The 80s douche bag archetype is nothing we haven’t seen made fun of before in recent years as the media predilection for irony and meta-ness only continues to mount in a world that must cater to the overly aware, hyper-consumptive nature of the current generation. With the Duffer Brothers’ addition of Billy Hargrove (Dacre Montgomery, yet another actor that proves there’s something beauty-inducing in the water in Australia) to season two of Stranger Things, the classic exemplar reaches an apex. For it’s plain to see this belligerent pretty boy with a sense of entitlement is the modern son of Steff McKee of Pretty in Pink and Leo Johnson of Twin Peaks.
With the 80s heartthrob looks and long flowing (read: mulletous) hair of a Steff and the volatile temper of a Leo, Billy combines the aesthetic and personality of both to create an unstoppable 80s douche. That he makes his grand debut at Hawkins High in a black Camaro only adds to the cachet he already immediately has as a result of those bounce-a-quarter-off-of-it buns. Carting his stepsister, Max (Sadie Sink), with him, even the presence of a “tot” can’t shake the swooning as Billy walks past, the zoom in on his “back jean pockets” (very Sixteen Candles opening scene) further heightening why everyone is so enchanted.
Rolling through town right at a moment when resident “king” Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) is vulnerable–love will make you that way–Billy effortlessly swoops in as most popular guy in school. In many senses, you might say that Steve is Billy’s Blane McDonough (Andrew McCarthy), Steff’s more sensitive, prone to caring about pleasing his girlfriend “best friend.” Of course, the term “best friend” is used loosely with a person of the Steff/Billy variety in that all this species wants is viable competition that will help further prove their worth to themselves and everyone else.
For example, when Billy advises to Steve, “Plant your feet,” after knocking him over on the basketball court, it’s not out of kindness, so much as it is a means to create an at least somewhat worthy adversary to his physical prowess. The Leo side of Billy, however, isn’t so much concerned with competition as he is with expressing his verbal and physical rage to a helpless soul–in this case, it’s Max, not Shelly (Mädchen Amick). And while Max may not be a romantic source in Billy’s life for him to take his rage out on, she’s the closest thing to family he’s got, ergo the easiest target (he can’t talk back to his equally if not more oppressive father, after all).
Billy’s Leo-like tendencies rear their head once again when he shows up to the Wheelers’ house in search of Max, who has gone missing for the entire day. Mrs. Wheeler (Cara Buono) answers the door hurriedly in her robe, soon after inviting him in. Her flustered state is only augmented by the fact that she’s just been interrupted from reading her “bodice-ripping” paperback. Watching Billy as he eats a cookie and lays on the charm (it’s all very “Stacy’s Mom”), Mrs. Wheeler falls under the spell of his veneer. Leo, too, was able to convince the right people of his “brooding” appeal, in spite of that brooding actually just being a side effect that comes with assholery.
What Billy doesn’t seem to have inherited from his pop culture fathers, however, is a knack for survival even when forces of good whip him down. As we watch the inevitable crash and burn of Billy’s volatility in subsequent seasons of Stranger Things, it might become clear that the OG progenitors of Billy’s class–Steff and Leo–remain of “heartier stock,” as they used to say in olden times like the 80s.