Barbara Holland, fondly called Barb by her friends, is a fictional character in the American science-fiction horror series “Stranger Things.” Nobody would have thought that this conservative, sensible, and unapologetic girl would amass a cult following, despite only appearing in a handful of scenes, and that her tragic end would create such a huge impact. Fans were upset and outraged that her disappearance was forgotten by the residents of the town, as the focus was on finding the missing boy, Will Byers, and on the mysterious girl named Eleven who escaped from a secret laboratory. Fans went on social media to demand justice for Barb.
- 1 About the show
- 2 About Barbara Holland
- 3 Impact of her death
- 4 From Barb to other projects
About the show
“Stranger Things” was created by Ross and Matt Duffer – the Duffer Brothers – who took inspiration from Stephen King’s “It” and Steven Spielberg’s “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” and “The Goonies,” as they paid homage to the 1980s. Their script was rejected by more than a dozen cable networks, but the Vice-President of 21 Laps Entertainment bought the rights in 2015, and gave them full authorship. In 2016, Netflix, known for its original programming, picked up the series and released it worldwide. Its fourth season aired in 2022, and it’s been announced that the fifth season will be the final chapter of the TV series.
Netflix didn’t initially reveal viewership ratings, but they later posted charts of their most streamed shows, ranked according to the number of hours that their subscribers watched them. In the first 28 days of its release, “Stranger Things” season two logged more than 420 million viewing hours, while seasons three and four made it to the top 10 all-time most-watched titles, at over 580 million hours and over 1.3 billion hours, respectively.
The show’s premise
Set in the early ‘80s in the small fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana, the series is centered on the mysterious disappearance of 12-year-old Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) on his way home one night after a game of “Dungeons & Dragons” with his friends – the fearless Mike (Finn Wolfhard), skeptic Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), and silly Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo). His mom Joyce (Wynona Ryder) and older brother Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) along with the Hawkins Police Department Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) were committed to finding him, despite the setbacks they encountered.
The three boys went in search of their missing friend as well, and in the process, they encountered Eleven or El who possessed psychokinetic and telepathic abilities. The young girl with a shaved head had escaped from the Hawkins National Laboratory that performed experiments on humans, and had inadvertently opened a portal to another dimension called the Upside Down. Meanwhile, Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine), the director of the secret lab, and his team, were doing everything they could to recapture El, and cover up the actions of a Demogorgon, a creature from the Upside Down that was on the loose and preying on the residents of Hawkins.
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About Barbara Holland
The character of Barb was introduced in the first episode of season one of “Stranger Things” as someone who was smart and had a good head on her shoulders. She had ginger hair with freckles and donned a pair of wide-framed eyeglasses. She was first seen wearing a plaid shirt with ruffles on the collar and down the front that was paired with high-waisted, loose-fitting jeans, as she and her best friend were walking in the school hallway before class started. Barb seemed happy for Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and was teasing her about her relationship with the popular jock, Steve (Joe Keery); he was an unlikeable guy with friends who had an antagonistic personality. As Nancy and Steve began dating, Barb was a bit wary of what it could mean to their friendship, and asked Nancy not to forget about her.
Disappeared without a trace
Steve invited Nancy over to his house as his parents would not be home that night. Nancy didn’t want to go by herself, and asked Barb to accompany her. She instructed Barb to inform her parents that she would be staying at her place to study. Barb was reluctant, but still drove her friend over to Steve’s place although they had to park three blocks away from the house as Nancy was afraid that the neighbors might see them. She changed her mind at the last minute and planned to just drop Nancy off, but the latter insisted that Barb should keep her promise. Nancy tried to convince her that they would have a great time, but Barb said that Steve just wanted to get into her pants. Nancy then wanted Barb to act as her guardian, and make sure that she would not get drunk and do something stupid.
The two girls along with Steve and his friends hung out by the swimming pool. Nancy convinced Barb to shotgun a beer after she did it successfully. Barb tried doing it but cut her hand in the process. After tending to her wound, she saw Nancy dripping wet from having fun in the pool, and was on her way to Steve’s bedroom upstairs to change into some dry clothes. Barb tried to dissuade her, but since Nancy was more sure of herself and looking forward to being with Steve, she told Barb to go home as she would be fine.
