An Ode to Barb, the Breakout Star of 'Stranger Things'

An Ode to Barb, the Breakout Star of 'Stranger Things'

#Weareallbarb: why the Internet is falling in love with the sci-fi thriller's most underutilized player

#Weareallbarb: why the Internet is falling in love with the sci-fi thriller's most underutilized player

Text: William Defebaugh

Warning: spoilers ahead!

This month, Netflix released its latest knockout original series, Stranger Things. Rife with mystery and nostalgia, the eight-part sci-fi thriller is already being heralded as one of the streaming service's best—and with good reason. Winona Ryder delivers an unyielding comeback performance as a single mom in 1980s Indiana who has lost her son to an unknown force, while his squad of schoolyard pals races against the clock to uncover the conspiracy and get him back with the help of an enigmatic super-powered girl named Eleven. But neither Ryder nor the rat pack are the true stars of Stranger Things: that honor goes to a girl named Barb.

In her thin-rimmed red glasses and unknowingly trendy mom jeans, Barbara Holland (played by newcomer Shannon Purser) is a beacon of rationality in an otherwise dangerously naive world. As the best friend of good girl Nancy Wheeler, who is busy trying to confront her values and decide whether or not she should lose her virginity to dreamboat Steve Harrington, she begets a tragic fate at only the end of Chapter Two, when the show's villainous monster drags her to its hellish dimension.

What did Barb do to deserve such an untimely ending, you might ask? The answer is nothing, other than provide a source of beyond-her-years wisdom to Nancy, and a show of good friendship. After repeatedly expressing her discomfort about lying to her parents and attending the party, Nancy pressures her into it anyway—even though she knows that Barb will have a miserable time as a fifth wheel (another couple, insufferably venomous pals of Steve, are there as well).

Being the queen that she is, Barb goes along with Nancy's plan, rolling her eyes while Steve and his imbecilic mates chug beers in the dimly-lit backyard, even getting Little Miss Perfect to join in on the so-called fun. Barb even cuts her hand, but does Nancy care enough to help her? No. She just goes about her galavanting ways. But when Barb returns from the restroom and catches Nancy heading up to Steve's room to "change" after taking a "fall" into the pool, our voice of reason can hold her tongue no longer, and tries to stop her friend with a bit of sagely advice: "This isn't you, Nancy."

Still, even after Nancy tells her to "just go home" and then promptly ditches her, Barb does not abandon her friend. Instead, she sits outside on the diving board of the pool, presumably contemplating the sad state of her existence, when the alien creature emerges from the shadows to whisk her away into the darkness.

While Nancy is concerned after her friend goes missing, her motivations seem to be centered more around whether or not she will get into trouble for lying to her parents. Sure, she eventually teams up Jonathon Byers (who happens to be looking for his brother, Will) on a mission to catch the creature, but does she really care about finding Barb, or does she just like the attention from Jonathon? He's clearly in love with her, after all. And what about Barb's parents? Not once do we see them searching for their daughter in the four days that she is missing.

When Eleven attempts to make contact with the missing people on the other side, she is able to get through to Will—but all she gets is radio silence for Barb, conveyed with a single, heartbreaking head shake. Poor Barb. Our worst fears are confirmed later on in the episode when Eleven  discovers Barb's gruesome corpse, seemingly infested with the alien's seed—a haunting image that we see again when Joyce (Ryder) travels to the other dimension in final chapter. (Meanwhile, Will makes it out just fine. Oh, if only we could trade the two!)

So what can we learn from Barb's story? For starters, we should all listen to our friends when they tell us we're acting out of line, and we should never, ever leave them alone at a party (especially one they did not want to attend in the first place). But in a deeper reading, perhaps Barb's parable can be understood as a metaphor for our culture, where the intelligent (and albeit, a little homely) often fall victim to those whose best assets are their beauty and small waist size. Or perhaps Barb should simply be seen as an example that none among us, even the most wise and rational, are safe from life's perils.

May you forever rest in peace, Barbara. While you mourn, take comfort in some of the Internet's best reactions to our beloved, short-lived heroine. #WeAreAllBarb

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