Thursday, November 16, 2017

Roundtable: Let’s Talk About the Delightful Character Arc of Steve Harrington [Contributors: Jenn, Chelsea, Marilyn, Meredith, Melanie, Stephanie, and Maddie]

In season one of Stranger Things, we met Steve Harrington — Nancy’s jock boyfriend. He was the guy everyone wanted to date, and who Barb constantly side-eyed. But something happened between the end of season one and the most recent season of the Netflix series. Steve became endearing. He was charming, funny, and good-hearted. He stood up for the kids, protected them, and took on the biggest jerk in the show.

We absolutely loved Steve Harrington this season, and since his character development is probably one of the strongest of the series, we thought we’d talk about him and why his arc as so important. Obviously there are spoilers for season two of Stranger Things included.

How did you feel about Steve before going into season two of Stranger Things?

Jenn: Oh gosh, I didn’t like him much at all. I feel like in a lot of ways, first seasons are meant to establish characters but writers often have to establish them as archetypes first. So Steve, to me, was always the stereotypical jock character that you’d see in every 80s movie. I never quite understood why, apart from the whole “class system” of it all, Nancy liked him. He was a jerk to the people around him and was fairly dismissive of Barb as a person. And did we all forget about the graffiti or? No? I surely didn’t. Now, my favorite thing last season was when Steve teamed up with Nancy and Jonathan. I thought they made a great team, but apart from being with the two of them and providing comedic relief, I really didn’t enjoy Steve at all.

Chelsea: I actually really liked Steve in season one. He was a dummy with a crush on Nancy and we saw him slowly grow into a good dummy. I didn’t ever blame him for breaking Jonathan’s camera or being rude to him. The dude was taking creepy photos of Nancy undressing, and it did look like Nancy was cheating on him with Jonathan. That’s cause for concern. Then he had his big moment in the finale and it was just so cute seeing how they needed him in the end.

Marilyn: Last season, I couldn’t stand Steve. He was a bully and a jerk and when they redeemed him at the end of the season by having him help Nancy and Jonathan fight the demogorgon, I was annoyed. I was even more annoyed to see Nancy was back to dating him at the end. Ugh, season one Steve was the worst.

Mer: Steve was my “ugh” last season — the tropey douche popular boyfriend. Even his redemption toward the end didn’t really resonate with me. Of course I’m sure much of this was because I definitely ship Jonathan and Nancy, but Steve was just a jerk.

Stephanie: Steve was almost a throwaway character for me. He was interesting enough but really only there to provide extra tension to the Nancy/Jonathan dynamic. I almost assumed we’d see him just go away early into season two to make room for Nancy/Jonathan. And he did... but then he came back in the best way possible and now I’m really excited to see more of Steve.

Melanie: I’ll be honest, he was probably my least favorite character. I didn’t actively dislike him after his redemption towards the end of season one but I thought the decision to have Nancy stay with him was a little odd

Maddie: Steve reminded me of that guy in high school who surprisingly was a good guy when you encountered him by himself, but whenever he was around his friends he was just the worst. I had hope for Steve and felt the his redemption arc was at a realistic pace. Now after watching season two, he’s one of my absolute favorites.

What do you think about the way the show developed Steve this season? And did the character development make sense to you?

Jenn: I don’t know how, but Steve became the best-developed character in this season. While I appreciate the fact that Stranger Things took the time to explore different facets of the other characters, Steve had the most solidly developed arc. From the first episode, we see him contemplating a future. He wants to be serious and figure out how to live a “normal” life in spite of all that he’s gone through. He goes to dinner at Barb’s parents’ (and has the adorable “finger-lickin’ good” line). This season, we saw Steve turn from the king of the school to someone who is self-sacrificing, humble, and heroic.

Chelsea: Of all the character arcs this season, somehow Steve’s felt the most solid. You immediately saw how caring and devoted he was to Nancy with those dinners with Barb’s family, and how he wanted to get a job in town after high school to be close to her. His whole story was of heartbreak and coming to terms with what he had with Nancy.

Marilyn: I think the development Steve got was nearly brilliant. The writers had to know how the fans felt about his character. Steve had to get a wake-up call, which came in the form of Nancy’s tirade at him at the party. She wasn’t wrong — his life was pretty much focused around B.S. He was all about the popularity, the appearances, and wasn’t really spending a lot of time on what was real. When Dustin asked him for help, that was his chance to do something real. Bless the boy, because he grabbed it and ran with it. Seeing how he chose to embrace the real over the crap absolutely helped explain his development.

Mer: The writers did a brilliant job. And I think it was fantastic that his development had nothing to do with Nancy. Steve grew as a character because of Steve, and not because of anyone else.Looking back now, it started at the end of season one. But rushing it then wouldn’t have made sense. Waiting to really flesh it out until this season definitely made it feel earned and believable.

Stephanie: They really went above and beyond my expectations. Going into season two, Steve was just the guy who, at the eleventh but very vital hour, showed up with a baseball bat and finally did something useful and heroic. What I liked was how that one moment didn’t completely change him like it did everyone else because that’s how trauma affects some people. He didn’t deny what happened, but he also just wanted to move on from it — until the moment he realized that he couldn’t and shouldn’t. Considering how quickly he jumped into mom!Steve mode and that I believed it instantly is proof enough for me that the show did its job well.

Melanie: I loved that they basically took Steve away from the context of Nancy. Up until now, he was Nancy’s jerk boyfriend. Now he was this guy struggling with being in love with someone who didn’t love him and was finding where he fit in the overall story. Turns out, he fits in pretty well as a protector and mentor to the kids rather than as the action hero he wanted to be. Giving him someone who looked up to him and relied on him in a non-romantic sense was an awesome decision to bring Steve out of the stereotype and into his own mold as a real character. What started out as a way to occupy his time and distract himself from his issues with Nancy turned into his calling.

Maddie: Most of all, I loved the pacing of his arc. There were slight teases of it in the last season, and it continued to be a gradual change. This is a guy that has a good heart but he is valued by both others and himself for his “King Steve” status. He’s been able to coast on charm, good looks, athletic ability, and popularity all his life. However, now Steve is starting to see that all of those traits about himself that he holds dear are temporary and it scares him. We get to see Steve stripped away of his popularity and status, and he simply is unable to coast by on charm anymore. It causes Steve to grow up. Steve is a natural leader and excels at taking care of others, but that is something he had only used in team sports up until this point. He uses parts of who he was as a jock to lead and protect the kids. They are his team now.

Spend this time talking about the way the show paired Steve up with Dustin throughout the latter half of the season. What did you like about it? Is there anything you disliked?

Jenn: I think the best thing that Stranger Things did this season was pair up Steve with the kids. I’ll admit that on a show with a cast as big as theirs, it’s sort of detrimental to some characters that they never get to interact or be part of the main story (I have those qualms with Nancy and Jonathan’s characters, because they’re typically more B-story focused). But moving Steve from side-stories with Nancy and Jonathan and into a story where he was the mentor and protector of the kids was absolutely brilliant. Last season, I would have thought that putting Jonathan with them would have made more sense. But somehow it worked so well to pair up Steve with the kids and, in particular, Dustin.

Though the kids have always been outcasts together, Dustin has kind of been the one most in need of a mentor figure. Steve perfectly filled that older brother/guardian figure in his life this season. From the moment that Steve begrudgingly helped Dustin, I knew the relationship would be fun to watch but had no idea how much I would love it — or how necessary it actually was to the fabric of the show overall. Steve gave Dustin advice and looked out for him when no one else would. And when Dustin turned into a mini-Steve at the end? Adorable. Even more adorable? That Steve drove him there. Seriously, whoever thought of this Steve/Dustin storyline deserves a fruit basket.

Chelsea: This older brother/mom role Steve fell into was everything none of us knew we needed, including those two. Part of Steve coming to terms with his break-up came in the form of giving advice to Dustin and him low-key hoping Dustin wouldn’t have the same fate. Oddly enough, Dustin got his heartbreak too and Nancy ended up being his savior. I see this circle as a sign that there’s going to be more Steve/Dustin friendship, and that we haven’t seen the last of Steve/Nancy.

Marilyn: The pairing of Dustin and Steve was the best thing to happen to this show since the pairing of Hopper and Eleven. Or something like that. I loved it. On the one hand, it makes sense from a practical standpoint: Dustin is beloved by the fans and Steve was not. Being around Dustin makes Steve more likable, especially when he’s not picking on him but is instead giving him advice on hair and girls. But what I really liked is how they both complemented one another. Through Steve, Dustin learned to be more confident. Through Dustin, Steve learned to let his geek self out a little more.

