(Warning: This article contains spoilers for Stranger Things)
I recently found myself falling in love with the Netflix series Stranger Things, a sci-fi horror mystery infused with a love of all things 80s. Despite not having any nostalgia for the 80s, as I was born in the 90s, I quite enjoyed both the show’s send-ups to 80s pop culture and the love it had for the horror classics of the era.
What I found myself most surprised by, however, was their handling of “bad boy” character Steve.
Steve is introduced to the audience as the classic greasy-haired, bad influence boyfriend seen in about a million movies over the years. He has a history of going through girlfriends fast, hangs out with a bad crowd, forcefully plans secret rendezvous with his current squeeze Nancy, and shows little to no restraint with his libido. From the start, we are expected to dislike him and assume he’s nothing but trouble.
It doesn’t stay that way, however.
Even early on, there are signs that Steve has a nice side to him. He seems to genuinely care about Nancy, he helps Nancy’s friend Barbara find the bathroom when she accidentally cuts herself, and he does show concern for Barbara when she goes missing. But there’s one thing which continues to drag Steve down.
Virtually anytime Steve is on-screen, his is accompanied by a duo locked in an eternal competition to see who can be the most crass and unlikable. They are resistant to offering help to anyone, appear to take pride in failing at school, and serve to egg on any and all of Steve’s worst decisions. Every time Steve contemplates whether or not to do something stupid, those two are there to cheer for the stupid camp.
It is these two who end up pitting Steve against Nancy, and who spray-paint a movie sign calling her a slut. It’s their influence and behavior which leads to Steve picking a fight with Jonathan, who Steve thinks Nancy likes. It’s these two who chuckle and snort as Steve nurses his wounds from fighting with Jonathan.
In the end, it’s these two who Steve realizes caused all his problems. His strained relationship with Nancy, his inability to empathize with others, and his whole “bad boy” act. He finally confronts them about it, and chooses to end his relationship with them rather than continuing to entertain their whims. At that moment, Steve takes his life back into his own hands.
By the end of the series, Steve had become one of my favorite characters. He not only showed humility by heading to Jonathan’s house to apologize, but ultimately ended up risking his own life to assist Jonathan and Nancy in fighting off the monster. It was a good show of character growth, and a well-written character arc.
But that’s not just why I liked him.
I’ve been friends with toxic people before, and I know how hard it can be to break away from them/not let them influence you. Even if you feel uncomfortable with what they’re saying, or you know within you that it’s probably wrong, you keep running along with it. Because you’re not only scared that they’ll reject you, but that those you’ve hurt because of them will turn you away as well.
It took a lot of courage for Steve to not only break it off with his friends, but to approach the one he hurt most directly and ask for forgiveness. He ran the risk of totally alienating himself from anyone he knew, just to make right his wrongs. I can only hope that others being influenced by toxic friends can have that opportunity, and try to set things right.