Stranger Things 2 Success is in its Losers

Confession: I’ve already watched and rewatched Stranger Things 2. And truthfully, it’s even better the second time around.

Strangers Things 2 sticks to much of the same course as it’s stellar first season, while adeptly expanding it’s universe and further developing it’s cast of characters. And although the supernatural threat forms the basis of our story, it’s really the focus on the characters that makes this show so addictive. And that focus this season shifted away from Mike and El for extended periods of time, making room for new leads–and an actual ensemble cast. I would say there were two stand out characters this season, and they aren’t notable for their superpowers or epic coolness; on the contrary—and I say this in the kindest way possible—they’re sort of lame. Of course, I’m talking about the now iconic duo of Dustin and Steve.

Photo Credit: Netflix

But their status as losers is exactly what makes us root for them and makes them the real stars of the Stranger Things 2.

Photo Credit: Netflix

Let’s start with Dustin.

Sweet, sweet, newly toothed Dustin runs exclusively on unearned confidence. He’s short on common sense and self-awareness, which Lucas has plenty of (insert Lucas’s face every time Dustin does that weird growl). He’s soft-hearted to a fault, hiding Dart away even though he knows it’s a bad idea, all of which is in stark contrast to Mike’s surliness this season. He’s missing Will’s zombie boy notoriety. But while he was just one of Mike’s goofy sidekicks last season, the ample time Dustin is given to shine this season, with an hilarious and terrifying subplot all to himself involving hiding Dart, let’s us in on just how “uncool” he really is, and how awesome it makes him. Dustin is himself, and he doesn’t apologize for it. He loves his ultra-needy mom, tells it like it is without much concern for tact (insert him ripping flowers out of Steve’s hands), and thinks being called “presumptuous” is maybe a good thing. He encompasses so much of what’s great about being a kid—he’s an innocent.

Photo Credit: Netflix

Sometimes it seems that Dustin’s friends are ahead of him, with Mike and Lucas barreling into pubescent first loves, and Will with the much less desirable fortune to dealing with a situation that is way outside of anything a child should have to handle. But Dustin’s bonding with Steve and the energy he puts into getting ready for his first major school dance—only to be face with the brutality that is the ever-present adult emotion of rejection, actually solidifies the audiences affection for him. Seeing him get crushed at the Snow Ball feels like us getting rejected. It’s very affecting, and consequently seeing Nancy cheer Dustin up (and the girls watching with confusion) is that much more gleeful. Little buddy’s gonna be just fine.

Dustin’s role segues nicely into the other sad boy who steals ever scene he’s in—Steve Harrington. Y’all, re-watching the first episode Stranger Things 2 when you know that Nancy doesn’t love Steve actually physically hurts. He is so completely head over heels for Nancy (case in point: When he surprises her in the hallway and says he missed her and Nancy says it’s only been an hour and Steve responds with “Tell me about it.” I’m dead.). Steve was pretty charming back in season one, when you expect him to be a jerk, and he sort of is, but he’s also willing to recognize when he’s wrong and beat up some demogorgons while he’s at it. But Steve transcends to an significantly more likable plane in season two, and his parallels with Dustin (occasional unearned confidence, romantic rejection, devotion to quaffed hair, affection for small creatures who may get him killed) are hard to ignore. And it’s Steve fallibility, his new found earnestness that goes exactly counter to the advice he gives Dustin (“Just act like you don’t care.”), that makes us want him to win. He’s clearly not the “cool guy,” because a cool guy would not blow off college to stick around small town Indiana so he can hang with his high school girlfriend. Only a pathetic lovesick fool would do that (we’ve all been there, kid!) Steve’s not the guy that got the girl anymore. He’s the guy who lost the girl. He’s not the king of the school; superdouche Billy is. He somehow ends up spending most of his time hanging out with 13-year-olds. Pretty lame, right? Just a step away from liking Kenny Rogers.

Photo Credit: Netflix

But Steve’s misfortune gives him a glow of reliability. He’s spits out frustrated one-liners like I imagine I would if forced to babysit a bunch of idiot adventure-seeking youths dealing with an inter-dimensional demon. He handles a series of major blows to the ego (suddenly honest Nancy, difficulty getting into college, losing his school to Billy, Nancy and Jonathon’s relationship, etc.) with a surprising amount of grace, but also with a respectable amount of anger. He’s not a martyr. He’s certainly very upset about his situation, but he’s understanding. It’s clear that Steve Harrington is not an idiot, Nancy. He might have gotten a C- in chem, but he’s got a heart of gold and that counts for a lot.

And so the friendship that forms between Dustin and Steve give us a chance to see these to characters, riddled with short-comings, work together to rise above and embody the heart of Stranger Things 2. Where Steve helps Dustin by respecting him enough to give him tips to be “cool,” Dustin helps Steve by making him feel like he’s still valuable. It’s a lovely little relationship that felt organically formed, and proves that Stranger Things is exceedingly great at seamlessly balancing the difficulty of growing up with a massive sci-fi threat while rarely ever feeling discordant. And you don’t have to be cool to be the best character on a show. In fact, far from it.

Photo Credit: Netflix

Honorable Mention:

I want to also give a shout out to a character that also follows the losers are the new winners theme in Stranger Things 2, which is Bob. Bob the Brain, we had so little time with you. Bob, who was so amazingly embarrassing uncool, was truly instrumental to saving the lives of Joyce, Hopper, Mike, and Will (though was maybe also to blame for the shadow monster taking over Will’s body, but that a separate issue). Bob, we’ll miss your puns, mediocre taste in movies, unbelievable patience, and overpowered puzzle-solving abilities. Rest in peace.

Stream Season 2 of Stranger Things on Netflix now.

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