Mer: Oh this was just wonderful. It was funny and heartfelt and sweet. Really, most of the pairings on this show are either romantic or could be romantic, so to have one that was 100% something else entirely was a refreshing break. Both Gaten and Joe do comedy very well, and the humor injected into their scenes together really helped move the show along and break up the heaviness. This also let us see a different side of Steve — one that wasn’t at all connected to his relationship with Nancy. And of course, under his sarcasm and wit, Dustin is a boy desperately seeking a father figure. Though Steve is really just a kid himself, he was able to at least somewhat fulfill that for Dustin. Really, A+ work here, Stranger Things. Hit it out of the ballpark with this duo.

Stephanie: A perfect pairing and one I didn’t see coming. If anyone was going to a surrogate father figure for Dustin, I thought it would be Jonathan because he already plays that role for his own brother. But I loved Steve stepping in instead. It was wonderful to learn more about who Steve is as a character. It’s one thing to learn about him by seeing how he treats his equals, meaning other teenagers. His interactions with Dustin and the other kids reveal a new depth to Steve that I was surprised but pleased to discover.

Melanie: It was so interesting to see Dustin gravitate toward Steve the way he did. He’s the obvious choice for this type of thing: popular guy, handsome, is dating the older girl Dustin had a crush on in season one. But Steve comes across very flawed very quickly. He gives Dustin what the audience knows is dumb, but typical, advice. He’s lost the girlfriend and his confidence. He’s basically hanging around Dustin at first because he doesn’t know what else to do. And it developed so naturally into a full relationship by the end to have Steve dropping Dustin off at the dance and wishing him luck. Steve spent the first few episodes of the season feeling inadequate and not knowing where his future was going and Dustin served as this sort of vicarious individual that could make better choices in love and school than Steve did.

Maddie: Dustin and Steve are precious and must be protected at all costs. I love absolutely loved this pairing. In my mind, Steve’s character development had been gradual until the point that Dustin came along and then things just clicked. Steve is dealing with how hard growing up can be and seeing the purity of childhood that Dustin embodies draws them together and brings out Steve’s protective instinct. Steve wants to protect Dustin from heartbreak just as much as he does against the demadogs. Joe and Gaten had great chemistry, and their scenes balanced the heart and humor of the characters so well. Steve and Dustin were exactly what each character needed at the time.

How did you feel about the way Stranger Things constructed the Steve/Nancy/Jonathan triangle this season? What did you like and/or dislike about it?

Jenn: I’m not really a fan of the love triangle element, and I think that the decision to mainly separate the trio this season (with the exception of some episodes with Jonathan/Nancy and some with Steve/Nancy) really helped. Though I would have loved to see the three of them hang out more, it’s not really plausible because of their dynamics (Nancy and Jonathan shouting, “STEVE?!” is still a favorite moment of this season though). So in that regard, I think I appreciated the fact that the love triangle wasn’t as blatant or overt as it could have been.

Chelsea: I don’t know how I feel about the triangle itself, since Nancy’s whole story this season was #JusticeForBarb. Nancy was one of my favorite characters last season because she was strong, subverted her archetype, and was generally the smartest person in the room. Her whole plot with Jonathan was the worst part of the season and felt so out of place and heavy-handed. It was a clear reaction to the internet’s love of Barb and they had to sacrifice all of her screentime for that and a half-baked romance. Nancy is a smarter person when she’s single, or half-dating Steve. While I love Steve Harrington so dang much, I want more for Nancy than a love triangle. And Jonathan Byers is useless, and would be the perfect character to kill off.

Marilyn: It wasn’t handled terribly neatly, but that’s probably one of the things I liked best about it. Because life isn’t neat. You don’t always say the right thing when breaking up with someone. You don’t always turn your back on temptation. You don’t always make the right choices in the moment. Sometimes, we break each other’s hearts. And sometimes we find something good, despite it all. I know Nancy has gotten a lot of flak online which is disappointing and reeks of sexism (then again, since when is that new on the Internet?). Nancy wasn’t the only one in this little triangle. Everyone made their choices, for better or worse. No one was perfect. But I believe everyone ended up where they needed to be by the end of the season.

