Warning: this article contains mild spoilers for the third season of Netflix’s Stranger Things, so don’t read on unless you’re up to date with the sci-fi series.
It’s no secret that fans of Stranger Things have been feverishly shipping – as in, supporting a relationship between – Jim Hopper (David Harbour) and Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) ever since the show debuted back in 2016, so much so that the hashtag ‘Jopper’ was born.
And, in the weeks before the third season of the 80s-based sci-fi hit dropped on Netflix, Harbour promised fans that their “thirst will be quenched” in the new episodes.
“There’s so much there this season and we really get to see them interact in a way that we haven’t,” he told The Wrap. “There have been like scattered scenes of them and now we really get to go in. And I will say you get a lot of fun stuff and also you get some really unexpected stuff. And it’s not gonna be the way you think in your head but it’s beautiful and I think it’s profound what they have and it’s really a fun season to watch for them.”
The actor added that Hopper “starts off this season crazier than ever and more stressed out than ever. And that leads him to this relationship with Joyce where he’s looking for advice”. He also promised that Jopper scenes would be “really sweet and beautiful”, and fans had no reason to doubt him.
However, they – along with Westworld’s Evan Rachel Wood – were left shocked when they finally wrapped their eyes around the events of Stranger Things 3.
“You should never date a guy like the cop from Stranger Things,” Wood warned her Twitter followers.
“Extreme jealousy and violent rages are not flattering or sexy like TV would have you believe. That is all.”
Wood is referring, of course, to the fact that Joyce – no matter what Jopper shippers might think – isn’t ready for a new relationship. Indeed, she’s still very much in mourning for Bob (Sean Astin), who died pretty horribly in the show’s second season.
That’s why she turns down Hopper’s invitation for a night in. His response? To trick her into going on a date with him – a date which is framed as a platonic get together, and a date which she fails to attend due to… well, due to the usual Hawkins madness (this woman’s got Mind Flayer’s to hunt, mystery’s to solve, kids to mother).
And his response to that? To rant and rave, until the tension is amped up so high that others around the duo feel forced to comment on it. Not ideal.
“Yes, I am aware it’s ‘just a show’ and it’s set ‘in the 80s’ even though this stuff was unacceptable then too, but that’s exactly my point,” continued Wood, when people felt the need to remind her that the show is fictional.
“It’s just a show and this is a gentle reminder not to fall for this crap in real life. Red flags galore.”
Of course, there were those who felt sorry for Hopper. ‘He’s a nice guy,’ these people insisted, ‘but he’s just been Friend Zoned so what do you expect?’
So can we… can we just talk about the Friend Zone for a moment?
If you spend any time on the internet – or, y’know, have ever seen a film or TV show – then you’ll no doubt have stumbled across the concept of The Friend Zone at least once in your life. There are thousands of memes dedicated to this imaginary space, which is populated by people (usually men) who are desperately in love/lust with one of their close friends.
Tragically for these entitled brats, though, the object of their affections just isn’t interested in them in that way – and so they’re doomed to be relegated to nothing more than a friend forever more.
Let’s repeat that, shall we? They’re doomed to be relegated to nothing more than a friend. As if friendship is somehow inferior to romantic and sexual relationships. As if these so-called ‘nice guys’ deserve to be rewarded with sex simply for being a decent human being. As if there’s no other reason to spend time with someone than to get inside their pants.
Throughout this season of Stranger Things, Joyce gives us little real inclination that she sees Hopper as anything other than a friend. A friend whom she loves very dearly, true, but a friend all the same.
Hopper, however, seems thoroughly fixated on the idea that he and Joyce are meant to be – so much so that he ignores the very clear signals she sends him throughout the series. He, like so many others, has been socialised to view women as the trophies we reward men with for good behaviour. And he’s been good: he’s saved the world – twice – and he’s adopted a daughter. He’s an undeniably good guy. But that doesn’t mean Joyce owes him a thing.
As the third season progresses, things slowly start to shift between the duo – but Ryder and Harbour have both noted that they hope the show gives Jopper fans a “much deeper glimpse” into their characters’ relationship – and that it underlines why a ‘happy ever after’ is impossible for them.
“They have their own traumas, they have their own difficulties, and they do act out on each other,” Harbour told Mashable. “I mean, Hopper certainly acts out all over the place. He’s constantly angry and doesn’t know how to process his emotions.”
“There is this thing that they’re both very afraid of for different reasons,” Ryder added, emphasising Joyce’s strong aversion to commitment, which stems largely from her grief and guilt over Bob.
“It’s their own brand of dysfunction,” Harbour continued. “It is complicated.”