Like the rest of the world, I binged Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 of Stranger Things 4 separately in a single afternoon. Stranger Things 4 was worth the wait and then some, providing standout performances and excellent reveals that raise the stakes for the fifth and final season. Not to mention, as a shipper, there were some peak moments for couples such as Joyce and Hopper, Mike and Eleven, Will and Mike, and even Steve and Nancy. While I may still be holding on to the mere minutes we had of Jonathan and Nancy this season, there’s one couple that never got to take off, but their brief scenes together have stayed with me for weeks. Of course, I’m talking about Eddie Munson and Chrissy Cunningham.
Some ships are like certain relationships — some that you connect with instantly, others a slow burn. Some ships don’t land until a single moment that changes everything, such as it was for me when it came to Eddie and Chrissy. Don’t get me wrong — the chemistry between Joseph Quinn and Grace Van Dien was definitely there in that scene in the woods (I’ll circle back to it, I promise!). However, the nature of Stranger Things made it hard for me to latch onto them because, in the back of my mind, I knew Chrissy was doomed from the start. In the words of Taylor Swift, I’ve seen this film before. From the moment she was seen holding herself as she walked away from Dr. Kelly’s office, it felt inevitable that she would be one of the first victims of whatever creature was being introduced from the Upside Down this season. Not to mention, at the time, she was in a relationship with the basketball captain, Jason Carver. As it turns out, she was indeed Vecna’s first victim — she didn’t even make it past the season premiere.
Chrissy Cunningham died a horrific death in the middle of Eddie Munson’s trailer. She was there seeking out a solution to keep the disturbing visions haunting her at bay. Chrissy, the cheerleader, was seeking out help from Eddie, the freak and drug dealer. What does Eddie get out of this deal? An entire town, led by her boyfriend, is on a manhunt to find him when he’s declared the prime suspect of Chrissy’s murder. On paper, Eddie Munson had no reason to hold on to Chrissy or her memory. In fact, he had every reason to be angry at her for being on the run and dragged into a world of evil wizards and monsters. All he did was briefly reunited with a classmate he hadn’t spoken to in years for a drug deal.
However, there’s more to their story because though Chrissy is gone, she leaves an impact on Eddie that you don’t typically find. Eddie is haunted by his decision to leave Chrissy behind as she hovers in his trailer, her bones being supernaturally broken. He carries his guilt with him as he hides from Jason Carver and the town. He carries that shame with him into the Upside Down and back again. That is, until 4×09’s “The Piggyback,” when he finally lets it go before he plays the most metal performance in maybe television history. Before he does this, Eddie says a line that changes everything for me — “Chrissy, this is for you.”
Eddie Munson dedicated his performance of Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” to the fallen queen of Hawkins High, the cheerleader who remembered his band from the middle school performance, and the girl who tragically died. And there was nothing he could do to save her then, so he ran away. She never got to hear Corroded Coffin play at The Hideout; she never got to hear his performance here, but Dustin Henderson and the audience got to hear Eddie as he triumphantly played his heart out in her honor. Chrissy Cunningham was more than just a customer or classmate to Eddie Munson; she was his inspiration to distract an army of Demobats in the Upside Down.
It didn’t stop there; Eddie was given a choice to run away again from the Demobats once they broke into his trailer in the Upside Down. Instead of climbing his way to safety back in our world, he chose to ride out and face the hoard of Demobats head-on, at the cost of his own life. Tragically, his heroism led to his death; his dying words were, “I didn’t run away this time.” In his eyes, he had let down Chrissy, the person who sought his help and couldn’t save her. He wasn’t going to let down the team on their mission to kill Vecna and save Hawkins. Chrissy Cunningham stayed with him long after he ran away from his trailer that fateful night.
