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How Goofball Dustin Saved Everyone on STRANGER THINGS

How Goofball Dustin Saved Everyone on STRANGER THINGS

By the end of “The Flea and the Acrobat,” Mike’s gang of adventurers has split apart. They had gone looking for the gateway to the Upside Down, but El (Millie Bobby Brown) messed with their compasses to keep them away from it, which drove a wedge between the already unsure foursome. Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) called her a traitor, she threw him against a rusty car with her mind, and he stormed off, leaving his and Mike’s (Finn Wolfhard) fragile friendship pulled in every direction with Will’s life hanging in the balance.

Fortunately for the entire world, their group has Dustin Henderson.

Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), who’s main job has been goofballery and providing ample snacks for midnight bicycle rides, is the glue that holds the group together, and this group is the thing that will save the world. He’s not as close to Mike or Lucas as they are to each other, but maybe that tiny bit of distance helps him stay above the fray when things get tough. He’s silly and irreverent, but he’s also got the steadiest head on his shoulders of anyone in the crew. His character is equal parts chocolate pudding and real talk.

In the sixth episode, “The Monster,” Dustin confronts Mike when he’s spiraling out about the fight and blaming Lucas, reinforcing the group’s hard-and-fast mechanism for survival. He demands Mike apologize for drawing first blood and shake Lucas’ hand, saying, “This isn’t a discussion. This is the Rule of Law. Obey or be banished from the party. Do you wanna be banished?”

In the context of Mike’s mandate that friends are, above all else, honest with each other, this is a huge move. Think back to the last time you had to tell one or your friends a hard truth. To check them when they say or do something wrong. Dustin doesn’t flinch in the face of one of the more difficult tasks facing someone whose social status is already rocky.

That’s the first step. When they get to Lucas’ house, Dustin doesn’t back down. Now he’s got two petulant friends shouting at each other, but he’s also got D&D to make his argument for him.

“Do you even remember what happened on the Bloodstone Pass?!” he says, stopping their argument cold. “We couldn’t agree on what path to take so we split up the party, and those trolls took us out one by one, and it all went to s***, and we were all disabled! So we stick together. No matter what.”

His passion doesn’t initially pay off, but the power of tenacity doesn’t show itself in the short term. Dustin’s super power is his dedication to the group’s cohesion, which makes the squabbles that drive them apart seem petty. Still, Lucas abandoning them to find the gateway on his own makes a lot of emotional sense. This fight is between him and Mike, whose friendship and affection has been captured by El. His jealousy has left him wounded, and no high level appeal to cohesion from Dustin was going to change that.

That’s especially because Dustin and Lucas aren’t as close to one another. In this episode, Dustin humbly admits his lower place in the original D&D squad hierarchy as a sidekick to Lucas and Mike, who’ve known each other longer (Dustin only showed up in fourth grade) and who live closer to each other. Mike extends the olive branch of multiple best friendship, but Dustin’s assessment is still spot-on. He and Will (Noah Schnapp) are the ones who ride most of the way home together after long D&D sessions at Mike’s house, and they appear in the first episode to have the easy rapport of the soft-spoken and put-upon. The rapport of two pals who know they’re not the stars of their own friend group.

Dustin is closer with Mike because Mike has the ability to be close to all of them. He’s deeply empathetic, which is why he’s most drawn to El and why he immediately accepts her as a new member of their cohort. Still, Dustin and Mike’s friendship is obviously genuine and symbiotic. It’s not exactly Screech/Zack Morris, but there’s been a hint of that since the beginning of the show. With the display of Dustin’s importance in this episode, the status of Mike as a kind of solitary leader has to be questioned. Dustin isn’t just a support beam for the coolest geeky kid; he’s one equal leg on a quadropod.

Dustin and Lucas, on the other hand, is a contentious relationship, and it probably always has been.

If Lucas and Mike were best buds since kindergarten, and Dustin showed up in the fourth grade, Lucas has probably been antagonistic toward him since the start. They’ve verbally sparred at each other at every twist and turn—in the principal’s office, in Mike’s basement, in Lucas’s house when Dustin considers El’s attack on him X-Men-level awesome. They’re polar opposite personalities: Lucas is stone-faced serious and Dustin just wants to have fun. One brings flashlights to a search party, the other brings Pringles (we need energy for our travels!). In other words, they’re symbiotic without knowing it.

It’s no wonder Dustin fails to bring everyone together on the first go, but he does push Lucas and Mike in the right direction (toward each other) and helps look for Eleven, which lets her know she has people who care for her.

Without Dustin’s intervention, he and Mike would have run into the knife-wielding bullies Troy (Peyton Wich) and James (Cade Jones) without Eleven’s protection, and the group would have been separated at the very moment “Hawkins Power and Light” bore down on them, picking them off one by one. Bloodstone Pass all over again!

Shady government entity wins, they take back Eleven, the town (and the world?) is set for total annihilation.

Essentially, every group needs a Dustin. Without him, the world is toast.

Images: Netflix

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