*Spoiler Alert!* This article contains spoilers for both Stranger Things and Stranger Things 2.
While Stranger Things features a smart science fiction plot glued together with endless references to other classic ’80s films, it wouldn’t have been nearly as successful without its great cast. Everyone from the kids to the parents to all the rest of Hawkins’ residents were perfectly cast. So perfect, in fact, that show creators the Duffer Brothers often ended up modifying and growing roles for actors whose performances went above and beyond what they’d originally written in the script.
That was true for cool kid-turned-straight arrow Steve Harrington (played by Joe Keery), and for Nancy’s geeky best friend Barb Holland (Shannon Purser). Unfortunately for Barb, nothing could save her from her eventual fate, which was to be captured by the Demogorgon and killed in the Upside Down. Joyce and Hopper discover her corpse near the end of season one, but that wasn’t enough closure for the legions of fans who made Stranger Things such a massive hit for Netflix.
#JusticeForBarb hashtags started popping up in increasing numbers, with people wondering why Will Byers got such a massive collective effort to be saved when Barb was largely overlooked. Part of that had to do with the Department of Energy’s cover-up, which implied Barb ran away from home. But it still didn’t seem to add up. No one in Hawkins seemed to care very much that Barb disappeared. No one except those who watched the show and demanded she not be forgotten once season two finally came around.
And the makers of the show listened. For the first two-thirds of Stranger Things 2, Nancy and Jonathan have no idea that things are going horribly wrong in Hawkins once again. Instead, they spend the majority of the series preoccupied with justice for Barb, justice they get by teaming up with freelance journalist/investigator Murray Bauman (Brett Gelman), who has been hired by Barb’s parents to track her down.
Knowing that Hawkins Laboratory still keeps tabs on all the phone calls made in the town, Nancy and Jonathan leave a message for Barb’s parents telling them to come to the park to learn what really happened to their daughter. But instead of the Hollands showing up, it’s the Department of Energy. Fortunately, we’re dealing with a much nicer Department of Energy in Stranger Things 2, one that doesn’t kill everyone the moment they attempt to talk.
Whether that’s because they’ve turned a new leaf or because there’s still too much heat on them to execute teenagers in broad daylight remains unclear, but the end result is a meet-up with Dr. Owens (Paul Reiser), who explains they can’t risk knowledge of the portal reaching the Russians before asking them firmly but nicely not to try and talk about it with anyone again.
Unbeknownst to him, Nancy is capturing the entire conversation with a strange new gadget from Radio Shack called a “portable tape recorder.” She and Jonathan leave Hawkins to meet with Murray Bauman, who listens to the tape and believes their story… but doesn’t believe the press will if it’s presented to them as it is. So instead of sharing a wild tale of portals and psychics and Demogorgons and the Upside Down, Bauman “waters down” the story into something much more easily swallowed.