This is an ode to Barb, who left us too soon in a grizzly death chariot pulled by the slasher tropes of yore.
You may remember that Barb didn’t even want to go to that party in episode two because she didn’t like Steve or his cool friends. Nancy essentially harangued her into going and Barb went out a perverse sense of loyalty.
Even after Nancy ditched Steve to do some canoodling, Barb stayed. Now, here we are.
“Chapter Three: Holly, Jolly," opens with Barb at the bottom of Steve’s empty pool. Her glasses are broken, obviously because Barb can’t catch a break, and the monster looms nearby.
When Barb clamors to the top, the world is dark, kind-of snowy, and covered in vines. Barb yells for Nancy but is drug back under, eviscerating any and all hope for her survival.
Although Barb is about as minor as a character can get, she has posthumously become a fashion icon for hipsters as well as the subject for the hash tags, #WeAreAllBarb and #JusticeforBarb. Dozens of articles litter the internet about how Barb is our nerd spirit animal and that deep down, we’re all bespectacled redheads in ill-fitting clothing.
For a generation that lived through the death of Ned Stark and the Red Wedding, it’s a bit shocking Barb’s death would elicit such a strong reaction.
Considering that “Stranger Things,” pays homage to the 1980s, viewers should have known something was awry when they pulled every teen, horror movie trope out of the book.
The sheer fact that there was a good amount of time spent on showing a house party of underage drinkers and sex should have been a major clue that someone wasn’t making it out of the mansion.
Yet, people still continue to feel the sting of Barb’s untimely death as the Duffer Brother’s sacrificial lamb.
But Barb’s death was absolutely necessary.
Barb not making it out of the pool left a sense of shock and pity because she's just a kid. She's not a guy who owns a diner or a nameless lab coat man who were truly throwaway characters.
Most importantly, for plot purposes, she becomes a catalyst to make Nancy a more dynamic character.
Up until this point, we’re convinced Nancy is superficial and that she’s rendered impossibly stupid through her infatuation with Steve. Yet in the previous episode, we get a glimpse of her real character when she gives her condolences to Jonathan.
The poignancy of the scene gives viewers a new, working definition of who Nancy is as a character and Barb’s expands this.
We realize that underneath all those pastel cardigans and shiny brown hair, there’s actually a good person inside. She’s just a dumb teenager.
Nancy’s new trajectory is launched when Barb fails to show up to school and she realizes Barb isn’t home either. She concocts a series of half-baked lies to both her mother and Barb’s to cover for the both of them.
In the parking lot, Steve and the Cool Kids have discovered Jonathan’s voyeuristic photographs which they taunt him for, ripping up the photos.
For good measure, because he’s Steve, he smashes Jonathan's camera. You know, it’s not like the weird, artistic kid’s brother is missing or anything.
Nancy grabs a fistful of the torn up photos and in a more spineless move, scampers after Steve and his cronies who I keep confusing as terrible extras in a John Hughes movie.
Just when you think she’s vapid beyond repair, she abruptly tells Steve she has to leave and goes off to search for Barb. Nancy realizes Barb’s car is still outside of Steve’s and flees when she gets a glimpse of whatever is digesting Barb at the moment in the woods.
Despite repercussions, she tearfully confesses to her mom that she lied and is afraid something happened to Barb.
If Will's disappearance added a sense of urgency, Barb's death really ramps it up to create a palpable sense of fear. Cult following or not, Barb is a throwaway character but she's at least one with a larger purpose.
Elsewhere in the “Stranger Things” universe, Joyce develops a system of communication with Will through Christmas lights and a painted alphabet system on the wall. Will uses the light system to tell her that he’s there and warns her to “run” as the monster tries to push through the wall.
Hopper pokes around the library and finds out Dr. Martin Brenner, head of Super Shady Government Lab, is accused of doing some spooky testing and taking a lady’s baby. In a flash back, we see El crush a soda can with her mind which causes a nose bleed.
When she refuses to kill a cat, she’s carted off to solitary confinement where she screams after Brenner, “papa.” She kills the guards, which seems to impress Brenner, because he carries her away.
Either way, it seems like Hopper hasn’t been hitting the sauce for a bit so he’s becoming mighty suspicious of this Brenner character and if he has a connection to Will’s disappearance. He doesn’t have much time to mull it over before he’s called to the quarry where they found Will’s body.
The boys are led by El to Will’s house because that’s where she said Will is. They accuse her of lying when they witness Will's body being pulled out of the quarry.
Mike, by far the most upset, speeds away on his bike and we’re treated to a montage of crying people before we fade to credits.