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‘Stranger Things’ Season 4 Finale Did Wrong by Max and Billy

Hot take alert!

max at billy's grave in Stranger Things season 4

Spoilers for Stranger Things 4

Stranger Things season 4 is finally out, and naturally, social media is buzzing, though not everyone is hailing the finale as a masterpiece. And I’m in that camp of being incredibly unimpressed by it, myself. Why? Besides how Will’s (Noah Schnapp) being forced to hype Mike’s relationship, Steve (Joe Keery) being written as lovesick, and the loss of our new favorite character Eddie Munson, I despise the retcon of Max’s (Sadie Sink) grief over Billy, which was depicted in such a raw way in “Chapter Four: Dear Billy” and still touches me on a personal level.

Season 3 made it evident that Max and her stepbrother Billy weren’t in the same place as season 2. In “Chapter Four: The Sauna Test,” she desperately wanted to help him and was pained by his pleading. Therefore, her grief over his death wasn’t conjured up; it’s very much real. 

billy hargrove in Stranger Things 2

The complex nature of Billy’s (Dacre Montgomery) character is only appreciated by certain parts of the fandom. He was an abuse victim, queer-coded, had the capacity for violence, and is part of one of the most popular Stranger Things ships (Harringrove)—which I do ship myself. In no way am I excusing his treatment of Max (or Lucas) in season 2, but as someone who sees beyond surface level and does love his character as a result, it’s horrible that season 4 did him wrong, especially when he clearly did care about Max and tried his best to fight the Mindflayer in season 3.

Billy’s prior behavior towards her was him being a product of an abusive environment, and understanding the complexity that comes with being an abuse survivor is key in this case. Some folks mimic violence and abusive behaviors, and it’s a horrendous cycle. Believe me. Again, this is about exploring the complexities of the character and subject matter, which the show has since failed to do, not me saying that makes Billy’s behavior okay or that Max deserved to be in that environment, either. And there can be characters that you simply have zero sympathy for (see Henry Bowers in It and It Chapter Two).

max crying over billy in Stranger Things 3 finale

After Billy’s sacrifice in season 3, to which Max had a visibly distraught reaction, you’d think the show would acknowledge how he saved Hawkins and El (Millie Bobby Brown), who he didn’t even know. Unfortunately, series creators the Duffer brothers don’t share that sentiment and would rather offer a redemption arc for Dr. Brenner (Matthew Modine), of all people. To top it off, Max caring about Billy in season 3 and wanting to help him is brushed aside. There’s a lack of sympathy in the writing when he’s brought up, and the Duffers writing that Max purposefully hesitated to save him in the season 3 finale is shitty, since, as we know in canon, she watched him die and cried in El’s arms over him, with his last words to her being that he was sorry.

Writing that an abuse victim, who was abandoned by his mother and abused by his father his whole life, essentially deserved what happened to him is tasteless. Billy and Max deserved to have a proper sibling relationship. Billy deserved to live and heal so that he could be better as an adult, and there’s nothing anyone can say that’ll justify the season 4 finale trying to further the narrative that he was just a monster—not to mention how it’s a disservice to Max’s character and what’s been established. Yes, she’s allowed to have complicated feelings about Billy, but I don’t trust the Duffers’ intentions regarding Max’s dialogue in the season 4 finale. Max deserves better, and so does Billy. 

(featured image: Netflix)

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Vanessa Maki (she/her) is a queer Blerd and contributing writer for The Mary Sue. She first started writing for digital magazines in 2018 and her articles have appeared in Pink Advocate (defunct), The Gay Gaze (defunct), Dread Central and more. She primarily writes about movies, TV, and anime. Efforts to make her stop loving complex/villainous characters or horror as a genre will be futile.