In this day and age, love triangles are a dime-a-dozen on TV. Most of the time the trope is so pervasive that we’ve actually begun to wish for zero romantic subplots rather than another predictable tug-of-war between our favorite characters.
However, like almost every other element in “Stranger Things,” the love triangle in Netflix’s latest binge-able drama has taken a new and interesting spin on an old idea — and the product is surprisingly excellent.
As a high school girl stuck on a television show, it was nearly unavoidable that Nancy (Natalia Dyer) would find herself caught in a love triangle. Sure enough, in the second episode of the series, “The Weirdo on Maple Street,” it becomes apparent that the awkward loner, Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), and the all-star jock, Steve (Joe Keery), would be vying for fair Nancy’s heart in the first season of “Stranger Things.”
It’s at this point in the game that most viewers typically tune out of whatever overdone Bad Boy vs. Sweet Nerd grudge match is about to take center stage. But somehow, “Stranger Things” manages to subvert the inevitable.
Sure, Steve takes on the typical terrible boyfriend role — falling asleep right after taking Nancy’s virginity, letting his friends slut-shame her and even bullying the local poor kid — but then the whole story turns itself on its head soon after.
He tells off his garbage friends for their treatment of his girlfriend, earning him a few points back in the pro column. He offers to clean up the horrible insults directed at Nancy of his own volition, seeks her out to apologize and even chooses to stay and fight off the faceless monster terrorizing their town while having the opportunity to run all along.
We pegged you too early, Steve Harrington. The key ingredient to this first step of love triangle success is that Steve isn’t perfect; he’s realistic.
He’s a 16-year-old, popular kid in a small town, struggling to figure out where his moral line is. Against all odds, he comes out of this mess as a really likable guy.
Moving on to Jonathan, things get a little dicier. Jonathan represents the one thing almost all women fear more than Upside-Down worlds, Demogorgons and telepaths combined: The Nice Guy.
You know, those guys who are typically quiet, judgmental and anything but nice. Their common denominator, however, is that they’re nothing like the jerks who beat them up in the parking lot every day. So why, oh why, can’t they ever get the girl?
Jonathan veers way too close into Nice Guy territory for our liking most of the time. But like Steve, he somehow manages to course correct and steer himself out of dangerous waters just in the nick of time.
His main goal 100% of the time is not wooing Nancy away from Steve, but rescuing his little brother. In fact, most of the time he and Nancy feel more like soldiers in arms — in a war against this faceless monster. By allowing them to focus on the task at hand rather than any simmering sexual tension, their natural chemistry takes over and actually gets us rooting for Jonathan to end up with the girl.
And just like that, we have two really enjoyable characters on two points of a triangle, both vying for a girl who would rather save her best friend’s life than worry about who she’s dating right now.
And the crowds go wild. A healthy and enjoyable love triangle, folks.
Finally — and perhaps most importantly — the “Stranger Things” love triangle rarely feels like a love triangle.
After a quick exchange of manly blow, Steve and Jonathan quickly end up on the same team, fighting at Nancy’s side. Honestly, we could watch these three set monsters on fire ALL DAY.
When all is said and done, the love triangle is still there, but it’s not creepy or possessive. It’s just kind of around. When Nancy shares a semi-romantic moment with Jonathan at Christmas, Steve doesn’t feel threatened or uncomfortable. He just snuggles up next to his girlfriend and asks about the gift she got for their mutual friend.
There you go again, Steve … making us love you and stuff.
Who’s to say if Steve, Nancy and Jonathan will continue to buck traditional tropes with their dynamic in Season 2 — if and when “Stranger Things” returns for a second run. But what’s more surprising, is that we’ve actually found ourselves anticipating where this love triangle will go next, instead of dreading it.