Barb sat on the diving board, perhaps contemplating if she should leave her friend or wait for her. Even with the bandage on, drops of blood trickled from her wound into the water and its scent attracted a Demogorgon lurking nearby. The monster grabbed her, and the next thing she knew, she was in a pool that was empty of water but filled with vines. Upon seeing the hideous creature, she screamed and tried to climb out of the pool to escape, but the Demogorgon dragged her down.
Nancy’s search for Barb
The following morning, Nancy was worried as Barb didn’t show up at school, and was nowhere to be found. She learned from Barb’s mom that her friend didn’t make it home after the party, so went back to Steve’s place to search for clues. Nancy saw that Barb’s car was still parked where they left it the previous night. She went further into the woods, but ran away after seeing a creature without a face. Fearing that something terrible happened to Barb, she told her mom about it. The police thought that Barb just ran away, but Nancy knew that her friend wouldn’t do something like that.
nancy and barb forever @SporeHallie pic.twitter.com/2tVq882k9K
— Stranger Things (@Stranger_Things) October 31, 2018
She felt that no one was taking her seriously about Barb’s disappearance. With her boyfriend Steve more worried about getting in trouble with his parents if they found out about them drinking beers at the party than Barb who went missing, she turned to Jonathan. She asked him about the photos that he secretly took behind the bush that night, particularly the one in which Barb was sitting by the pool, as a creature similar to the one she saw in the woods was also captured on film. Jonathan said that he saw Barb one second and then gone the next. The two teamed up as it seemed that his brother, Will, and Barb’s disappearances were connected. Apparently, his mom once saw the same creature come out of their living room wall. The two searched the woods near Steve’s place, and inadvertently found a gate to the Upside Down but luckily evaded being captured by the Demogorgon. They made plans to kill the monster and find Barb and Will.
With the use of a makeshift sensory-deprivation tank that enhanced Eleven’s telepathic abilities and enabled her to be in a deep psychic state, she searched for the missing residents in the Upside Down version of Hawkins. She discovered that Will was still alive, but weak and hiding from the monster while Barb was dead. Barb’s parents didn’t know what became of their daughter, and still believed her to be missing. They hired Murray Bauman, a freelancer who used to be an investigative journalist for the Chicago Sun-Times, to find Barb, but had to sell their house to pay for his services. They were disappointed and annoyed that the Hawkins Police Department weren’t doing their job, so their only recourse was to get a real detective on the case.
Nancy felt guilty that Barb’s parents would spend the rest of their lives looking for their daughter, because they couldn’t tell them what really happened; government agents swore everyone involved to secrecy. However, Nancy decided to come clean to Barb’s parents, and asked Jonathan to come with her, but before they could do that, the agents picked them up. They knew what the two had been up to, as their phone calls were monitored.
Jonathan and Nancy were brought to the lab, and its new director, Dr. Sam Owens, admitted that Barb died in the Upside Down, but it was something that they couldn’t divulge to the public because they didn’t want foreign governments, particularly the Russians from replicating what was created at the lab. Nancy secretly recorded their conversation, and gave a copy to Murray as they disclosed the truth about the Hawkins lab. However, they needed to make the story believable to the public so that they could bring down those responsible for the death of Barb. True enough, when the tape was released, the lab was closed down. As the story goes, Barb died from exposure to an experimental chemical gas that caused asphyxia, a condition that deprived the body of oxygen. The gas leaked to the grounds from the lab. Barb was given a funeral, and her parents found closure.
Impact of her death
Season one of “Stranger Things” was a phenomenal hit, and out of many of the breakout stars of this show, the most surprising perhaps was Shannon Purser, who played the role of Barbara Holland. With only a few scenes, her character still became a fan-favorite, and her death a trending topic online.
What made Barb so likable?
