All those who binge-watched the second season of Netflix’s Stranger Things know that the new scene-stealing breakout character is Erica Sinclair (Priah Ferguson) the sassy, Mrs. Butterworth syrup–loving little sister of Lucas. But I’m not here to have the easy talk about everybody’s favorite li’l star. Folks, we need to talk about Billy Hargrove (Dacre Montgomery). We hate Billy, and yet, Billy is really hot. It’s complicated.
Billy Hargrove — a.k.a. Billy with the Bad Attitude, a.k.a. Billy with Serious Behavioral Problems — is a new character that adds no real value to the show’s plot, except perhaps to demonstrate that different teens in Hawkins, Indiana, are different, and have their own issues even if they don’t know about the Upside Down. For some kids, every damn day is the Upside Down. Billy is one of those kids.
By episode two, we have seen that although Billy has the hair, hot rod, and pout of your typical ’80s-era bad boy with a heart of gold, he’s actually sort of a sociopath. He routinely threatens his little stepsister Max; he doesn’t respect women; he’s pretty racist — not overtly, but this dude throws around “those kinds of people” too many times for my comfort. And while the show gives him an explanatory tragic origin story (his father is a violent, emotionally abusive jerk), he’s written so one-dimensionally that he doesn’t elicit any empathy. Yet he does elicit a whole lotta horniness.
The show fills out his character primarily by presenting him as Billy with the Great Butt. The camera loves his butt, characters on the show love his butt, and so it follows that the audience, too, loves his butt, which he shows off in a form-fitting Canadian tuxedo during just about every scene he’s in. Also, I never knew there were so many reasons for a man to be shirtless: during basketball, in a shower, but also, creatively, in a leather jacket after a keg stand. Even in a shirt, he is basically shirtless, because it’s unbuttoned so far down.
I’ll hand it to the Duffer Brothers and their writers: They created the worst character on this show, but they’ve engineered the perfect catnip for hormones. Physically, Billy Hargrove looks like Rob Lowe circa St. Elmo’s Fire, with a dash of Corey Feldman in The Lost Boys. Spritually, his soul song is “Rock You Like a Hurricane,” by the Scorpions. Psychologically — as evidenced by his beer swigging and tendency to rub some sort of cologne on his junk before he goes on dates — he is destined to drive high-school girls (and their moms) wild, while also causing the type of emotional damage that they will still be talking about when they are 40. Me-ow.
Take, for example, my favorite scene in episode eight: You know he’s about to go do something horrible to some innocent people, but he shows up at Nancy’s mom’s house with adult-level suave, you know? And before you can even bask in the afterglow of his perfect sneer and mysteriously attractive mullet, before you can scribble any Good-Butt-Billy-and-Nancy’s-mom bathtub-centric erotic fanfic, he’s gone off the rails, and is whaling on poor Steve Harrington’s face.
And so the battle rages on, in our psyches and on Twitter. Billy is hot, says one side. But Billy is also the worst, says the other. How can we feel both of these things and look in the mirror?
Honestly, I have no way forward other than to turn off Netflix, take a cold shower, and remember it’s just a TV show. It says nothing about you as a person. You’re still good and pure. Strike Billy Hargrove from your mind. Bye, Billy, I hope I see you in season three? No, I don’t! (Whispers: See you later Billy. Call me.)