I’m one of the people who loved season 3 of Stranger Things, for reasons I’ll discuss at a later date, but I keep noticing that people refer to Billy’s redemption arc, which strikes me as very strange. Billy isn’t in this season much, at least the human character of Billy, and all we see of human Billy is him attempting to have sex with someone’s mother, trying to resist the mind flayer for a short time, then a few flashbacks in his mind. Additionally, we see the moment in which he is ‘redeemed’, when he defends Eleven from the mind flayer. I want to go through these and try to explain why I regard the Billy’s final moments as something different.
Billy’s first scenes require little explanation so I won’t bother. The scenes with him struggling to maintain control over his body, whilst the mind flayer has control, don’t really indicate any change of personality, other than the fact Billy does not like to have his mind controlled by a foreign entity. The flashbacks to his childhood are simply that, flashbacks. They explain why Billy is abusive and antisocial, but his abusive father was shown to us in the previous season, and surely we all understand that most violent people are violent due to their past. The flashbacks don’t indicate a change, they simply tell us why he’s not a good person. None of these demonstrate a redemption arc to me, which I’ll briefly describe.
A true redemption arc is when a character recognises their bad behaviour, undergoes a genuine change in personality, and compensates for that bad behaviour, at the end of the arc. While Billy does something heroic at the end of Stranger Things, there is no real evidence that he has fundamentally changed, and if he survived the episode, he could still be abusive towards Max. Billy’s end only demonstrates that there are different levels of bad person. It was more of a revelation than an arc.
A man having an affair is not Ted Bundy. A fraudster is not a murder. What we discover about Billy is that he’s a man who will be violent towards his younger sister, but he is not the kind of man who would enjoy being forced to murder people, and he’s not the kind of man who would allow an alien monster to consume a teenage girl, if he can help. We find that Billy was a bad man, but he was never a monster.