Stranger Things Rant
This post contains major spoilers for Stranger Things. If you havn’t seen it, watch it because it’s wonderful.
I read this article a couple days ago and my brain just can’t leave it alone.
Why was Barb summarily killed off while Will got to return?
Stranger Things replicated the films of the 1980s, right down to focusing extensively on the stories of the boys. One of the things that really bothered us while watching this season was how Barb got the short end of the stick when she was grabbed by the monster and killed off.
Given the national conversation on how women are treated in television and film, it’s not an unfair question to ask. Killing the character off effectively reduces her to a prop. It’s a shame, because she clearly meant a whole lot to Nancy. It also would have been easy for them to discover and rescue her, or switch the equation around somehow. Hopefully, season 2 will do better.
Saying that Barb’s death reduces her to a prop is a seriously simplistic way of interpreting the story, like to the point where I have to wonder if you understand stories at all.
Just because Barb died doesn’t mean the importance of her character is diminished— in fact the exact opposite is true. So much of Nancy’s central-plot-relevant behaviour is driven by her love for Barb. (Think of how many people for whom you would crawl into a dark, eldritch knot in a dripping tree at night.) The point of characters is to tell a story. The fact that Barb is found dead in a horrible, gruesome way furthers the plot, demonstrates the nature of the monster (it’s killing people, not just deer— it needs to be put down), and amps up the suspense big time: this is little Will’s fate if we don’t reach him in time. So come on, for Eleven to find her alive while in the sensory deprivation tank would just muddy and derail the plot. She’d have to be like, “don’t worry, hang on, we’re coming,” and then just walk away awkwardly, only to totally repeat herself upon finding Will. And then Hopper and Joyce would have to divide their efforts in the Upside Down, fussing over Barb and carrying her around just instead of focusing on saving Will. It would completely ruin the flow of the episode, especially when we’re already dealing with flashbacks of Hopper’s daughter. And for what? Sure, Barb is important to Nancy, but the entire whole show so far has closely followed the Byers family. We saw Barb’s mom once for a few seconds and didn’t even get a scene showing that she’s worried about her missing daughter because the show isn’t about her. So what— Barb lives, Nancy says, “thank goodness!” and that’s worth destroying the suspense and flow of an entire season finale? You can’t be serious. Saying a character should be saved just because their death would be “a shame because they mean a lot to ______” is the dumbest thing ever. Pretty much every supporting character who dies means a lot to one of the main characters. That’s the point.
Also just a side note, I notice we’re shedding no tears for the gruff yet kindly diner owner who fed Eleven dinner and called Social Services to try and get her sorted out— and got a bullet in the head for his troubles. So his death didn’t reduce him to a prop? It was okay that this minor character died to to show the seriousness of the situation but Barb’s death was insulting somehow?
This show makes huge efforts to include and respect women but of course it’s never, never, NEVER enough. It’s not enough that an integral part of the boys’ team is a girl with extraordinary, awesome powers. It’s not enough that Joyce’s love for her child persisted through everyone thinking she was insane and she listened to no one who would deter her. It’s not enough that Nancy’s affection for her life-long best friend compelled her to show bravery pretty much unmatched in the show (considering that at the start of it she’s all worried about quizzes and studying and terrified about being caught with a boy in her room). She even got to shoot a can on her first try for some reason.
The series includes women but focuses on boys. And guess what: That’s okay. Yes, I said it. Little boys daydream about adventure and danger and getting through danger with their friends. By and large, little girls don’t. Or at least I never did. My friends and I dreamed of opening pet shops together. But the old 80s heartwarming charm about a bunch of boys having an adventure is wonderful and nostalgic and irresistible. Everyone I mention this show to has already watched it and calls it “amazing”. So stop being so bad at stories. You make a crazy-popular and well-received story about adventuring girls in which no one dies if you’re so clever. I could have let this whole thing go except for that last jab about how they should “do better” in season two. Your idea of “better” would have them change the plot for the worse and make it meandering, confusing and weak. If you don’t like shows about boys then don’t watch a show about boys and then cry about how it’s a show about boys.