“Spoiler Alert! Comments on The Redemption Of Stranger Thing’s Billy.” M.J. Downing. 23 July, 2019.

This morning, I had the great fortune of seeing a Mashable article on my newsfeed about Dacre Montgomery, our much despised and feared Billy of Stranger Things. The article mentions a recent Instagram post by Dacre Montgomery that starts out “When I was a kid, I was lost.” The picture that goes with the article features a kid Montgomery with a smirk on his face that someone would just love to wipe off. It is priceless. Dacre Montgomery, because of his early days, made a great casting choice for Billy.
In this post, Montgomery opens up in brief, powerful fashion about being a troubled, anxious kid, and it affirms the advice that never goes stale: “follow your dreams.” It might be restated “believe in yourself.” Either way, the short post also conveys that you must keep working—hard—in that belief, on the path of your dream if you wish to achieve it. Montgomery’s article, therefore, compels me to talk about Stranger Things 3 and the one big problem I have with the way my beloved Duffer Brothers handled the Redemption of Billy.
I had this conversation with my daughter, Mackenna (the talented writer of the family), shortly after we both finished bingeing the third season. My contention was that our beloved Duffers should have ended the show there, with Hopper’s loss, and the Byers contingency moving away. It was a necessity that they split up, for the failure to do so would harm the character’s believability, unless we make them into superhuman creatures, on whom huge, grisly trauma leaves no mark. And, to carry it on longer might well mean “jumping the shark,” taking the show too far, pushing story lines into endless repetitions (yet another variation of the Mind Flayer), consummating the smoldering relationship tension between two key characters (Joyce an Hop), and bringing in new cute characters to replace the growing-up cute characters (Erica and Susie). Sure, I’ll give season four a shot, when it comes out, but my Happy Days radar will work overtime. I even pulled away from Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer with the arrival of Dawn, and Whedon is my personal icon!
Anyway, my point about Billy is that the character—and Dacre Montgomery,too—deserved a better set-up and delivery on his sudden heroic reversal in the last episode of season four. As it is, his reversal occurs so quickly and without any provocation we can see, that it almost hurt my neck when my head snapped back at his sudden turn. Now, the way he turned, his sudden, doomed head-to-head battle with the Mind Flayer, looked great on film. There was no pretext for it, though, which we could have been given in short snippets of backstory, even in the last episode. There, we were finally shown his mother, her departure, and the scene of abuse that was Billy’s constant reality. Two other times, we see Billy, uselessly revving his motor as a threat to the gang that pulls up at the Mall’s entrance. Those scenes should have, I contend, could have, I believe, given us more about the conflict within Billy that spurred his sudden reversal.
We got that sort of thing with Steve in season one, at his redemption, heading back into the Byers house, knowing that Nancy, his beloved, and Jonathan, his rival for her affections, were in peril from something he had never even dared to imagine, ‘the Demogorgon.’ We had seen Steve as a colossal jerk, but we had also seen that he wanted to be something different than Carol and Tommy (who did a fantastic job at being despicable, by the way). We saw Steve hit his point of inevitability, the conflict that his character arc demanded, and it was good. We cheered poor, beaten-up Steve, shouldering his nail-headed baseball bat and looking after those wonderful goofballs, Mike, Lucas, Dustin, and Mad Max. We saw no pretext for Billy, and that turn he made against the huge adversary deserved some set up, Duffer Brothers, though I still hold you in Whedonesque esteem.
A flashback or two to his mother’s face, saying that not only she was proud of him but saying that her staying with Billy’s abusive father would have meant her death would have sufficed to set up even the possibility of his hugely heroic reversal. It could have been done while he sat revving his engine for two short scenes. Repeated while he held El captive, without her powers—as vulnerable as Billy’s abused mom—and it would have set up the reversal and made it titanic, rather than sudden. I know; I know. Hindsight. Yet hindsight is part of the story-teller process, before the thing leaves his or her hand.
Billy deserved it. Dacre Montgomery deserves it. Sure, maybe it can be part of season four, the weakness that resides in the hive mind of the Mind Flayer, which Billy is part of now. In any case, both character and actor deserve it, dear Duffer Brothers. Dacre Montgomery, in the final line of his Instagram post, says “You can do anything you set your mind to. So, go out there and get it!” And he can say this because he has done the hard work. He can say this and realize, perhaps, that there are countless people out here, working as hard as he did, who get crushed every day and still get up. Success, like Montgomery’s, isn’t guaranteed, even by the hard work that people do. Yet the striving for it, daring to dream larger than life, is heroic, especially when, like Billy, defeat is inevitable. We all fail. We all fall. Bad things, illness, addictions, natural catastrophes and man-made ones, like school shootings, happen and silence our dreams. Witness Anthony Rodriguez, who sacrificed all chance of success in life following his dreams, when he rushed the shooter and gave his life for others. that is the sort of courage that Billy showed, that Dacre Montgomery shows. When we choose to work with all our might for them, our dreams are real, and that changes our inner landscape. The choice to dream and work for it, no matter what, is no guarantee of success, but it is the path of the hero, even the unsung hero. I think Billy deserved that. Maybe, we will see it yet. So, Duffer Brothers, what say you?

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