[Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers from Season 2 of “Stranger Things.”]
Although “Stranger Things” won over viewers with its retro ode to ‘80s films, those same fans had a beef with the show over how it handled the character Barb Holland (Shannon Purser). The tragically unhip yet intelligent and loyal best friend of popular girl Nancy (Natlia Dyer) was treated as an expendable plot device, killed off and then summarily forgotten at the end of the first season. The shameful treatment of the character, who became a fan favorite, sparked an outcry of justice for Barb. Candles to memorialize the bespectacled redhead were lit at Comic-Con in her honor. The Academy even granted Purser an Emmy nomination for her role.
With Season 2, the Duffer Brothers made sure to give fans what they wanted and much, much more. Beyond just closure, Barb is the fuel for one of the three main plots this season. Important events happen because of her, which has given her death far more meaning than it had previously.
The season kicks off the new Barb storyline in the very first episode. When the show picks back up about a year later, Barb’s parents are still none the wiser on what happened to their daughter. To them, she’s missing, and hold out hope that she’ll be found someday. Nancy knows better though, and it’s torture for her to attend a dinner with them (despite the delicious KFC served) when they reveal that they’ve saved up money to hire a man to find out what happened to Barb. Not being able to tell the Hollands about Barb’s death because of the big lab/government cover-up is torture for Nancy.
“After the end of Season 1, I think she and Steve and everybody is just trying to figure out how to get back to a normal life and adjust,” Dyer said in an interview with IndieWire. “I think a lot of her feelings about things have been kind of pushed under the rug in general in order to have some sort of homeostasis.
“There’s that scene at Barb’s parents house. It’s a bit of a catalyst,” she continued. “She feels terrible about it. I think the emotions that sit very heavily on you if you don’t address them, and I think once Nancy acknowledges them, the way she addresses it is to take some action. She can’t just sit on it. She has to do something about it. And that’s kind of where she goes this season.”
Sparked by her need to give Barb justice, Nancy hatches a plan to get the lab to admit to wrongdoing and through that get it shut down. Her scheme takes a bit of a detour, but in the end, it works. Barb gets a funeral, her parents are finally allowed to mourn, the lab that covered up her death is shut down, and because of that, her death becomes important to the entire town, not just those closest to her.
And in a way, if it weren’t for Barb, Nancy still might be dating Steve (Joe Keery). Nancy’s erstwhile boyfriend didn’t want to stick his neck out to help the Hollands get closure, and that caused Nancy to question her relationship with him as well. She turns to Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) instead, partly because of their underlying feelings for each other, partly because of their history of taking down the Demogorgon, and partly because he understands what she went through since his own brother was also taken but survived.
Barb fans, here is your justice. It was served cold, but at least her death made her an unforgettable part of the lives of all the people in Hawkins, Indiana, and not just with viewers. It’s also tinged with the sweet taste of revenge.