It seems hard to believe now, but there was once a time in my life when I was so-so about Eddie Munson. That time lasted exactly three and a half minutes, the length of his first scene of him in the first episode of Stranger Things’ fourthseason. We meet Eddie in the Hawkins High School cafeteria, where he is performing a dramatic reading of a panic-stoking magazine article claiming Dungeons & Dragons (the fantasy role-playing game) has been tied to “violent behavior”, “satanic worship”, “and even murder.”
After putting down his magazine, Eddie steps onto a cafeteria table and rants against “forced conforming.” The “super senior” (we do not know his age of him, exactly, but the actor who plays him is 29 years old) is hoping to finally graduate high school after multiple failed attempts – an achievement he plans to celebrate by flipping off the school principal.
At that stage, I was intrigued, but not quiiiiite ready to hitch my wagon to the guy. but then stranger things kicked its Munson campaign into gear, and I was left changed.
By the end of episode one, Eddie witnesses the gross killing of cheerleader Chrissy Cunningham by a malevolent supernatural force. we, faithful stranger things viewers, know that some sort of monster is surely behind Chrissy’s death. The people of Hawkins, Indiana, however? They’re all too quick to blame Eddie, echoing the very article he was reading during his first moments on screen. (If this set-up sounds familiar, it’s because, per the show’s writersEddie is partly inspired by Damien Echols, a member of the West Memphis Three who was accused of murder and spent years on death row before being released in 2011.)
This becomes the main storyline of the fourth season: Eddie is unfairly accused of murder, and the other kids must defeat the monster and get justice for their friend before it’s too late. In order for this narrative to work, we must care so much about Eddie. Obviously, the unfairness of someone getting wrongly accused of murder already goes a long way, but considering this is a fictional TV show, and Eddie (I’m sorry) doesn’t actually exist, we need a little bit more in order to be truly engaged.
So how did they do it? How did the writers make me go from “eh, I’m not sure about this guy” to “I will die if anything bad happens to this entirely fictional being” in just one episode? I knew I felt it. The reactions on social media suggested everybody else did, too. But how did it happen? I was so intrigued by the transformation of my own emotional attachment to Eddie that I had to go back and rewatch his scenes from him to understand.
Eddie doesn’t even get that much screen time for the remainder of the first episode. He has four scenes total, including the cafeteria scene, and he is onscreen for a cumulative 20 minutes, which isn’t all that much for an episode clocking in at one hour and 13 minutes. But boy, are these 20 minutes put to good use.
Following his performance in the cafeteria, Eddie reappears to sell drugs to Chrissy Cunningham, per Chrissy’s request. The scene subverts every expectation we could have about Eddie at this point: in his previous scene, he was brash and bombastic; now, he’s calm, self-deprecating, and unfailingly nice. “You know, you’re not what I thought you’d be like,” Chrissy tells him. (We’re right there with you, Chrissy!) “Mean and scary?” Eddie replies. “Yeah, well, I actually kind of thought you’d be kind of mean and scary, too.” wow! Edgelords, they’re just like us!
OK, so now we know: the big, bad wolf? Not so big, not so bad, and probably not a wolf. a little later, stranger things hits us with another scene: Eddie is initially reluctant to welcome 11-year-old Erica Sinclair into his Dungeons & Dragons circle, but relents once she engages in a ruthless battle of wits with him. “We’re gonna do this, or we’re gonna keep chit-chatting like this is your mommy’s book club?” Erica wants to know. At this, Eddie – who has been known to rule over his posse de ella with somewhat of an iron fist – smiles, extends his hand de ella, and welcomes her into the club. Look at this! A leader who likes being challenged! A ruler who doesn’t actually want to be surrounded by minions and yes-men! How delightful.
The scene continues with Eddie leading the Dungeons & Dragons group through a so-called “sadistic campaign”, testing their abilities as players. After a tense build-up, the kids win, much to Eddie’s shock from him, but not – that much is clear – to his chagrin from him. “That’s why we play,” he proclaims, literally bowing to his younger adversaries.
And so, a character who was introduced as over-the-top, moralizing, and – I’M JUST GOING TO SAY IT – irritated becomes the underdog we are all willing to root for. (And who we keep rooting for throughout the season, even as his circumstances de el grow ever more dire.) It’s a masterclass in high-speed character development. Eddie feels nuanced. Eddie feels real. Eddie feels like a little bit of all of us, flaws and all. And that’s how you create a character whose (extreme spoiler alert) untimely demise results in a Change.org petition demanding his resurrection, with more than 21,000 signatures so far.
It has been a great year for stranger things. The horror drama returned to Netflix for the first time in three years, mainly due to pandemic-related filming delays. Patience paid off: The show’s fourth season, which started airing in May and wrapped up on 1 July with an epic, two-and-a-half-hour finale, has become Netflix’s most popular English-language series ever, according to Variety. But such a success wasn’t necessarily a given. Three years is a long time, especially for a show that draws much of its charm from nostalgia. With every season, the cast has grown, meaning there is now the added challenge of keeping the ensemble coherent while allowing each character to shine. So much of the comfort of television comes from familiarity – knowing we’re going to hang out with the same characters, in the same setting, year on year.
Yet, stranger things‘ writers have consistently taken the opposite route, introducing new characters along the way (hello, Bob, and Murray, and Billy, and Argyle, and more) and partly moving the show from its hometown of Hawkins, Indiana, to California and Russia. The show’s commitment to new faces is all the more interesting considering its core cast is large enough that the writers could comfortably focus on those characters without bothering to create, introduce, and develop additional ones. They take risks in making these introductions, and these risks have consistently appeared to pay off.
Even more risky is trusting a brand-new character with a lot of the show’s emotional backbone. Our summer icon, Dungeon Master extraordinaire and devoted metalhead Eddie Munson, did a lot of heavy lifting this season. Again, it paid off in spectacular fashion. That’s a testament to some truly extraordinary writing and three years well spent.
I guess what I’m trying to say is: Thank you, Eddie Munson. Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.