Season 3 of Stranger Things brings the corniness, the pop culture references, and the monster we all expect from the Netflix series. Thankfully, it gives Will (Noah Schnapp) a break and finds a different target for whatever monster would haunt Hawkins. Billy (Dacre Montgomery) isn’t the typical innocent victim of the supernatural we are used to seeing on the show. His bullying past and asshole attitude may make the audience want the Mind Flayer to kill him, but that makes for a more interesting plot and fitting character arc this time around.
↓Spoilers for Stranger Things 3↓
Stranger Things 3 picks up with a happy-go-lucky introduction to what the characters have been up to since they closed The Gate and saved Will from the Mind Flayer. Among them, Billy has his dream job of showing off his body to the moms of Hawkins, as a lifeguard at the town pool. However, things don’t stay nostalgically normal for long and he becomes possessed by what we later learn is the Mind Flayer, which has escaped The Gate thanks to the Russians and their plan to take over America. As the kids find out that there is something wrong with Billy, they also get closer and closer to finding out that the horrifying creature they thought was gone forever is back.
For the past two seasons of Stranger Things, there has been someone good who needed saving, namely Will. He was an innocent victim, who definitely didn’t deserve to be taken into the Upside Down or infected with a crazy virus. Billy, though, kind of deserves a little payback. In the second season, he was a bully, abusive to his sister, and downright racist. It’s pretty hard to think of anything Billy actually cares about other than his car and his body. By the beginning of this season, it’s clear he still hasn’t gotten his ego in check and is still trying to have sex with Mrs. Wheeler (Cara Buono). So, when the Mind Flayer decides to use him as a pawn, it feels pretty fitting. He’s already a bad guy, why not make him evil?
Having Billy as the Mind Flayer’s surrogate villain doesn’t just keep Will from any more danger than the other kids, it also makes the threat to Hawkins a little more tangible. Billy was already a bit of a side-villain, and with the pressure of a literal evil monster, there’s really no telling what he wouldn’t do. As mean as Billy was in the last season, everything the Mind Flayer makes him do feels even more terrifying. There is very little heart in him that the audience knows of — until Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) finds out along with us — that would keep him from becoming completely evil, so there seems to be no hope for him most of the season.
There is a scene in the pool locker room when the main characters trap Billy in a sauna that provides a good example of how difficult it is to differentiate the regular dick of a brother version from the possessed Billy. He’s a strong guy to begin with and easily angered, so when he fights back from inside the sauna it doesn’t feel completely out of character. It’s only when he has superhuman strength that it really shows how much he is affected by the Mind Flayer, and seeing that buildup is terrifying. It seems like the Mind Flayer takes the worst traits from the people it has control over and uses them to its advantage. For Billy, this is most of him. The audience already hates Billy, but now that he has the help of a monster in being an asshole, they can really hate him. Rather than having Will or another innocent character in need of saving, this season picks the bully to be the victim, creating a better reason to hate Billy.
When it comes to Billy’s arc, he has always been set up as a character who is impossible to get through to. He’s guarded and superficial. The show has yet to show us a character that Billy would have opened up to on his own. Even with his attraction to Mrs. Wheeler, it has never seemed like anything more than just sex for him. That is why his involvement with the Mind Flayer and Eleven’s extraction of his good memories is the perfect way for Billy to grow at all. Despite trying to save him, none of the characters really seem to feel much for him. The reason Eleven has to delve into his memories is to find where the Mind Flayer has attached itself. Her goal isn’t really to understand and empathize with Billy, but that also ends up happening.
Eleven ends up using this knowledge to get through to him in the climax of the season. She seems to get through to Billy in a way he would have never allowed if he was in control of his body or mind. Having someone get through to him, despite all his walls and all his tough-guy tactics, is what makes Billy grow and sacrifice himself in the end. It would have felt like a stretch to have the guy who publically refused for his sister to date a black boy just magically change for good in the next season. This arc feels like it fits him the most because it isn’t entirely his choice. Someone wound knowing the memories he hid from the world and reached him when he was unwillingly vulnerable. It’s the fact that El remembered and was moved by his memory that Billy realizes these kids are worth saving. In this ending, it isn’t just Will or Eleven that needs saving but all of the kids, and the meanest character of the series is the one who saves the day.
Making Billy the victim of the monster in Stranger Things 3 switched up the formula just enough to make it interesting but not feel like a different show. While we return to Stranger Things because we love what it has done before, the show needs to continue to give its huge audience a new and exciting story every season.
You can stream all three seasons of Stranger Things on Netflix now.