Rivals to Friends: Max and Eleven are Now Besties?

I was just as surprised as anyone to see Max and Eleven acting as friends when we got our first full trailer for Stranger Things 3 a few weeks ago. Every single interaction they had together in Stranger Things season 2 was full of jealousy that made us uncomfortable. How did they go from rivals to friends?

In episode 3 of that season, we see Eleven break out of the cabin. She goes to the school to find Mike and the guys, but what she finds is Max talking with Mike while she rides circles around him on her skateboard. Here, she pulls the board out from under Max in a jealous rage. In episode 7, the first image Eleven conjures up in her anger in order to drive her powers is the aforementioned one of Max talking with Mike. And during their first meeting in episode 8, Max offers her hand in friendship and Eleven, well, she snubs her.

On first viewing of season two, I admit to being a bit frustrated with these interactions. On one level, I get Eleven’s feelings of jealousy. I get the why. I also take into consideration that the poor girl grew up in a lab, isolated from nearly everyone except Dr. Brenner and his team of scientists. Eleven’s not been socialized normally, even now that she’s no longer in a lab, so that also adds a degree of social norms that she just simply doesn’t know.

But it was also frustrating for me to see that perhaps these two young girls were falling victim to the exhausted TV trope that women can’t be friends, they must be rivals.

Amy Poehler in her book, Yes Please, highlights how important it was for her on Parks and Recreation to portray the relationship between Leslie Knope and Ann Perkins as one that was supportive, positive, and of sincere friendship. Their friendship is one of the things I adore the most about Parks and Recreation and its ripple effects have been felt in television ever since. Surely in a post-Parks and Rec world someone wouldn’t be resurrecting this tired trope?

Fast forward to the Stranger Things 3 trailer. It was so refreshing to see the friendship that seems to have blossomed between Max and Eleven. I loved watching them look at magazines, dance around while singing to the radio with a hairbrush, eating soft serve, taking glamour shots, and what appears to be Eleven’s very first trip to the mall.

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So how did we get from rivals to besties? Here are a few ideas.

Eleven Gains a Bit of Normalcy

In the final episode of ST2, we see Dr. Owens handing off a freshly minted birth certificate and adoption paperwork to Sheriff Hopper, telling him to allow some time before Eleven can be seen out in public. Hopper negotiates for one night so she can go to the Snow Ball with Mike. I think this is the first step into Eleven becoming “a real girl.”

I think it’s possible that while Eleven was still being kept from the rest of civilization, Hopper has now allowed the rest of the kids to come visit. Perhaps they will fill in the gaps for us in a few months.

Joyce and Hopper are Dating

If Joyce and Hopper are dating, as many fans (including David Harbour) hope, then perhaps Eleven’s spending more time at the Byers residence. This would allow for a little more opportunity for socialization, but would also allow Eleven to spend extensive time around another woman.

The interactions between Joyce and Eleven have always been very sweet, very maternal. Joyce cares about Eleven’s welfare just as much as she does her own children. I could totally imagine Joyce taking Eleven under her wing and being the mother that she didn’t get to have.

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If Joyce and Eleven are spending more time together, then I would imagine she’s getting more opportunity to spend time with the other kids as well, including Max. I can imagine a scenario where Joyce pulls her aside and asks why she’s giving Max the cold shoulder. Joyce, being the good mom that she is would set her straight.

Max and Eleven Realize They have Common Ground

Outsiders. Abused. Mistreated.

Those are all words that could easily be used to describe both Eleven and Max. Max is tomboyish and has to deal with an abusive stepfather and stepbrother. She’s the new kid, so she feels like an outsider, even among The Party, at least for a time.

Eleven grew up as a human lab rat. She was isolated. She has been completely separate from normal human interaction for the majority of her life. I think that when she does start to school won’t fit in either.

Murray has a great line in season 2, “You’ve got chemistry, history, plus the real shit, shared trauma.” Shared trauma forces you get to know a person in a way that may not have occurred otherwise. It creates a bond that may not have existed without the trauma.

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Their common circumstances, plus the trauma they share regarding the Upside Down might be enough to overcome their differences.

Concluding Thoughts

Those are just a few ideas about how Max and Eleven can move from rivals to friends. Do you have other speculation about how we go from a skateboard wreck to glamour shots? Leave a comment and continue the discussion.

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Stranger Things 3 premieres on July 4, 2019 on Netflix.

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