In the opening episode of Stranger Things 2, we learn there’s a new kid on the block in Hawkins, Indiana. Max is introduced as the girl who can beat the boys’ high score on an arcade game, and has moved to town with her violent stepbrother and absent parents. Sure, there are other characters whose development is a key part of making the second season of this hit show so enjoyable (shoutout to babysitter Steve), but the beauty of Max is that she is both an enigma and a regular kid, trying to fit in at a new school and dealing with a dysfunctional family. Portrayed to perfection by Sadie Sink, Max is a tough, smart, funny girl who won’t let anyone take advantage of her, which is exactly what Hawkins needs.
Not content to play the female sidekick, Max fights for her role in the boys’ party and eventually becomes an integral part in their (temporary) victory against the shadow monster. Dustin and Lucas are immediately smitten with her, but she is looking for real friends, not admirers, and initially rejects their awkward overtures. Her blunt, prickly personality is a obviously a defense mechanism, and, as we get to know her better, we learn she want to be accepted like any other teenager. Although she is skeptical about Lucas’ story when he first tells her the truth about the Upside Down, she chooses to stand by the boys' side even when things take a turn for the terrifying with the arrival of the demo-dogs. With her skateboard always by her side, Max manages to forge her own role in the group as their “zoomer,” rather that simply attempting to fill the hole left by Eleven’s absence.
As a new character, Max is a much-needed breath of fresh air in the oppressive Stranger Things universe. After Lucas gets her up to speed on what has happened throughout the first season, she echoes fans’ comments in an endearing piece of meta-criticism: “It’s crazy, but I really liked it,” Max says. “I mean I had a few issues. I just felt it was a little derivative in parts. I just wish it had a little more originality, that’s all.” Max is a voice for the ridiculousness of the series, ensuring it doesn’t get bogged down in the dramatic fantasy elements. She is practical and realistic, even in the face of the supernatural. Max proves that although the world created by the Duffer Brothers is under attack from an evil, otherworldly force, it doesn't have to be serious.
Fans have been critical of the inclusion of Max and her stepbrother Billy as a pointless distraction in the wider Stranger Things storyline. Max has also been panned for getting in between Eleven and Mike’s budding romance, which seems intense when you consider we are talking about fictional thirteen-year-olds. But Max’s arrival not only added a romantic subplot with Lucas and Dustin, it also challenged the nerdy vibe the gang had been stuck in. Max is a badass and a loyal friend, and she teaches the boys how to treat girls like equals rather than objects of admiration. While Eleven is jealous when she sees Mike and Max together, Max seems oblivious to all the romantic tension. When she finally meets Eleven, she tries to smooth things over, but Eleven is focused on her reunion with Mike, which is understandably her priority in the moment. Max and Eleven's relationship is left undefined in the season finale.
Despite the fact that, on screen, Eleven and Max are set up as rivals for the boys’ attention, Millie Bobby Brown and Sadie Sink are good friends in real life who apparently have sleepovers and sing Pitch Perfect duets together. Here’s hoping for a Stranger Things 3 filled with the same old nostalgia, and a strong new female friendship.
Images via Netflix
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Molly McLaughin is a writer who likes pizza, politics and poetry. In that order. She tweets at @mollysgmcl.