**This article contains spoilers for all four seasons of Stranger Things.**
While Netflix’s Stranger Things is of course composed of primarily sci-fi elements, borrowing heavily from horror and fantasy films of the ’80s, it’s core is rooted in realism with themes of family, courage, identity, and the age-old power struggle between light and dark. Season four is no exception, with an earth-shattering (literally) finale that was released on July 1st, the series has set it itself up for one hell of a showdown in it’s fifth and final season. Pun intended.
It’s worth noting that Stranger Things has always had strong female representation, though it hasn’t always passed the Bechdel test (looking at you, seasons one and two). The series originally started out with just three female main characters –Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), Nancy (Natalia Dyer), and Joyce (Winona Ryder)– in an otherwise male-heavy ensemble cast. However, that has changed during the later seasons, as Max (Sadie Sink), Robin (Maya Hawke), and Erica (Priah Ferguson) eventually joined the show full-time. Although some of these ladies were largely relegated to supporting roles most of the time, all six of them seemed to share the spotlight in the show’s fourth season, and it was all the better for it.
In season four, we see the show’s Big Bad, Vecna, target people who had experienced heightened levels of unresolved trauma in their lives. Trauma so damaging, that many of his victims were still struggling on how to cope with it, which certainly rings true for a majority of the female characters on the show. With the exception of Will (Noah Schnapp) and (possibly) Hopper (David Harbour), the majority of the emotional fallout from the events of the series has squarely been the burden of Eleven, Nancy, Joyce, and Max. It’s true that this show definitely puts it’s leading ladies through the wringer, but that pain and trauma is also what helps them fight to become survivors.
Even though it’s always been a defining characteristic of who she is, Eleven comes to term with the abuse she suffered at the hands of her “Papa” (Matthew Modine), and is not only able to move passed it, but is able to use the newly found strength from overcoming it in her fights against Vecna.
Still mourning the loss of her brother, Max’s entire season four storyline is essentially an allegory for how some people deal with depression. It’s only when Max draws on the love and support of her friends that she’s able to break Vecna’s hold in episode four’s “Dear Billy,” and it’s only with the help of her boyfriend and best friend that she’s able to (eventually) survive her deadly encounter with Vecna in the finale.
Following the death of Barb (Shannon Purser) in season one, we do see Nancy deal with a certain amount of survivor’s guilt throughout season two, which motivates her to find “Justice for Barb.” With Barb gone but not forgotten, most viewers had probably assumed that Nancy had healed and moved on, but in episode seven of season four –titled “The Massacre at Hawkins Lab”– Vecna is able to trap Nancy because of the pain and guilt that she still feels over the death of her former best friend. However, Nancy is also able to use the situation to her advantage, learning as much as she can about Vecna while under his thrall, leading to her being able to formulate a plan to try and kill him.
Joyce lost her boyfriend Bob (Sean Astin) at the end of season two, and spent the majority of season three trying to work through the grief of losing a loved one. In season four, Joyce and Murray (Brett Gelman) team-up on a mission to rescue Hopper, who was presumed dead after the events of the season three finale, no matter how much danger she ended up putting herself in. As a mother who had done everything she could to protect and save the children in her life over the past few years, she was determined to do the same for the man she loved.
Women who have experienced abuse and trauma at the hands of others are often bestowed a type of grit once we are done being in survival mode. While it does comes at a cost, this grit allows us to become emotionally (and sometimes physically) strong enough to weather any storm, to think clearly and logically during unimaginable times of stress, and to look out for the people we care about, all at the same time. There’s probably no other concept on the show that so closely mirrors what can happen in the real world.
Stranger Things seasons 1-4 are currently available for streaming only on Netflix.