As police chief in a town where only neutral-to-bad things happen, Hopper certainly has his hands full. Not to mention his wife left him after his daughter died, and he has PTSD from Vietnam (revealed in seasons one and two, respectively). This isn’t an excuse, but rather, enough information to let you know that the internet has completely disregarded some poor writer’s extrapolation on his behavior, to assume he’s just suffering from toxic masculinity. In a matter of days, Hopper—the police chief who is used to having power or, at the very least, agency—has been mistreated by Mike in his own home (disobeying the smallest boundary ever set up), stood up by Joyce at the fanciest restaurant in their small town and, let’s reiterate, there’s another paranormal situation unfolding with incessant power outages, bloodied teenage lifeguards and a woman with psychoactive rats.
The internet’s frustration stems from Hopper pressuring Joyce into going on a date that she later ghosts on, and his deciding to drink heavily and run out of the restaurant without paying, along with addressing Joyce passive-aggressively from then on—while still helping her. Whomst among us has been forced to be cordial to someone who stepped on their heart, publicly, and then asked us for help?
We forget that flawed characters are the only characters.
And it’s not that we can’t intellectualize everything and unpack his character and his choices, but what’s frustrating is that the implication, then, is that flawed characters are a bad thing. We forget that flawed characters are the only characters.
Evan Rachel Wood wrote a Twitter thread about how Hopper should be more sex-positive with his (supernatural) teen daughter and her smug boyfriend, which is really great in theory. But in reality, in the 1980s, when sex education was pretty much a box of expired condoms and a prayer, this doesn’t make sense and would feel untenable for the world. Now, perhaps the way that other progressive situations have played out on the show have given us a false sense of the world of the show having a specific point of view, rather than telling the events as they unfold in an unbiased fashion. (For example, new character Robin comes out as a lesbian to heartthrob Steve, moments after he confesses feelings for her, and he … acts like that’s nothing to unpack as a white Midwestern teenager in the '80s?)
If Hopper were incredibly nonchalant about being disrespected (by a supernatural daughter he adopted out of the goodness of his heart), then his death would not reveal the note he wrote expressing himself, and Eleven’s emotional response to that loss would be less climactic. Had he not been seen in those aggro moments in the early episodes of this season, his choice to then shoot the Russians and wear their clothes as a disguise would seem completely out of character and over the top. A man who never explodes, never wears an ugly Hawaiian shirt and never kidnaps a Russian scientist to get some information is not a man who saves the town from … alien?—demonic?—weaponized parallel universes. He’s just a background character who dies when the Demogorgon wins and kills everybody.
The point isn’t that these critiques aren’t correct. A number of Twitter users have described feeling uncomfortable watching him taunt Joyce and have a hard time taking no for an answer. That’s fair, but I’d also rather have a character on a TV show do that than a person in real life, and understand that we don’t have to litigate fictional characters and feel a way about watching a show because it has a “bad guy.” The real root of this issue is expecting anyone at all to find their morality through the work of a select group of people who write for TV. Also, that Evan Rachel Wood is on a show where people literally pay to rape and murder sentient robots, and the idea of reading more than a paragraph about why the characters on that show aren’t role models makes me want to gouge my eyes out. Give the audience a little credit.