Joe Keery as Steve Harrington in Stranger Things 4

Other Series Only Wish They Could Pull off a Redemption Arc Like Steve Harrington’s on ‘Stranger Things’

Character arcs can be tricky, especially in long-running properties, mainly because the “drama” of having a character suddenly reverting back to their old ways brings new challenges to the other characters in the show. But one show that has continually shown how to do a character arc the right way is Stranger Things with Steve Harrington. The archetype of the jerk first boyfriend, Steve was the kind of character you thought would end up gone after season 1 and wouldn’t be redeemed in any sort of way. What we got, instead, was a character who had nuance and changed from season 1 on, and now he’s easily a fan favorite.

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Going back to season 1, Steve was Nancy’s hot jerk of a boyfriend who broke Jonathan’s camera and let his friends mock him when he wasn’t aware of what was going on. But the minute he learned of the Upside Down and the world that Nancy was dealing with, he was willing to be there and be the “hero” that Hawkins maybe needed.

By season 2, he wanted to be a better boyfriend for Nancy, even if she wasn’t really there for him, and when they broke up, it wasn’t something that he blamed her for. He continued to try to grow and be a better person through season 3, when he was basically the de facto dad of the group for Dustin. All of this led to a Steve who cares about making sure all of his friends are doing well and being their best selves, even if he’s not where he thought he’d be back in season 1.

More often than not, a character like Steve would have easily reverted back to that initial jerky phase, especially if series creators the Duffer brothers wanted to play into that ’80s type. Think characters like those James Spader played in … well, anything from the ’80s. Joe Keery’s Steve Harrington could have easily gone that route, and if he did, I wouldn’t have blamed the show. But instead, they saw a chance to change the way we constantly see these “jerk” characters play out.

Maybe it’s just thinking about how the ’80s treated characters like Steve in season 1 that makes the arc he’s had thus far so fantastic, but it’s also just a masterclass in how to treat your characters. His arc makes sense, and he’s constantly changing for the better and trying his best to be a better person, and we can see that in his actions. There’s not been a moment where we, as the audience, have thought, “Huh? That’s not really who Steve is,” about his actions. He’s constantly right in character and changing to better himself, and it’s fantastic.

His arc went from the It boy in high school to someone who cares about his friends more than himself. And that’s an arc that makes sense and one that other properties could learn a thing or two from. Steve Harrington is our favorite boy for a reason and I hope his arc continues on this positive turn because it just works so well.

(featured image: Netflix)


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Rachel Leishman
Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. She's been a writer professionally since 2016 but was always obsessed with movies and television and writing about them growing up. A lover of Spider-Man and Wanda Maximoff's biggest defender, she has interests in all things nerdy and a cat named Benjamin Wyatt the cat. If you want to talk classic rock music or all things Harrison Ford, she's your girl but her interests span far and wide. Yes, she knows she looks like Florence Pugh. She has multiple podcasts, normally has opinions on any bit of pop culture, and can tell you can actors entire filmography off the top of her head. Her work at the Mary Sue often includes Star Wars, Marvel, DC, movie reviews, and interviews.