First, the good: Bob makes for a best-case-scenario step-dad. He’s engaged with the kids. (He’s so eager to drive Will to school!) He’s unafraid to be himself. (That Dracula outfit is such a dad move.) He cares deeply about Joyce and wants her to be happy. (That he never once thinks she’s crazy is Bob’s most endearing quality.)
Bob does the dad thing well, but he’s the wrong dad, and the show tells us as much explicitly during the first episode. When Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) is consoling Will about being treated like a weirdo, he asks him if he’d rather be Kenny Rogers or David Bowie. The obvious answer is David Bowie, but in pops Bob, unknowingly voting for the wrong singer: “I love Kenny Rogers!” he says. The boys snicker, and it’s clear that this guy is a sweetheart, but he’s not anyone’s soulmate.
So we know he’s got to go, and when it’s clear he won’t break bad — becoming an asshole who doesn’t understand Joyce, or doesn’t support her — he has to die. And he does. Gruesomely. While it was nice of the Duffer brothers to give “Bob Newby, Superhero” a heroic exit, the exit itself was melodramatic, maudlin, and over-the-top.
After a tense escape guided by Dr. Owens, Bob was undone by…a broomstick. He knocks it over exiting the closet and even manages to get behind the doors, but then a demodog pounces on him, Hopper can’t fight them off, and the audience is forced to watch him get eaten — sickening sound effects included.
That’s how much the show ever really cared about Bob Newby: enough that they’ll prop him up as a hero by giving him a task only he can accomplish, but then kill him off because he couldn’t catch a falling stick. He was expendable, he was treated as expendable, and he always felt expendable, making his overall arc far more manipulative than meaningful.
Let’s Talk About the World’s Worst Throuple
The episodes meant to bring everyone together around the coupling of Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Jonathan actually do the opposite. Episode 5, “Chapter 5: Dig Dug,” sends the reluctant partners on a mission to expose the laboratory for its evil practices. To do this, they seek out local conspiracy theorist Murray Bauman (Brett Gelman), who takes one look at them and decides, “These two are canoodling.”
He actually says it: After they claim to be just friends, Murray laughs in their faces and says, “You’ve told me a lot of shockers today, but that is the first lie.” He then claims it’s obvious they’re into each other because they have, among other things, “chemistry,” and that’s when it hits: No they don’t. They do not have chemistry. Among the many problems facing Nancy and Jonathan’s will-they-or-won’t-they arc is that there’s not a spark of fire between them.
And the writers must know it. Murray saying it out loud is meant to instruct the audience to believe it as much as it’s meant to create an awkward situation for these two where they eventually confront their feelings. But the lack of chemistry was already made painfully evident when the two shared the most awkward, ridiculous pillow talk the night prior.