Stranger Things' Billy Hargrove; Another Angry Gay?
Stranger Things 2 dropped on October 27th 2017 and brought with it a new menagerie of horrors for the upside down, intent on terrorizing the small town of Hawkins, Indiana. But the 'Demo-dogs' weren't the only ones new in town; with Eleven (Jane) separated from the party for most of the season someone else was needed to bring a new dynamic to the group. Max, the new girl from California fulfilled this need, but also brought with her, her step-brother Billy.
At first it seemed that Billy was just introduced because to fill the role of 'high school douche-bag' now that Steve was actually a decent person. And honestly, throughout most of the season, he fits that profile down to a T. He harasses Max and tells her not to hang out with Lucas, though it isn't confirmed as to whether or not this is racially motivated. Then at school he flirts with everyone, becomes the new king and gives Steve endless shit on the basketball court.
But then we are shown his home life. Billy is getting ready to go on a date with an undisclosed person when Max doesn't come home on time. At this point it is revealed that Billy comes from an abusive household. Furious that Billy didn't make sure that Max is home Neil, Billy's father, slams him against a bookcase and utters the only F-bomb (the gay slur, not fuck) in the entire season. Then Billy is sent on his way to find Max. An endeavour which sees him flirting with Mike and Nancy's mother and ends in an all out brawl between Billy and Steve.
The slur, the fight and an earlier scene when Billy talks to Steve in the shower after basketball practice has lead some fans of the show to read Billy as gay or bi. Given the 'evidence', I will look at where his story line could go if he were to be explicitly given an LGBT+ identity. I will also be talking about how potentially problematic the representation of Billy's sexuality could be.
Here are the two major path Bill's journey could take in season three...
Billy the antagonist...
Billy continuing to be an antagonist is the most problematic route that could be taken if he continued to even just be coded as LGBT+. The 'angry repressed gay' is a bit of a stereotype that has been done to death in film and television, as have sad LGBT+ stories. Stranger Things is also set just after the AIDS crisis began, a time where there was little understanding of the disease and a large amount of prejudice toward gay and bisexual men. As such, a portrayal of Billy as evil would only play into to all of these damaging stereotypes.
Beyond this, any attempt to make Billy a true antagonist, rather than just an annoying high school asshole with a bad attitude would fall flat; mainly because he just isn't scary. Before we saw him getting abused by his father the audience saw Billy as an even more annoying and dickish replacement for Steve, but after that things snapped into perspective. Now Billy is seen as more of a scared child who acts out because when he is at home he has to walk on eggshells.
The actors portraying the teenage characters of Stranger Things might be in their twenties, but the roles are all still minors. That is not to say that children can't be awful, but compared to the nauseating, bone-breaking chill that went through me at the abusive behaviour of Eleven's 'Papa' in season one, Billy will never scare me.
A Redemptive Arc for Billy...
Then there is the possibility that Billy will get a redemption arc in season three. This would be similar to Steve's redemption, and therefore could be a bit of a cop out. I would argue that any sort of redemption that Billy could find would have to be far more complicated than Steve's. For one thing the majority of Steve's character development happened between seasons during his relationship with Nancy; we merely saw the culmination of that change. But with Billy, because his behaviour is worse than Steve's, the process would have to be much more in-depth and on screen to get some people on side. And that in-depth sort of character development is definitely something I would be interested in seeing next season.
A redemption arc for Billy would also mean that there would have to be more focus on his abusive father Neil. Who, I feel, would make a much better villain figure than Billy ever could. It would also set up a theme for the human villains of the series overall; the terrible parents. There are various awful parents in Stranger Things; Eleven's 'Papa', who is apparently not dead, Lonnie, the Byers' father and Neil who are actively abusive. But there is also Steve's parents who are neglectful and Mike and Nancy's parents who obviously don't love each other and a not exactly nurturing of their children. So, in some ways, making Neil the human 'big bad' would be far more poignant than putting Billy in that role.
In terms of Billy having an LGBT+ identity, of course a redemption arc would be nice. There has, thus far, been no LGBT+ representation on Stranger Things. So having an LGBT+ character in the main cast would be a big step forward for the show in terms of diversity. Billy also seems to have an invested interest in Steve, which could lead to an interesting opportunity for a romantic angle to their relationship, though not necessarily a happy ending where they end up together. While this may still be playing into the 'troubled macho gay' stereotype, it wouldn't be a damaging or insensitive as a portrayal of Billy as the 'evil bitter gay' would be.
What Next For Billy?
Overall, if Billy is going to continue to be an antagonist, then I would much prefer it if he isn't explicitly said to be, or even coded as LGBT+. But, more than that, I would love to see a complex redemption arc that acknowledges the way that toxic masculinity has hurt Billy and shows him genuinely trying to be a better person, but not necessarily always succeeding. We will just have to wait and see what the future hold for Hawkins, Indiana...