With or without Joyce’s character the story would have ended the same
For anyone growing up in the 80s Stranger Things is a gem. So much so that pretty much every article I read about the show was dedicated to finding the most 80s references, homages, and Easter eggs. But I’m not here to discuss that. I’m here to complain about the story line. It is unfair, I know. You create 99% perfection in an ocean of mediocrity and fans are fixated on the missing 1%. But sometimes passionate criticism is really just a signal that you came so close to perfection.
In this case you have evoked not only 80s movies but their cliched characters too. The small town cop with a disturbed past, the alarming caste system of American high schools (repeatedly featured in American movies presumably to teach new generations how to bully), and finally, the hysterical and completely passive mom. But that cliche would have better left to rest – especially since it didn’t contribute to the plot. At all.
With or without Joyce’s character the story would have ended the same
The mother’s story line is so bad it almost deflected attention from the fact that the character sucked. In short, not only is the hysterical mom’s character (and all her scenes) a torture to watch – even the outcome would have been the same. With or without her. She accomplished absolutely nothing. It is especially weird since the logline presents the series as the quest of a mother.
“This thrilling Netflix-original drama stars award-winning actress Winona Ryder as Joyce Byers, who lives in a small Indiana town in 1983 — inspired by a time when tales of science fiction captivated audiences. When Joyce’s 12-year-old son, Will, goes missing, she launches a terrifying investigation into his disappearance with local authorities.”
But she didn’t launch an investigation. The cop did. The kids did. The teenagers did. But the mother just stayed at home screaming at light bulbs and asking essay questions for yes/no answers.
This logline is appalling, by the way. No one wants to put themselves in the shoes of a mother – not even mothers. And those few who do would probably prefer one whose child is not missing. (OK, maybe a few crazies with a severe case of hero’s syndrome might enjoy a child’s suffering and daydream about how the world would celebrate them for saving their sons. But that’s about it.) Luckily, the series was about pretty much every other character – apart from the mother. And the others actually looked for the boy and did pretty cool things. The kids were doing a really good job, the teenagers were painfully real, even the depressed cop was active. But the mother? If it was for her, she would still be sitting under Christmas lights in 2016 with an ax, rocking back and forth, repeating “Will, Will, talk to me, Will!”
Every episode of the show contained at least ten minutes of Winona Ryder shrieking “but I’m not crazy” – and no one believing her. It was like a hen clucking incessantly until someone, a real person, comes to save her chick. I know. The fact that no one believed her was to deepen our sense of helplessness. Not being believed and being dismissed was meant to compound our fear. No one taking you seriously is like going back to childhood, when whatever you experienced was irrelevant to the sober, all-knowing adults. Isolation is meant to be a torment in its own right.
But exactly how much of this story line is needed when it serves no other purpose? Even the kids knew better than to tell the adults. Even the teenagers kept to themselves. Because talking about supernatural things without evidence wouldn’t have helped them anyway. But the mother kept telling everyone that a monster came out of the wall and achieved nothing with it. What telling? Screaming hysterically, in an unpleasant tone. During the entire week of the story she behaved like a caffeinated chihuahua.
Stop. That. Clucking.
And she didn’t go anywhere throughout the entire show, she just alternated between rocking back and forth, forgetting to breathe and think, and screaming and screaming and screaming at everyone for everything. She never moved the story forward, she never got better, she couldn’t even take a deep breath without someone telling her to do so in the last episode. And even when she did go on a quest to save her son eventually, she was just taken there and did nothing useful. She hyperventilated, needed a reminder to breathe, screamed (naturally) and called her son’s name. And that’s all she did in the show. That’s how relevant her character was. How did that deserve the logline?
The only moment she came close to almost being useful is when she comforted Eleven. But that didn’t prove to be relevant and didn’t last anyway. She quickly went back to screaming and following the cop not understanding a thing. It just turned out to be another mothers-love-and-that’s-about-it cliche. And it’s not just the acting. 75% of her lines were “Will, Will, talk to me!” and “But I’m not crazy, the monster came out of the wall!” She didn’t do anything to solve the problem apart from buying assorted electrical equipment. You can’t bring it back from there, no matter how many Oscars you have.
But it made me thinking. Exactly why do we have to watch so many hysterical, helpless, panicky, female idiots, who invariably become part of the problem? It is as if every time a female character happens to be in the scene, the writers would be at a loss. So they make her scream, and fret, and worry, and hyperventilate – preferably in a way that puts others at risk. Female characters embody everything we hate about humans. They are cowardly, fearful underdogs who need constant reassurance and break under the slightest pressure, they do nothing for themselves and have no principles, they are hysterical and prone to panic, and put others into trouble with their screaming. It feels almost good when someone finally slits their throats because at least someone puts an end to all the screaming. Yes, it was sad, it was someone’s mom after all, but man, is it better without the clucking!
We don’t pay to watch shows about incompetent, passive idiots – we want to see shows about exceptional people taking action. Except when they are women. Then we have no choice but to put up with idiots we can only hate. No wonder generations have grown up hating or distrusting women and female actors are paid less. Who wants to see these thngs again? These characters are truly hateful and not worth the celluloid they were printed on.
I get it, even female writers have a hard time inventing realistic female characters because they haven’t seen them in movies either. But we only ever move forward with out clichés when an artist captures something obvious. So it will take time before they capture a female character, like themselves. Someone, who clucks and frets and screams a little less. Civilization would have ended a long time ago if half the population would compound every problem by going unhinged and needing patronising attention.
But it would be more honest to just leave them out of the story completely. Like this one. Joyce could have been left out without hurting the story. Watching this character (and her entirely unnecessary story line) I couldn’t decide whether I was supposed to tolerate her as a loving-mother-what-can-we-do cliche or I was supposed to blame her for being an unwitting trouble maker. If the series go forward could you please clarify?
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