Welcome to Hawkins, Indiana, a place where shadow monsters and other mystical happenings are more common than anything. If you’ve never seen “Stranger Things” (seems impossible, but you never know), then let me give you a quick rundown of the sci-fi/thriller love child: A gang of pre-teens (Mike, Dustin and Lucas) try to save their friend, Will, from a parallel universe called The Upside Down.
Along comes Eleven, a scientific phenomenon strapped with telekinetic powers, who helps the boys rescue Will. The badass gal takes down the Demogorgon and solidifies her spot in the Boys Club. In the sequel to season one, it’s clear that something has followed Will back from The Upside Down, which means yet another supernatural battle.
Season two of the hit show allowed a handful of characters to really dazzle viewers, while others fell short. Beloved characters, such as Hopper and Steve, completely captured our hearts, but I think it’s also time to discuss who flopped hard. So, here are three characters who changed from the first season to the second, two of whom improved and a third (Nancy) whose worse qualities were only exacerbated in the sophomore season.
1. I Heart Steve Harrington
Steve Harrington is the ultimate teen heartthrob—I mean, have you SEEN his hair?! Four pumps of Farrah Fawcett spray and Steve has the female fanbase of “Stranger Things 2” swooning. A general consensus that seems to be sweeping the internet is the idea that Steve’s role in the second season of “Stranger Things” is his redemption tour, undoing all of his “problematic” moments in the previous season of the hella’ popular sci-fi show. Truth be told, I think that’s complete and total B.S. In season one, Steve admittedly had his moments that were far less than favorable, like when he spray painted “Starring: Nancy ‘The Slut’ Wheeler” onto the cinema sign in the center of town (SUPER uncool, Steve). Harrington does redeem himself when he decides to join forces with Nancy and the gang to defeat the Demogorgon. Let us not forget when he smashed Jonathan Byers’ (Will’s older brother) camera when he discovered the hapless, amateur photographer was taking pervy pictures of Nancy through her bedroom window, which is gross with a capital G.
Steve continues to shine in “Stranger Things 2” and very little of his popularity has anything to do with his romantic relationship with Nancy. Steve appears to have traded in his hyper-masculine, jock-like characteristics for an almost fraternal role, specifically to the love-able Dustin Henderson. In the newest season of “Stranger Things 2,” Steve completely devotes himself, alongside the rest of the kids, to save Will from the grips of the Mind Flayer. In episode six, in a shining example of Steve’s character development, the perfectly coiffed leading man uses himself as bait to lure the demogorgons (the grotesque creatures have indeed multiplied) out of hiding. The jock-turned-sweetheart is willing to put his own life on the line if it means helping Will rid himself of the shadow monster.
In addition to his newfound paternal instinct for the monster-fighting foursome, Steve takes a particular shine to Dustin, an unpredicted but thoroughly appreciated aspect of the newest season. The duo bond over their experiences with heartbreak and Steve gives Dustin relationship advice in the most heart-warming, older brother-esque manner. The hair-flipping heartthrob explains the dating game to a heartbroken Dustin: “You have to act like you don’t care,” he tells his romantic apprentice, which may not be the best advice but you have to start somewhere. Steve rules season two because his motivations behind helping the gang rescue Will are entirely pure: There’s no female character around to impress with his bat-wielding abilities. Just a few minutes of watching “Stranger Things 2” will have you outlining “SH” in little hearts on every scrap of paper in the vicinity.
2. Nancy Wheeler
Oh Nancy, there are so many instances throughout Season 2 that could have been such epic moments if you didn’t have to play into such tired tropes. Nancy, Mike’s older sister, dates Steve sporadically through season one and two of “Stranger Things.” During season two, Nancy and Steve go to a house party together and under-aged drinking ensues. Steve suggests that Nancy cools it with the drinking because she’s already drunk. I don’t want to give the impression that Nancy had to do anything that Steve suggested, because she’s her own person with her own decision-making capabilities, but it did irk me that Nancy laid her confession into Steve when he was only looking out for her own safety. The two end up in the bathroom together arguing, and Nancy basically tells him that she doesn’t love him and that everything about their relationship is B.S. (major ouch).
Nancy’s character isn’t all bad and there are a few specific traits that are highly admirable of the teen. She’s strong in season two, willing to meet with vague, mysterious men if it means finding answers to defeating the Mind Flayer’s grip on Will. Nancy joins forces with Jonathan Byers and the duo work efficiently together (and, of course, a romantic plot line emerges).
The biggest character flaw of Nancy’s rears its ugly head during the final episode of the season, at the Snow Ball. In what is unquestionably the most heartbreaking scene in season two, Nancy sees a sad Dustin, clearly sitting alone and asks him if he would like to dance. This scene would be sweet if Nancy didn’t assure Dustin that “girls this age are stupid” (can you hear the collective groaning of women?). Girls need to be more about supportive of other girls instead of insulting them. Nancy had the opportunity to give Dustin sage advice that he could have actually used in future relationships, but instead settles on self-deprecating fluff. I hold on to the hope that season three Nancy Wheeler makes me eat my words.
3. Jim Hopper
Many, many tears were shed while binge-watching “Stranger Things 2” from the comfort of my bed, and I solely blame Jim Hopper. Hopper is the town sheriff, and, unbeknownst to many, the primary caretaker of Eleven. Eleven, who the entire town had accepted as gone for good, had disappeared completely after the final showdown in season one. Turns out, Hopper has been feeding her Eggos and hiding her away from the general public.
Everything Hopper does for Eleven is out of fear that the government will locate her and take her away. A quick peek into Hopper’s heartbreaking backstory explains why his protective qualities are thrown into overdrive in season two: Hopper lost his daughter, a story he reveals to Eleven during an intimate car ride, and he explains that he worried about losing her, too. The stoic sheriff is such a lovable character, in large part due to his transparency; Hopper is flawed, and when he owns up to those flaws to Eleven, tears ensue: “I should’ve been there…A lot of things I shouldn’t have done.” Hopper isn’t the perfect parent and he never pretends to be, which makes him so much more authentic.
Hopper is a great example of what it looks like to protect someone in the name of love, even if it isn’t always the best way to go about it. Confining Eleven, who’s basically a superhero, to a tiny cabin was obviously going to end in some sort of a disaster, but Hopper did what he thought was best for his pseudo-daughter. His emotional development from season one to season two hopefully encourages male viewers to be more open to outwardly showing affection to the people they love. Hopper’s character is a key component to the success of the second season of the sci-fi/thriller mashup and also the reason why I cried buckets of tears. Here’s to hoping that season three is completed quickly so “Stranger Things” junkies can get their fix.