way back when stranger things Season 3 premiered back in 2019, Decider’s own Brett White penned a gorgeous essay about how he saw himself in the character of Will Byers (Noah Schnapp). He saw himself in Will as a (then closed) gay geek.
“Okay okay okay–the show doesn’t come out and explicitly address it, and the scene I’m talking about may have left some viewers scratching their heads, but to a gay like me, a gay who was 100% Will Byers when he was 14, I’ve picked up on all of the signs. They’re not signs to me. They’re billboards,” Brett wrote before expertly picking apart each and every thread that stranger things had woven into the tapestry of Will’s potentially gay identity.
as it happens, stranger things Season 4 seems to not only confirm that Will is gay, but that he also has a very real crush on his long-time best friend Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard). This crush reveals itself in clues dropped by Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), arguments between the two out-of-sync teen boys, and tortured, loving glances that Will secrets Mike’s way.
While stranger things Season 4 Part 1 doesn’t officially come out and have Will say it, those billboards Brett wrote about now feel like they’ve been lit up like a technicolor Times Square ad. The messaging is so loud even I, a straight woman, can now pick up on them, saying to myself, “Oh, that poor little gay boy has a crush on his very straight best friend of him!”
stranger things Season 4 picks up six months after the events of Season 3. While most of our beloved buddies have stayed put in Hawkins, Dr. Owens (Paul Reiser) has relocated Joyce (Winona Ryder), Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), Will, and El to Lenora, Calif. Still, their Hawkins friends remain on their minds. Eleven writes Mike letters that spin everything mundane and strained about her California life de ella into the most glittering and fun situation ever. She lies and says she’s making friends and Joyce loves her job from her. When it comes to Will, she doesn’t necessarily fudge the truth as much as she hints that she’s not entirely sure what’s going on – but something es:
“Will is painting a lot, but he…he won’t show me what he’s working on. Maybe it is for a girl. I think there is someone he likes, because he has been acting weird.”
Now we already know from last season that Will’s painting probably is not for a girl. After all, Will was agitated by his own friends’ girlfriends and longed for girl-free gaming sessions. At one point, Mike even point blank tells Will, “It’s not my fault you don’t like girls!” Indeed, when it comes time to see who the painting is for, it’s obviously for Mike. Will carries his rolled up artwork to the airport, but he doesn’t seem to have the guts to give it to Mike. In fact, when he tries to embrace Mike, the other boy awkwardly pats him in a platonic way. (This is right after Mike hugged, kissed, and gave Eleven hand-picked flowers.)
When the trio goes to the roller skating rink, Will rolls his eyes at El’s lies and simmers in jealousy. Eventually, Mike calls him a douche. to douch!!! Will fires back that he’s been miserable being a third wheel and asks, “What about us?” Mike is confused, but Will is emotional, explaining that he’s gotten a few phone calls to El’s “book of letters.” Mike once more is like, “Dude, she’s my girlfriend and you’re just a friend.” Will is in the friend zone. Sad synth music plays.
The thing is these clues — Will’s secret painting, his steadfast and unrequited devotion to Mike — are resurrected again and again over the season. Mike’s priority is Eleven and Will’s is Mike. If these kids were Gen Z and not Gen X, they might have the vocabulary to express what’s really happening. Will is gay and in love with Mike, who is straight and in love with El. Unfortunately, it seems that stranger things is going to let Will’s feelings stew in the shadows until the bitter end. (Or at the earliest, when the stranger things Season 4 finale comes out on July 1.)
stranger things Season 3 did something wholly progressive by having Robin (Maya Hawke) come out to an understanding Steve (Joe Keery) with no problem with the reveal. Season 4, however, is reminding us that the ’80s were a homophobic time. Robin is terrified to ask her crush on her Vickie (Amybeth McNulty) because she could be chased out of Hawkins, while Will’s friends seem totally unaware that he loves Mike. He literally assumes Will is crushing on a girl and Mike is confused by why Will is so hurt by his affections from him for Eleven.
stranger things Season 4 shows us that the 1980s were a scarier time. Not because of Vecna monsters, but because we were forcing kids to stay in the closet when they could have been having swoon-worthy romances out on the rolling skating rink floor.