Brokenness, resignation, and Jim Hopper

Hopper's tireless service is good but it’s not quite enough.

Brokenness, resignation, and Jim Hopper

This week I was rewatching Stranger Things 2 and a scene I wasn’t able to fully appreciate on my first viewing struck me, hard. In “Chapter 9: The Gate”, after Eleven and Mike finally embrace after a season’s worth of longing, Mike (understandably) freaks out when he realizes Eleven hasn’t been lost; she’s been hidden.

Chief Hopper pulls Mike into another room to try and explain, but Mike isn’t having any of it.

Mike: Protecting her! Protecting her?
Hopper: Listen. Listen to me. The more people know about her, the more danger she’s in. And the more danger you and your family are in—
Mike: Oh what, so I should be thanking you then?
Hopper: I’m not asking you to thank me! I’m asking you to try to understand.
Mike: I don’t! I don’t understand!
Hopper: That’s fine. That’s fine! Just do not blame her! All right? She’s upset enough as it is.
Mike: I don’t blame her! I blame you! I blame you!
Hopper: That’s okay, kid. That’s okay.
Mike: No! Nothing about this is okay! Nothing about this is okay! [Mike hits Hopper]
Hopper: Oh, jeez… Okay—
Mike: You’re a stupid, disgusting, lying piece of shit! [Continues hitting]
Hopper: Okay. All right! Stop it.
Mike: Liar! Liar! Liar! [Keeps hitting]
Hopper: Stop it. It’s okay.
Mike: [Crying] Liar! Liar!
Hopper: Stop it! Stop it! [Holds Mike] You’re okay, kid. You’re okay. I’m sorry, kid.

The whole exchange lasts 45 seconds and halfway through I was close to weeping. Mike’s false survivor’s guilt and loneliness collide with the knowledge he needn’t have suffered under the weight of either. His angry (and tearful) reaction speak to the strength of his bond with Eleven, forged in innocence and danger.

While I definitely empathize with Mike, it was the undercurrent of Hopper’s long suffering that carried me away. Mike and Hopper have very different longings. Mike’s is a hopeful longing born of youth and new experiences of joy and sorrow; Hopper’s longing is more nostalgic and rooted in his past.

Throughout the series, Hopper moves steadily from self-medication to self-sacrifice in an effort to pull himself out of a pit of despair. His tireless service is good but it’s not quite enough. After the loss of his daughter, the failure of his marriage, and his descent into willful numbness, Hopper gets a second chance in Season One to make things right, but not for himself—he restores Will Byers to his mother.

But the world remains dark, and complex. Hopper continues in tireless service, shouldering the weight of Eleven’s welfare (and trauma) and labouring to protect the kids, their families, and the town as best he can. He does all this with his fair share of missteps, and there’s a line from his scene with Mike that stood out to me:

Screenshot from Netflix - "Episode 9: The Gate"
Screenshot from Netflix's Stranger Things
Mike: I don’t blame her! I blame you! I blame you!
Hopper: That’s okay, kid. That’s okay.

Bounded by brokenness all around, and faced with the bitter fruits of his best efforts to protect Eleven and Mike, Hopper takes the blame. He acknowledges his participation in the brokenness and takes responsibility with a resignation that pressed on me, heavily.

The good we do is hemmed in and bloodied by all the broken bits of life, but how often do we acknowledge our own broken bits? Our sharp flaws, so capable of harm even when hoping to help, need to be restored. I’m learning this is a long process—sanctification, if I’m allowed to deploy some christian jargon—even though it’s rooted in the finished work of Christ’s gospel.

Hopper is not an uncomplicated hero; there are no uncomplicated people. His example could easily lead to hopelessness if not for the hope with which he serves, and the unexpected help he receives. Jim Hopper is an imperfect saviour in need of more than a little saving himself.

Further Reading

The Rhetoric of Nostalgia: How Our Collective Craving for Nostalgia Calls Us Home - Christ and Pop Culture

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