Stranger Things season 3 has plenty of things to rave about: Eleven’s upgraded fashion thanks to some style advice from Max, lots of horror compliments of the Mind Flayer’s latest assault on the town of Hawkins, and a huge firework battle that lights up the Starcourt Mall. But the most magical thing about the third season of the mega-popular Netflix series isn’t Eleven’s telekinetic powers or a beast created from melted humans — it’s the charming friendship between Joe Keery’s Steve and new character Robin, portrayed by Maya Hawke.
Warning: Spoilers for Stranger Things season 3 below.
That’s largely because at first, it seems like the Scoops Ahoy co-workers are endgame. It’s an age-old trope: Mr. Popular finally realizes that the band geek who’s not like other girls is the one for him. After Dustin taps Steve for help decoding a Russian transmission he intercepted, Robin ends up being the secret weapon for not only translating the message into English, but also cracking the code — which lands her, Steve, Dustin, and Erica trapped inside the secret Russian base miles underneath the mall. While captured by the Russians, Robin reveals that she was obsessed with Joe during high school, in a class that he doesn’t even remember her being in.
Many viewers might have rolled their eyes when the setup is first presented, but Joe and Maya’s crackling chemistry offsets some of that initial opposition. Thanks to Robin’s continual negging and a dose of truth serum that leaves them extremely loopy, you’re eventually rooting for the two of them to finally get together. That is, until you realize that there’s an even better endgame.
After puking their guts out as a side effect of the truth serum, Steve finally admits that he might have some feelings for Robin. “She’s so funny, she’s hilarious,” he says about someone he’s maybe been crushing on. “This summer I’ve laughed harder than I’ve laughed in a really long time. And she’s smart, way smarter than me.” The twist? Yes, Robin was obsessed with Steve back in the day, but that’s not because she liked him. It’s because a girl named Tammy Thompson liked Steve and she was jealous.
It takes a moment for Steve to connect the dots, but Robin’s coming out isn’t met with over-the-top shock from Steve. Instead, he’s a damn supportive friend who lightly teases his Scoops Troop comrade’s crush. It’s a sort of frank conversation and banter about girls that Robin’s likely not had before. The entire scene is both tender and humorous, making you erupt in tears before laughing at the two of them impersonating Tammy’s off-note singing.
Steve and Robin’s friendship proves to be the best thing about the third season of Stranger Things because of the way it subverts overwrought relationship tropes. Part of what Stranger Things does so well is counter expectations, whether it’s evolving Steve from douchebag to hero in season 1 or making audiences root for his season 2 friendship with Dustin, an unlikely match made in heaven that showed off just how good the actors were playing off of each other. The series already knows it’s crowded with romantic couples. Instead of making Steve and Robin another one, it’s much more dynamic keeping them as friends who show their affection by mocking one another.
By doing that, it creates space for audiences to see a developed friendship between a queer young woman and straight dude, a rarity on television. The “gay best friend” is yet another exhausted archetype, one that typically features a gay dude and straight girl going shopping together and making catty comments about their peers. Stranger Things puts a spotlight on this other compelling relationship, one where the both of them are multidimensional characters.
It’s also exciting to see a young lesbian on a show like this. LGBTQ+ people have, of course, existed since the beginning of time. But on TV, it can feel like these characters only exist in contemporary times, where they live in big cities. Robin is a reminder that they’re everywhere, even in the fictional small town of Hawkins, Indiana, in the 1980s.
By the close of the third season, and following the mall exploding and Scoops Ahoy with it, Steve and Robin have hopefully secured new jobs at the video rental store with some negotiating on the part of Robin. It’s unclear what shenanigans the duo will get into for a potential fourth season, but we look forward to watching them face the chaotic world of Hawkins together — with or without their iconic matching sailor uniforms.
Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue