It's undeniable that the TV event of the summer is Netflix's Stranger Things. With only eight episodes, the show crafted an ultimate homage to 1980s science fiction and horror. But there was one small part of the show that bothered me. Amongst all the fantastic storytelling and great characters, there was one brief, yet impactful, role which stuck with me. Nancy's best friend, Barb.
Spoilers for Stranger Things lie ahead...
After Episode 3, when poor Barb is sucked into the Upside Down and brutally killed, I was struck by how little the other characters seemed to care. When asked about Barb's death in a Reddit AMA, Glennellen Anderson (who played mean girl Nicole) remarked:
Ouch. It was problematic to me that this awkward, yet oh-so-relatable character was so painfully undervalued, especially in the wake of the #WeAreAllBarb hashtag — and there was something else; her relationship with Nancy.
Nancy was the only one who cared what happened to her best friend, the only one who mourned her death, even looked for her. There was no hunt for missing Barb beyond Nancy's own search, and this was utterly heartbreaking when you look at it through the lens of Barb's unrequited love for her friend, the only person who truly understood and appreciated her for who she was.
More Stranger Things:
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'Stranger Things''s Upside Down And 5 Other Dimensions You Don't Want To Be Trapped In
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Was Barb In Love With Nancy?
Barb is portrayed as the perpetual third wheel, always protective but painfully 'uncool' thanks to her taller-than-average height and studiousness. Despite all this, Barb refuses to be anyone else other than herself. Nancy could stand to learn a thing or two from Barb: the pull of popularity and a new best friend lead her away from Barb, which leaves our bespectacled every(wo)man feeling rejected.So, was Barb — knowingly or unknowingly — in love with Nancy? For me she was, and that just makes what happened to her even more horrifying.
There is nothing worse than watching the one you love be with someone else, so when Nancy tells Barb to go home after Barb is forced to come to a party doesn't want to go to, and slices her hand open trying to participate, no wonder Barb looks so rejected while sitting by the pool, and why her death is one of the most unjust in TV history.
The Importance of Subtext
While Barb is depicted as the outcast, so are LGBT people — especially in small town USA, especially in the 1980s, and until only very recently, on television. Queer people see themselves in Barb because they have been Barb — and not just for her red hair or large spectacles, but for that best friend you would die for. A love which is hard to put into words when you're only seventeen years old. Barb is the everyteen, and while the unrequited love between Nancy and Jonathan is crystal clear, it's not between Nancy and Barb — leaving you to formulate your own conclusions on who Barb is, and what her purpose was.
Stranger Things is full of relationships weaved into the disappearance of Will Byers, and while I make no concrete conclusions on Barb's sexuality, it's quite clear that Barb harbored some kind of unrequited love towards her best friend, both in her attitude towards Steve and his cronies, but also in her loyalty to Nancy. I wish things had been different for Barb, she did not deserve that death, nor the events leading up to it. R.I.P Barb, rest in power.
Do you think Barb was in love with Nancy?