Shannon Purser as Barb in 'Stranger Things'.

What Happened to Barb in ‘Stranger Things’?

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Few minor characters are as beloved or memed as Barbara Holland (Shannon Purser) aka Barb from Stranger Things. We first met Barb in season one of the Netflix series as the nerdy best friend of Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer). When Nancy begins dating popular jock Steve Harrington (Joe Keery), Barb fears that her BFF might be ditching her for the popular crowd.

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Is Barb dead in Stranger Things?

In episode 2, Barb joins Nancy at a party at Steve’s house, and cuts her hand trying to shotgun a beer. Nancy goes to make out with Steve, telling Barb to go home. Alone by the pool, Barb is abducted by the Demogorgon and disappears. Episode 3 finds Barb waking up in the Upside Down, where she is attacked by the Demogorgon. Nancy searches for Barb and alerts the police. In episode 7, Eleven uses a makeshift sensory deprivation tank to search for Will and Barb in the Upside Down via telepathy, where she finds Barb dead.

Barb is mentioned briefly in the following seasons, but remains largely unacknowledged until episode 7 of season 4, where Vecna brings up Barb’s death while he is possessing Nancy. Vecna, who preys on the shame of his victims, taps into Nancy’s guilt and grief over Barb’s death. Nancy sees an image of Barb’s dead body in her vision of the Upside Down.

Justice for Barb

So how did Barb, a minor character who disappears 3 episodes into season 1, attain such a cult status? Many viewers saw themselves in the nerdy best friend. And while the core four boys in the series (Will, Mike, Lucas, Dustin) are definitely nerds, Barb is different. For starters, she’s a girl, one of the few teen girl characters in the first season. And many LGBTQ+ viewers saw Barb as a closeted queer character with an unrequited crush on Nancy. The internet quickly rallied around Barb as a character, and “Justice for Barb” and “I’m with Barb” began trending on social media. Barb fever was so powerful that Shannon Purser received an Emmy nomination for outstanding guest actress in a drama series.

And while Barb didn’t appear in future seasons, she was namechecked by Nancy throughout season two, as she struggles to find closure for Barb and her grieving parents. Barb’s parents hire Murray (Brett Gelman) to investigate her disappearance, and Murray quickly becomes a regular on the series. Nancy wants to tell Barb’s parents the truth about her death, but Steve advises her not to. This forms a rift in their relationship and ultimately drives Nancy towards a relationship with Jonathan (Charlie Heaton). The season 2 finale sees Barb finally getting a funeral.

Barb has inspired murals, memes, style, merch, and was a popular costume choice for Halloween 2016 (yes, I went as Barb and dressed my dog as a Demogorgon). And while Purser has moved onto new projects (Riverdale, Rise) Barb was no doubt her breakout role. I mean, what other minor character gets a full synchronized swimming number during the opening of the Emmys? Barb forever.

(featured image: Curtis Baker/Netflix)

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Chelsea Steiner
Chelsea was born and raised in New Orleans, which explains her affinity for cheesy grits and Britney Spears. An pop culture journalist since 2012, her work has appeared on Autostraddle, AfterEllen, and more. Her beats include queer popular culture, film, television, republican clownery, and the unwavering belief that 'The Long Kiss Goodnight' is the greatest movie ever made. She currently resides in sunny Los Angeles, with her husband, 2 sons, and one poorly behaved rescue dog. She is a former roller derby girl and a black belt in Judo, so she is not to be trifled with. She loves the word “Jewess” and wishes more people used it to describe her.