By now, Stranger Things 2 has been talked about, fawned over, defended, attacked, and everything in between. The characters themselves, with a healthy injection of new blood, have experienced the same frantic discussion as the story itself. People have fallen in love with old characters, detested new ones, and questioned a whole lot of others. From Billy the bully to the OG Paul Reiser doing his damn thang and the redeemed Steve to locked up Eleven, every single character (and boy, is there a lot of them) is intriguing. But let me ask you a question.
Which Stranger Things character is the best?
Wait! Before you yell out “STEVE! THAT SEXY NEST OF HAIR CAN’T BE BEAT” or, wrongly, “DUSTIN! OMG HE’S SOOOOOOOOO CUUUUTE AND FUNNY”, let me clarify. This isn’t a who’s who of personal favorites. This is a serious deep dive; a highly scientific, objective* thinking process. If I had my way, Dustin would never be seen again, but alas, there is more to these characters than their (un)funny quips and hairdos. So let’s go over this process.
*Note: Ok, half objective.
Each character will receive four scores, rated 0-10: Heroism (they save the day? Help the squad beat the demogorgons?); Problematic (how many problems do they cause? Is their character inherently problematic in the sense they may be racist *cough* Billy *cough cough*; an inverse score for this, as the more problematic, the lower the score); Watchability (when they are on screen do you long for them to be off? When off screen, do you dream of them riding in like Gandalf at the climax of Two Towers?); Loyalty (are they loyal to those around them or who they work for?); and Plot Importance (are they integral to the plot moving along? Are they proactive, or simply reactive where the plot causes their actions?). Those four will be added and doubled, to give us a nice score out of 100. But we’re not done yet. Once that score is found, they receive a 0-10 bonus based on “How dope they are?”. They are then ranked, and we have our first official, important Stranger Things 2 character ranking.
With the exception of one character, I have only included characters that appear in season 2 and have tried to keep the ratings only pertaining to what happens in season 2. This varies from time to time as it is needed to inform the scores a bit more, but for the most part, we stickin’ to this season. Let’s see what the formula gave us.
*Note: This will be a two parter, thanks to the plethora of characters.
Honorable Mention: Mr. Clarke (is not very present this season, but would have scored middle of pack if he had appeared more. That stache is too hard to resist)
The Official Stranger Things 2 Character Ranking
24. Kali’s Gang
The most despised and debated episode in the Stranger Things catalogue featured these turds prominently. They appear first thing in episode 1, and you wonder, “Huh! That was pretty cool. I didn’t know heists were going to be a thing this year.” but man, that was wrong. A band of walking cliches and characterization more shallow than a kiddie pool, almost unanimously they are hated. Not heroic, very problematic, utterly unwatchable, disloyal, and worst of all barely contribute to the plot.
Final Score: 4/100
23. Mike’s Dad
Mike and Nancy have two of the worst parents of all time. These two kids are running around, doing dangerous shit, battling other-dimensional beings and shady government agencies. Their parents response, when the kids are never around, never clean and normal when coming home, and clearly messed up? “Eh.”, they react. We will get to Karen Wheeler, the matriarch (who am I kidding calling her that? Mike and Nancy run that family), but first, the dad. He is so insignificant that I can’t even recall his name! There is no moment he does anything heroic, as he just lays in his chair all day. He’s only slightly problematic in that he neglects his wife and family…because he’s snoozing in his chair all day. He gets a couple points of watchability because he does have funny interactions, but he is of zero importance to the plot and has no loyalty whatsoever. My dude is coasting on life, and coasting to 2nd to last place.
Final Score: 14/100
Pretty much everything about Kali’s gang goes for herself. She is terrible. Barely showing loyalty to her crew, her only bit of care shown is to Eleven when she first shows up and flexes her abilities as Crazy Neo-Punk Stereotype 1 tries to shiv her. And even then, is that true care, or just excitement over someone to do her bidding with? Kali gets a point above her gang for being more watchable as she has a pretty cool power and that nabs her a few dope points too. Still, she trash, and if she comes back, may it be without her gang and with a little more personality.
Final Score: 17/100
21. Karen Wheeler
Karen is something else. A woman that at times tries to act concerned over her children but ultimately gives up in favor of her more passionate interest: wine. She might have a glass of it in every scene she’s in, to be entirely honest. I can recall a scene at the breakfast table, and it would not be all too shocking if when going back to watch, she had a plate of waffles with a heavy glass of chardonnay. As she is clearly drinking away her problems (kids never around, a loveless marriage), neglecting her children, AND giving a charming psychopath the location of her children and their friends with no hesitation, she is quite problematic. Speaking of that charming psychopath: Karen also is not loyal at all! For as steamy as that interaction was, it is a major detractor in the loyalty category as she was inches away from cheating on her husband who was mere feet away sleeping! And with a high schooler! Good god, Karen, get it together. These hoes, indeed, ain’t loyal.
