The following contains spoilers for Season 4 of Stranger Things, now streaming on Netflix.
stranger things is a massive hit series that features many beloved characters and hence a variety of captivating storylines. One of the most frustrating storylines in terms of executing the character journeys has been the weird storylines that are explored explicitly through the character of Robin Buckley and the implied weirdness of Will Byers. Frankly, the stories of these two characters in terms of queer identities just don’t fit modern standards for queer stories. stranger things can learn to better achieve these standards by following the example set by Our flag means death which ended its first season and was renewed for a second.
Both Robin and Lucius are secondary characters, but Lucius’ story is more satisfying.
Robin is a relatively well-known character for strange things, but his dynamic with Steve and the other characters makes him a welcome addition. She revealed to Steve that she was a lesbian during season 3 when she revealed that she had a crush on one of their classmates, Tammy. Then in Season 4, she moved on to a new crush, another band member named Vickie. Tammy is not seen until Season 4, long after Robin has been healed of her crush and the two never even interact. Vickie and Robin talk at least a few times during the season, but Vickie’s sexuality is never explicitly confirmed and she is actually seen kissing her boyfriend during one of these encounters.
Vickie’s sexuality is only implied by her interest in the film Fast times at Ridgemont High and how his personality is a carbon copy of Robin’s. It’s not satisfying that she’s supposed to be Robin’s love interest, because it not only implies that all queer women are exactly the same and only interested in others who look exactly like them, but also that there is no romance between them. Lucius in Our flag means death on the other hand has a much more interesting relationship with Black Pete. The relationship between the two spends relatively little screen time compared to the time the two are developed as individual characters, but their interactions are explicitly romantic, and even though they are very different personalities, it’s explicitly clear how they feel about each other.
Stede and Blackbeard’s relationship shows Will’s character needs to be more clearly explored
Will’s weirdness has been talked about since the early stages of the first season of stranger things. All his life, bullies have called him gay slurs and harassed him for his sexuality, even though he’s not explicitly gay. In the real world, people have every right not to reveal their identities to anyone and not to owe anyone explicit labels. However, stranger things is a television series that has the ability to create a situation where Will can come out safely and his sexuality be explored more explicitly. The series has already started doing this with the dynamic between Will and Jonathan that was explored in Season 4, specifically Jonathan’s speech to his younger brother in the season finale.
Stede and Blackbeard’s love story on Our flag means death has already demonstrated how this is possible. They’re also characters in a story set in a time in history that wasn’t kind to the queer community, and yet the story makes room for queer characters anyway. There are instances of homophobia, but those aren’t the defining moments of the show or the characters. Will’s implied weirdness is used to reinforce the heterosexual love affair between Mike and Eleven, which causes him a great deal of pain and suffering. He’s never really been allowed to experience real joy when it comes to love, and that’s a cruelty that’s fabricated by the show, when it’s not necessary. Stede’s relationship with Blackbeard helps his wife Mary find heterosexual love, but the difference is that it’s not the expense of Stede’s own happiness, but rather the consequence of Stede’s own pursuit of happiness and freedom from Stede.
stranger things has the potential to improve the quality of storylines for its queer characters by following the example of Our flag means death. Explicit instances of representation actually help enhance overall story arcs for queer characters instead of the implicit, marginalized versions that Robin and Will go through. As popular culture has evolved, so have the standards of queer storytelling, it’s time for stranger things catches up to meet these standards.
Stranger Things is now streaming on Netflix and Our Flag Means Death is streaming exclusively on HBO Max.