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Justice has been served.
Following the first season of Netflix breakout Stranger Things, few phrases born from the series were more prominent than “Justice for Barb,” the three-word movement inspired by the tragic death of Barbara “Barb” Holland (Shannon Purser). While most of the story’s attention was devoted to the disappearance of Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) and the impact it left on his loved ones, viewers weren’t so quick to forget about Nancy Wheeler’s (Natalia Dyer) best friend Barb, dragged into the Upside Down and subsequently killed by the Demogorgon.
As it turns out, both Nancy and the creative minds behind Stranger Things weren’t quick to forget about Barb, either. The surprise breakout character of season one plays a major role in season two, despite the fact that she very much remains dead, and despite the fact that Emmy-nominated Shannon Purser was completely absent from the screen — even though a quick glimpse of a red-headed woman in the season’s second episode is supposed to briefly convince viewers otherwise.
“It was important to deal with it in a real way,” says Ross Duffer, who co-created Stranger Things alongside his twin brother Matt. “We didn’t want to use flashbacks. We didn’t want to use Shannon. The idea is that she’s gone, and we didn’t want the audience to get the relief of seeing her again.”
With that said, the Duffer Brothers as well as executive producer Shawn Levy insist that finding justice for Barb was always part of the game plan, even before it became a meme.
“I can tell you we were definitely aware of fan desires and theories,” Levy tells The Hollywood Reporter, “but Nancy looking to do right by Barb’s death was always baked into season two. It was always going to be a primary engine for Nancy in season two.”
Adds Ross Duffer: “It’s something we wanted to do, even before the big Barb groundswell. We started writing this season before season one was released. But the storyline ended up taking longer than we expected, and it did evolve as we went forward.”
At the start of season two, Nancy is in a relationship with Steve Harrington (Joe Keery), but it quickly becomes clear that all isn’t as happy as it seems. She’s still reeling from Barb’s death and the fact that her parents have no true answers about what happened to their daughter.
“Something we always wanted to do was deal with the trauma of season one in a real way, moving into season two,” says Ross Duffer. “Everyone can pretend to be happy-go-lucky, but what they went through was incredibly horrific. Obviously, Will is dealing with it and Joyce (Winona Ryder) is dealing with it — and Nancy, in her own way, is having guilt over feeling like she was partially to blame for the death of her best friend. That’s not something that goes away in a year. We wanted to spend time with Nancy and let her deal with this in the best way she can.”
For Nancy, that means parting ways with Steve and joining forces with Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton) in pursuit of justice for Barb. In the process, Nancy and Jonathan solidify their feelings for one another, while also aligning with investigative reporter Murray Bauman (Brett Gelman) in order to get a watered-down version of the season one storyline out into the ether. Once the media catches wind of the fabricated story (which posits a toxic incident claimed Barb’s life), Nancy and Jonathan manage to get the closure for Barb’s parents they so desperately desired, with the added bonus of getting the Hawkins lab shut down for good.
With that said, it’s worth wondering about the ultimate impact of achieving justice for Barb. With the lab shut down, are the people of Hawkins defenseless in the event that a portal into the Upside Down opens up again? In delivering answers about Barb’s fate, did Nancy and Jonathan unwittingly expose their family and friends to even more horrors in the future?
“Maybe you’re right,” Matt Duffer says ominously, pondering the possibility. “Honestly, I haven’t even thought about that. But it could be!”
A beat later, he changes course: “Ultimately, I think it’s a good thing for the town of Hawkins that the lab has been shut down. That chapter of the storyline, in terms of the rift and Hawkins lab, that’s closed. I think that’s actually a positive thing.”
No harm, no foul, then. Justice for Barb is a win for everyone. Now, it’s time to focus our attention on justice for a similar sounding someone …
What do you think about how season two handled the fallout from Barb’s death? Sound off in the comments below, and keep following THR.com/StrangerThings for more coverage of the season.
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