A small moment but monumental in the healing it conveys. In Stranger Things‘ “The Mind Flayer,” Joyce and Hopper don’t share cigarettes, but they share an unspoken language that’s one of the best parts of the episode. Sometimes navigating through grief requires words and actions, but other times, all a person really needs is someone to sit in silent with them. They need someone to show with actions, not words, that they’re here.
Nothing on Stranger Things is an accident, and that’s especially the case with Joyce and Hopper who’ve shown from day one that though there’s a lot of history and they’re both deeply broken as individuals, even when the picture isn’t fully clear, they’re going to show up for each other. Bob’s death, everything she’s been through with Will’s disappearance since the first season, the amount of gaslighting and abuse she’s faced from Lonnie, and at times even the town, Hopper has been the only person who’s been on the same wavelength as her.
He’s the only person whose pain is just as crushing, the one person who’s trying to get by—trying to make ends meet through the quiet moments of contemplation.
It’s sardonic when he first says it, but Jim Hopper is a man who thinks long and hard. He lives inside of his own head, replaying the memories and the demons that have broken him by taking his daughter away from the world. He understands what it’s like to lose oneself, and he knows what it’s like to be the talk of the town. And most of all, he understands grief.
He understands the lasting trauma it can bring and the darkness it can awaken. He especially understands what that darkness is like when it’s dealt with alone.
And so, he walks over to her, wordlessly asking if it’s okay to join in, understanding that it is, he sits with her—quietly sharing the grief, reassuring her that he’s by her side. He’s sitting through this with her, proving that they’re in it together—all of it, this moment, and every single one following.
She can talk if she wants to, but she doesn’t have to. This, right here, right now is enough. At its core, Stranger Things is about found families, it’s about friendships and unwavering loyalty. It’s about broken people showing up for each other because needing humans is a universal truth. People will always need other people, and it’s a beautiful thing when it happens—quietly or loudly.
Joyce and Hopper understand what that profound need is like, but they also understand boundaries and agency. They understand that sometimes, talking isn’t easy, sharing the truth is hard, and sitting in silence while sharing pain can be just the kind of healing that is needed.
The lighting in the room, the positions they’re sitting in, it’s the very picture of two lonely people finding comfort in each other’s silence. In a place where men most often think they’re better than Joyce, men who’ve belittled her, I especially appreciate the detail of Hopper sitting on the floor while she sits on the bed.
Joyce and Hopper don’t have to sugarcoat the way they speak to each other, their bold approaches with one another work best, but sometimes, so does humility. Hopper allowing himself to be vulnerable in this situation, through his position, allows Joyce to see that he’s fully with her through everything.
Quiet intimacy as such can often lead to greater healing—mutual recovery, unyielding adoration, and shared deliverance. A few seconds, no more, no less, but colossally impactful—a moment, that in short, has lived rent free in my mind since 2017.