After binging the second season of Netflix’s Stranger Things, I found myself wondering why the Duffer Brothers found the need to create their two new characters Max and Billy.
What made the first season of Stranger Things so great was its focus on Eleven, Mike, Lucas, and Dustin while juxtaposing their child-like approach to Bill’s disappearance against the adults and teenagers own investigations.
It gave the Duffer Brothers the opportunity to flesh out their relationships and make for more plausible character tension, but in Stranger Things 2, they lost that focus in favor of creating additional characters. While these new characters could’ve been opportunities to play with the dynamics of the cast of characters they had, they mostly meandered around the scenes until the Duffer Brothers decided they could be used for plot purposes.
Maxine’s character did add a romantic element for the other characters in “the Party” by creating a challenge for the boys in the form of her having the highest score on Dig Dug and because she had a ton of cool characteristics. But other than the writers of the series pushed her character to the background the same way the boys in Stranger Things did and only brought her to the forefront of the plot when she was needed to save Steve from getting killed by her older, abusive stepbrother Billy. Or she was used to create tension between Eleven and Mike when he was finally coming around to the idea of having Max in their group, but that was quickly squandered and their relationship stayed the same. He kept her out until she was needed.
The audience immediately gets hints dropped that Billy is an abusive and controlling entity in Max’s life, but it isn’t used for any other purpose than to get Billy to beat Steve unconscious, so the kids could continue with their dangerous plan to avert dog-like monsters from stopping Eleven from closing the gate.
The Duffer Brothers still tried to nuance their ’80s bully heartthrob by adding the dynamic of his and Max’s home life by demonstrating the abusive behavior of his father.
These are also things that happened in the second half of the season when it felt like the writers realized they weren’t doing enough with their characters. This in turn just makes them plot devices than actually fully fleshed characters and takes time away from their original characters.
The addition of these characters could have added more interesting personality elements, but it never felt like The Duffer Brothers and the writers decided to pull the trigger on them. They were misused and inconsequential, only used to set up certain moments they needed to drive their plot. There is a lack of investment in them on their part and that makes an audience feel similarly. But all is not lost because the third season could easily fix these mistakes by giving them their time to shine and be vital to the story. Especially since the actors in those roles were so good. Unless The Duffer Brothers want to continue to face the same backlash as their “The Lost Sister” episode which had similar problems.
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