Stranger Things season 3

How 'Stranger Things' Appears to Fix Its Smurfette Problem

The new trailer for the Netflix hit's third season hints that a major flaw might be behind it

Courtesy: Netflix

It’s a daunting task to craft the follow-up to a critically acclaimed, high-concept first season of television. Throw in a mystery that needs solving, and you double the risk. True Detective and Twin Peaks tried and fell flat; once Dexter found the Ice Truck Killer, the show floundered. Nobody had bigger hype to live up to than Stranger Things, the first season of which spawned a legion of Eleven cosplayers, a #JusticeForBarb movement and an unprecedented sales boost for Eggo waffles.

Surprising everyone, season two pretty much delivered. New monsters, bigger mysteries and incredible performances kept the show feeling fresh, even without the game-changing newness of its debut. Notably, it tried to sidestep the Smurfette trope of its freshman year by introducing Maxine “Max” Mayfield, a troubled Calif. girl who embodied my favorite Leslie Knope quote: “Guys love it when you can show them you’re better than they are at something they love.” Max obliterates Dustin’s high scores at the arcade, so naturally, he falls for her. So does Lucas. Drama ensues.
This is where things started to go upside-down for me, if you will.

Eleven doesn’t make herself known until later in the season, hidden at Hopper’s farmhouse, but she watches Max join the group from a distance. She gets jealous. Lashing out, she uses her powers to make Max tumble off her skateboard. When they finally do meet, they’re at odds. They see each other as threats, competitors. Two tomboys vying for the slot of Token Girl in the gang. It’s a real thing, I can tell you, as that self-same former tomboy, but it is such a drag to watch.
Media loves to pit women against each other. In ensemble casts, especially male-dominated ones, you’re more likely to see girls fight and undermine each other than team up. It’s reinforced by a cultural stereotype that younger kids are especially susceptible to—that being “not like the other girls” is aspirational. “Girls are so dramatic,” you’ll hear, from world-weary 12-year-olds who haven’t yet discovered that female friendship is the best and most powerful force in the world … aside from maybe telepathy.

That’s why it was such a relief, and a genuine thrill, to see the trailer for Stranger Things’ third season. Not only does the show seem to be embracing the neon, synth-pop visuals of the era that helped make San Junipero and GLOW so much fun to look at, but it’s taking another page from their book—that girls just wanna have fun.
I'm psyched to see these two awesome characters finally do what they should've done from the get-go: team up, be BFFs and fight monsters.
Right up front, we get Max and Eleven hanging out. Max and Eleven at the mall. Max singing and dancing around her bedroom while Eleven flips through a magazine. The animosity between them has been switched out for candy-colored camaraderie. It feels intentional; even the promotional stills include a shot of the new dynamic duo eating ice cream together on a bus in bright, extremely '80s shirts. “We know,” the trailer seemingly tells us. “We know! Look. We fixed it! Let’s go to the mall!”

So, I’m on board. It’s a lot to infer from three minutes of cleverly cut footage, and I’ve been burned before (especially by men who have no idea how to write women), but I’m psyched to see these two awesome characters finally do what they should’ve done from the get-go: team up, be BFFs and fight monsters. Is it the slow teasing out of "Baba O'Riley" that sealed the deal? Who can say. It looks fun, and I’m on board for more of that. Fingers crossed, July 4th might really be a blast.

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