Listen, I hate ambush spoilers as much as the next deranged fanboy online, so I am giving you fair warning that the following rant contains SPOILERS. I care about you so much that I’m not even gonna tell you which show I’m spoiling. I even asked the art folks to NOT use a still from the show in question so that the headline above doesn’t serve as its own vague spoiler. But my editor had to politely rebuff that request, which means you will be mad that I even went spoiler-adjacent, because you now know someone dies on this particular show, and then you’ll have to worry about who gets killed and when it will happen. Suffice it to say that if there is something out there right now that you do NOT want spoiled, turn back now. If you’ve already read this paragraph, I already got your precious click anyway. I don’t need you anymore. Save yourself.
[waits for you to leave]
Okay, we good? We’re good.
I watched Stranger Things season three, and while I enjoyed myself, I’m like everyone else in that I had some bitchy nitpicks about it. Mike’s shorts were consistently hideous… true to the era but goddamn, man. Will fucking sucks and is only interesting as a signifier of incoming distress. The Mindflayer is all-powerful and the size of a mountain but sometimes takes nine hours to walk places. Mrs. Wheeler should’ve boned Billy (and the guy who plays Billy, Dacre Montgomery, is perhaps the only man in history who looks BETTER with a mullet than without one). The gang should’ve created a batch of POSITIVE demon goo and used it to bring the Statue of Liberty to life with it. They should’ve made the whole show out of Erica. And why could only Erica fit in the NORAD-style underground ventilation system at first but then everyone else could later? Eleven is a living meme at this point, always holding her hand out and letting out bloodcurdling cries while a single drop of ketchup hangs from her nose. It was nice seeing Cary Elwes on screen again but god, the mayor was a piece of shit.
And then, there's the Hopper issue.
I dunno why they made Hopper a pissy crank for the bulk of this season, given that David Harbour’s hangdog joviality was that character’s chief selling point the two previous seasons. Do I really wanna root for a cop taking liberties with his authority, man? But, of course, Hopper was redeemed when he found himself trapped on the wrong side of a protective shield wall in the season finale and courageously gave Joyce Byers permission to close the gate to the Upside Down and blow him up in the process. Then we got Hopper’s tasteful letter to Eleven read aloud at the end and Harbour’s time on the Stranger Things came to a bittersweet close…
OR DID IT?
Because every movie and TV must now have a Marvel-esque teaser button, there’s a “surprise” scene in the middle of the finale's end credits, where we find out those naughty Russians are still keeping a Demigorgon as a pet back in the Motherland, and they are also keeping “the American” imprisoned there as a possible snack for it. Those Russians referred to Hopper as “the American” previously, and so now we know: They have Hopper in there. Hopper is alive. Hooray!
Except no. Not hooray. Motherfucker should have stayed dead.
When they hint that Hopper miraculously comes back to life at the very very end, it undercuts the entire narrative arc that led to his supposed death to begin with. This happens all the time in movies and on TV, especially on TV because characters on these shows have to stick around, both to keep an actor employed and to keep the audience interested. "Stranger Things" itself already pulled this bait-and-switch with Eleven after Season 1, but at least they saved the ZOMG reveal for after the hiatus. I understand why showrunners continue to do this, but they’ve run the trope into the fucking ground, miles beneath the secret Russian mall ops base. Even Game of Thrones, an otherwise notable exception to the rule, dragged a key character back into the fold after seemingly killing him off for good earlier. I watched the season finale of House in 2012 and House faked his own death in that episode, too. It’s to the point where I never believe a dead TV character is dead anymore. It’s like watching NFL football now. I’m always waiting for the replay official to tell me that what I saw wasn’t what I saw.
Death on a TV show shouldn’t be negotiable. Take it from a real-life person who literally did come back from the edge of death: it doesn’t happen all that often. On TV, it happens every other week. Even Christ himself thinks they’ve gone overboard on the resurrection plot lines. I’ve invested my time and emotion into watching these characters. I deserve better than a cheap-ass fakeout that has to be dutifully explained with a cursory quip or two the following season (Hopper, rubbing his wounds in the 2020 premiere: “Well Joyce, you didn’t kill me but that sure didn’t feel good!”). Otherwise, you’ve wasted my time. You put characters in danger when they were never in any real danger, and you made me sit through a denouement featuring a bunch of counterfeit grief. If you’re gonna kill somebody in a story, kill them.
It’s one thing for the end of every animated movie to pull this shit. They do that to avoid traumatizing little kids. But I’m not five. I can handle watching Hopper die for good. I’d be sad and I’d miss him in season four, but at least I’d be able to trust a story that I’d really like to trust. When you make death fungible on a TV show, you dramatically lower the stakes involved, so much so that it becomes a children’s show where everything bad that happens is temporary and everything will be okay in the end. And yeah, Stranger Things is red-hot among people far younger than me. But it’s gory as shit and clearly not designed with the same audience in mind as Bubble Guppies. We can all handle this. Real stakes didn’t stop people from seeing Endgame now, did it?
Billy dies for real at the end of this Stranger Things season. THAT was a storyline that mattered. Billy was the best character from this past season because you saw him at first as a living embodiment of Todd from Beavis & Butthead, then as a possessed sociopath, and then as a traumatized young man desperately fighting to rediscover his soul, only to be impaled by a Hentai flayer tentacle just as he’s on the verge of redemption. That was a death on the show that was real and that mattered. Whereas with Hopper, they’re gonna bring him back to life and then just put him through the wringer all over again. What’s it fucking matter? He’ll come out of that with mere cuts and bruises because the Duffer Brothers feel like they CAN’T kill him. That’s what would make it all the more compelling if they had the koosh balls to actually go ahead and do so.
Originally Appeared on GQ