projecting. The fact that her character, Robin, is queer and self-aware enough to be mildly open about it — while simultaneously shutting down high school cool guy/real-world loser Steve Harrington — is definitely a late 2010s attribute. Not likely one that would’ve actually been expressed or accepted as easily in a podunk town like Hawkins, Indiana. Not to mention that Robin, armed with only her intellect and a knowledge of Romance languages, decodes a Russian spy transmission using only a translation dictionary and a white board during one shift at Scoops Ahoy.
Sidenote: The only way Hawkins got a mall was because of their weird, otherworldly energy resource and Russian interest in it. Plus a skeezy mayor. From the looks of it, that town does not have the population or commerce to support a mall. Every person in Hawkins between the ages of 10 and 25 must’ve been at the mall every day to fill it up the way it was. We’ve all seen the size of their police department. Full disclosure: I grew up 45 minutes from the nearest mall, so there might be a little nostalgic mall envy there.
2. Suzie and the The Never-Ending Story musical number! They sang the whole thing! They did the keychange! They reprised it! Even with the magical friendship of a wish dragon, I could not have dreamed of this wish. The joy of one of my favorite childhood movies’ ‘80s inspirational masculine-feminine harmony vocals breaking up a super intense point in an already beloved show — Aah-ah Aah-ah Aah-ah! Truly, this was my fave ‘80s reference in the entire series. And girl was like, “I haven’t heard from you in two weeks. Reconnect with me and then we can talk saving the world.” That’s how you get your needs met, people!
Fun note: Dustin’s supposedly made-up and super adorbs, nerdy night-gowned girlfriend, Suzie, was reading Ursula LeGuin when Dustybun finally made contact with her via pirate radio (or something. I’m not that kind of nerd). The internet says the title in question was The Wizards of Earthsea, which I haven’t read. But it did inspire me to pick up a used LeGuin title, Four Ways to Forgiveness, recently.
3. El kind of got to develop a little bit of a personality. As the most powerful being in the series, Eleven is essentially a tool for other people. Her identity is what she can do for the ragtag group of misfits, the town and the world at large. She is what other people feel about her, a powerful projection, an embodied teenage poltergeist. But she’s worked her way out of being Eggos, so that’s cool. El was raised in a fucked up environment to do others’ bidding. She doesn’t know anything else. And even as she evolves from that ingrained mindset, it lingers. Anyone who’s worked through childhood trauma and/or capitalism can probably relate.
But! In Season 3, El declared independence from Mike and the little bro crew. (I’m wholeheartedly trying to work “I dump your ass!” into my parlance.) Max (not Maxine, ok?) introduces El — via an ‘80s-appropriate montage — to the individualism-creating power of clothes. And Wonder Woman comics. She starts to work her way out of the Born Sexy Yesterday female film trope. She’s is making out with Mike (yay, makeout!), and Hopper, a.k.a. Mr. Macho Punchy Shooty, is uncomfortable with El expressing agency to the point of sabotaging her relationship with Mike to make himself more comfortable. What an old white guy thing to do.
Possibly an unpopular opinion, but just fuck Hopper. He’s probably still alive, but I was not sad to see him “go.” Just because he “means well,” as the outline for the conversation Joyce coached him to have with El and Mike depicted, it doesn’t excuse the fact that he manipulated children as a shortcut to benefit himself. Joe Biden means well too, but he’s still problematic af. Toxic masculinity screws everyone, but that doesn’t mean I condone it in fiction. Duffer Brothers, I can’t tell if this is another ‘80s nod or what, but I’m beyond over it.
4. Erica is a delightful young female character who demanded what she wanted. It was ice cream. I love her style. That Rainbow Bright Star? Yet characterizing black children as precocious and more mature for their age than white children — she’s a peer to her older brother’s friends — perpetuates stereotypes that have real-world implications on vulnerable young people.
5. Everyone else. Nancy “Drew” is a 21st-century take on the white male fantasty lead that we’re all supposed to want to be or want to fuck. She followed her intuition and got on the trail of the Mind Flayer. She shot a gun a few times. Perhaps a subtle nod to Linda Hamilton in a series that’s just bobbing and bobbing its head at ‘80s cinema? Nancy just doesn’t stand out much due to to lack of character development. You don’t get to be the perfect popular girl and then become a feminist heroine overnight. Not even if you start slumming it with the misfit kid you trauma-bonded with. Joyce has to be overly emotional-intuitive — in that special Winona Ryder voice-wavery way — to counterbalance Hopper’s Rambo-ape mode. Mike’s mom , Karen Wheeler, couldn’t get herself to sleep with an overly confident teenage boy. I have the feeling she would have been let down, had the deed not been derailed by conscience and mind-flaying. She did encourage her daughter to follow her gut and, in effect, defy old white men, which was empoweringly instrumental to the plot. I had high hopes for Max, but her character didn’t have an independent storyline and probably won’t ever. Nonetheless, Maya Hawke, ladies and gentlemen!