How Stranger Things 2 Let Nancy, and Most of The Leading Ladies Down
Make like the 80's and screw your ladies over
There are many strengths on display in season two of Stranger Things. Eleven continues to be a powerhouse of a character. The mysteries unfold at a good pace. The set pieces are stunning. But there’s one thing the Duffer Brothers are consistently not that good with, and that is the character of Nancy Wheeler and every other woman who isn’t named Eleven or Joyce (and even then, they’re on shaky ground).
Nancy is the victim of some truly terrible writing in season two, that mostly exists because they wanted her ex-boyfriend Steve Harrington to be the heroic teen character of the second season. After the first season built her up as a sharpshooting, trend-bucking badass, she’s mostly resigned to a C-plot that centers on a Twitter joke about Justice for Barb, who perished in season one and got a huge fanbase despite being a terrible friend. Nancy is now one of the more reviled characters on the show, in no small part because the Duffer Brothers struggled to give her a meaningful role despite the set-up they gave her in season one.
In season two, when she’s not on a mission with Jonathan Byers to bring down Hawkins Laboratory to give some closure to Barb’s family, Nancy finds herself in the middle of a love triangle. After getting drunk and telling Steve she doesn’t love him and that pretending everything is normal is “bullsh*t”—let’s not forget, Nancy has endured some trauma by this point in time—the pair are on the outs and Nancy winds up sleeping with Jonathan while on their little mission. Now, cheating is never acceptable. Hands down. But we demonize Nancy as the scum of the earth for her actions while giving Steve a pass for publicly slut-shaming her and being a massive bully, all because he’s a “good babysitter.”
The love triangle is particularly painful because season two sees all four leading ladies in a love triangle. Joyce is with Bob, but there’s that attraction to Hopper. Eleven is jealous of Mike and Max. Max is the object of both Lucas’s and Dustin’s affections (and by the way, team Lucas/Max all the way). And Nancy is with Steve but has feelings for Jonathan. That’s not progressive, it’s practically a step back from the first season, which already was hardly a feminist masterpiece.
Time for a rather hot take: Nancy should have had Steve’s role in season two. It would have made her final scene where she helps Dustin after some girls give him the cold shoulder at the Winter Ball more meaningful if she’d been helping him and his friends out the entire season.
She could have been her usual badass self, instead of spending the season’s final act mostly just wringing her hands and hoping for the best. Or, at the very least, she and Steve could have put aside their differences and worked together with the kids, coming to a realization that they weren’t meant for each other amicably but that they could be a pretty awesome monster fighting friend duo.
This would have helped Nancy actually be a character instead of a vague idea for the writers to play with. We could have seen her sharpshooting skills in action, and let her bond with the boys who she used to be super close with. Jonathan, the most boring character of them all, could have continued his side-plot to get Hawkins Lab shut down, because he has more reason to want them gone after they staged Will’s death in season one.
But let’s be real, to fix Stranger Things‘ lady problem, it would take more than letting Nancy be more than a sister and a love interest. Max would need to develop more of a personality outside of tomboy and love interest. Kali would need to come back and not be as demonized as the show tried to make her. Mrs. Wheeler needs some semblance of a plot, and Joyce needs to move beyond being a mother and get a plot that stands outside her sons. This might be too much to ask for, but audiences should at least try to push for something a little better. After all, television’s buzziest shows should try to represent their audiences a little more fairly, instead of relying on the 80’s tropes that they lovingly recreate in every other aspect of their show.
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