(Major spoilers ahead for season 2 of the Netflix series “Stranger Things”)
There was one nagging item in “Stranger Things” Season 1 that left a chunk of the show’s massive stable of fans feeling dissatisfied: the way the show kind of forgot Barb (Shannon Purser) existed after she was killed. There was one brief scene in the finale where Nancy (Natalia Dyer), Barb’s best friend, cried while she watched her brother celebrate the return of his friend Will from the Upside Down because it finally sunk in that Barb wasn’t coming back.
But that was about the extent to which “Stranger Things” Season 1 gave a damn about Barb, and it rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, with a #JusticeForBarb Twitter campaign springing up as more and more people watched.
And now “Stranger Things 2” is here and it attempts to correct that mistake — while also managing to make it again with another character. That attempted course correction adds insult to that new injury, because it makes it feel like the Duffers were responding to a complaint without ever really understanding it.
So Season 2, then, makes an attempt to mete out some #JusticeForBarb, sending Nancy and new BFF Jonathan Byers off on a subplot in which they team up with a conspiracy theorist (Brett Gelman) to expose the negligence and wrongdoings at Hawkins’ secret government lab that led to Barb’s death. They visited Dr. Owens (Paul Reiser), the new, well-meaning boss at the lab, and recorded a conversation with him in which he admitted that Barb died because of their shenanigans with the Upside Down. Then they met with Murray, the conspiracy guy, to talk about how best to make that admission public.
They settled on a story that was less fantastical (and thus not true) to attach with the confession and, a month after the main events of Season 2, the government closed the lab because of the story. Then they had a funeral for Barb and everyone pretended like they cared about Barb the whole time.
So, what does this have to do with the rest Season 2? Nothing, as far as I can tell, which makes the whole thing seem like a pointless exercise, narratively. It doesn’t contribute anything to Season 2 beyond being a sort of face value bit of fan service.
But the punchline to this whole thing is that the show makes the Barb mistake again with the only main character who is killed in “Stranger Things 2”: Bob (Sean Astin)
Bob is the super affable and bubbly new father figure for Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) — he’s dating Joyce (Winona Ryder) and seemingly has been for a little while, at least. He’s a huge dork, but in a weirdly charismatic way. When he realizes what’s going on with Will and with Hawkins in general, he doesn’t hesitate to spring into action even though he doesn’t understand what the deal is — a badly written version of this sort of character would demand a detailed explanation for everything before helping out.
And Bob gets perhaps the biggest hero moment of Season 2, when he sneaks around the secret government lab while the power is out and monsters from the Upside Down roam the halls. He manages to reboot the system that brings the power back online so everyone else can escape, but he himself ends up getting eaten.
As was the case with Barb, nobody really cares that much. There’s a mention in the finale of how he started the school AV club, and Joyce is still torn up about his death a month later, but he doesn’t get a mention in the news coverage of the closure of the lab or even a funeral. He’s the only main character who died this season — and Hopper and Joyce and Will and Mike would all be dead if not for what he did — and it’s barely even a thing. It’s somewhat less glaring than Barb’s situation, because Bob’s death happens in episode 8 and so we don’t get half the season to think about why nobody cares that he’s gone like we did with Barb. But it is still the same goof-up, with the show treating a main character death as if it has as much heft as the death of a “Star Trek” redshirt.
So, yeah, “Stranger Things” manages to both botch its attempt to deal with #JusticeForBarb and repeat the very mistake that led to #JusticeForBarb in the first place.