Spoilers below for “Stranger Things 2.” You’ve been warned.
Just when you thought a Demogorgon was as scary as it gets ... here’s Billy!
To use a technical term, Billy is an asshole. Throughout Season 2, the new character, played by Dacre Montgomery, uses brash language and displays aggressive behavior. But one of the most eye-opening and uncomfortable moments comes in Chapter 4, “Will the Wise,” when Billy sees his stepsister Max (Sadie Sink) get upset after talking with Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin). Billy grabs her wrist and tells her to never be seen with him again.
“There are certain type of people in this world that you stay away from, and that kid, Max, that kid is one of them. You stay away from him, you hear me? Stay away,” says Billy.
Then in Chapter 5, “Dig Dug,” Billy picks Max up from the arcade and suspects she was hanging out with Lucas. This time, Billy threatens her.
“You know what happens when you lie,” he says.
The moments seem to imply that Billy is racist, which many critics and fans have picked up on. Before the season premiered, HuffPost asked Montgomery about his character’s seemingly racist attitude, and he told us he was glad to have the chance to address it.
“When I first started reading the description between Billy and Lucas, I was like, ‘Oh, you know, he’s a racist dick,’” Montgomery said.
But the actor’s perspective eventually changed, he told us. Montgomery believes Billy’s behavior actually stems from his own insecurities and an urge to be protective of his stepsister.
“I think he feels threatened. Like I said, these male figures in his life, whether it’s Lucas, Steve (Joe Keery), his dad (Will Chase), whoever these different characters that embody his world are ... if Max is that one constant, he knows he needs to drop off and look after [her],” he said.
“If any of these characters object with that person and his relationship with that person, it’s a threatened kind of behavior,” Montgomery added. “It’s that animalistic side of like, ‘You’re threatening my sibling, my world. What are you doing? Who is this boy who’s trying to weave his way into my life through my sister?’”
Montgomery reiterated that Billy’s aggression in the face of other male characters doesn’t stem from racism or homophobia.
“Lucas, unfortunately, is a target. I think ... he becomes a target, and I don’t think it’s about race. Just like I don’t think Steve — somebody touched on that the other day. ‘Now is Billy attracted to Steve?’ And I was like, ‘No, I don’t think he is.’ I don’t think it’s like this confused, homoerotic kind of thing. I think it’s literally he’s threatened by all these characters in his life,” he said.
We do get a bit of Billy’s backstory in Episode 8, “The Mind Flayer.” In a powerful scene, his abusive father, played by Will Chase, scolds him for not keeping a closer watch on Max. In a particularly disturbing moment, Billy’s father uses an anti-gay slur.
Montgomery called the language “extremely jarring.” He noted that some of the foul language in Billy’s scenes had been cut from the show, but said, “This is one time in the script in the episode that it needed to be left in.”
“It does scream so many things about the time and about how freely this particular character [uses] this word,” he continued, “so I think it says a lot more than what a douchebag my dad is. It’s the beginning of a lot of stuff. We sort of chatted a bit with [‘Stranger Things’ creators Matt and Ross Duffer] about humanizing the villain and seeing Billy as a real person.”
The moment in no way excuses Billy’s behavior, but it might explain where it’s coming from. And before you go on feeling sorry for Billy, Montgomery warns that his character is about to become much, much worse.
“There’s also a far more sinister side to where everything is going through Billy in the future that we’ve only had very small discussions about, aside from his dad and maybe what it has truly turned him into [...] There’s something far more sinister going on with Billy. We’ll see how that unfolds,” he said.
“Stranger Things” Season 2 is streaming now.