Following the first season of Stranger Things, people online seemed perturbed by how Nancy Wheeler ended up with jock and seemingly conventional pretty boy Steve Harrington after spending a lot of time with artsy high school freak Jonathan Byers.
**Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers for Stranger Things 2 below. Obviously.**
In Stranger Things 2, the problem is remedied in favor of the Nancy/Jonathan shippers. The end of Season 2 is a mirror of Season 1, with one person in the trio left on the outside. Only instead of Jonathan, Steve is the third wheel.
But why did this have to be fixed? Steve (Joe Keery) is flawed in the ways a lot of teenagers are, but throughout two seasons, he has proven to be the character most capable of emotional growth. We're given a million reasons to like Steve, but very few to like Jonathan.
Steve began the series as the archetypal jerk. In a normal 1980s movie, Nancy (Natalia Dyer) would start off dating him only to learn about two-thirds of the way through that what she needed was in front of her all along, and run into the arms of her best friend. However, Steve became a more important character as the episodes went along, coming to terms with his garbage behavior — including being complicit in a prank to slut-shame Nancy — and learning that it's better to own up to your mistakes and try to fix them than to be a cool kid and impress your friends. At this point, Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) was little more than the brother of the show's victim, identified by his penchant for taking creepy photos and his love of punk music. Neither of them are the ideal boyfriend.
It makes sense that Nancy and Jonathan bond over the course of Season 1. They are brought together due to their own investigations of the Upside Down and seem to be the only two people that are aware of the supernatural element in Hawkins. Like any teenager, Jonathan claims that this makes them special, since they see through the normalcy of small town life when nobody else will. In Season 2, this is emphasized even more by their matching palm scars.
Steve is having a more low-key story of his own, which eventually leads him to the Byers home and straight into a battle with a Demogorgon and his now famous baseball bat weapon. By the end of Season 1, Steve has matured, not only noticing that he has made mistakes, but actively working to fix things, including working solo to take down the movie theater marquee that marks Nancy as the town slut.
Season 2, which takes place a year after Season 1, shows that there is some strain in Nancy and Steve's relationship. They are both struggling with the events of Barb's death in different, seemingly opposing ways, with Steve opting for depressive denial and Nancy spiraling into an angry state. This leads to a disastrous Halloween party where Nancy gets drunk and tells Steve that their relationship is "bulls***," an act that would put any person out of sorts.
After this, Stranger Things starts to take sides in the love triangle, leading to the eventual relationship between Jonathan and Nancy. It does this by hiding facts about Steve until later, allowing Nancy and Jonathan to eventually come to terms with their feelings for each other without the idea of her boyfriend getting in the way.
By taking Steve out of the equation, the audience is losing out on some key information. At first, we're led to believe that Jonathan swoops in to save the day, taking Nancy home and tucking her into bed without doing anything more. However, we learn later that it was Steve who asked Jonathan to drive Nancy home. While he was angry with her, he still cared enough about her well-being to ask somebody both he and she trusted to get her home safe.
Steve also has his own narrative separate from Nancy. As series watchers now know, he becomes the babysitter for Dustin and the rest of the main cast, protecting them from Demogorgons while swinging his trusty bat and just being the cool older brother. Throughout most of this arc, he barely mentions Nancy, even if the implication that he's upset by the situation is clearly there. But by never mentioning her, the show makes it easy for the audience to be on board with Nancy and Jonathan.
The way the series also tries to set up the Nancy/Jonathan relationship is also strange. Nancy and Jonathan have sexual tension and history, which explains why they get together within a couple days of the Halloween party, but it's not until a conversation with former journalist turned conspiracy theorist Murray Bauman (Brett Gelman) that the two eventually consummate their love for each other. There's the implication that a grown adult is invested in the tension between two teenagers, which leaves a weird taste in the mouth, but also that there was always going to be a dramatic culmination of the two's love for each other. (Also, we're adults, and we care, so who are we to judge?) Nancy's emotional cheating on Steve is never called into question because we're led to believe it was just meant to be.
There's the idea then that Nancy and Jonathan are only together because the writing demands they be and because every other character says they are.
Steve's worth as a character isn't exclusively tied to his relationship status, and he grows into a more responsible person with an identity outside of Nancy and Jonathan. By pairing him up with Dustin, the Duffer brothers have turned a 1980s stereotype into a fully-rounded character with his own life. But despite this, there's still a feeling of emptiness regarding Steve, who showed more maturity than most of the adults in Stranger Things but still couldn't hang on to his girlfriend.
This is especially strange when comparing him with Jonathan, who shows little growth throughout two seasons. He becomes more socially open in his relationship with Nancy and more proactive, along with becoming a better brother to Will, but not much else. Jonathan's character is almost exclusively tied to Nancy in a way Steve's isn't. Will is his brother, which means he has a connection to the main plot, but considering how little he does for Will in Season 2, it almost doesn't count.
We're sure the love triangle will continue to be complicated going into Stranger Things 3, but the Duffer brothers will have to give us a reason to like Jonathan over Steve and that's going to be difficult.