From the moment we left Stranger Things season 1, it was pretty evident Hawkins, Indiana’s most popular boy, Steve Harrington (Joe Kerry), had won the love triangle battle when it came to the heart of Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer), but he would inevitably lose the war. The unquestionable victor at the end of this story would always be Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton), the outsider and photographer also competing for Nancy’s affections, albeit in a much less aggressive way. Stranger Things 2 attempts to remind us of Jonathan’s romantic supremacy with second episode “Trick Or Treat, Freak,” with the older Byers boy performing a single act of kindness for the object of his affection following some Halloween partying gone bad. Yet, we should all remember, that moment doesn’t automatically turn Jonathan into some hero deserving of Nancy’s love. It just makes him a decent human being.
The Halloween drama begins with an argument between Nancy and Steve, as is common in this Stranger Things love triangle. Nancy is starting to feel overwhelmingly guilty over the season 1 death of BFF Barb Holland (Shannon Purser), but Steve wants the couple to forget about the travesty and act like “stupid teens,” if only to avoid the wrath of the government agency covering up her death. So, Nancy passive aggressively obliges and gets hammered at the Halloween party, in a very teenager way. Unfortunately, bottled up feelings arise after all of Nancy’s punch drinking, and she slurs at Steve in the bathroom their love is “bullshit.” Steve, who is far more emotional than anyone gives him credit for being, storms out and leaves Jonathan to care for Nancy. As usual, Jonathan is standing about three yards away from the couple’s private moment.
What follows is exactly what a friend should do, nothing more, nothing less. Steve made the absolute wrong move of abandoning a drunk girl at a party, and Jonathan is simply picking up the pieces. After a quick check in with Nancy and Jonathan’s respective siblings — best friends Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard) and Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) — we see the older duo in front of the Wheeler household. Clearly, Jonathan drove his passed-out friend home. He carries her inside, drops her in her bed, takes her shoes off, covers her up with a blanket, and leaves after giving Nancy a long, wistful glance. There are, thankfully, absolutely no attempts to turn the moment sexual when Nancy is at her weakest.
If a female pal had done the same for an impaired young woman like Nancy, we wouldn’t think this was in any way special, because it’s exactly what someone does for a friend. Any lower level of care would be garbage or assault. But, the scene is instead treated like the deserved beginning of Nancy and Jonathan’s season 2 love story. After Tina’s Halloween Party Fiasco, Nancy and Steve have another blow up, so Nancy stops talking to Steve and instead goes on an episodes-long adventure with Jonathan; an adventure that ends with them finally breaking their sexual tension with a long-awaited hookup. By the end of the season, Nancy and Steve very amicably break up, allowing the young woman to seemingly start dating Jonathan.
This storyline enforces a problematic theme that has always plagued the Jonathan-Nancy-Steve conundrum. It essentially suggests because Jonathan was a Nice Guy after the party, he should get the girl by the end of the story, since that’s precisely what happens. But, again, he’s just avoiding being a total creep. Think about it: back in season 1, Jonathan literally stalks Nancy. In “The Weirdo On Maple Street,” the photographer finds himself in the woods overlooking Steve’s palatial home, and watches his classmates have their private fun. He very easily could have left. When he catches an unaware Nancy standing in Steve’s window, he starts taking pictures. Next episode “Holly, Jolly” proves Jonathan kept clicking away as Nancy undressed and started hooking up with Steve; this is extremely alarming.
It’s even more alarming the rest of season 1 sets up Jonathan as a romantic possibility just because he stopping taking unauthorised, stalkerish photos of Nancy in her most vulnerable states. Because of Jonathan’s help with figuring out what happened with Barb (read: the Demogorgon), he doesn’t even have to apologise very much. In fact, his attempt at an apology is literally cut off by Nancy seeing the first photo of the Upside Down monster.
Look, there are definitely a lot of reasons Jonathan and Nancy could hypothetically work as a couple. Conspiracy theorist Murray Bauman (Brett Gelman) explains it the best in Stranger Things 2’s “The Spy,” where he lists the reasons they should date, ticking off, “You’re young, attractive. You’ve got chemistry, history, plus the real shit, shared trauma.” These are all good things to look for in a boyfriend. It’s why Nancy and Steve can’t work, because they don’t exactly have the same history — yes, the jock took on the Demogorgon, but he never lost anyone to it — and they definitely don’t have shared trauma when it comes to the Upside Down. On the other hand, basic human consideration doesn’t fall on this must-have list for prospective love interests — it should just be expected of people everywhere.
So, Nancy and Jonathan shippers, celebrate your long-fought-for victory, but don’t credit it to that Halloween party.
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