If you've devoured Season 2 already, one scene might have showed you just how much your feelings toward certain characters had evolved. The Nancy and Steve breakup scene in Stranger Things was completely heartbreaking and not just for viewers (many of whom took to Twitter to express their wish that Nancy would get back with Steve). Actor Joe Keery, who plays the character, opened up to Vulture on October 30 and confessed how excruciating the scene was to shoot. And his explanation might just make it even harder for you to watch.
When asked what it was like to shoot the Halloween party scene, in which Nancy gets out-of-control drunk and confesses she doesn't love her high school boyfriend, he replied:
"It was great to work with her, but it kind of sucked on my part. I had never really done a scene where I had to be as emotionally available. It’s just a hard thing to stay in — to stay in this limbo of doing the scene and then talking to crew members while they’re eating turkey sandwiches and then go back and get your heart broken again."
And because the scene was obviously a lot for him to shoot, he elaborated further, explaining that staying in one intense emotional state was "a really tough part about the job that I think even I didn't fully understand."
In short, that heartbreak you saw all over his face? Very, very real. And as bad as break ups are, living one over and over and over has to be the pits, like a sort of relationship hell version of Groundhog Day. "Now that I have a better understanding, it’s like trying to get my process in a good place so that you can stay there," he continued. "And sometimes it means not talking to anyone or sitting in a corner or whatever you gotta do. Just knowing what you need is a very important part of the job."
It's no wonder that, later in the interview, he explained that the process had led to him gaining "a newfound appreciation" for Winona Ryder's performance in Season 1, in which she was also forced to stay in a tortured headspace for most of the episodes in which she was paralyzed with grief over the loss of her son.
That said, it's almost remarkable that the scene is quite so painful to watch. Of course, part of this is context. The fact that, despite her aggression, nothing Nancy says is out of malice, but instead due to getting lit and being too truthful, makes it feel extra difficult to watch her telling her boyfriend she doesn't love him.
But this deep empathy feels like a far cry from the audience reaction to Steve Harrington in the first season in which, to use a technical term, he came off as kind of an asshole. Sure, he broke Jonathan's camera because he'd taken photos of Nancy without her consent in a state of undress, but it seemed like Steve took pleasure in doing so. He let his friends graffiti horrible stuff about her on the walls of the movie theater. He leaped to assumptions that she was cheating on him with Jonathan.
But this season, it felt like he was different. He's caring but pragmatic when Nancy wants to tell Barb's parents the truth (what exactly would this lead to?), and he tries to jostle her back into the rhythm of an everyday teenage life. Sure, this may be misguided and downright impossible in somewhere as besieged by the supernatural as Hawkins, but it suggests that his heart's in the right place — something which is supported by his many kindnesses to Dustin and the gang.
Yes, the scene was sad because, contextually, watching anyone get their heart stomped all over is not a happy thing. But it was just as tragic because we've evolved as viewers and found, hey, the strangest thing of all: Steve's not so bad after all. Which makes it twice as hard to watch him getting hurt.