Stranger Things 2 introduces a cavalcade of new characters, but none are more important or necessary than the uniquely hopeful, Bob Newby.
[Warning: The following contains spoilers for Stranger Things 2.]
Bob, played by Goonies actor Sean Astin, is tough to trust when he’s first introduced as Joyce’s new boyfriend in the season premiere. Bob acts characteristically like an overenthusiastic puppy, affirming his affection for Joyce whenever possible and wearing his innocent naivety on his sleeve. Compared to the central characters of Stranger Things 2, Bob seems untouched by the paranormal activities that loom over the town of Hawkins.
It’s not until a few more episodes into the season that we begin to understand Bob is more than just a supporting character to help tell the story of the Byers’ family; Bob is the beacon of hope the Byers family have been waiting for, even if they can’t see it yet. In every step of his journey, Bob is the hero the family needs him to be, but perhaps not the one they wanted.
First and foremost, Bob is a father figure. We don’t know much about Will and Jonathan’s biological father, but we can gather he’s a bit of a douchebag. Bob is the opposite of the man they knew as their primary father figure. Bob is sweet, caring, thoughtful and, above all else, wants to be there for both boys. That’s why they have movie nights and why Bob professes his desire to be there for the entire Byers family, not just Joyce. In Joyce, Bob finds his dream girl and perfect family — even with the Demogorgon and Upside Down hanging over their heads, literally.
This is what enamors Bob to us in the first place; he’s blissfully unaware of everything happening to the Byers family, but is aware something isn’t quite right. Will is going to the doctor more often than he should and Joyce is still on edge following everything that happened last season. Bob never runs, though, or tries to make it about him. He’s a family man, above all else, and that means not running from situations just because they start getting rough. When things go from bad to worse, Bob battens down the hatches and puts all his effort into protecting those closest to him.
If Bob showed early potential as a hero at the beginning of Stranger Things 2, it’s his role in the final few episodes that cement him as Hawkins’ unsung hero. Once Bob learns about what’s really going on — the Upside Down, Hawkins National Laboratory, Will’s possession — he doesn’t turn in the other direction and dart to safety. Bob is right by Joyce’s side when Will is brought in for further testing. He’s right by Will’s side when he’s first overtaken by the mind flayer. Most important, he’s the man of the hour who offers to risk his own life to save everyone else. Bob understands that he’s the only person stuck at Hawkins Lab who’s fluent in the programming language, BASIC.
Armed with nothing but a flashlight and gun he doesn’t really know how to use, Bob makes his way to the basement to reprogram the generator and bring electricity back to the lab. He spends an extra minute ensuring that a pesky “DemoDog” is confused by the sound of a sprinkler system activating that Bob has enough time to run to safety. Throughout the entire season, the two aspects of Bob’s character that have been hammered into our heads are his intelligence and kindness. He’s a geek, “Bob the Brain,” but he’s also one of the most selfless, kindhearted residents of Hawkins.
Bob can do no wrong, something we learn very quickly, and that’s why Bob’s death is inevitable. It’s one of Stranger Things 2’s most heartbreaking scenes: Bob makes it to the door, almost free, when he’s attacked by a DemoDog. Hopper tries to save him, but it’s too late. As Joyce, Jonathan, Nancy and Will drive away from the lab, Bob lies on the floor, accomplishing his goal of protecting the family he loved more than anything else in the world.
Bob falls victim to the heroic sacrifice trope, where one person, usually a secondary tier character, sacrifices themselves to save the group. Bob wasn’t meant to be included in the war against the Upside Down. He wasn’t supposed to be conscripted in the fight at Hawkins Lab. The decision to sacrifice his life in order to save those of Joyce, Will, Mike, Chief Jim Hopper and the rest of the clan at the hospital was Bob’s last act of true love.
In many ways, Bob is the definition of a typical Shakespearian tragic character. His virtues — generosity, selflessness and bravery — are fatal flaws for him in his final, miscalculated decision. It’s only because of his sacrificial death, however, that Bob gets to become immortalized as the hero he’s always been. His death made the rest of Hawkins see him the way we did as an audience almost from the very beginning.
Like Barb, there’s a lack of justice in Bob’s death. Unlike Barb, Bob will become more than a campaign on the internet with a boring hashtag. Barb was laid to rest, but Bob will forever fly through the skies.
Stranger Things 2 is streaming on Netflix now.