When Max Mayfield (Sadie Sink) skateboarded into Season 2 of Stranger Things, she was a breath of fresh air as the feisty girl who could best the boys and had a sense of self that was super strong despite her troubled home life. But never in our dreams did we think that she would become the MVP of an entire season over Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), who always wows the most.
Sink doesn’t make Max a regular sullen and angry teen
Sink pours her heart and soul into Max this season as a teen who is struggling with depression and grief. While we have seen the Hawkins kids deal with monsters and other terrible things that no child should ever have to face, none of them have had to fight the demons inside them and that makes Max’s character more real and identifiable.
When we first see Max in Season 4, her isolation is palpable as she drifts through the corridors of school. Not only is she just dealing with the death of her stepbrother Billy, her family is broken and her mother has taken to the bottle. Max has bottled it all up and is hiding it from everyone – counsellor to friends. But Sink’s fabulous performance makes sure that Max doesn’t come off as a regular sullen and angry teen.
Even though the show hints at the importance of Max’s experiences, it isn’t until the end of Episode 3 that we find out exactly how central she is to the new season. And it isn’t until the fourth episode titled ‘Dear Billy’, one of the best episodes of the season, that we get to see what Sink is actually capable of.
A scene from ‘Chapter 4: Dear Billy’
How Max deals with the loss of her brother, Billy
Max handles the realisation that she has been “cursed” by Vecna, the season’s big baddie, in a quiet, withdrawn manner, refusing to share her thoughts with any of her friends. Max is by turns scared, angry and resigned, even writing letters to all her friends and family as fail-safes should things go wrong. It is in her letter to Billy, who died last season, that we finally get a picture of all that Max has had to endure since his death. Max mourns for a brother she hated but hoped would become a friend. She mourns the loss of her family with her stepfather leaving after Billy’s death. She is wracked with guilt about not having done anything to save Billy. And most heartbreakingly, she confesses that she wished she could have died instead, and in a later episode even wishes that something would happen to her as well. Sink plays the scene with dignity and vulnerability, leaving us feeling more for Max than we have for anyone else on the show.
Running up that hill, or how Max fights her depression
The climax of the episode is perhaps one of the best of the season as well, as Max finds the will to fight and live with the strength of friendship that penetrates the fog of darkness under Vecna’s spell in the Upside Down, a befitting metaphor for emerging from the despair of depression. That scene where she runs towards her friends as Kate Bush sings Running up that hill (it is sure to become an anthem for all those who are struggling with depression) will forever be etched in our memories.
Max, Erica and Lucas prepare for the final showdown in the finale
How Max offers herself as bait in a bid to end Vecna
Max shows real strength of character when she offers herself up as bait for Vecna in a bid to save the world and give her friends a fighting chance to end the threat. But this time it isn’t out of a sense of guilt or resignation but out of conviction that she can burrow in the safety of her happiest memory and that her friends will have her back.
This makes it even more gut-wrenching to see a broken Max in the epic two-part finale and we hope that she is out there somewhere, inside Vecna’s mind or in the Upside Down, looking for a way to end Vecna once and for all. Because Max is at the heart of the story now and while Eleven might be the superhero of the show, we are rooting for its true hero, Max.