This post contains spoilers about Barb from Stranger Things. You have been warned. If you wonder why a character who got about 6 minutes of screen time has generated so much buzz on the internet, read on.
Relating to Barb
Finally, here was a true geeky girl in a TV show, and that’s a rare thing. Barb wasn’t the usual TV smart girl who also happens to look like a Victoria’s Secret model. She was a true geek who, on a conventional scale of beauty, rated as somewhere around average. Like Penelope Garcia on Criminal Minds, Barb wasn’t going to take off her glasses and suddenly turn out to be the cutest girl in school. She was smart and sensible, and an extremely loyal friend to Nancy.
The unceremonious ending
Unfortunately, the answer turned out to be “nowhere.” Suddenly, Barb got taken by the monster. I thought at first maybe she’d still be alive like Will, and she’d end up helping somehow. Alas, no. She was just dead.
Worse than that, she was hardly missed. When she didn’t show up at school the next day, her mother cheerfully told Nancy not to worry. It’s not clear that anyone ever filed a missing persons report. I actually thought this might be a plot point, because Barb didn’t fit any of the stereotypes of a kid likely to disappear on a party binge for a few days and then wander back home. Had her mother given her a reason to run away? Was there something bad happening at home?
No. Apparently, it’s just that Barb died and nobody noticed. Thanks a lot for that meta-message, Duffer brothers (the writers). I know we geeky girls with average looks are invisible to lots of guys, but you might be surprised to know many of us actually have parents who love us. Who would notice if we went missing. Who would call the police and struggle to convince them we have not just wandered off of our own accord. And here’s a real shock, guys: many of us even survive childhood and marry very happily. I know, right?
To be fair, there are hints that Nancy cared. Maybe the writers overestimated how clear they were being on that point. The problem is that Nancy was way too busy with all this weirdness to show us how the loss of Barb was impacting her. Barb’s disappearance consistently stayed on the backburner.
Too little, too late
Barb’s car is found at a bus station, and that’s taken as confirmation that she ran away – but more importantly, it’s confirmation that conspiring forces are trying to hide something. No one seems particularly concerned about Barb. No one thinks this is out of character. Parents have been known to spend years trying to find a runaway child, even if without suspecting foul play. But not this case. Not for Barb.
I tried to imagine what the writers were thinking- what they may have imagined they were putting across. The Duffer brothers made a number of “80s nostalgia” mistakes (The Smiths, appear in a mix tape made a year before their debut album, for example). Just watching the show, I knew they were too young to actually recall the 80s, and I was right – they were born in 1984. Perhaps they imagine the 80s as a time when all parents were so not-helicoptery that they didn’t care if their kids caught a bus to parts unknown. But the reality was: free range parenting meant trusting your kid to go somewhere and come back safely on their own. It did not mean kids disappeared and parents thought, “Hmm, wonder what’s on TV?”
Eventually, we learn that Barb has been dead ever since the night of the party, shortly after we first met her. This gets some brief sadness in response, but nothing like we saw at Will’s funeral. If her family grieved, or there was a funeral, we never heard about it. And that’s not too much to ask – just a brief cutaway to a funeral and crying parents to let us know somebody cared that this promising young woman had died.