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‘Stranger’ Stream, Episode 7: The Ballad of Steve and Robin

‘Stranger Things’ so often revels in well-established tropes—to mostly pleasing ends—but in “The Bite,” the show reaches a high point by subverting the classic teen romance setup


The Mind Flayer is back, Hawkins has a shiny new mall, and the kids have to confront puberty: Stranger Things has never been scarier. Throughout the Fourth of July weekend, The Ringer will be covering all the happenings in Stranger Things’ third season with episodic breakdowns highlighting the biggest scenes, themes, and character moments. Below, we dive into Season 3’s seventh episode, “The Bite.”

One of the most reliable story beats across Stranger Things is characters being in complete denial over their romantic feelings for one another. Last season, after several people—including a random motel owner who met them for 30 seconds!—laughed off Jonathan and Nancy’s weak “we’re just friends” stance, the two teens finally acted on their very obvious urges and hooked up. (The two were persuaded to bone for the first time at the behest of a grown man while hiding away in his basement, which was low-key creepy, but the fan base was thrilled nonetheless.)

Brett Gelman’s sardonic conspiracy theorist Murray plays matchmaker once again in Season 3, literally shouting at Chief Jim Hopper and Joyce Byers in “The Bite” to stop bickering and have sex already. Once again his methods are crude, but they’re also satisfying because (A) it’s less weird to persuade two adults to hook up, and (B) he’s totally right. But Joyce and Hopper (Joyper?) aren’t the only pair being actively shipped by the show’s characters this season. As Dustin has repeatedly insisted, Steve Harrington’s been so concerned with hitting on female customers at Scoops Ahoy that’s he’s missed the perfect girl who’s been standing in front of him all along.

Robin—played by Maya Hawke, who, fun fact, is the daughter of Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke—has been a welcome addition to the series. Working alongside Steve at the nautical-themed ice cream shop at the Starcourt Mall, she’s initially amused by his behavior, and handles him with a bit of an emotional distance. The context is key: Robin knew Steve from his high school days, back when he was the self-professed king of the school and, generally, a douchebag. But as the audience knows, Steve admirably reformed himself from a dumb jock to an empathetic dad/babysitter; Robin, too, begins to learn this, slowly picking up on the fact that Steve is more than a dude with objectively perfect hair trapped in a pathetic sailor’s outfit. One of the small joys this season has been watching Robin and Steve’s dynamic evolve—and in classic Stranger Things fashion, it’s happened under the guise of uncovering a secret Russian base underneath Hawkins’s glitzy new mall.

Given how much time Steve and Robin have shared this season—and how much they evidently enjoy one another’s company—their eventual coupling began to feel like a foregone conclusion, even before they were both dosed with some vague “truth serum” after getting captured by the Russians. Under this spell, Robin confesses that she was “obsessed” with Steve in school, an admission that feels authentic (it’s truth serum!), and the kind of thing a character says before they expect to die. To nobody’s surprise, Robin and Steve are able to escape the Russians, leaving that dangling thread to be addressed once they sober up. “We all die, my strange little child friend,” Robin tells Dustin when they’re in the elevator heading back to the surface, proving they’re still near-Midsommar levels of intoxication.

But in “The Bite,” after they both puke out the rest of the Russian drugs, that fateful moment finally arrives. Steve gushes over finding the One: “She’s smart. Way smarter than me. She can crack Russian codes.” It’s a very low bar to clear, but Steve is comfortable expressing these feelings nonetheless, paving the way to make this Stobin (Reve? Roteve?) thing official. “It’s shocked me to my core,” Robin responds, “but I like you. I really like you. But I’m not like your other friends. And I’m not like Nancy Wheeler.”

As Robin explains, her aforementioned “obsession” wasn’t the product of a crush on Steve: “I wanted her to look at me,” she says, the “her” being Robin’s actual high school crush, Tammy Thompson. It takes Steve a long time—which seems on brand—but he eventually picks up on what Robin is trying to tell him: She’s a lesbian. While the reveal shouldn’t be classified as a “twist,” it is among the season’s most unexpected developments, if only because Stranger Things once again seemed to be diving head-first into a quintessential teen romance—but this time, the show upended that trope, empathically acknowledging that it doesn’t represent everyone’s high school experience.

That Robin was so hesitant to tell Steve about her sexuality should also be understood within the context of the series: This was the ’80s, and these characters live in a small town in Indiana during the height of the Reagan administration. (Unfortunately, present-day Indiana isn’t much of an improvement.) Stranger Things hasn’t prominently featured gay characters before—it’s only been hinted Will Byers might not be interested in girls—and while the show should strive for more diversity, Robin’s reticence to reveal her sexuality also feels authentic to the in-show universe.

Emblematic of his maturation over the series, Steve takes Robin’s admission in stride, joking about Tammy Thompson’s horrible singing voice, implying that he accepts Robin for who she is. It might not be the development viewers were expecting between Steve and Robin, but their give-and-take isn’t hindered by the lack of romance. In fact, with the parameters of Steve and Robin’s relationship established, there’s even more incentive to bring the character back for the fourth season. (Assuming they both survive the finale, of course.)

Two seasons ago, you would’ve never guessed Steve Harrington’s closest friends would be Dustin and the alt-chick he scoops ice cream with. But Steve’s extensive on-screen growth is exactly what makes him one of the show’s most enriching characters. And in Robin, Steve has a thrilling new scene partner, while Stranger Things has a compelling character through which it can explore a different teen experience of growing up and falling in love (and in this rare case, stopping evil Russians).