Stranger Things 2: Examining the father figures

Stranger Things- Photo Credit: Netflix
Stranger Things- Photo Credit: Netflix /

Taking a closer look at the father figures on Stranger Things and how they’ve influenced the children in their lives.

Parenting is always hard, and it is a topic often treated on TV shows. While we can all agree that Joyce Byers has never failed to be a wonderful mother, standing her ground as being the most prominent mother figure on the whole show, this year Stranger Things has decided to focus more closely on the father figure, a topic which had already been approached in the first season.

Stranger Things 2, which was released on Netflix on Oct. 27, has numerous father figures this season, and all play different parts in the final picture. If there is something we have noticed it is that the fathers on Stranger Things aren’t exactly glorious. All of them are either flawed, if not downright malevolent. Let’s examine the different father figures on the series and how they’ve influenced their children.

Lonnie Byers – The absent father figure

We were introduced to Will and Jonathan’s father back in season 1. Although he does not make an appearance, he is brought up again but never by name in Chapter 5 by disgraced journalist and freelance shrink Murray Bauman. Lonnie’s very absence is pointed out as the reason behind Jonathan’s trust issues. Jonathan denies it but it seems evident that Lonnie Byers having retreated from his sons’ life has somewhat had an impact on them whether they are aware of it or not.

Ted Wheeler – The good-for-nothing father figure

Mike and Nancy’s father is hardly present on the show the same way he is hardly present in their lives. The few times he does appear on screen he is either clueless (and couldn’t be less bothered) about his children’s whereabouts or shown asleep in his chair, deaf to the loud ringing at the door. Ted Wheeler is an apathetic father figure, physically present in the house but uninvolved in the family life.

Max and Billy’s father/stepfather – The abusive father

Maxine’s stepfather makes only one appearance in the whole season but it was a meaningful one. He portrays the human villain father figure. Not a cold-hearted scientist, not an evil force, just a basic human, as despicable as one can be. And although he looks like a responsible adult showing concern for his missing step-daughter, Stranger Things fools us with another illusion, quickly revealing this man’s true nature, his upside-down persona. One that is undetectable in public but subduing at home. Immediately, Billy’s appalling behavior throughout the season is thrown under a new light: an abused son mirroring the violence he has grown in.

Stranger Things- Photo Credit: Netflix
Stranger Things- Photo Credit: Netflix /

Bob Newby – The wannabe father figure

Bob Newby, Joyce’s boyfriend, could have been the most kind-hearted and benevolent father figure had he managed to become one. And there lies all the problem: Bob spends the season trying to fit in the Byers family unsuccessfully for the simple -and tragic- reason that he is too normal to find his place in the town of Hawkins. From the beginning, and in spite of his efforts, it becomes clear that Bob is too different to ever find his place within Joyce’s family. For instance, he likes Kenny Rogers (and not Bowie) and he aspires for a normality Joyce, Jonathan and Will cannot provide.

Most Read: 27 WTF moments from Stranger Things 2

There is no doubt Bob could have been a wonderful and heroic figure (and he indeed was in his final episodes) but he never succeeded in being seen as a possible paternal figure by his girlfriend’s sons.

Dr. Martin Brenner – The Torturer

The scientist who experimented on Eleven like a guinea pig and who introduced himself as “Papa” is the only father figure El has ever known (up until Jim, but that is for later). He makes an appearance in season 2 as a nightmarish hallucination created by Eight. Standing over Eleven, he compares her to a virus that “pesters” and destroys everything in its way. He embodies El’s traumatic childhood.

Stranger Things 2 soundtrack
Credit: Stranger Things – Jackson Lee Davis – Netflix /

Jim Hopper – The redeemed father figure

All the father figures explored in Stranger Things 2 aim to parallel and outline Jim’s. Despite being one of the protagonists, Chief Jim Hopper is shown as a flawed paternal figure, kind of failing at his parenting job for the most part of the series.

He is often out of the house, leaving Eleven alone for long hours and strict when it comes for her to venture outside or make contact with Mike. This inexorably results in a climactic altercation between them that tears them apart. Jim and Eleven’s relationship is a condensed father-daughter strained bond during teenage years. By being an absent and authoritative father, Jim jeopardizes his relationship with Eleven who becomes a runaway teenager, desperately seeking a family, a “home” as repeatedly mentioned throughout her personal journey this season (first at Jim’s cabin, then at her mother’s house, and finally with Eight and her gang).

Soon Jim and Dr. Brenner parallel each other as they both are the young girl’s unique male adult figures. They are both shown teaching her words (“compromise” vs “pester”) and the ultimate parallel comes when Eleven yells at Jim he is just like “Papa”, leaving Hopper stunned and upset.

But Jim learns from his mistakes and by owning up to them and earnestly apologizing to Eleven through the radio, he proves to be, albeit imperfect, the father figure she needs. And in parallel, she has come to realize the same after seeing the picture of the doctor who hurt his mother posing with his two daughters.

Forgiveness and the major emotional father-daughter bonding come through in a cathartic conversation in the car as they are both driving to shut the Upside Down World gate. Jim’s “I am a black hole” significantly echoes but differs from “you’re a virus”‘ speech made by Dr. Brenner during the hallucination scene.

Jim doesn’t just get the father figure status; he earns it. Through redemption. By admitting his mistakes and formally apologizing to Eleven twice, then by accompanying her to the final battle against the Upside Down, Jim makes himself worthy to become a father. His newly earned status is fully acknowledged and glorified as he legally becomes Eleven/Jane’s father as written on the birth certificate. Let’s note that his father role is officially passed on to him by the very same organization to which “Papa” belonged.

Next: Burning questions for Stranger Things 3

Being a father is never simple, and this is what Stranger Things aimed to acknowledge here. It is no easy task being a parent, and it is a far more tedious one to be the parent of an extraordinary (but also broken) childlike Eleven. But as a parent, you are not supposed to be perfect, simply to be your best.

Unlike Bob with Will and Jonathan, El has chosen Jim as her dad.

The season ends with Eleven having found herself as Jane and having found her place in the world (of Hawkins, Indiana), alongside a man who was given a second chance at being a better father. Jim saved Eleven from the cold woods but she is the one who brought him the redemption he had never dared to hope for.

It will be interesting to see more of this unexpected pairing next season.