*** This article contains spoilers for Stranger Things season 3 ***
Welcome back to Hawkins
Season 3 of the Duffer brothers’ Stranger Things came on July 4th with some of the best development the series has had in a while. I’m not talking about the introduction of the Soviet government as the new political nemesis, or the extra-gory Mindflayer as the show’s next Big Bad. Oh no. I’m talking about an elevation in the show’s strongest element to date—character development. In particular I want to celebrate the newest, and one of the strongest, women the show has to offer: Robin.
I was sold on her virtually from her first appearance on screen. From her scoreboard of Steve’s attempts to woo the ladies who frequent the new mall’s ice cream shop, Scoops Ahoy!, to “Hey, dingus, your children are here!”, she is exactly the kind of female lead the show was missing…and I didn’t even know it until she was given to us.
Serving Scoops and Cracking Codes
A lot of time is spent trying to build the idea that Robin and Steve should end up together. Steve isn’t having any luck since breaking up with Nancy, apparently, and he and Robin complement each other well. She seems to be the one who trained him in his summer job, and has no problem telling him when he’s being an idiot (or, if you like, a dingus). There is a sense in which they complete each other. They’re two sides of the same irresistibly lovable coin.
I don’t know that I ever fully bought into the idea of Robin and Steve as a couple. They’re too much fun as friends. Some of the strongest moments in the show this season come from their time on screen together. From cracking the code, to getting trapped by the Soviets, to Back to the Future, the two of them light up the screen. Maybe the best interaction they have, though, comes after being drugged by the Russkies and trying to understand the plot of Back to the Future, when Steve confesses his feelings for Robin.
When Blue Meets Yellow in the West
Not quite outright, not quite blink-and-you-miss-it, Robin’s coming-out moment is handled with humor, grace, and just enough realness to be representationally important. Steve has, by this point, developed a crush on her. And really, who hasn’t? More than anything else she is fiercely intelligent and funny. When she’s not slinging ice cream with him at Scoops Ahoy!, she’s cracking Soviet codes virtually on her own—despite not really knowing any Russian—and keeping his historically overly inflated ego in check. When he confesses, albeit indirectly, his feelings for her she tells him, “You don’t even know that girl.” And, actually, she’s kind of right.
When she and Steve were captured by the Russians and tied up together they get to have a Moment wherein Robin explains her jealousy of him because they come from two entirely separate social circles—she was a band geek and he was the popular jock. She talks about how she was “obsessed” with him. Steve, of course, takes all this to mean she has had feelings for him since sophomore year and he had overlooked her the whole time, much as we are led to believe he overlooks her romantic potential while they work together. Really, though, she isn’t jealous of his popularity, and she wasn’t romantically obsessed with him at all. Rather, she was jealous because he captured the attention of a particular girl that Robin herself had a crush on for the entire year. She was obsessed with trying to figure out what the big dopey jock had to offer that was so alluring. “I didn’t want her to look at you,” Robin confesses, “I wanted her to look at me.“
When the implications of this statement dawn on him, we see a shining moment of Steve’s stellar character development. No longer the cruel jock bully who breaks people’s most prized possessions (RIP Jonathan’s camera), Steve takes Robin’s confession with kindness and humor, much as they have done for each other throughout the season. Watching this sequence play out, I would believe he would protect her from any kind of monster—creature or human based—much as he has done for the kids since season two. He embraces her, no questions asked.
More than that, though, I think we are meant to feel like this moment showcases the importance of their friendship from her perspective. We get the impression from a moment later in the show that she is perhaps not out to that many people. Soviet drugs or no Soviet drugs, she trusted Steve with an incredibly private and personal thing about herself, and his acceptance is clearly a huge relief for her. A moment that could have gone absolutely catastrophically didn’t. She didn’t have to lose her friend, it didn’t devolve into a romantic pairing off, and the Duffer Brothers have a strong central woman on the show.
I know I talked about her coming out like it was the most important thing about her. It absolutely is not. Her sexuality isn’t even brought up until almost the end of the season. She is so much more than that. She is strong, and smart, and funny, and unafraid to admit her fears. She, and virtually every woman on the show regardless of age, comes through to save the day in massively important ways at every turn. But having an out lesbian on the show is a big deal. There are several other characters who are coded and hinted as queer, but no one is actually out. No one but Robin.
There are fans of the show who want her to be bi just so her and Steve can end up together later in the show. I hope she isn’t. I hope she stays just the way she is. Let her love women, only women, quietly or out loud. Let her save Steve’s ass a few more times. Let her save the world. And let her and Steve be the buddy detectives of Hawkins, Indiana.