(Be forewarned that this article contains spoilers regarding plot points and characters for Stranger Things: Season 2)
Netflix’s Stranger Things has done a pretty good job of turning a lot of horror tropes on their head in its two-season run so far, while also mixing in a fair amount of necessary ones associated with the genre. The show’s biggest success in converting an overused trope, not only in horror but in a lot of other genres as well, can be found with their development of the King of Hawkins High, Steve Harrington.
In season one we are introduced to Steve via Nancy, as the two eventually get together. At first, Nancy’s boyfriend comes off as the typical high school popular kid in movies or shows, dating the smart, but pretty, shy girl in order to have sex with her.
Everything about him is charming. The way he looks, the way he talks, and he even has chemistry with Nancy. If tropes have taught us anything, that’s all too good to be true. We are given the impression that he will simply use her, then abandon her for another fling once the deed is done. Instead, not only does Steve turn out to be a genuinely nice guy, he isn’t even the one who fully initiates their first time – even though he suggests it the first time, but stops when Nancy is uncomfortable – Nancy is.
Even the first confrontation that Steve has with Jonathan Byers in season one – the other character that we are rooting for that has a crush on Nancy – is totally justified. While harsh, Steve breaks Jonathan’s camera after hearing that he had taken pictures of Steve and his friends at the pool party, one of which was of Nancy getting undressed. The viewers have the foresight of knowing that the situation isn’t entirely what it seems, even though it was a bit creepy, but to Steve, he is simply defending his girlfriend from a potential stalker.
But the potential for Harrington to turn into a trope was far from over, as he discovers later on in the season that Jonathan was in Nancy’s room. Soon after, we see a scene where Steve’s friends start writing hateful things about Nancy, as he does nothing to stop them out of anger. When confronted by Nancy and Jonathan, Steve told Nancy to go to hell, spewed insults at Jonathan about his family and pushed him until they ended up in a fistfight.
What takes place after this is a key turning point for his character, the one that began his transition from a trope to a unique character. When Tommy and Carol continue to talk trash about Nancy after the fact, he tells them both to shut up, stating he regretted their actions. After calling them both miserable people, he drove off to the movie theater to help them clean the vulgar spray paint about Nancy off the marquee. The scene shows he simply acted out of anger, showing he is a flawed person as opposed to the archetypical hateful boyfriend antagonist most shows depict so that the shy kid can overcome them.
If that wasn’t enough, when Steve shows up at the Byers house later in the season to talk to Nancy about things, Stranger Things presents us with another possible trope, that he would die before he could get his redemption or understand what was going on. Instead, not only does he avoid the Demogorgon, he comes back inside and fought off the monster with a spiked bat. At the end of the season, Steve even winds up staying with Nancy, who was teased to get with Jonathan after everything that occurred.
I won’t spoil entirely too much for Stranger Things season two, but it doesn’t last long, something else that further improves Steve’s character in my opinion. In season one Steve’s only motives are centered around Nancy. And while there is plenty of conflict between the two at the start, the latter part of the season puts Steve in a different, complementary role with the main actors, a role he jokingly refers to as the babysitter.
His dynamic with each kid is perfect and hilarious. Of all of the party, his relationship with Dustin is the best, as Steve acts like a surrogate big brother to him, giving him relationship advice and sweet hair tips. It’s all something that viewers could never have expected when introduced to the character in season one, as he was immediately pegged as the asshole hump that Jonathan needed to get over to get with Nancy.
Yet even when Jonathan and Nancy do eventually get together, Steve is understanding about the situation. While it’s certainly heartbreaking to see, it’s also refreshing to see a character handle a tough situation like that maturely. Especially given the introduction of Billy, everything that Steve was typecast to be in the first season.
Billy’s obnoxious, arrogant attitude is exactly what we expected Steve to be by the end of season one. But in season two we get the perfect comparison between the two that displays just how different of a character Steve actually is, despite having some similar personality traits to Billy.
Honestly one of the best things about Steve’s character too is that, despite trying his hardest, he always gets his ass kicked. The assumption is that the jock should always be able to win a fight. But Jonathan and Billy both beat Steve in a fight pretty handily. On the flip side, Steve is able to take out Demogorgon and demo-dogs no problem, which is pretty hilarious comparison wise (always bring your bat Steve).
Everything listed above makes Steve the overall best character in Stranger Things throughout both seasons. The expectations I had for the character vs the way he was developed could not have been further from each other. While he could have simply faded into obscurity in the second iteration, instead the Duffer Brothers chose to expand his role past Nancy, something that not only benefited Steve, but the characters he was placed with. I can’t wait to see what the next installments have in store for King of Hawkins High and his beautiful Farrah Fawcett sprayed hair.