Final Score: 21/100
Everyone’s favorite pet from hell, thanks to Dustin’s dumb ass. Dart is clearly going to be trouble from the start. I mean, nothing that has come from the Upside Down has ever caused any good, and what tiny thing that can shake a trash can like that isn’t much more sinister than its cute size? Dart hits low to mid in all the categories. He does nothing heroic, other than I guess not eating them? One point, sure. Dart, for as seemingly terrible he may be, wasn’t actually all too problematic. He ranks just below mid-level here, for, y’know, making them go searching for him, eating the cat (RIP, fuck Dustin for not showing any remorse), and almost murdering Steve and friends. But ultimately, I pin most of that on Dustin’s poor decision making. Dart is slightly watchable, because the demodogs are pretty cool. Loyalty is an equal heroic 1 point as he doesn’t eat them at the end, but then again, he did almost murder them anyway previously. Demodogs: Mans Best Friend? I think not.
Final Score: 34/100
On the day Stranger Things 2 released and we were all able to lay our eyes on the luscious mullet laid atop this prototypical 80’s bully, thinkpieces had already fired off about how Billy was our new favorite character. And how I wish that had come true. Billy was a giant swing and a miss from the Duffer Brothers, a character meant to showcase that humans can be pure evil too, even though they tried redeeming him with some abusive father interaction. Going from the greatest redemption of villain to hero with a similarly laid out Steve in season 1 to this mess was not ideal. With high expectations for such a beautifully crafted (in terms of looks) 80’s cliche, he was nothing but a letdown. Billy tormented his sister, played mind games with and assaulted Steve, and was quite possibly racist. Billy was a real, human problem unlike any other. Performing no heroic actions, not being entirely important to the plot, and showing a minor bit of loyalty (picking up his sister on time?) put a very watchable character in the garbage heap of the rankings. I wish I could say I want more Billy in hopes they redeem him or make him a more intriguing villain, but the damage may be done. A shame.
Final Score: 36/100
Major shoutout to a welcome comic relief in Erica. A substantially minor character, Erica is the perfect sass needed to set the family dynamic we didn’t see much of in season 1. Lucas, for being so nice and kind, finds new dimensions in interacting with his sister. Erica presses and prods on him, making laugh out loud jokes that are innocent enough but reflect the inter-sibling banter that every family experiences. Mike and Nancy are rarely together, Will and Jonathan are gentle around each other, and Dustin is quite painfully an only child*. Covering most of the familial bases there, adding in the inner workings of Lucas’ family with a funny little sister is one of the highlights of the season. She isn’t important, isn’t heroic, isn’t loyal, only slightly problematic, but is immensely watchable and I can only describe her as dope. A one note, extremely minor character can do wonders sometimes.
*Note: might actually be genius writing that Dustin is an only child, as that informs his character being slightly annoying, not knowing when to stop certain tendencies, and having a desire for a pet he can call his own. Shit, I might have talked myself into Dustin being the deepest character.
Final Score: 38/100
17. Barb’s Dad
Words are not needed for this man. All I must do is direct you to his only scene, show you the pure joy on his face, and sit back as we all fall in love. That pure, fried chicken loving joy is unbeatable.
Final Score: 45/100
Here is the one person who isn’t in this season, but has a fairly strong effect on it regardless. The #WhatAboutBarb movement was one of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen, and basing an entire subplot to service that is one of the more irritating moves the Duffer Brothers pulled. But! I cannot deny her effect. Since she is not in this season, some of her ratings will stem from season 1. Barb is a fucking wet blanket, to put it bluntly. She does nothing heroic, is problematic in that her wet blanket tendencies prevent Nancy from living it up and is a burden to watch on screen, and her death leads to prodding and questions that have to be dealt with. She still comes away with a decent score because, although she be blockin’ those co—uh, blocking Steve from furthering his romantic relationship, she is still undeniably loyal to Nancy. And, although it angered me and many others, she is fairly significant in the plot of Stranger Things 2, forcing an entire season long subplot that leads to the ousting of the Hawkins Lab (although, did that story do much? Yeah, some officials were implicated but…the lab was kind of done for anyway, right?). I hope she comes back as a reanimated corpse in season 3 and they do a fan poll on how to get rid of her to service the fans that absolutely did not care about her or her unnoticed season 1 death at all.