Barb was gone, but not forgotten, as fans of the show couldn’t seem to stop talking about her online. Some were puzzled by the interest she had been receiving, as there was nothing really special about her; being unpopular or unassuming was actually what made people like her. She was unapologetic about who she was, and didn’t try to conform to what others believed was cool. She remained devoted and fiercely loyal to her friend, despite the latter only being concerned about her own feelings and interests. It was said that her character was more relatable and real, as everyone, at one point in their lives, must have been taken for granted, overlooked, or ditched. The actress who played her had said that most people had experienced being the one who felt they behaved with common sense, only to get the short end of the stick.
Justice for Barb
Barb was a supporting role, but a lot of people rallied around her and even demanded justice for her tragic end. Many felt bad that everyone in Hawkins seemed to have moved on, or simply didn’t care that Barb was missing. It appeared that it was only her best friend who was worried about her, and wanted to get to the bottom of things and find her. Season two addressed this concern, as Nancy echoed the sentiment of fans in wanting justice for Barb. She did all she could so Barb’s parents could bury their daughter, and were given a plausible explanation for her disappearance and death.
Duffer Brothers’ reaction to Barb’s popularity
None was more surprised by the impact of Barb on the viewers than the Duffer Brothers, the creators and showrunners of the series. Matt Duffer said, ‘People get very frustrated, understandably, that the town doesn’t seem to be really dealing with Barb…That stuff is all happening. We’re just not spending any screen time on it.’ They tried to explain that the story arc of Barb happened to be that way simply because season one revolved around the disappearance of Will and not her. Given the outpouring of love for her character, they couldn’t outright say that Barb was just one of those who had a connection to one of the protagonists, and had to die. Perhaps to appease fans, they gave more attention to her story in season two, even if she was dead and had no chance of coming back.
Shannon’s take on her character
“Stranger Things” might have been Shannon Purser’s acting debut, but it earned her an Emmy nomination in 2017 for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series. Barb was only a minor character, but she was given her own synchronized swimming number during the opening of the Golden Globe Awards. Shannon mostly based Barb on herself and her personal experiences, and wearing a costume from the ‘80s helped get her into the right mindset. She played Barb as someone who was very independent, and confident in her reasoning and logic, and was the voice of reason to her best friend. Her character was not supposed to be a big deal, just a throwaway character, and all that Shannon was hoping for was that some people would notice her. She could never have imagined the level of attention that Barb received after the series was released, so it all felt surreal to her. The fans’ response to Barb was incredible, as they made GIFs, memes, and even merchandise. One of her favorites was fan art as she was ‘sort of an artist’ herself, and liked to draw. She appreciated how the fans created their own vision for the characters and the show, by way of posters and paintings. As an actor, it meant a lot to her that people connected deeply with her character.
Barb in season four of “Stranger Things”
Season four introduced Vecna, a monster from Upside Down that had movable vines protruding from its body, and was preying on people’s guilt or trauma to control their minds. Vecna held Nancy in a trance, and forced her to remember how her best friend was left alone to die because of her. She found herself at the pool where Barb died and saw her decaying body covered in vines with slugs coming out of her mouth. Fortunately, she was able to get past her feelings of guilt, and focused on what needed to be done to counter the plans of Vecna.
From Barb to other projects
Shannon’s appearance in “Stranger Things” catapulted her to fame, and opened a lot of opportunities for her. She appeared in The CW’s “Riverdale,” a supernatural horror-crime series based on the characters of the comic book, “Archie”, portraying the role of Ethel Muggs, a Riverdale High School student, in a recurring capacity from when the teen series premiered in 2017. Her other projects included NBC’s musical drama “Rise” (2018), adult animated comedy “Final Space” (2018-2019), the HBO docuseries “Equal” (2020), and Netflix’s “Sierra Burgess is a Loser” (2018) in which she played the titular role.
When asked if she was worried about being typecast in a character similar to Barb, she said, ‘It would be inauthentic to just want to leave her behind and do the quickest thing I can find to differentiate myself from her.’ When choosing projects, she wanted those materials that spoke to her, so it didn’t really matter if her character would be like Barb. However, she was also looking forward to showing her versatility as an actor.