Netflix’s latest series Stranger Things is the result of a perfectly concocted storm. A plot that slowly unravels the mystery comes to a conclusion that neatly winds all the several story lines together. With a beautiful aesthetic (the cinematography that recreates the 80s is spot-on) and an unforgettable score, the show is nothing less than perfection.
But trying to pick a standout cast member is tricky. Winona Ryder brilliantly plays Joyce Byers, the deranged mother of missing kid Will who relentlessly believes that he’s alive and talking to hear through Christmas lights. David Harbours plays the understated Chief Jim Hopper, a downbeat cop who tries to uncover the truth behind Will’s disappearance. Millie Bobby Brown’s subtle yet powerful portrayal of juvenile Eleven is just as commendable as Natalia Dyer’s take on the curious teen Nancy Wheeler who digs into her own mystery.
But the real star of the show is 13-year-old Gaten Matarazzo, who plays quirky Dustin Henderson. His best friends includes Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhand), Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin) and the recently-disappeared Will Byers (Noah Schnapp). He may be toothless in appearance (because of a rare condition called cleidocranial dysplasia, which Matarazzo has in real life) but he’s truly the heart of his friendship group. He’s as important as Ryder or Brown, and his story arc with his friends Mike and Lucas is just as integral as they try to follow the clues to find their best friend.
Matarazzo plays the role of the loyal sidekick exceptionally well. With his trademark red and blue baseball cap and grinned smile, he manages to keep his cool as he often acts as the peacemaker in the group. When Lucas’ mistrust of their new friend Eleven begins to grow, a rift between him and Mike begins to occur, and it’s Dustin who finds himself mediating the argument. Dustin reassures the group that she is, in fact, a badass, seeing her telekinetic powers as a force for good. His protection of her from bullies by yelling “she’ll kill you sons of bitches” is one of the best lines in the series.
He easily avoids being the comic relief thanks to The Duffer Brothers script, but it’s easy to be blindsided by his quotable one liners, his love for a good snack, and endless Star Wars references. At the same time, the show also explores the importance of male relationships, showing how these boys rely on each other for support.
The series masterfully captures the camaraderie between boys of that age. They operate under an intricate code, invent secret handshakes and use walkie-talkies to secretly communicate at night. The deep loyalty between the boys makes them all ready for action when one of them goes missing. They’re not as annoying as they potentially could have been; kudos to the well-written script. It’s a rare pleasure to see male relationships, especially between young boys actually work, and Dustin is the goofy, likeable stand-out of the bunch.