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‘Stranger Things’ Needs To Do Right by Will (and Robin) in Season 5

Actor Noah Schnapp as Will Byers cries in Stranger Things season 4

From the very beginning of Stranger Things the character of Will, as played by Noah Schnapp, has been an outsider. Even when he returned from the Upside Down, it became clear that he was struggling to come to terms with who he was. Now, as confirmed by season 4 (sort of) and officially by the actor himself, Will is also a gay kid growing up in the 80s, in love with this best friend. We demand he gets a happily ever after.

Since season two there has been some speculation about if Will was asexual or somewhere on the queer spectrum. (Even as far back as season one, Will’s mother Joyce relates that his father used to call him queer, and that he referred to Will with gay slurs.) As the series progressed, it became clear he was gay and had some feelings for his best friend Mike Wheeler, who is in love with Eleven (who is a sister-figure to Will). Now, being in love with your best friend is a tried and true part of the gay experience, I myself have done it twice. The problem is that Will’s entire storyline has been suffering and sadness.

“I mean, it’s pretty clear this season that Will has feelings for Mike,” Schnapp says in a recent interview with Variety. “They’ve been intentionally pulling that out over the past few seasons. Even in Season 1, they hinted at that and slowly, slowly grew that storyline. I think for Season 4, it was just me playing this character who loves his best friend but struggles with knowing if he’ll be accepted or not, and feeling like a mistake and like he doesn’t belong. Will has always felt like that. All his friends, they all have girlfriends and they all fit into their different clubs. Will has never really found anywhere to fit in. I think that’s why so many people come up to me and tell me that they love Will and they resonate with him so much, because it’s such a real character.”

That sense of isolation is also just exhausting after watching shows like Heartstopper or First Kill that have moved beyond that. It doesn’t help that the series has been very meh when it comes to queer rep.

Robin (Maya Hawke) was revealed to be a lesbian after being put up as a romantic red herring for Steve. While she has a crush on Anne with an E star Amybeth McNulty as Vickie, they have two or three scenes together in the entire season, and most of them are Robin being anxious about talking to her. Then we see Vickie with a boyfriend, which breaks Robin’s heart—even if the last episode suggests that Vickie, post-breakup, might have a thing for Robin after all.

The excuse of the time period doesn’t hold water either because by 1986, issues of gay rights were in the mainstream conversation. Especially since HIV/AIDS had a hold in the country (something the show has not addressed). The country had gay mayors and judges; in pop culture, gay icons of music were taking hold. David Bowie, Freddie Mercury, and Prince were pushing the boundaries of gender and sexuality. And being very popular while doing it.

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Hell, they didn’t know it then but the lead singer of Judas Priest is a gay man and considered one of the Gods of Metal.

My problem isn’t just that Will and Robin don’t have romantic storylines. Romance doesn’t make or validate queerness, it is more that Stranger Things has made a very heteronormative world and then put its two gay characters in pining, painful situations. That is what makes it feel difficult to watch. They have not given these characters a community, except with other straight people. Will living in California and not finding a group of gay nerds kids to hang out with? I don’t buy it.

Even the affirming conversation that Will has in season 4 with his brother Jonathan, who tells Will that he’ll love him no matter what without referring directly to his sexuality, appears to have been an afterthought. Schnapp told Variety that the scene wasn’t originally scripted and was added after Will’s most wrenching scene, when he tries to tell Mike about himself while pretending to talk about Eleven.

So this scene was actually not originally written in the script. It was only until after I did the scene of me in the van, where they saw me crying and the protectiveness that you see with Jonathan looking in the rearview mirror. They were like, we need a scene with that. So they wrote it as we were filming. It’s also very important for people to see that Will is not alone — because all we ever see of him is struggling and feeling depressed and that he can’t be himself.

While the scene with Jonathan is important, it’s also telling that, as Schnapp says, all we have seen to date of Will in this respect is “struggling and feeling depressed and that he can’t be himself.”

When I say I want Will (and Robin) to be happy, it isn’t just about finding love, it is about finding that community that they can fully be themselves in.

(via Variety, image: Netflix)

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Princess (she/her-bisexual) is a Brooklyn born Megan Fox truther, who loves Sailor Moon, mythology, and diversity within sci-fi/fantasy. Still lives in Brooklyn with her over 500 Pokémon that she has Eevee trained into a mighty army. Team Zutara forever.