Unpopular Opinion: The Best Character in Stranger Things
If you haven't watched this show yet and don't want to be spoiled, then don't read this. I will be covering a rather large section of the story without heed to provide evidence for my claim.
Speaking of such, by using the highly polarized descriptor of best, I mean the character I found the most entertaining. I enjoyed it most whenever they were on the screen, how they evolved, and what meaning I took from their character's actions and those around them.
The share of characters is very well divided in nearly all accounts. Many characters are easily recognized as the 'good guys' and others clearly the 'bad guys.' Very, very few skirt the line. Benny acted harshly to a homeless girl stealing his food but softened up quickly to the point I felt remorse when he was killed. Hopper himself came across as an uncaring, skeptical man but this was very quickly forgotten in his unrelenting pursuit of truth and his efforts to protect those of his town. But aside from the two spectacularly dull and thick police officers, no one really stayed in a grey area or shifted over it. The one who does it in the most interesting fashion is my favorite. It's...
Now, at first glance, Steve is definitely a tool. He's introduced as being largely physical with chaste, young female character Nancy, hangs around with undeniably the worst kind of people. He initiates a fist fight with misunderstood outcast Jonathan, encourages vandalism against Nancy, and arguably worst of all, he's the guy Nancy 'acts like a different person for' and takes her virginity (I assume this simply by the way the characters act though I admit this isn't said explicitly).
So yeah, Steve comes across a lot of ways as the bad guy and I'm sure a good number of people were super disappointed that Nancy chose him over Jonathan, but I believe the show knew what it was doing. I'll explain his development from the beginning.
Steve is not really introduced to us in a good light. Barb doesn't seem to approve of him, Nancy isn't telling her family about him, and he surrounds himself with terrible people. Nancy likes him well enough, sure, but we've seen this stereotype too many times. The girl is blinded by her infatuation, and the guy is simply using her.
He frequently pushes her into more physical intimacies and she pushes back from time to time. He doesn't immediately listen to her but he's never completely ignored her and eventually listens. Case in point, when he sneaks into her house and they begin snogging, she stops him by being hesitant of her parents walking in on them. It takes him twice to get the message. Normally, a guy would leave the way he came but he actually stays and helps her study, as was their agreement. It's not huge, and one can argue that he's simply staying in her good graces for another chance.
It's also important to note that while his friends are saying terrible things about other people, Steve largely keeps quiet. Sure, he doesn't stop them but he's rarely egging it on. Yes, he breaks Jonathan's camera and behaves childishly while he does it, but to be fair the pictures are horrendously creepy and inappropriate.
Moving backwards again, it's important to look at the scene when Steve and Nancy finally have sex. He waits for her in a room and she goes there, removes her clothing, and then initiates the encounter. Sure, we all knew Steve wanted it but it's Nancy choice. Even the next day when she's incredibly self-conscious, Steve shows up to reassure her and promises no one was told anything (and the show gives no contradictory evidence until Steve's friends act it out like morons). From the list she ascribed to him, he sounded like he got around and did so quickly, but he sticks with her despite getting what he wanted. Sure, he wanted sex but at the same time he desired a relationship with her (a desire that is strongly felt further on in the show).
His Reaction to His Mistakes
Steve screws up, a lot, and in big ways too. When Nancy is worried about Barb's disappearance, Steve immediately expresses concern for himself for the parties and the drinks whill fearing his parents and the police. When Steven believes Nancy is cheating on him with Jonathan, he (somewhat willingly) lets his friend vandalize public property in an attempt to slut-shame her. Shortly after, he gets into a fist fight with Jonathan. He is obviously highly flawed.
However, he recognizes this. He makes an effort to apologize to Nancy about his indifference in person, taking the time out of his day to meet her to do so. Before having any real closure in regards to Nancy's possible cheating, he feels bad and offers to help clean up the vandalism that he let happen. He also defends Nancy to his friends, the only people he seems to consistently trust and be around, and nearly gets into a fight with one of them (but wisely doesn't considering their size difference). And once more without Nancy explaining anything to him in a calm environment, he seeks out Jonathan in the middle of the night and offers apologies to Nancy (who is once more in an isolated setting with Jonathan) without reservation.
And furthermore, even when he runs after encountering the monster the first time (while having the most believable human reaction possible), he returns to help them. This is after Jonathan has given him the beat down of his life and after his friend has threatened to do the same thing. This is twice now he has either lost a fight or given up, yet he shows the resolve to put himself into a danger he can scarcely comprehend and that he owes nothing for.
Yes, the kids do the best to save their friend, Nancy wants revenge for Barb, and the adults want to protect the child. Arguably, these are all expected and unsurprising reactions that we as an audience have come to expect. We do not expect the spurned douchebag boyfriend to throw himself up against a monster he's only just seen take bullets like they were nothing. Steve is undeniably a hero in his own corner of this show.
There were three endings for Nancy as I envisioned them.
- She dumps Steve to be with Jonathan (as foreshadowed by their semi-often hand touching).
- She stays with Steve and disappoints the viewing masses.
- She chooses neither boy and decides to be her own woman.
Originally I liked the third idea best and respected the show enough to go that way. I was delightfully surprised by what actually happened. As time goes on, I think I appreciated it more and more. Steve really had grown by leaps and bounds and has shown he is highly redemptive, often inspired by his own realization of his actions. He's happy when Nancy gives Jonathan a camera to replace what he had broken even.
But most importantly, this speaks volumes about Nancy too. Whether or not I agree with her decision to sleep with Steve, she owns it. She is not broken by it and aside from a single scene, it doesn't seem to negatively effect her. Barb and Jonathan claim she's acting like a different person but really, Steve seems to be the one who changes for her, not the other way around. She calls the shots in their relationship, even if it takes a couple times to get it to Steve who in the end listens to her.
What is Jonathan to her, but a person she had previously misjudged who she shared a revenge plot against a creature? Their intimacy is brought on by a desperate situation where her affection for Steve is built on an infatuation and later, assumedly, respect as well.
Steve's arc does a lot for his character, but it also helps support Nancy's person as well. The show knew what it was doing with Steve and I might be more impressed by how they handled him more than anything else in the show (and I really, really liked the show).
Did you agree, disagree? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments. I'd be excited to read the reasons you give for your favorite character.