Will Byers’s story line in Stranger Things season 3 reminded me exactly why I love this show so much.
The kids of Stranger Things have come a long way since we first met them, in the heat of a game of Dungeons & Dragons. They’ve faced school dances, bullies, and way too many monsters, of both the supernatural and human variety.
While every one of them has been challenged way more than children their age should be, if we had to say that one of the boys has been through the most, it would definitely be Will Byers.
Everything started when Will got taken into the Upside Down, and despite eventually being freed, he’s been haunted by it ever since in a way that Mike, Dustin and Lucas have not. In season 1, he was taken by the Demogorgon. In season 2, he was possessed by the Mind Flayer. In season 3, he’s still living in fear with its presence constantly looming.
A big theme in Stranger Things season 3 was growing up. The kids are moving into a new grade and have had a whole summer to mature and blossom. They’re getting a little bit older and leaving some aspects of childhood behind.
In the case of Mike, Dustin, and Lucas, girls are starting to notice them and they are definitely starting to notice girls. When you have a girlfriend who wants to kiss you repeatedly for hours on end, it kind of makes the idea of sitting in a basement role playing with your buddies seem slightly less appealing, especially at their age.
Unfortunately for Will, his growth has been stunted. As entertaining as the events of Stranger Things has been for us, they’ve resulted in Will being robbed of a piece of his childhood. In a way, all the kids have, but he was literally trapped in an alternate dimension for some of his, so he wins.
For Will Byers, it seems like only yesterday that he and his friends all spent everyday playing in a mythical realm, because for him, it basically was yesterday. He’s missed so much of the time that the other boys have had to develop new interests and new crushes.
In Stranger Things season 3, it was absolutely heartbreaking to watch as Will tried desperately to hang onto what he thought he and his friends all still wanted. It nearly crushed me to watch him try, time and time again, to capture their attention as their focus was drawn increasingly elsewhere.
However, as heartbreaking as it was, Will Byers’s season 3 story line also showed me exactly why I love Stranger Things so much.
Stranger Things has perfectly captured the essence of childhood. This show is such a beautiful glimpse into the magical realm that is youth. That’s why this show feels so delicious. It’s showing us something we’ve all had and that, to an extent, we’re all yearning to go back to. Sure, the ’80s backdrop elicits a lot of nostalgia for those who grew up in that decade, but the real nostalgia of Stranger Things comes from the memories of childhood that the show evokes in all of us.
Memories of feeling unbelievably cool because you were in the basement alone with your friends, maybe even staying up a little past your bedtime. Memories of rebelling against all of the adults who just didn’t “get it.” Memories of thinking the brave high school senior was basically a deity. Memories of a friendship like the one the kids of Stranger Things have.
It was a time when things were simpler. There were no cell phones so you and your friends actually did crazy things like spend time together. You had adventures. You were full of innocence, curiosity, and wonder, which is a miraculous trait that rarely makes its way into adulthood. You and your friends were the heroes of your stories. Most importantly, though, you were unabashedly yourself, before the world ever told you that there was anything wrong with that.
Will’s storyline was especially effective in reminding me of all of this because, just like childhood is something we’ve all had, it’s also something that, somewhere along the way, we’ve all lost. We all developed crushes, got caught up in school, work, and parties, and even worse, got too concerned with what was “cool” and forgot what was good.
It’s tragic to see Will watch as that happens to his friends, and to know that eventually, it’ll happen to him too. It’s a point of no return that we’re all far too familiar with, but one that you can usually only recognize in hindsight, when it’s too late. Sure, there are plenty of amazing things on the other side of childhood, too, but things will never be the same once it’s left behind.
A beautiful silver lining of Stranger Things season 3 was witnessing Erica still fully entrenched in her childhood. She had her eye on the prize, and that prize was free ice cream for life. Honestly, I’d still take that as payment for most things.
We all grow up too fast, and that’s why shows like Stranger Things, that are somehow able to transport us back to the times of keeping the door open three inches, make us feel so good. While I can’t wait to see where all the kids go from here, I kind of hope Will and Erica keep clinging onto their childhood, so we can stay there with them just a little bit longer.