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Nancy, Leave Hawkins!

The autumnal knitwear chieftain of ‘Stranger Things’ is stuck in a small town with very few viable romantic options. She deserves more.

Nancy of ‘Stranger Things’ standing next to a sign on the road that says “Leaving Hawkins, come again soon” Netflix/Ringer illustration

Let’s just get this out of the way: Nancy Wheeler—big sister, cherished daughter, piggy-bank saver, swashbuckling #Justice4Barb-seeker, Hoosier heartthrob, relaxed-curls champion and autumnal knitwear chieftain—is the only character on Stranger Things worth a damn. I do not say this lightly, as I have come to love many denizens of Hawkins, Indiana, and I wish them, their surviving pets, and the eagerly awaited Mondale presidency all the best. But Nancy stands alone, because she has the best chance of moving on to a life beyond the burbs. If she makes it out of the Hawkins Lab goo—or, better yet, has the good sense not to touch any goo in the first place—she has what no one else on Stranger Things seems to: a bright future.

So, to commemorate our love of Nancy, let’s contemplate what Nancy loves, or doesn’t love, or is not sure if she loves, or would maybe consider loving: the starry-eyed and generally Nancy-obsessed teenage boys of Hawkins. And then let’s offer some advice to Nancy: Dump these bozos now, every last one of them, and get the hell out of Dodge.

The primary problem facing Nancy—played with besweatered aplomb by Natalia Dyer—is one beyond her control: Various grown-ups have conspired so that she is trapped among slimy, malevolent, and emotionally draining creatures of questionable motivations, as well as nether-universe monsters intent on mass destruction. The high school boys of Hawkins, who can be sorted into the categories of (1) suitor, (2) aspiring suitor, and (3) blurry extra in the background, have been boiled down to ’80s clichés, each ill-suited for our Nancy. She is more than the sum of her boyfriends, of course, but it is in them that we see her evolution as a person, her best friend getting gobbled, etc., so let’s consider her options.

We have a jock: Steve Harrington (Joe Keery), Nancy’s popular, varsity-sport-playing boyfriend of Season 1. Pros: He’s basically nice; good at apologies. Cons: He frequently has things to apologize for because he is needy and jealous; dumb; and maybe not as good at basketball as he thinks he is. Even as he improves by the end of Season 2, he is, in his words, a good babysitter, but a shitty boyfriend.

We have a weirdo: Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton), brother of Demogorgon Delight Will Byers, Nancy’s pal and eventual Season 2 partner. Pros: He’s loyal; he does not complain about driving everyone everywhere all the time. Cons: At a certain point, the My Best Friend Is My Kid Brother act doth protest too much; also he definitely cries at parties.

We have a nerd: Keith the arcade manager, whose professions of cystic acne have not clouded actor Matty Cardarople’s face, but where would we be without suspension of dermatological disbelief? Pros: He has access to a potentially infinite supply of quarters. Cons: He has a creepy Nancy obsession; easily bribed.

We have a bully: Billy Hargrove (Dacre Montgomery), California transplant, and, in fairness, not someone who is posited as a realistic paramour, but who is the right age in a small town and thus would inevitably bear consideration. Pros: sweet car; has seen some shit; shaves chest. Cons: extremely mean; has seen some shit; shaves chest; and has maybe/probably already had sex with Nancy’s mom.

Over two seasons of Stranger Things, we have seen Nancy shift between Steve and Jonathan, and let me say that I get it: They help keep an eye out for incoming shadow monsters, they spare her from having to ride the school bus, and it is nice to get some reps in before college. But Nancy, c’mon: You know you’re better than this.

In Season 2, we see Nancy attempting to rewrite Steve’s college essay and goading Jonathan into having some vague semblance of a social life. What do either of them bring to the table? Stimulating conversation? Teenage high jinks? Fodder for imagining a post-Hawkins life? No. All they’re good for is a ride to the mall to carry out Nancy’s latest good idea. And—yes, OK—both of them are up for the occasional swinging of a baseball bat or firing of a gun at an intergalactic shadow beast. But is that that much more impressive than the work of the resident 10-year-olds? No. It is not.

Dump ’em, Nance. Leave Steve to “work with his dad” and Jonathan to his eventual career at Radio Shack. And if you insist on sticking with one of them—well, at least go your separate ways before college starts. No one in Hawkins is worth the awkward labor of a turkey drop.