With the arrival of Stranger Things season 2, a whole new chapter in the story of Hawkins and its most colorful residents is upon us. The new season manages to spin out even more mysteries than season 1, while also hinting at what the future will hold for the Stranger Things universe. The creators and writers of the show also manage to satisfyingly follow-up most of the major cliffhangers from the first season.
In the time between season 1 and 2 of Stranger Things, fans naturally had a lot of questions. What happened to Will, and what did he throw up in the finale? Is Eleven coming back? Can a child survive on waffles alone? Season 2 set up plenty of new mysteries, but it also provided answers to each of those queries and more. The Duffer Brothers, meanwhile, also found a way to effectively address one of the more bizarre instances of fan outrage in recent years: #JusticeForBarb.
Barbara Holland’s Second Life
Given Barbara Holland’s characterization and arc in season 1 of Stranger Things, few could have imagined the fan response and backlash that would follow her death. In the course of a typical teen narrative, Barb was cast as the wet blanket to Nancy’s desire to be with Steve. Naturally, this lead to her tagging along to Steve’s house only for Nancy to send her home. All of that wouldn’t have amounted to much more than some tension between the two friends if it weren’t for two instances: Barb cut her hand and did nothing to staunch the bleeding and she decided to hang around in the dark outside after leaving Steve’s house.
Now, Barb had no way of knowing a blood-thirsty Demogorgon was lurking in the woods outside Steve’s house (along with a peeping Jonathan Byers), so her eventual capture by the beast is really no one’s fault. But with her corpse later appearing with no real resolution and any discussion of her largely absent in the climax and denouement of the season, many fans began demanding #JusticeForBarb on social media.
The campaign grew to such a fever pitch that the Duffer Brothers regularly brought it up in interviews ahead of season 2, saying her death would be addressed. Many even believe Shannon Purser’s surprising Emmy nomination was merely driven by the campaign's popularity. Either way, it became increasingly clear in the build up to season 2 that Stranger Things would have to somehow service fans, and it did so in the most fitting way.
How Barb’s Death Informs Season 2
Though #JusticeForBarb likely influenced that deceased character’s role in season 2, it’s hard to imagine Barbara wouldn’t have been a point of discussion in the new story. While some fans were quick to lash out at Stranger Things for somewhat ignoring Barb’s death, it’s important to remember she was never more than a minor supporting character with no real significance. Her death was meant to be a casualty close to home in the quest to understand the Upside Down and Demogorgon and the plot had much bigger concerns towards the end than exploring the fallout of her absence from the story. Regardless of what the plan was for Barb in season 2, the results work perfectly within the narrative.
Nancy certainly had plenty to deal with at the end of season 1, but with the major threat gone the time between seasons saw her consumed by Barb’s death. While her feeling that she and Steve are somehow guilty isn’t founded given what happened, it still makes sense she’d be looking for anyone to blame—even herself. It’s thanks to that we start seeing cracks in Nancy and Steve’s relationship and Barb’s death ends up pulling Nancy back into the action of the story with Jonathan.
From the tragedy of Barb’s parents not knowing what happened to her to Nancy’s breakdown at the party, there’s plenty of drama to be mined from the death. Where Stranger Things season 2 really succeeds, however, is in using the moment to motivate Nancy to do something more. After the story kicks of, Stranger Things uses the episodes in season 2 to weave a number of separate narratives that all work together to deliver the climax and denouement of the story. For Nancy, and Jonathan to a lesser degree, her contribution is the plan to expose the Hawkins National Laboratory and its conspiracy to cover up Barbara’s death.
Nancy's ingenious plan to get caught and record them is one thing, but her evolution thanks to the help of Murray Bauman positions her character as one of the most level-headed residents of Hawkins. Thanks to all her work, the closing of the gate is swiftly followed by the same fate for the lab. Though the whole arc has shades of fan service, it fits so seamlessly into the narrative that it’s hard to deny that Stranger Things season 2 finally gives Barb the justice for which many fans were clamoring.