Mer: Ehhhh, triangles don’t do it for me. I am a total Nancy/Jonathan shipper, and I choose to view this season as having ended the Steve/Nancy and moved on to Jonathan/Nancy. I think Steve let her go at the end, and Nancy, by going with Jonathan, made her choice. I enjoyed that it wasn’t dragged out. Maybe future seasons will see Steve with someone new. Or maybe not — if he sticks with his role as SoccerMom!Steve I’d be good with that, too!

Stephanie: This almost didn’t feel like a triangle to me? The Steve/Nancy relationship was already on the rocks when we started this season. Steve seemed resentful of the connection between Nancy and Jonathan but in a very understandable way. Nancy really should have expressed her feelings for each guy better, but what teenager is capable of that? If anything bothered me it was the assumption that Nancy and Jonathan had this simmering relationship when, as far as I can remember, we have no indication they really did anything together during the year we didn’t see. 

Melanie: Again, I wasn’t into the idea of Nancy staying with Steve at the end of season one. I thought it would have been smarter to leave her without either of them at the end since she clearly still had issues with Steve and had at least some attraction to Jonathan. And with the way the first few episodes went for her, having her with Steve was just delaying the inevitable and setting up to make her look worse than she needed to. Steve tells her there’s nothing wrong with her not being in love with him and having feelings for someone else. But I wish the rest of the fandom recognized that. Steve’s a great guy, but Nancy isn’t obligated to love him.

Maddie: The only redeeming part about this triangle was Brett Gelman’s performance as Murray commenting on the whole situation. I’m rather ambivalent about Nancy, personally, but I understood why Steve liked her and his insecurity regarding Jonathan was understandable. Moreover, we always forget that these characters are teens and how often teens’ choices are quite often not made from an emotionally mature place. That’s a time where it makes sense for a love triangle to happen and break-ups can be messy and not handled deftly. But I think that the true moment that showed how much Steve had grown was how comfortable he was with Nancy and Jonathan in the end. Him telling Nancy that Jonathan needed her while helping Will was such a great moment. Like Marilyn said, everyone is where they are supposed to be now.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Chelsea: Steve Harrington is a treasure, and is finally getting the recognition he deserves. Joe Keery did some amazing work this season, and low key became the heart of the show. Presumably, Steve won’t be going to college, and I hope he continues to be this role model/parental figure for the kids.

Jenn: Ditto what Chelsea said, especially about Joe Keery. He really shone this season, and it’s a credit to his acting that Steve was so beloved.

Marilyn: I hope they don’t do the Steve Harrington Redemption Arc on Billy. Because Billy is pretty awful, his terrible father aside, and I think we should get to keep some awful people on this show as unrepentantly awful. You know?

Mer: I agree with Marilyn on Billy. But I also hope this isn’t a sort of plateau for Steve. Now he’s been redeemed and everyone adores him. Great. So what’s next? That’s my question. What’s next for Steve?

Stephanie: I also completely agree about Billy. As for Steve, I want to see how he continues to grow and where that takes him. And because they are so often compared to one another, I’d also like to see Jonathan grow too. He cares a lot about Nancy and his own family but what about everyone else?

Melanie: I loved turning Steve into this vulnerable person this season. His cockiness and attitude last season were big reasons why I really couldn’t stand him. And it’s more than just the thrill of seeing someone like that taken down a peg. Steve turned into a real person underneath the facade in a very organic way (minus the love triangle). The bit with Billy did seem short and unfinished, as everyone else mentioned. But I don’t want to see Billy redeemed the same way Steve has been. Billy is going through some awful things at home, that’s not his fault. What is his fault is how he chose to handle that. The internet already has enough toxic male character apologists (looking at you, Kylo Ren lovers); we don’t need more.

Maddie: I concur with everyone else regarding Billy. I loved how in Beyond Stranger Things the Duffer Brothers talked about how Billy was important to the narrative to show that monsters can be humans in contrast to the literal monsters the party was facing. And I strongly feel adding a redemption arc to Billy would destroy the significance of that point. I’m looking forward to where Steve’s story is going to go next. If he stays in Hawkins after graduating, I’d kind of love for him to train to in the sheriff deputy. Also, hopefully Steve actually gets paid to babysit the kids in the future. Farrah Fawcett spray does not come cheap.

What did you all think of Steve this season? Sound off in the comments below!

1 comment:

  1. Well said, ladies! Steve is an absolute gem. Pairing him with Dustin strengthened his tie to the core cast. I'm interested to see the friendship between Dustin and Steve grow as the series moves forward.