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Forget Barb: Fuck Nancy

Say hello to the worst person in season two of 'Stranger Things.'
Nancy Wheeler, who sucks. Screenshot via 'Stranger Things'/Netflix

WARNING: This article contains spoilers

Invariably one of the worst things about follow-ups – the second album, season two, the first in a line of derivative sequels where you thought the killer was dead but then his twin brother starts a string of copycat murders – the worst thing about them is that they'll ruin the original for you. The pedestal upon which you placed your favourite thing will crumble into a ruin of plot holes, replacement actors, shit ballads and bad character development. The things you once loved, you will grow to hate. It's the Second Coming effect. It's Nancy in Stranger Things 2.


Honestly, fuck Nancy.

After nine hungover hours fastened to my sofa this weekend, covered in Hobnob crumbs, I can safely say from my cultural high-ground: I hate Nancy Wheeler. Nancy Wheeler is just. Just awful. Nancy Wheeler is so awful that when she leaves Hawkins for days on end – the town where children go missing and end up in a terrifying vortex full of hell-creatures – not even her mum and dad care. When Dustin goes to the Wheeler family home, Mr Wheeler simply shrugs and says, "Our children don't live here any more." Maybe they're hands-off parents, but still: they don't give a fuck. They don't give a fuck about Nancy.

Hating Nancy feels subversive. It feels a bit wrong. You're not really supposed to hate her, that feeling seems to say. You're not really supposed to hate her because Nancy Wheeler is A Badass Girl. She's empowered. She kills monsters. She cuts her hair. She sleeps with who she wants, when she wants. She drinks. She stands up to the American government. You're supposed to like her.

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That said, in just two short seasons, Stranger Things has established a reputation for subverting our expectations of 80s movie tropes – Steve Harrington is a case in point – so maybe it makes sense that Nancy Wheeler, our angel of rural Indiana, didn't become the hero we want to rally around. It's why, when she finally gets with mopey Jonathan – who, IRL, in 2017, would 100 percent wear old skool Vans and listen to Joy Division and publicly read Bukowski and ghost you because you don't get him – it feels hollow. This was the love you were rooting for! This is how it's meant to be! Why aren't you enjoying it? Because Nancy sucks. And because, to get there, we had to see the destruction of Unlikely Good Guy™, Steve Harrington.


Steve is a good man. He wasn't always a good man. But now Steve is a good, kind man who sacrificed his time to help the children of Hawkins defeat evil. He didn't even do it to impress you, Nancy. You weren't even there to see it. He did it because he cares. Steve deserves better than you, a woman who laughs at his college application essays and shouts at him in the toilets at house parties. And yes, of course you're entitled to make your own decisions about who you sleep with. But look, man: Steve never took photos of you having sex with someone else.

It's true that Nancy has some moments of kindness. There is still a glimmer of hope for her. The moment where she finds a distraught Dustin crying because he's been rejected by other girls at the winter ball before dancing with him is a real tearjerker. But we're not crying because Dustin has finally caught a break from the girl who cruelly slammed the door in his face in season one. We're crying because who is Dustin – with his Farah Fawcett hairspray and his sad kind eyes and his doesn't-always-get-it-right-with-women nature – if not a smaller, younger Steve Harrington, who we now universally adore?

It's easy to dismiss Nancy's cruelty because a) she doesn't really love Steve; b) she has history with Jonathan; c) she has agency over her own love life and sexuality – she's a grown woman, Jesus, can you just let her breathe. But look: Nancy is not the feminist saviour of Stranger Things just because she ditched Steve (that's Eleven, obviously, or maybe Joyce, or Max, or Erica, or Kali, or literally any other woman on the show). Even when she's making an attempt at a good deed (dancing with Dustin) she can't resist doing something hateful.


"Girls this age are stupid," she says, blissfully ignorant of a) her own latent misogyny; b) the blasé stupidity with which she disposed of Steve; and c) the fact that a superiority complex and "not like other girls" attitude is what killed her dumb, similarly awful friend Barb just one year ago. We're supposed to roll our eyes when other characters – like Rob Lowe-alike Billy – call Nancy a "princess", thereby dismissing her hidden depths and ignoring her monster-slaying, but Nancy is a princess, really. She thought she was too good for Barb. She thought she was too good for Jonathan, Steve, Dustin. She thinks she's better than other girls. She is not. She is demonstrably worse.

I'm not saying I don't have hope for season three. There might still be character development left for Nancy. Here, briefly, is the arc I foresee:

Scene opens on dark, ash-flecked exterior. The Upside Down. Silence. Then, distantly, a bloodcurdling scream. Nancy Wheeler hurtles into shot, trying desperately to escape the Upside Down. She is shouting for help. There is no help. Nancy is doomed to float in the Upside Down forever, confronting the callousness of her behaviour over the previous some years, her only companion the close-by decomposing corpse of her friend Annoying Barb. In the Right Side Up, life continues as normal. Steve Harrington – now the chief of police at only 21, as Hopper retired to raise Eleven and Will and Jonathan with new wife Joyce Byers – smiles as he heads off for work, his feathered hair ruffling gently in the breeze. He is free.


Honestly, fuck Nancy.


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