Note: This post contains light plot points for season two of Stranger Things.
Like a Magic Eye painting or that bunny-duck picture, the character of Billy in the new season of Stranger Things brings to mind different things to different people. Not content with the brashness of Steve or the quiet sincerity of Jonathan, the show has brought us yet another teen-idol castmember, who comes tearing into town in a bitchin’ Camaro, blasting Scorpions and Ted Nugent. He’s also mean to his stepsister, Max, and nearly runs down our favorite middle-schoolers.
Since I have seen St. Elmo’s Fire possibly more than any other movie, I had an instant reaction to this new Stranger Things addition: Rob Lowe’s St. Elmo character, conveniently also named Billy. The majestic mullet, the earring, the puffed-up keg-stand grandstanding all brought to mind Lowe’s lost former frat boy, who can barely see past the next party. He has the powder-keg explosive personality as well, although as far as I can tell, this Billy doesn’t play the sax (but I haven’t finished all of season two yet).
Discussion of Billy (among other Stranger Things elements) dominated our usual Monday-morning office chit-chat, and I discovered that other people are finding a different antecedent for Billy. Right, Caity? [Gwen Ihnat]
I see Billy as pure Kiefer Sutherland bully. (I’ve seen the whole season—he gets both more bullying and a bit more nuanced as the show goes on.) Like Stand By Me’s Ace, he seems to revel in bullying kids younger than him, and like The Lost Boys’ David, his tough-guy demeanor comes all the way out when there’s another handsome guy in the room. (Billy’s doofy friend at the Halloween party even matches Ace’s doofy friend in Stand By Me.) Billy’s mullet is far more glorious than Sutherland’s ratty one in The Lost Boys, and I agree that his baby-faced good looks channel Rob Lowe’s younger visage. But using his sweet Camaro to run the boys off the road is a lot like how David ran the truck off the road in Stand By Me, and the way he goes all alpha on Steve is a lot like how Dave reacted to the newcomer in The Lost Boys.
All that said, I like Billy. Unlike the one-note bullies Sutherland played in the ’80s, Billy is a bully who—Stranger Things being a 2017 production—gets a little shading. A brief scene at Billy’s home raises the question of how bullies become bullies in the first place, and for the first time, shit-talking, keg-standing Billy gets a little empathy. His character has just enough nuance to keep me wanting more—which is probably exactly what was intended by giving us a glimpse into his home life, as the show’s creators consider season three plot points. [Caitlin PenzeyMoog]
I respectfully agree and disagree with Caity. As soon as Billy arrived on the scene in “Madmax,” I had him pegged for multiple nocturnal boardwalk-dwellers: All of David’s towheaded menace with the Tiger Beat face, brood-ready brows, and new-kid-in-town allure of Jason Patric’s Michael. This interpretation pulls in the cross-country move (away from The Lost Boys’ California digs), the little sibling who falls in with the camo-and-headband-wearing, monster-obsessed locals; those hidden depths now seem more like an internalization of the tension between Michael and David, causing Billy to make subliminally racist comments about Lucas but also offer words of support and encouragement to king-of-the-school rival Steve. This theory would be ironclad if not for Billy’s taste in doomy music: In Santa Carla, they worship at the altar of Jim Morrison, but Billy’s stuck a Kill ’Em All poster on his bedroom wall. Like most elements of Stranger Things, there’s not really a 1-to-1 correlation to be made here, but there’s at least some of these damn vampires in Billy. [Erik Adams]