Poor Barb. Appearing in only two episodes (not counting the one in which her corpse turns up), Barb's presence in Stranger Things was clearly to give Nancy — the teen female lead — a reason to get involved in the main plot. Characters like Barb are common in the thriller genre. They give scope to the story beyond the protagonists, and build tension when something bad inevitably happens to them. They exist to show us that anyone can die, and usually they're not particularly missed by the viewers.
But while Barb slots into this archetype perfectly, there's one thing that sets her apart from the other dead-best-friend characters of her ilk — and that's her popularity among the fanbase.
Inspiring scores of hashtags and fan art aplenty, Barb really chimed with fans of the show. Many people cried out for #justiceforbarb, asking showrunners the Duffer brothers to follow up on Barb's death. After all, with the entire plot revolving around one child's disappearance, why was Nancy the only person worried about Barb? Now, Matt Duffer has responded to these calls to action, and his response hints at some interesting developments in Season 2.
Barb Will Be Missed In The Real World, If Not In Her Own
One of the reasons Barb became such a talking point was because she was just so trope-y, and despite her dire predicament the show didn't really follow up on the impact her disappearance had. We saw her mother only once, speaking on the phone with Nancy, and with the beginnings of genuine fear for her daughter's safety. This seemed like the perfect set up to get Barb's parents involved in the story, but they were never seen again, not even popping into the police station to get updates on Barb's case.
It's difficult to know whether this was somewhat lazy writing on the Duffer brothers' part, or if they were trying to make a point — that in death Barb was as invisible as she was in life. Even Nancy's interview with the police was more about her than her missing friend, with the officer focusing uncomfortably on Nancy's sexual activities that night and not-so-subtly implying that if she'd kept her legs shut, Barb would still be alive. This scene was a fantastic exploration of victim-blaming culture, but again shifted the focus from Barb to Nancy.
So did the whole town really not care about Barb's fate? According to Matt Duffer, there was a reaction to this, we just didn't get to see it. Here's what he told IGN:
"People get very frustrated, understandably, that the town doesn’t seem to be really dealing with Barb. That stuff is all happening. We’re just not spending any screen time on it."
With only 10 episodes in Season 1, something had to go — and apparently that something was Barb's plot line.
"It’s not like her parents are like ‘Oh Barb left. She died!’ Season One actually takes place over the course of six or seven days – it’s a really short period of time. So part of what we want to do with hypothetical Season 2 is to explore the repercussions of everything that happened."
The problem with this is that we did actually see a bit of follow up in the "one month later" epilogue to the finale episode, in which everything seemed hunky dory, especially for Nancy. But there was no kind of exploration of the impact Barb's death had, leading to some unanswered questions: Did her parents find out about the Upside Down? Did the town ever question why the government tried to cover up both Will's and Barb's disappearances? Or did Nancy and the others just let everyone keep thinking Barb ran away?
Stranger Things To Come
It's obvious that Season 2 will explore the consequences of everything that happened in Season 1 — there were tons of hints in the final episode pointing towards new plot lines, as well as implications that the mysterious government agency isn't done with Hawkins yet.
With Eleven's return clearly set up in the final scenes of Season 1, and Will's experience in the Upside Down apparently giving him his own set of creepy powers, we're left wondering whether Barb herself will return in some shape or form — possibly changed by the Demogorgon into some kind of horrific hybrid.
Yet despite tons of fan theories about Barb's return, according to Matt Duffer, this won't happen.
"I can’t see it happening. But Barb will not be forgotten."
Of course this could all be a red herring to distract us from Barb being the Big Bad of Season 2, but that seems unlikely. We're just going to have to face the fact that Barb was nothing more than a cautionary tale, her disappearance only important to drive Nancy to become "kind of a badass now". Which is a shame, because this pitch for Season 2 sounds perfect:
Maybe wanting Barb to return is just wishful thinking. Maybe we're all reading too much into a minor character's role in the show. But the thing is, Barb is us — the awkward, bespectacled best friend, too nerdy to roll with the in crowd, but still loyal to a fault. We've all been in Barb's shoes, just wanting to hang with our friend, pretending to be cool at house parties, and inevitably getting left out when the aforementioned friend — obviously way hotter than us — sashays off to do the nasty with the resident jock.
Only for Barb, getting left out in the cold resulted in her demise at the hands (and jaws) of the gruesome Demogorgon. And we're left wondering if in that situation, would we really fare any better?
Do you want to see Barb return in Season 2 of Stranger Things? Tell us in the comments!