'Stranger Things' Newbie Max Is The Empowering Character Young Female Fans Deserve
Netflix's beloved sci-fi series has never really lacked well-written female characters, and yet, Stranger Things' new girl on the block Max is an extremely exciting addition. Eleven, a young girl with telekinetic powers, is its focal point for much of the show. Even Nancy, who was first shown merely as a typical high schooler caught up in a whirlwind romance with the popular boy, quickly expanded to fill other roles as well — of a concerned sister, and of someone who may not be as secure in her picture perfect life as she initially seems. Barb was another high point — a girl who didn't quite fit in, and who felt left behind by her best friend. Joyce is also amazing, taking the mystery of her son's disappearance into her own hands against all odds. But in the end, Eleven is still a mostly silent girl with superpowers and little to no social skills, especially at first. She doesn't exactly scream "relatable." Barb was taken from us too soon; Joyce's main role is as a concerned mother; and though Nancy definitely has her badass moments and was a downright joy to watch this season, her story is still largely swaddled in a romantic plot line.
Well, her full name is Maxine, but don't call her that. She's the new girl at school, and she's immediately noticed by our gang of heroes. Not just because she's an intriguing new face around school — mostly just because she beat Dustin's score on Dig Dug at the local arcade.
Max's character is exciting, and it's not just because she's a new lady onscreen who isn't Eleven, Nancy, or one of the kids' mothers. At first glance, she's got the kind of qualities that would make any dopey middle school boy do a double take. She skateboards?! She plays video games?! AND she's a girl?! Who knew such a creature existed? (Um, women did.) But Max isn't here to play into stereotypes. She isn't trying to be "one of the guys" for the sake of getting male attention, and Dustin, Mike, Will and Lucas don't seem to put her on a pedestal because she's "not like other girls." They just like her. If anything, Dustin's more pissed that she beat his high score than anything, at first.
Max doesn't exist to be a token of any kind. She's not here to be just another female face to play off of the boys — the writers actually flesh out her background. She's got issues of her own before being dragged into the Upside Down havoc of Hawkins, Indiana. She's living with her mom and step-dad, she misses her father, and her violent jerk of a step-brother, Billy, is an unholy mullet-haired piece of work. He's controlling, mean, and lashes out at her regularly. Home life isn't great for Max, and she isn't looking for a savior or for love. She just wants some friends to lean on, and the writers make sure to show her at her most vulnerable. She shares with Lucas that she misses her dad, and isn't afraid to show that she's not just some emotionless badass.
One of the greatest parts of Max's story is that even after the boys encounter her brother, she's the one who finally gets a message across to him. Even Steve, who's Billy's size and age and could likely take him on — and does a good job of it while it lasts — doesn't hit Billy quite as hard as Max does. She stabs him with a syringe to defend her friends, and then yields a spiked baseball bat like a warrior as she comes at him. She didn't need anyone to save her — Max is the one who laid down the law for her own safety.
Stays true to herself despite the influences around her? Check. Stands up for herself, striking fear into the hearts of aggressive men everywhere? Check. What's even greater, though, is that the writers don't let any of this negate Max's potential for romance. It doesn't take long for Lucas and Dustin to both become interested in her — it's a point of contention between the two, though it never becomes too heated. Her strength and her fierce attitude doesn't make her undateable, and it isn't the reason they want to date her, either. It's also not central to her character — this middle school romance is an afterthought, something that doesn't truly come to fruition until the very last episode of the season. In the end, she's whisked away by Lucas at the school dance, leaving Dustin to endure a few rejections but then happily dance the night away with chaperoning Nancy.
Max is the epitome of what every well-written female role should be. She has her flaws — she can be a little tough to crack, a little sarcastic, a little mean. But we see the struggle that made her this way, and we see her desire to change and be loyal to her friends. We even see her plant a kiss on Lucas in the last few scenes, not afraid to show that side of herself. She's a welcome addition to the cast, and we'll hopefully see even more of her next season as she sticks around Hawkins.