“Feelings. The truth is, for so long, I’d forgotten what those even were. I’ve been stuck in one place, in a cave, you might say. A deep, dark cave.” — Jim Hopper
Matt and Ross Duffer’s widely popular Netflix show Stranger Things is the pair’s romantic ode to the 1980s with a grunge aesthetic pervading the fear and anxiety of the characters living in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana. The show dabbles with the classic child endangerment theme where nerdy kids ride their bicycles to find their missing friend and soon meet a mysterious girl named Eleven who has psychokinetic abilities as a result of the experiments conducted on her. While battling otherworldly demons and trying to navigate through the wicked bureaucracy of the adult world, the children forge a wonderful bond.
The show, which garnered immense popularity, is a concoction of every child’s fantasy dreams and has found itself a cult following amid commercial success. With a wide range of characters peppered throughout the show, it is needless to say that fans are divided over who the best character is. While some prefer Mike Wheeler for his daring nature or Eleven for Millie Bobby Brown’s sheer versatility on-screen, others might go for Steve Harrington owing to his wonderful redemption arc in the series. In my opinion, however, it is Jim Hopper, portrayed by the uber-talented David Harbour. End the debate: Hopper is the greatest character in the series. Here’s why.
Imagine being left hollow due to a set of tragic events throughout your life yet being bereft of empathy from the audience. That is exactly the extraordinary feat that the Duffer brothers were able to achieve while writing Jim Hopper’s character on the show. Hopper is no hero, nor is he an anti-hero. He does not embark on a quest-like journey. The first season sees Hopper as the Chief of Police in Hawkins, whose alcohol-fuelled life is spent in a drug daze of despair. Hopper is trying to drown himself in hedonism to fill the void inside his heart. He is pathetic and human. When his childhood friend Joyce Byers comes to him tearfully to investigate her son Will’s disappearance, he deals with it very matter-of-factly by addressing it as a simple missing person case. However, he is shaken by Joyce’s comments about how he would react had it been his daughter.
Hopper is a tough guy. He punches people before they can respond to his interrogation — the archetypal strong man. But under this tough exterior lies a grief-stricken, unhappy soul. Imagine losing the apple of your eye to a disease where you can do nothing but helplessly watch her fade away. That is exactly what happened to Hopper.
His daughter Sara succumbed to cancer and left irreconcilable differences between him and his wife which tantamount to divorce. Left hollow, Hopper filled the abyss in his heart by seeking solace in alcoholism. The audience, when they are exposed to Hopper’s heart-wrenching backstory, cannot help but feel pity. He carried his daughter with him in form of a blue scrunchie that he wore around his wrist at all times. The pain and agony he bore in his heart found an outlet when he met Eleven.
Season two saw the development of a beautiful bond between Hopper and Eleven when he hid her in his cabin from the watchful eyes of the adversaries who were seeking her. Although there was a lot of friction between them due to the confinement, Hopper felt a strange sense of possessiveness and a desire to protect Eleven from all odds. He saw his daughter in her. When he dances to lift her mood or when he officially adopts her in the end, I, personally, teared up.
In a fantasy TV show, Hopper is more human than any other character. He is as disagreeable and hateful as he is adorable. The third season portrayed him as a jerk. Despite the tragedies that had befallen him, one could not help but detest him for trying to control Eleven and Mike’s relationship. It is understandable that Hopper, who had once lost everything dear to him, was paranoid about losing Eleven once again, seeing his condescending attitude towards Mike portrayed him in a somewhat negative light. Having been entrusted with the duties of looking after a daughter, this gruff and tough chief did not handle his emotions well. Instead of following Joyce’s advice and being gentle, he ends up threatening Mike and incurring Eleven’s displeasure. Jim Hopper is no romantic man. Although he clearly has feelings for Joyce, he does not handle it well. He is jealous and possessive, but that is what makes him human.
Hopper’s flaws prevent him from attaining the hero-like stature but it is also what helps paint a poignant and wholesome picture of Hopper. His anger and addiction issues, frustration and general disillusionment with life is justified by his past experiences and the traumatising and untimely demise of his daughter. He is broken and his life is a mess. Eleven becomes his driving force.
The end of season three somehow works as redemption for Hopper’s newly jerk-like portrayal as he sacrifices himself to save the ones who matter to him. This brings out his sacrificial nature and shows how deeply he cared for them despite not being able to communicate effectively. Hopper is one of the greatest characters on the show as he was a man who had loved and lost all that he had, a man who had been spurned by the cruel hands of fate yet fought hard for Hawkins and its people. He tried to love and care for an abused child and was probably one of the most lion-hearted characters on the show who yet managed to incur hatred on part of the viewers.
This extraordinary capacity upheld by the character as wonderfully portrayed by the incredible David Harbour, who rightfully won two Emmy nominations, is one of the best-written characters on-screen. While season four will probably show a hell lot of Jim Hopper, who is now in a Russian prison fending off human enemies as well as supernatural ones, it is needless to say that the show is now dependent entirely on the characters. While the plotlines seem a little too saturated, the trajectories in the lives of the characters are worth witnessing.
We cannot wait to see what the fourth season has in store for Hopper, Joyce Byers, Eleven and the rest. However, we can safely argue that Jim Hopper is indeed the greatest characters on Stranger Things, for he is a man who revived his feelings for the sake of others and emerged as one of the most indefatigable, flawed yet loved characters on the show.
“Make mistakes, learn from them and when life hurts you – because it will – remember the hurt. The hurt is good. It means you’re out of that cave. But please, if you don’t mind, for the sake of your poor old dad, keep the door open three inches.”