This brings me back to where I started this whole thing — I did not fall for Eddie and Chrissy (Eddissy) at the beginning. I was late to the party. But that one line from Eddie Munson in the Upside Down changed it all for me. His dedication to Chrissy retroactively colored in the beauty and the loss of this couple that never was. It puts their scene in the woods into a new light for those who weren’t paying attention at the time. It denies the audience the opportunity to see what the story of the freak and cheerleader could’ve been.
So let’s discuss the scene in the woods in 4×01’s “The Hellfire Club.” Knowing what we now know, this scene is tinged with what I’m choosing to call “wholesome heartbreak.” Here in the woods, the cheerleader and the freak are far from the eyes of their followers, the people that hold them to the labels they’ve personified for years. Here in the woods, they’re just Chrissy and Eddie, a girl in need of help and a boy who offers his assistance. It starts simple enough, Eddie presents the products to his customer, but it’s clear that she isn’t doing well. He’s ready to call the deal off because of how paranoid she’s being, yet she asks him to stay. Chrissy chooses to be vulnerable with him, sharing that she feels like she’s losing her mind; this is something Eddie relates with, further blowing his mind that he’s in the middle of the woods doing a deal with Chrissy Cunningham, the queen of Hawkins High.
Eddie continues to share common ground with her by jogging Chrissy’s memory of the last time they hung out. He dramatically hits himself in the chest from the pain of her not remembering him, an action that gets Chrissy to genuinely laugh in the only episode she’s in. He performs for her in a playful way, really keen on getting her to remember him. Eddie brings up the middle school talent show, the night where she performed a cheer routine, whereas he performed with his metal band. Chrissy enthusiastically recalls his band’s name, Corroded Coffin, and Eddie is elated that she remembers. So much so that he even invites her to watch his band play. Flattery goes far, but not quite like this. It’s not a typical reaction for a guy just trying to secure a deal, nor is it for a girl just trying to make a purchase and go.
It’s fascinating to see that Eddie and Chrissy both walked into this encounter thinking the other person was mean and scary. They represented the opposite spectrums of the social scene at the high school. Known but kept at a distance, they’ve largely operated in their spheres of influence with little to no overlap. They’re respected by those under them yet intimidating to those who don’t know them. Chrissy’s whispered “me?” expresses the awe and surprise she feels in being referred to as scary. It’s the softness of this response that encapsulates this rare moment of quiet intimacy between two characters from the perceived opposite sides of the tracks. They are both kindred freaks just trying to get through a day without losing their minds.
In Chrissy’s terror and paranoia, Eddie is able to offer her relief, not through the drugs he’s offering her, but through laughter. For their brief interaction in the forest, she doesn’t have to fake a smile with him. Her laugh is genuine and unfettered. Here, Chrissy and Eddie truly enjoy each other’s company, sparking bliss in a way that’s wholly unique — they get to be kids again, free from the responsibility or the trials that life has thrown their way. In the woods, we get a moment where two characters get to have a moment of joy that will later be taken away in tragedy. This is what I mean by wholesome heartbreak.
Now is an appropriate time to applaud the acting caliber of Joseph Quinn and Grace Van Dien. For what they were given, whether it was a single episode or a season-long arc, they craft these characters with empathy and nuance. Both Eddie and Chrissy have their own backstories that inform their decisions, so it’s up to the actors to fill in what’s not on the page. To their credit, Quinn and Van Dien bring depth and natural charisma that draws audiences, which makes it all the more heartbreaking when their characters tragically die. We don’t get the full story of the middle school talent show from years ago, but the playfulness and sincerity that Quinn and Van Dien bring to the scene in the woods have fans longing for that flashback. Their effortless chemistry makes it easy for audiences to fall hard for Eddie and Chrissy, individually and together.
This isn’t the first time Stranger Things has taken something cliche for the time period and turned it on its head. Part of the appeal of Stranger Things has been the Duffer Brothers taking inspiration from tropes found in 80s media and doing something different that wasn’t explored during its era. If you need proof of this, look at the character arc of Steve Harrington, who went from your standard jock boyfriend to leader and Hawkins’ best babysitter. For Eddie and Chrissy, you have the Dungeon Master and the head cheerleader. They are the leaders of their respective labels, the freak and the queen. These titles are thrown around so flippantly in movies like The Breakfast Club, Can’t Buy Me Love, and Revenge of the Nerds, and here in Stranger Things, it’s no exception. Eddie and Chrissy stay in their circles until Vecna starts to torment Chrissy.
