Queer representation on screen has shifted dramatically in the past decade. What started as queerness played for laughs on Friends or industry-wide retaliation from queerness shown on Ellen has now morphed into so much LGBTQ representation it’s almost impossible to keep up with. TV’s biggest shows have begun including queer storylines (Only Murders and Euphoria, to name a few), and Netflix’s mega-hit Stranger Things is no exception.
The tail-end of Season 3 of the series featured Robin Buckley coming out to her new friend Steve Harrington, opening the door for a more thorough exploration in the fourth installment. That continuation came in the form of Vickie, a fellow band geek Robin has been harboring a crush on. Despite Vickie feeling more like a clone of Robin than her own character in the minimal scenes she has during the season, Stranger Things really tries to sell the budding love story between the two of them. In fact, Vickie even breaks up with her boyfriend at the very end of the season, potentially opening the door for a relationship between her and Robin.
However, this relationship is not the one that’s been dominating the conversation on Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram since Vol. 2’s July 1st premiere. Instead, “RoNance,” or the romantic pairing of Robin and Nancy Wheeler, has completely taken over the Internet.
With dozens of video edits set to Tears for Fears songs and fan-art galore, this pairing clocks in at over 160 million combined views on the RoNance hashtag on TikTok and thousands of posts under the hashtag on Instagram. But why is the draw for this non-canon, seemingly never-going-to-happen pairing so strong, especially with Vickie in the picture? Many fans would cite screentime as a significant factor, as Robin and Vickie have a total of three interactions throughout the entire season. Others might blame their similar characterization, instead longing for the butting-heads dynamic that Robin and Nancy shared throughout their significant team-ups during Season 4.
Whatever the reason, it doesn’t matter whether you’re Team Vickie or Team Nancy. What does matter, though, is that this pattern has been repeating itself across many shows, in every corner of TV. Spanning series like Pretty Little Liars (Emily’s “revolving door of girlfriends” was a stark contrast to the other Liars’ love lives) to Nancy Drew (Bess is the only main character not dating within the Drew Crew), this Stranger Things situation isn’t actually strange at all, and is emblematic of this new era of queer representation we find ourselves within. The conversation has shifted to a fresh problem: the inclusion of queer characters who end up with inconsequential love interests and a lack of narrative weight, and the non-canon ships that sprout in retaliation.
As mentioned, Vickie and Robin have a total of three interactions together, all of them nearly insignificant. If all the major plots and relationships on Stranger Things could be laid out on a cork-board and connected with red string, every single main couple (Mike and Eleven, Max and Lucas, Nancy and Jonathan, etc) would find themselves with multiple connections to both each other and the central plot. Vickie, on the other hand, would be to the far left of the board with a single red line connected to Robin, with no impact within the overarching story. Instead of the crippling worry that the sole queer character on a show will be killed off or written out, the new worry becomes representation in the background, filling in the quantity gaps but leaving the quality with much to be desired. While casual queer representation within predominantly straight shows is incredibly important, the double standards make these relationships feel like an afterthought, taking a narrative backseat in stark contrast to their straight counterparts.
Much like how Stranger Things is not the first series to hand its sole queer character a nearly-irrelevant love interest, RoNance is not the first non-canon ship to be more popular than the established queer relationship. From Kara and Lena on Supergirl to Hope and Josie on Legacies, queer audiences have long attached themselves to the main characters and bonds between them over the show’s actual representation. This is a major consequence of this side-character dilemma; it leaves the audience longing for a reality where queer relationships are treated equally to the main relationships of the story, with all the character development and screentime that comes with it.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s incredible that a show like Stranger Things, the biggest show in the world, is bringing queer representation right into people’s living rooms, but that doesn’t make it exempt from critique over how that representation is being utilized, and to what degree. Both realities can exist at once: Robin’s story is incredibly important, but she also deserves to have her love explored on screen to the same degree as Nancy or Eleven or Max. Audiences aren’t taking this representation for granted, but rather asking for better, just as they have had to do since the days of Bury Your Gays.
With many years until Stranger Things hits our screens for the final time, only time will tell how the buzz surrounding RoNance, along with the lack of enthusiasm for Robin and Vickie, will play into the outcome of the series. Egged on by the actresses themselves (Natalia Dyer told Tadum that she ships RoNance and “love[s] Nancy with a girlfriend”), it seems that Robin and Vickie will be a hard sell for fans come Season 5. While it’s (probably) unrealistic to expect all your RoNance dreams to come true, hoping for better for Robin is well within the limits of the series, and will only serve to help queer representation in the long run.
Anna Govert is an entertainment writer based in Chicago. For any and all thoughts about TV, film, and the wonderful insanity of Riverdale, you can follow her @annagovert.
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