“I am on a curiosity voyage and I need my paddles to travel. These books are my paddles.” — Dustin, Stranger Things
Remember the goofy kid with curly hair who looked like the most innocent and adorable baby of the group yet was ready to stand up to the bullies who threatened to carve out his teeth with a knife lest he jumps off the cliff just to save his friend? That is Dustin Henderson for you, one of the greatest characters in Netflix’s Stranger Things.
While every narrative has a hero, this very popular show, enjoying a courageous new life as the fourth season captured the hearts and minds of fans in a way that few could have imagined, has several heroes who are flawed and human. Henderson is definitely one of them and is perhaps the best friend one could ever ask for.
Created by the Duffer brothers, the show is set in the nostalgic 1980s and sees a bunch of kids, riding their bicycles, trying to find their friend who has mysteriously disappeared from their sleepy town of Hawkins in Indiana. The town has sinister secrets and the children, namely Mike, Lucas and Dustin, relentlessly search for their friend Will when they encounter a strange girl named Eleven with psychokinetic powers. Amidst dysfunctional families, high emotional drama and interdimensional travel involving dangerous, bloodthirsty monsters and raging bureaucracy and rampant corruption, these kids are the real heroes without capes.
Dustin is one of the members of the quartet who engages in this brave search for Will. He is a relatively late addition to the group, having met them in fourth grade and often feels left out. Despite various emotional differences, he is the voice of reason in the group and the emotional glue whose neutrality, tact, rationale and logical thinking help solve irreconcilable differences. From resolving Mike and Lucas’ fights to coming to logical conclusions regarding various group activities, this Dungeons & Dragons fanatic might have a hard time flirting with women but is perhaps the wittiest and most intelligent ones in the group.
Dustin is curious and eager to learn. His hunger for knowledge in various fields, especially science is what sets him apart. He is a proud nerd who gladly embraces his identity as a misfit. His toothless smile and ever-smiling eyes during his conversation with the school science teacher Mr Clarke regarding salt baths, alternate dimensions, space and physics-related matters are downright endearing. It is Dustin’s constant search for knowledge that helps them on their quest to rescue Will from the Upside Down. Unlike the sceptic, Lucas, Dustin is extremely open to Eleven’s powers and is in awe of her. While people make fun of his baby teeth, Dustin is very mature and tries not to let their comments get the better of him.
He is a tough nut to crack with an unwavering loyalty towards his friends whom he protects with every inch of his heart. Despite the initial misunderstandings with them, Dustin reunites with them and helps them to defeat the Mind Flayer in the Starcourt Mall. his bromance with Steve is worth noticing as well. Dustin gets blown off by various women but in the end, ends up with Suzie from the camp, so all’s well that ends well, right? He is also the most cheesy boyfriend when he says, “I mean nobody’s scientifically perfect, but Suzie’s about as close to being perfect as any human could possibly be”.
Despite all this, Dustin is not one without flaws. He makes the wrong decision of harbouring Dart, a smaller version of the Demogorgon and does not reveal that to his friends, his dishonesty leads to a lot of trouble but gradually Dart is killed and peace is restored. Dustin’s character trajectory is note-worthy as he goes from being the goofy and amenable sidekick to one of the most important and indispensable characters. The awkward and geeky Dustin grows on you and one cannot help but wish for a friend as loyal, loving and understanding as him.
Gaten Matarazzo, who portrays the character, revealed how he was not supposed to be that big of a presence in the show. However, after working with him, the creators altered the script to give more space for a genius misfit like Henderson to thrive. Matarazzo adds a whole new dimension to the character, making him relatable, goofy, wholesome and adorable. He uses his rare genetic condition cleidocranial dysplasia to his advantage and makes it an indispensable and distinguished characteristic of the adorable marshmallow-like Dustin. We are glad that the Duffer brothers cast him as Dustin and not Mike, for Gaten executes his role to perfection, making Dustin a friend everyone deserves to have!