[Warning: The following contains spoilers for the finale of Stranger Things 3. Read at your own risk!]
The world of Stranger Things is full of monsters and no-good Russkies, but we all know what really pays the bills: romance! Sure, demogorgons and the Mind Flayer are scary and all, but the real thrills come from who will be locking lips.
Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Max (Sadie Sink), Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Suzie, Billy (Dacre Montgomery) and me (me); these are just some of the romantic relationships that Stranger Things has developed since its premiere in 2016, and their importance is monumental to the success of the show. As much as we love Stranger Things' sci-fi and horror, as much as being transported back to the '80s is a trip, we smash the "Play Next Episode" button to hang out with these characters we've become attached to and nose our way into their personal lives.
But there's one potential relationship that I cannot get behind. There's one possible relationship that the show keeps trying to make happen. There's one wannabe relationship that some misguided fans are still supporting! That disaster-in-the-making is between Joyce (Winona Ryder) and Hopper (David Harbour). And no season has proved that I'm more right that their coupling would only be a stain on the sanctity of love than Season 3. Joyce and Hopper can never happen. A Joyce and Hopper relationship must be stopped, because it's worse than the Upside Down or any other beast that might crawl out of it.
In the world of predictable television writing, it makes sense that Joyce and Hopper would be struck by the love bug. They're members of the opposite sex, they're single, they're of the same age, and they're forced to go on dangerous misadventures together, which is the television equivalent of flirty text messaging. They even have a history together, having gone to the same high school where they snuck off to puff on cigarettes. All signs point to love in the air, so get a room already, right?
WRONG. Viable relationships are more complicated than putting two characters near each other for enough time; that's grandmother thinking, right there. As spectators of Joyce and Hopper, we have to ask ourselves if they are a good fit for each other. And if any of you out there think that anyone is a good fit for a maniac like Hopper, let alone someone as darling and deserving of a supportive partner as Joyce, then please, never try matchmaking in real life.
In Season 1, I could maybe have been convinced that there was a slight chance that Hopper and Joyce could work. Joyce was divorced from Lonnie for years and Hopper was wrecked over the death of his daughter and his own divorce. They were both lost, Hopper much more so at the time, with holes in their souls to fill. It's natural — especially on a TV show — that their common pasts and shared sense of loss would lead them to gravitate toward each other. (But given that Joyce was a wreck over Will's disappearance, any moves made by Hopper would have been utterly gross. There's a time and a place, horny dudes.)
In Season 2, Joyce found Bob Newby (Sean Astin), another high school pal, and they were wonderful together. He was a dork who was extra nerdy about Joyce and made her happy, a rare occurrence for the frequently flustered and overwhelmed mother of a boy who spent much of the season possessed by an evil inter-dimensional monster. Meanwhile, Hopper's inner dick was starting to come out, shown by his inability to effectively parent his adopted daughter. (Yes, he was being protective of Eleven, but way too overprotective.) Bob and Joyce made it impossible for Hopper to squeeze on in there, but as soon as Bob died, heroically, might I remind you, shippers began drooling for another shot at Jopper. Disgusting jackals.
Based on what we've seen in Season 3, even the slightest malformed thought of seeing Joyce and Hopper smooch should be laid to rest like Mews, and it's for one simple reason: Joyce deserves better than Hopper. For some reason, Stranger Things decided that turning Hopper into an egotistical and controlling misogynist was a good decision. Hopper's charms of the earlier seasons — he was gruff but sensitive under his hard, crusty, outer shell — evaporated in Season 3 as he aggressively kept watch over Eleven and Mike, threatened Mike with violence if he continued to date her, and flaunted his power as police chief, waltzing through the town like he was above the law. It's done tongue-in-cheek as Season 3 shamelessly turned up the dial on '80s screwball comedy, like when he chastised his Enzo's waiter while he idly sat at his table, tossed Alexei around over Slurpee disputes, or illegally commandeered a civilian's vehicle, but let's be clear: That was drunk driving, assault, and grand theft auto. Not exactly the characteristics the writers should play up when forcing courtship with Joyce.
And that doesn't even begin to cover Hopper's treatment of Joyce. Early in the season, he badgers Joyce into a not-a-romantic dinner date at Enzo's, a surprisingly chichi Italian eatery in podunk Hawkins that's definitely built for romantic dinner dates. When she doesn't show because she was investigating strange phenomena and getting a lesson in electromagnetic fields from Mr. Clarke — a much better potential mate for Joyce, btw — Hopper blows up on Joyce in a disgusting display of jealous immaturity for blowing him off. This is after Joyce helped Hopper with advice on how to deal with his insecurity of Eleven dating Mike, and not too long after strange phenomena in Hawkins nearly led to her youngest son dying, which should excuse her preoccupation with magnets.
Later in Episode 4, Joyce impresses Hopper with her detective skills and asks her to join the police department. It's charming, and a rare show of tenderness with Joyce. But he takes about a thousand steps backward an episode later when he's literally screaming in Joyce's face about how to get information out of Alexei and bossing her around while trying to fix the car in the woods. After Joyce says starting the car isn't working, he demands she start it again despite Alexei clearly telling Hopper — in plain English — to stop. If it weren't for Joyce exiting the exploding car on her own, Hopper would have been responsible for Joyce wearing a full body suit of gauze like the Invisible Man for the rest of the season. We didn't even hear an apology from Hopper, just more complaining.
This can't be misconstrued as flirty banter or some bullshit that Whiskey Cavalier could pull off. This is a grown man belittling a grown woman about half his size by ignoring what she has to say and yelling louder than she can. This is monstrous behavior from a man who supposedly likes this woman. If he's doing this now, guess what? He's going to be even worse if they ever get together.
Stranger Things tries to do some last-minute course correcting in the finale by having Joyce take pity on Hopper and asking him out on an Enzo's date, but it's far from any natural progression in their relationship and more of a desperate "if we get out of this alive" or "let's not forget that we are in a TV show" kind of proposal. And of course, in the climax of the finale, the show wants us to think that Hopper is dead (he isn't, he obviously went into the Upside Down and later popped out the other side in Russia) and that any shot of them getting back together is done, but we'll very clearly go through this very wrong song-and-dance again in Season 4 once Hopper is rescued because Stranger Things wants to smash these two together, no matter the many reasons not to.
Maybe a stint in a Russian jail will break Hopper down enough he'll lighten up and be ready for a relationship. But if not, Joyce would be better off as a twitchy spinster than to share a life with him. Don't even think of it, Stranger Things. End it NOW. Bring back Bob!
Stranger Things Season 3 is now on Netflix.