There is precedent in Stranger Things for the popular girl and the school freak making it work — Jonathan Byers and Nancy Wheeler. Outside of cheerleading, sophomore Nancy was well on her way to ruling Hawkins High. She didn’t run into the same circles as loner Jonathan until Barb went missing. Their shared trauma brought them closer together, simultaneously drifting apart from her popular boyfriend.
Much like Nancy turning to Jonathan for help, Chrissy Cunningham turns to the Dungeon Master of Hellfire to seek some relief, not her popular boyfriend, Jason. At the time, Jason couldn’t understand or be what Chrissy needed. Chrissy’s home life was nothing idyllic. Her mother made awful comments about her image and weight; her father seemingly never intervened. On the surface, Chrissy constructed the perfect image of herself, while internally, she was already haunted by her mother’s remarks, hiding from the world that she was bulimic. However, in the woods, apart from everything else in her life, Eddie could see her in a way that Jason didn’t. Eddie could make her authentically laugh and smile when her life gave her rare opportunities for it. She is seen and known and not judged for the fact that she’s losing her mind.
Eddie Munson has long been dejected by Hawkins. Living on the outskirts of town with his uncle, he was used to being routinely looked down on. While other boys were learning to fish or play ball, Eddie’s dad was teaching him how to hotwire cars, a skill he learned reluctantly. Again, it’s similar to Jonathan and his relationship with his dad, including a birthday activity of shooting a rabbit that Jonathan didn’t want to do. Eddie never wanted to be like his father, so he paved his own path by being himself, though he was judged for his interests. The metalhead who enjoys a game accused of being demonic has grown accustomed to being the outcast that no one pays attention to unless he’s putting on a show. Unlike Jonathan, who is a quiet loner, Eddie deems himself a performer, a court jester to the noble people of Hawkins High. In the woods, he offers his flairs for the dramatics to help a scared queen loosen up. In doing so, he offers a peek behind the curtain of his bombastic, tattooed outer shell — a friendly musician who wants to be seen as someone’s hero.
While Jonathan and Nancy broke their own type of mold, Eddie and Chrissy, if they were given a chance, would’ve actually changed the status quo of Hawkins High. See, they are the figureheads of their respective cliches. To have the head cheerleader date the school freak would flip Hawkins into its own Upside Down, minus a Vecna and a Demogorgon. They would actually change the social structure of the high school, which would trickle down to the middle school, potentially impacting the parents and the rest of the town. For a small Midwestern town, word would travel fast, and life would never be the same. By crossing the threshold into the unknown, Eddie and Chrissy would’ve run up that hill to rebel against what was and forge ahead something new.
The tragedy of it all is that a romantic relationship between Eddie Munson and Chrissy Cunningham could’ve taken Hawkins by storm. So now I sit here, forever living in the purgatory of what could’ve been for the queen and the freak of Hawkins High. I’m unable to move forward from the adventures of the Dungeon Master and the cheerleader — from Chrissy surprising Eddie by showing up at the Hideout for a Corroded Coffin performance to Eddie teaching Chrissy how to play D&D. Unfortunately for Edssy, nothing about the story changes. The ill-fated Chrissy was targeted and killed by Vecna; the once-coward Eddie died protecting the mission of the group to kill Vecna. It doesn’t change the fact that these two teenagers wrecked me in the best possible way.
Their memory lives on now through the people they’ve encountered and the fans they’ve endeared to them. In the words of Netflix Geeked, I’m optimistic that Eddie and Chrissy are happily in love in the afterlife.
What do you think of Eddie Munson and Chrissy Cunningham?