Back when Stranger Things premiered in 2016, the internet fell for a certain mom-jeaned, bespectacled gal pal by the name of Barb Holland (Shannon Purser).
A shy, quiet girl, Barb was the devoted best friend to Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer)—her devotion, as well as her “otherness” and alienation from everyone but Nancy, prompted readings of coded desire. But Barb’s sudden and unceremonious disappearance left a hole not only in the plot but in the hearts of many a fan.
The latest season of Stranger Things, which debuted July 4 on Netflix, seemingly strives to rectify the dirty done to Barb with the introduction of Maya Hawke’s Robin.
She’s snarky, she’s funny, she can break a top secret Russian code in like a day, and as we learn near the end of Season 3, she’s a lesbian. A real, honest-to-goodness, fabulous, bad ass lesbian.
Robin works alongside Steve “The Hair” Harrington (Joe Keery), Nancy’s ex-bf, at the local mall’s ice cream shop, Scoops Ahoy—hence the incredibly embarrassing and instantly iconic sailor costumes.
Steve’s pint-sized bestie Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) thinks Steve and Robin are perfect for each other, should the erstwhile high school lothario only pull his perfectly-coiffed head out of his ass.
For awhile it appears that the two are indeed perfect for each other and that we’re being prepared for an ’80s-style romance when Steve finally realizes that his true love has been in front of him the entire time. Robin even admits that she was “obsessed” with Steve back when they shared Mrs. Click’s sophomore history class and she, unbeknownst to Steve, sat behind him for an entire school year.
But it turns out Robin’s true object of desire was someone else: Tammy Thompson. Robin was obsessed with Steve because Tammy “wouldn’t stop staring at” him.
“I wanted her to look at me. But…she couldn’t pull her eyes away from you and your stupid hair,” Robin confesses after she and Steve barely escape with their lives in Episode 7. “And you were a douchebag. And—and you didn’t even like her. I would go home…and just scream into my pillow.”
“But Tammy Thompson’s a girl,” Steve, always quick on the uptake, observes.
Robin was terrified that Steve wouldn’t want to be friends with her once he knew who she really was, but The Hair has grown. To his credit, Steve uses Robin’s disclosure to further bond with her, dismissing Tammy, an aspiring singer, as “cute and all” but a “total dud,” who sounds “like a Muppet giving birth.”
It’s a sweet moment and one not lacking in significance, considering the show’s time and setting—Hawkins, Indiana, 1985—as well as Stranger Things’ inherent, if not explicit, queer appeal, as it has always danced on the line of camp with its knowing fascination with, cum sendup of, the ’80s. For examples from this season, look no further than Eleven (Millie Bobbie Brown) and Max’s (Sadie Sink) glamour shots montage or the endearingly twee duet to “The NeverEnding Story.”
With the welcomed addition of Robin, Stranger Things’ queerness becomes explicit. And Robin’s desperation, her sense of invisibility, plays perfectly into what has always been one of the show’s greatest strengths: balancing the supernatural with the mundanity of childhood, when everything feels like life or death.
It’s one thing to be gay and closeted in 1985 Indiana, but when the fate of the world is at stake, it kinda puts everything else in perspective—if only temporarily. What seemed like the end of the world—a secret crush who can’t or won’t reciprocate—is nothing compared to the real thing.
In the end, Robin avoids the fate of many a queer character (R.I.P. Barb), emerging as a fully-formed character and coming to embody the meaning of “friendship goals” with Steve Harrington, who’s really turned it around since Season 1.
Who woulda thought this douchebag himbo (with admittedly amazing hair) would turn out to be one of Hawkins’ most sympathetic and likable residents—or that he would be best friends with a girl who has absolutely no romantic or sexual interest in him?
That really is growth. Good job, Hair!