The Buttercup complex—immortalized by Princess Buttercup in The Princess Bride in the Fire Swamp—occurs when a person stands helplessly nearby and does little to nothing as their friend gets attacked, OR waits helplessly to be rescued without adequately preparing to defend themselves or fight off their attacker. (This first part is similar to the bystander effect—a social phenomenon where people do not help a victim when other people are around: the more bystanders, the less likely they are to help—but in this case, it regards people who care for each other.) When watching Stranger Things 3, the most aggravating thing about the entire season was the frequency with which the characters didn't jump in (soon enough) to help their friends who were getting attacked or adequately prepare to help defend them from the attack.
Don't get me wrong, there clearly were many times when the kids & adults did jump in and defend the attackee. (Clearly: otherwise everyone would have died.) And I feel it incumbent to mention that during such traumatic attacks, people oscillate between the flight/fight/freeze response, which would make total sense why a person would be attacked and it would seem really clear what their friend should do to help, but the friend might be frozen. That's a valid response to sudden fear and adrenaline. Sometimes, they didn't know what they were going up against, so being prepared would be difficult. It's also true that these characters are kids, and deserve to be cut even more slack for that reason. Were this a real-life situation, none of those kids should be expected to do anything beyond what they already did.
But this isn't real-life, this is TV—and I was increasingly frustrated with the amount of times the good guys knew they were going up against a bad guy—and still acted shocked when the bad guy was a bad guy and, well, attacked them.
When the kids decided to trap Billy in the sauna and reveal the Mind Flayer inside of him, their plans went awry as Billy broke through the mirror to unlock the door. But they saw it coming before he even broke the window and reached for the lock—plenty of time for someone to grab a pipe and smash his hand, preventing him from unlocking the door. When Billy got out anyway and grabbed El by the throat, the camera panned around and showed every shocked face as Billy choked El—again, plenty of time for someone to pick up a pipe and hit him in the head (which eventually happened, but oh boy did it take a looooong time). The kids were fairly confident by this point that the Mind Flayer was in Billy, but they didn't arm themselves with BB guns or knives or even a big stick before confronting him.
At Hopper's cabin, only Nancy and Jonathon get weapons. The other kids know the Mind Flayer is about to break through, but they don't even grab a kitchen knife—and consequently, the only help they give is grabbing El's hands as she's getting dragged out of the cabin.
Max mocked Lucas for gathering fireworks at the pharmacy when they go to bandage El's wound, yet his foresight ends up saving the day. By this point, the kids know they are going up against a monster that is the size of a house, yet Lucas is the only one who gathers anything that might be useful.
Joyce has several moments where it takes her a hot sec to try to help Hopper fight bad guys when they attack him, and if she just got there and hit them in the back of the head as soon as she saw Hopper being attacked, the fight could have ended there and then.
There's a pretty quick point when the kids realize shit's going south and they actively search out what's going on, knowing they're probably looking for something that's pretty bad. By the time they all go to the hospital to release Mrs. Driscoll, they know she has the Mind Flayer in her, yet they don't bring any weapons. Again there's a scene where a bad guy breaks through the window to unlock the door and Nancy and Jonathon just watch him rather than picking up a chair and smashing his face in. As the two slimes move to coalesce into one, Jonathon and Nancy standstill to watch in horror rather than running. And when the Mind Flayer dissolves into goo and slides under the door to attack Nancy, she doesn't take the chance to run back out into the hallway and escape even though she knows that it takes the Mind Flayer precious seconds to go from goo to creature—she doesn't even unlock the door while it's in its gooey state. She just stands against the wall, helpless and frozen, waiting for—well, she knows now she'll certainly die, coz she didn't even grab anything to fight with.
I love Stranger Things: I think it's funny, interesting, well-cast, and at times horrifyingly scary. The 80s nostalgia is great. And often the characters are thoughtful and smart about the riddles they have to unravel and the dangerous situations they're in. That's why the moments where they're not bother me so much. I sat in front of my laptop (with the light on) during the last several episodes shouting, "It's taking him like ten seconds to unlock the door! Just stab him NOW! Don't go after the Mind Flayer without anything! You know how scary it is! Ugh kids, the bad guys KEEP PICKING UP your friends by the THROAT. Please someone just hit them in the back of the head AS SOON AS they do that."
There is nothing more aggravating than Buttercup just watching the ROUS attack her beloved Wesley without even picking up a stick to help him—and when she does pick up the stick, it's to gently poke at the ROUS's snout and then fall backward and scream for Wesley to save her.
I get this is a trope in horror movies and scary shows: people react badly and it causes even more scary, dangerous situations and tension. But it makes me excited for the day when someone creates a horror show where the characters all actually do everything right—no one goes into the basement naked, has sex, or separates from each other—and STILL die.
Stranger Things 3 is a solid addition to the Stranger Things series. The only moments that detracted from my enjoyment of the show were the (too-many) Buttercup complex moments. I'd say hopefully the next season will have the kids growing even smarter in their bad-guy face-offs…but after the way Stranger Things 3 ended, hopefully, there won't be a fourth season. (But that's a separate topic.)
Especially considering they're kids, the Stranger Things folks handle their dangerous situations reasonably well. This makes the freeze moments even more emotionally difficult for me to accept. Next time, kids, just bring a knife at least, for crying out loud.