Helpful Advice For Jim Hopper And Other Troubled Dudes
Words of support for the Sheriff from Netflix’s hit show ‘Stranger Things’
Having recently watched all three seasons of the hit Netflix series Stranger Things, I’m now an authority on the program.
No, I can’t rattle off all the 1980s cultural references. Yes, I still call the characters by the names I invented before I could keep track of all these freaking people: Eleven is “Young Carrie Fisher But Also Elizabeth Perkins”; Will is “Somehow Not A Culkin”; Lucas is “Formerly Young Simba On Broadway”; Erica is “Perfect Delivery”; Joyce is “Winona”; etc. But I am an expert on one character in particular, and his name is Jim Hopper.
Before I espouse my wellness prescription for Hopper in this, my entry into the thriving Stranger Thinkpiece Industrial Complex, let me provide some context for why it’s taken me until the Year of Our Lord Have Mercy 2019 to develop this opinion — a Hop Take ™, if you will.
I didn’t watch Stranger Things until this year because I thought it was a show for and about kids. Plus, I was busy.
Between the show’s debut in the summer of 2016 and the third season premiere in the summer of 2019, I got a car, a new job, a bunch of freelance gigs, a nephew, a new apartment, and a gym membership.
I quit the gym, found a new therapist, traveled a lot, stopped dating, and got sober. Many Stranger Things fans I knew were far busier than I yet still made time for the show, but I reserved my energy for listening to audiobooks, crying, binging Killing Eve and Fleabag, and drinking weak coffee in church basements — you know, the preferred activities of mature sophisticates.
Then a good friend of mine got a job on Stranger Things for season 3. This was good news for him. So I magnanimously declared I would read the Wikipedia entries on past seasons and watch the episodes on which he, personally, worked. He strongly suggested I instead actually watch the entire show. Because I am a generous and amazing friend, I agreed.
During my binging marathon in July, I realized that I was already a social media follower of a couple of the people on the show (hi, Randy Havens) and just thought they were funny and/or put up nice photos. I also learned that the show is very good and that it is for adults as well as kids!
But most importantly, I am now an expert on one James “Jim” Hopper, divorced single guy, Vietnam veteran, bereaved father of the deceased Sarah, adoptive father of the very much alive Young Carrie Fisher But Also Elizabeth Perkins, and chief of police in Hawkins, Indiana. I called him DKHarbz after actor David K. Harbour for a while, because I kept accidentally calling him “Sheriff Hoffa,” but by season 3 I had his actual character name firmly locked in.
Hopper has so much to offer: he is devoted to the music of Jim Croce, he’s good at firing weapons, he’s brave, he’s strong, he’s handsome, he’s caring and compassionate and loving, he’s pretty smart, he’s unpretentious, he’s diligent, and he seems to genuinely have a passion for solving mysteries — all good qualities in a detective!
But Hopper has major issues, and because Hopper is an imaginary character and not an actual human man, I am going to fix all his problems for him. This is because it is far healthier to channel one’s codependency into a controlled fantasy world while simultaneously drawing and respecting real boundaries in actual waking life! I’ve been a much happier human since learning this lesson. I’ve also been a more creative and productive writer.
Let us examine each of Hopper’s major problems, with a helpful solution for each one.
Somebody get Hopper to a meeting, stat. Hopper is almost certainly an alcoholic who uses the sauce to numb out when life gets too stressful — which, given the abundant otherworldly and mundane forces at work in his life, is all the time. Earlier in the series, there were hints of issues with pills, but alcohol seems to be his primary problem. Surely there are various VFW halls, churches, recreation centers and/or public libraries in the Greater Hawkins metropolitan area with Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. It’s the ’80s, so he won’t be able to use a website or app, but he can ask around.
According to the National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder at the Department of Veterans Affairs, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) added PTSD to the third edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III) in 1980.
