Didn’t Barb deserve better?

07.27.16 10 months ago

WARNING: There are Stranger Things spoilers below.

Netflix”s Stranger Things has received a pretty tremendous response from viewers and critics since it premiered earlier this month, and one of the most unexpected breakouts from the show has been Barb, the “nerdy,” bullshit-calling best friend of doe-eyed teen Nancy Wheeler (Natalie Dyer). Memes, fan art and hashtags have resulted from the character's surprising popularity, leaving “Barb” herself — or rather, Shannon Purser, making her screen debut — a little aghast at all the attention. “The internet buzz for Barb specifically was a lot more than I ever expected,” Purser told Vulture in a recent interview. “Me and my sisters and my mom, we all gather around and look at all the fan art. It's absolutely incredible.”

I happen to be one of Barb”s many admirers, and I think it”s because she not only plays one of my favorite ’80s archetypes — the big-spectacled third wheel/confidante, perpetually underestimated — but because Purser brings a realness and vulnerability to the role that transcends that archetype. It”s also why I happen to be a little frustrated that she didn”t get a proper send-off. After being so cruelly snatched from that backyard diving board and dragged into the Upside Down, Barb is quickly dispatched by the show's resident monster and later found dead in a pile of green slime.

It”s not the fact that Barb died that bothers me — though if I”d had it my way, she definitely would have finished out the season alive — but rather that, aside from a smattering of silent, teary-eyed remorse from Nancy, who after all did coldly shoo her away so she could sleep with her big-haired boyfriend Steve (Joe Keery), Barb isn”t much mentioned again after her body is discovered, and we never even see the reaction of Barb”s family to either her disappearance or demise (I imagine her mother and father sporting that same orange bouffant and affection for frilly collars, by the way). Didn”t Barb deserve better than that, not least for the fact that she was such a loyal friend? Didn't she deserve to be properly mourned?

Listen, Stranger Things creators the Duffer Brothers could never could have predicted the cult that would spring up around Barb, so it”s somewhat understandable that they didn”t give what amounts to a tertiary character a proper arc. Still, their treatment of her in an otherwise solid series does, ironically, adhere to the archetype Purser so winningly transcended. After all, the best friend never gets the ending she deserves. 

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