If there’s one thing I took away from Stranger Things season 2, it was my love for Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) and Dustin Henderson’s (Gaten Matarazzo) friendship. This perfect new bromance can help any fan weather that polarizing Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) adventure in “The Lost Sister” or the shocking gore of Dart The Surprise Baby Demo-Dog’s bloody encounter with poor, late, eaten Mews The Cat. The main reason everyone loves these unexpected Stranger Things 2 scene partners? Because it looks like Dustin finally has a father figure to look up to after going without one since the beginning of the Netflix series. This fact begs the question, where is Dustin’s biological dad? The detectives over at Reddit have come to the conclusion the never-seen, never-spoken-about Mr. Henderson is dead — and that makes a lot of tragic sense.
Redditor DeadPoetsHonour99 points out the fact Stranger uses our main boys to explore the different tropes of father-son relationships. Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) has an absent, divorced father in Lonnie Byers (Ross Partridge), who abandoned his family years ago and is dating a woman who’s never even seen his children, let alone met them. Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard) has a useless dad who can’t ever be bothered to know where either of his kids are. There’s nothing technically wrong with Ted Wheeler (Joe Chrest) — he’s simply asleep at the parental wheel. Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin) lucked out with an official Good Dad, as Mr. Sinclair (Arnell Powell) is active in his kids’ lives and gives them solid advice around the kitchen table.
The older boys also have trope fathers, with Billy Hargrove (Dacre Montgomery) and his genuinely abusive father, and then Steve’s dad, who is often mentioned, but never appears on screen. After this almost exhaustive list of family patriarch tropes, there’s only one left: the tragically dead dad. With everyone’s favorite trucker hat wearing-tween seemingly living alone with his mom Claudia Henderson (low-key Netflix MVP Catherine Curtin), it seems that is the depressing straw Dustin metaphorically pulled.
If the deep cut parenting themes of Stranger Things don't prove to you Mr. Henderson is likely dead — as opposed to a victim of this legal term called “divorce,” or simply perpetually At Work — it’s time to take into account how Dustin himself talks about his family. As Reddit notes, throughout season 2, there is “no, ‘My dad's gonna kill me.’ No, ‘Wait until your father hears about this.’ Nothing.” Ted Wheeler might be emotionally and mentally MIA, but even Mike and Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer) have to deal with the concept of possible consequences handed down from their father. Party newbie Max (Sadie Sink), whose biological father is all the way in California, still talks about his influence in her life, similar to how fellow children of divorce Will and his older brother Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) deal with AWOL Lonnie. This is totally not so for Dustin.
The idea Dustin’s father has long been dead, explaining why no one is in mourning for Papa Henderson in either Stranger season, further helps us understand the boy’s behavior around Dart’s transformation into a killer demo-dog. After Dart murders the Henderson family pet Mews, Dustin has to act as the man of the house. He’s the one who has to call the neighbors and assure his mom the cat is going to be found. It’s all clearly a lie since Mews is ripped to shreds in Dustin’s room, but it’s the middle schooler’s job to make sure Claudia doesn’t learn of that little secret. Clearly, if the apparent single mom had found out about Mews' untimely end, she would be a wreck. Dustin and Claudia's double “I love you” exchange only adds to the feeling we’re looking at a trope tragedy of a son who knows he has to be his widow mother's strength.
Still, it’s possible ultra-devoted fans will poke holes in the Dustin's Dad Is Dead theory by using a season 1 conversation in “The Weirdo On Maple Street.” In the episode, Dustin frets to Lucas about whether Mike will tell Mr. and Mrs. Wheeler he was involved in the scheme to hide Eleven in the Wheeler basement. “Oh, if Mrs. Wheeler tells my parents,” he complains in a complete throwaway line. So, at one point Dustin claimed to have two parents.
But, it’s important to point out the government-murdered diner cook from season 1, Benny Hammond (This Is Us’ Chris Sullivan), reportedly had the last name of “Henderson” in the initial pilot before it was swapped out. This has led many to believe Benny was supposed to be Dustin’s dad before creators Matt and Ross Duffer changed the story to what we know it to be today. If the Duffer brothers had that original idea in mind while writing “Maple Street,” which is only the second installment of the entire series, it would explain why the “parents” line was absent-mindedly left in there — at one point in the lengthy Stranger Things production process, Dustin really did have a living mom and dad. His story just didn't remain that way, and we're likely now witnessing an inadvertent season 2 retcon.
The unspoken tragedy of Dustin's very plausible family life makes his newfound relationship with Steve all the more important. While Dustin seemingly spent years without a man to admire, he’s finally lucked out to a place where the coolest guy in town is looking out for him. Obviously, 17-year-old-ish Steve will never be the tween's dad. But, at least Dustin now has dating tips, Farrah Fawcett hairspray, and someone to always help him hide the dead demo-dog in the freezer to make up for his loss.
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