Mild spoilers for Season 2 of Stranger Things ahead.
I just started episode six, so I'm not through, but so far, Season 2 of Stranger Things is knocking it out of the 80s-inspired park in almost every aspect. It's stronger than the first by a long shot, with much tighter pacing—it feels like a horror thriller in itself, with the confidence to be its own thing, less the loose mishmash of Goonies/Gremlins/Aliens/General 80s Spielberg tropes that defined season one.
The characters are more sharply drawn, and given a little more room to breathe outside of their 80s movie caricatures. And the action is far more intense thus far.
Those tropes are still there, of course, and some of them are even fun! There's a hilarious E.T. homage in episode five, with Dusty pulling a whole bait routine on an otherworldly creature. The season opener, with our little A/V club kids dressed as Ghostbusters, was adorable. And the arcade!
But there's one that's a lot less awesome, and that's the oh-so-80s-movie sexism.
I'm not even talking about the literal locker room talk between teen boys, but more the so-tired-I've-fallen-asleep trope of the token girl.
See, Eleven was the token girl last season. She's psychic, with psionic powers, a young lady who ran away from the evil lab doing horrific experiments (which opened a hole into the upside down dimension that spells trouble for the tiny town of Hawkins). Michael, the AV Club's de facto leader, was also pretty much in love with her, in the way very young teens fall in love. At the end of last season, Eleven disappeared from the crew's lives.
When a new girl—Max, who has the town record on Dig Dug—shows up, Michael rejects her, causing a fissure in the group. The other boys want to let her hang out, but not Michael. Mike knows the secret arcane knowledge of boys clubs from the beginning of time: there can only be one girl. Girls are not people with individual personalities and complexities, they are girls.
I know many people will argue that its period appropriate, or that it's a commentary of sorts, but I really don't think the Duffer Brothers have done anything to earn it.
When Eleven shows up for half a second, instead of rejoining the group, she injures Max out of jealousy. That jealousy is heavily implied, since she watches Mike and Max have their first positive interaction in the whole show. They even smile at each other. So, naturally, fearing that she has been replaced as the one girl, Eleven lashes out. Sisters are super not doing it for themselves on this show, friends.
This particular stereotype is tired, it's outdated, and lord knows, it's harmful. I've been the subject of "only one girl" thinking my entire life, and, consciously or not, pitted against other women for social status time and again in male-dominated groups. I'm certainly not the only one—Cecilia D'Anastasio at Kotaku wrote a fantastic piece earlier this year about how pernicious this can be among women in gaming.
I suppose Mike isn't all bad. He is the one kid who is against literally prostituting his sister for dates, the one bargaining chip the A/V Club has with the jerky older teen who works at the arcade. But, I suspect that's because she is his sister, and not out of any notion of equality or decency or some such.
I'm still enjoying the hell out of the show, and other aspects of its 80s-ness. But pro-tip, TV producers: if you mean to comment on something, you have to actually say something about it. Otherwise, you're just propagating the same old shit.