Warning: This post contains spoilers for the third season of Stranger Things. Stop reading NOW (!!!) if you haven’t seen it yet.
- Robin appears in Stranger Things Season 3 as Steve Harrington’s co-worker.
- Her character ends up vital to the season’s overall story.
- And thematically accomplishes what Season 3 otherwise struggles to achieve.
In Stranger Things’ character-driven third season, possessed with seemingly shoe-horned gender commentary and bizarre fringe character beats, there’s also the introduction to Robin—Steve Harrington‘s co-worker at a seemingly parent-less, pretense-less ice cream shop and an invaluable member of the Scoops Troop.
Robin is played by Maya Hawke, the daughter of Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman. But in Stranger Things 3, she steals the show and without any kind of parental shadow. Her character kicks some serious—narrative and thematic—ass in Stranger Things 3.
How do we meet Robin?
Though not before seen on screen, Robin’s character has supposedly always been around. She’s the same year at Hawkins High as class heartthrob Steve “The Hair” Harrington (played by Joe Keery). Robin even sat behind Steve in their sophomore history class. That was back when Steve was a total jerk; he didn’t remember her.
Yet, Robin says she was “obsessed” with Steve. As a self-proclaimed “loser,” she wanted what Steve had: popularity, acceptance, and, above all, the attention of Tammy Thompson. (More on this in a bit.)
After graduation, Robin and Steve work together at the Starcourt Mall ice cream shop Scoops Ahoy! We meet Robin here, goading Steve as he hits on female customers. The two maintain this faux-combative friendship until Dustin arrives back from camp and tells Steve of his intercepted Russian spy code. As Robin begins helping crack the code, Dustin mentions to Steve how “awesome” she is. Steve slowly comes to see this awesomeness as the season progresses, and develops a crush on her.
After the two are captured, drugged by Soviets, and figure out a way to escape (while vomiting in the process), they share some hard truth time. Steve admits to really liking Robin, and Robin admits to really liking Steve–but only as someone who used to think of him an “asshole.”
It turns out, Robin’s jealousy of Steve was partly due to the attention Tammy Thompson paid him. Robin was crushing on Tammy. Whether or not this is the first time Robin comes out to anyone, we don’t know. What we do know is that Steve takes the news like a champ—he takes a second to process, and then continues to joke with Robin in their usual fun, bickering manner—and the couple’s friendship moves on even stronger.
What’s Robin’s significance?
Stranger Things 3 is inarguably about sexuality. As the original group of characters reach puberty, start dating each other, run into traditional men-are-from-Mars-women-are-blah-blah-blah issues, the series’ writing becomes increasingly, thematically, philosophically overbearing.
Robin is the only female character the show allows to simply be herself–without a half or fully-baked romantic subplot, or an overtly-scripted attempt to sound off on gender politics. (Nancy battles chauvinistic newspaper editors; Eleven and Max read Wonder Woman, shop for empowerment, and help beat the viewer over the head with the theme of female friendship; Ms. Wheeler avoids infidelity; Erica embraces traditional masculine nerdiness; Joyce contends with the toxicity that is Hopper; and everyone contends with the generational toxicity that is Billy.)
Robin feels like the only character that doesn’t serve some strict thematic or self-conscious purpose.
She’s also one whose abilities aren’t gendered or used for narrative convenience. She’s capable–but not in any kind of performative way: look how this girl is able to do things the boys can’t. She is, for instance, adept at language learning; she doesn’t enter the plot with convenient Russian skills (in fact her skills have limitations, as she’s only able to repeat what she hears: “China?”). Robin’s skills are skills because she employs them in more ambitious and imaginative ways than the other characters–not because she gets lucky or is endowed with powers, or because she must serve some writerly point about gender.
She’s also a “nerd” without announcing the designation (as Dustin does) or refusing it in an inauthentic, self-hating way (like Erica).
If fans love Robin, it’s because her character is effortless. Organic. Real.
And if fans love Steve, it’s because of the way he responds to Robin’s moment of vulnerability. When she has to explain why she’s not interested in him romantically, he doesn’t blame, or act insulted, or demand reasons—he just says ‘oh’. And then, like any good friend, explains exactly why Robin can do much better than freaking Tammy Thompson.
In a character relationship that just as easily could have ended with the odd-couple falling hard for each other–as happens in almost every decade of rom-com— Steve and Robin stay friends. They don’t hook up; they don’t need to hook up.
Everything works out, and everyone gets to be who he/she is. What a wholesome conclusion.
And Robin and Steve get to ride off into the VHS sunset in their next professional adventure. Now that’s how you do a character.