In Stranger Things, Hopper not only mentions PTSD by name but also speaks of it with apparent empathy or at least respectful sympathy. While it is likely that he carries with him PTSD due to his tour of duty in Vietnam, it is also likely that he suffers from the disorder thanks to the traumatic loss of his only daughter to cancer.
PTSD manifests differently in different people, but Hopper’s apparent pattern of self-medicating with alcohol, his inclination to bouts of explosive anger, and his descents into depression all point to a pattern that might be interrupted through a comprehensive complementary healthcare approach. Perhaps there is a VA-sponsored PTSD outpatient program somewhere near Hawkins (doubtful) or a PTSD support group for veterans (more likely).
Once Hopper gets out of that Russian prison where he’s being trained to interfere in the future American election of 2016, he’s likely going to have even more trauma to process. And given the relatively compassionate kids and maybe-future-girlfriend who love him, it seems certain they’ll support him in healing.
Hopper needs to avoid lung cancer and emphysema so that he can stay alive and irritated at various winsome children with excellent bone structure and, of course, at manic pixie dream babe Joyce. I’ve determined that once he gets out of that Russian prison, Hopper needs a smoking cessation program.
In my curiosity to figure out just how Hopper might’ve been induced to quit smoking in the relatively permissive mid-1980s, I tracked down “The Changing Public Image of Smoking in the United States: 1964–2014”, a paper by K. Michael Cummings and Robert N. Proctor archived on the website of the National Center for Biotechnology Information, part of the National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health.
Hopper doesn’t give much of a crap about his own health, but he does care about other people. According to Cummings and Proctor, the 1964 Surgeon General’s report was the first big hit against the cigarette industry. But in the ’70s and ’80s, more evidence came to light about the ill effects of secondhand smoke, the unfiltered byproduct of cigarette smoking that may cause everything from asthma to cancer in those who share a workspace or household with a smoker. Maybe Mister Science Man (a.k.a. teacher Scott Clarke) can tell Hopper more about it.
The key may be to convince Hopper that he ought to quit smoking not just for himself but for the people he loves. And since Hopper is a cop and thus an agent of the State who also manages to chafe against authority, it might behoove him to learn that his continual purchase of cigarettes funds a corrupt, psychologically manipulative industry. You know, the kind of place where the nefarious Dr. Matthew Modine (a.k.a. Martin Brenner) would’ve thrived.
If all else fails, Eleven can just hurl heavy objects at him with her mind when she catches him smoking.
I love a woodsy approach to the shabby chic aesthetic but honey, that cabin in the forest is grim. Hopper is vulnerable to depression anyway, and such a home environment cannot possibly contribute to healthy mood regulation. And let’s not forget we’ve got two deeply traumatized individuals living in that dimly-lit shack during the heinous Indiana winters. It’s time to introduce nature’s original SSRI: the sun!
Hopper’s a handy guy and Mike needs some kind of father figure beyond his detached older dad (you know, the nice older fellow who almost got cuckolded by Scary Sexy IRL Australian Billy). Why not press the hormonal youth into service in order to renovate the cabin with more skylights and bigger windows? Mike can earn back some goodwill after displaying too much attitude across season 3, and he probably needs to learn some sort of marketable skills beyond “having cheekbones” and “making out” and “enjoying the oeuvre of George Romero.” Hell, invite moody, fatherless Will, too. Bring everybody over! It’ll be the Hawkins equivalent of an Amish barn-raising, complete with charmingly antiquated hairstyles and old-fashioned tools.
I really like Jim Hopper. I only want good things for him, and I feel they are within his reach! Once he escapes his borscht-infused prison and returns to the weirdest 1980s small town in America besides Llanview or Port Charles, I really think he can achieve a newer level of health and happiness thanks to my plan. I will now return to reading Codependent No More, published in 1986 — perhaps just around the time, Hopper gets out of that Russkie hoosegow. Might make some good reading material for him and everyone else on the show, too.