This past weekend, I finished watching the third season of Stranger Things, and was left marveling at several aspects of how the show was put together. I loved the cinematography and use of lighting, I thought their depiction of a D&D group that constantly struggles to host an actual game of D&D was hilariously on point, but more than anything else I was consistently struck by how much the show’s third season was driven by the actions its female characters, new and old alike.
Not only were women constantly in the right and pushing the plot forward, but they were often correct and competent in the face of wholly incompetent and gross men trying to get in their way.
Spoilers for Season 3 of Stranger Things below.
Eleven and Max form an onscreen female friendship, something which the show had been sorely lacking in for some time. The pair are the first characters chronologically to realize something is wrong with Billy. They discover the blood-soaked lifeguard gear he has been hiding, investigate who he has managed to hurt, and ultimately discover two of the first victims of the season by themselves.
Beyond that, Eleven is obviously the most physically capable character in our adventure, fighting off armed soldiers and a huge creature by herself multiple times and keeping the party safe. She pulls a monstrous leech out of her own leg with her mind and still has the focus and energy to keep fighting. But even beyond her physical strength, she also has the emotional fortitude to dig into Billy, understand what makes him tick, and help him to see how he can still be good after everything that has happened.
Nancy Wheeler is working as an intern at a local small-town newspaper, basically in charge of grabbing food and drink for the chauvinist male reporters above her. She finds a credible story and when her bosses laugh down her pitch, she pursues it anyway. When she’s fired for pursuing the story, alongside Jonathan Byers, she continues to believe she has a lead even in the face of Jonathan telling her she was wrong to try and be a journalist.
With a little encouragement from her determined feminist mother, Nancy uncovers the fact that not only have rats been eating strange chemicals over town, but so have humans. This discovery leads to the realization that there is a hivemind controlling all these captured animals and people, but also allows her to discover that they can combine with each other.
In terms of characters who notice unusual things happening around town, but have their fears and observations ignored by the men around them, Joyce Byers is very used to that. She is also first on the scene in realizing that there is a huge machine under the town connected to the opening of the rift.
Joyce notices the demagnetization of magnets around the town, investigates the phenomenon, finds an expert to explain what is occurring, links the events to their proper cause, and convinces Hopper to check it out despite his high degree of almost angry skepticism.
Then there’s Robin, who is instrumental to not only translating but also cracking the Russian code Dustin accidentally intercepts using his radio tower. Sure, Dustin captures the message, but he and Steve spend all their time searching the mall for suspicious-looking men who turn out to be fitness instructors. Robin translates the code, realizes the Russians are under the mall, which shipping company is involved, that there are air vents which lead to the base, and basically is the entire crux of that plotline working out.
From there, Erica is instrumental in getting through the vents to open the door into the Russian base. She knows what she wants and how to bargain, gets her job done, and is vital to her and Dustin's later escape from the base. As a fun side note, her interest in My Little Pony is considered a nerdy trait, something often discredited as counting as properly geeky by wider male geek culture. Seeing her obsession recognized with the nerd cred it deserves was just really nice to see.
Lastly, Dustin’s girlfriend Suzie is the only one who knows Plank’s Constant and is, therefore, able to get Joyce and Hopper into the safe they need to reach. Even an over-confident conspiracy theorist nerd man didn’t know that number as well as he thought he did.
Sure, there are some parts of the adventure here and there which would only have worked with the show’s male cast presence, but it really felt like Season 3 of Stranger Things was, at its heart, focused on putting women front and center. Pretty much every major discovery in the season came because women took risks, did things they were not supposed to, and used their unique skills to investigate in a serious way.
While some shows end up feeling like they’ve leaned too heavily into pandering girl-power territory when they focus on their female characters, this story handled it in such a simple and non-patronizing way that it took looking back to realize just how much of a driving force the women of the season had been.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.