Final Score: 48/100
15. Mind Flayer
When the previews came out, starting with the phenomenal first poster and trailer, the big spooky monster looming in the distance gave thrills unlike any other. As the season bore on, however, those thrills turned into unfulfilled hopes. The Mind Flayer is a very cool concepted monster. Reminiscent of a giant spider and a xenomorph, it looks dope as hell. It has endless potential to cause terror and fear. But, it’s made of smoke? It never really does anything other than haunt Will in visions, or possess him which means we don’t even get to see it. A missed opportunity if there ever was one, but still, we haven’t seen the last of it.
Ratings wise, let’s get into it. This shadowy creature is not heroic at all, in terms of what we want to be heroic. Sure, he may be heroic to the demodogs and the other terrors in the Upside Down, causing mayhem and pain in the real world, but we’re on the human side here. FOH, Mind Flayer. Problematic? Uhhhhh, ya think? Again, not very watchable mainly because it doesn’t do anything when we do see it. The last two categories are where the Flayer makes its money. It’s obviously very important to the plot. More notably: Loyalty. This may cause some disputes here. I’d argue that the Mind Flayer is unbelievably loyal to the Upside Down and the cause of evil, literally only inflicting terror and not relenting. And since I am the one writing this and you are not…
14. Mad Max
What a little ball of fire this one is. I personally think she’s a good addition to the pack, but others disagree. Although I think that, there isn’t too much to her that makes her stand out among a pack of great performances and roles. Max is heroic mainly once, when she saves the god that is Steve from permanent brain damage in his fight with her shithead brother Billy. Stabbing him with that knock out juice (accurate, scientific name. I promise) was heads up thinking and I will forever be indebted to her for helping out the greatest character that also for some reason always gets his ass beat when fighting humans and not inter-dimensional monsters. She is somewhat loyal, pretty much following her new friends into ridiculously dangerous scenarios with really no leg in the fight or reason to believe it. Max is OK watchable, but isn’t all too funny, interesting, or charismatic. The “Ok, Stalker” lines are cringeworthy. Causing a rift between the group and, through really no fault of her own, causing Eleven to be mad at Mike shows her to be just the slightest bit problematic. All in all, she is where I’d say the most average, middle ground of the characters begin, and where we shift from lame and bad people to the more fascinating and fun.
Final Score: 59/100
This private investigator comes in as the man to serve the fans. Help out the Barb story? You got it. Creepily and problematically usher Jonathan and Nancy into an intimate relationship? Here you go. Murray might fall well below this point with a different actor, but Brett Gelman is a funny man with an even funnier look who helps propel this role to steeper heights. He is heroic in the sense he helps shut down Hawkins Lab (again, does he really?), loyal in his quest to reveal the truth, and somewhat important to the plot. Murray is hilarious and quirky, making him immensely watchable. But, let’s talk problematic. His quest for the truth causes issues for Hopper, who is trying to hide Eleven and the entire Upside Down story. Even more problematic: convinces two high schoolers to bone! A bit weird! Also, gets them drunk, clearly knowing that’ll make his weird “devil on the shoulder” agenda progress more successfully. Kinda creepy!
Final Score: 60/100
Speak of the devil. Jonathan is another character that is just kind of…there. It’s not for lack of trying, but he just doesn’t have much to him. He is about as average across the board as one can be. I know he’s not really problematic, but he does let his little brother, who was abducted by a monster and is still experiencing traumatizing visions, wander off with his friends without supervision on the scariest night of the year and then proceeds to go off with his crush as his brother experiences even more issues. Not great! They could have used your help, bro, maybe don’t go on your lame crusade for justice you’re only doing to impress a girl with a boyfriend. For shame! Although he does leave Will, he is still extremely loyal to his brother’s wishes, his family, and his pursuit of dat ass.
Final Score: 65/100
Season 1 Dustin is a scene stealer. Season 2 Dustin is not. Every time he appeared on screen I groaned. From his annoying, consistent use of the purring noise to completely disregarding everything that happened the year before to straight up lying to his friends, he caused issues with the story and with me. Why would you decide to take in a weird, clearly not Earthly animal-demon and foster it after your best friend was abducted by a grown version of it?! The only answer is that Dustin is a goddamn idiot. He, unfortunately for me, is still decently watchable, regardless of his problem-causing. He is also fairly heroic, standing up to Dart who could have very well hopped on him and ravaged that foolish child. His loyalty is iffy, as he lied consistently to his friends. Dustin took a major step back this year but still manages to be more important than others. And I’d be lying if I said him and Steve together wasn’t absolute electricity.
Final Score: 66/100
That’s it for Part 1 of the Stranger Things Character Rankings. I’ll be back next week with the Top 10. Until then, let me know all your grievances and thoughts on the rankings so far. Dustin stans, bring it on.