STRANGER THINGS goes out on a high note as its first season draws to a close. If there aren’t people lining up to give the Duffer Brothers money to make whatever they want, I’d be absolutely stunned. They seemingly came out of nowhere to tackle this ambitious show and absolutely nailed it. Though the season finale is fulfilling and could stand on its own, the show leaves some doors open to continue the story. I’d love to be immersed in this world again, and hope Netflix greenlights another season as soon as possible.
Beyond being well written and packed full of 80’s influences and nostalgia, Stranger Things is just plain fun to watch. It has everything I loved about The Goonies and E.T. working in its favor. The kids in this show know exactly what’s going on, while their parents and most other adults seem to be completely in the dark. If it weren’t for these adventurous kids taking matters into their own hands, the creature wreaking havoc on the town of Hawkins would most likely never be stopped.
Mathew Modine plays Dr. Brenner with a cool, detached, and clinical air of evil. His white hair and impeccable suit also play into the feeling that something is very off about this guy. When he sits down with Michael’s parents after they’ve searched the house and carted away a bunch of evidence, he tells them he only wants to help Michael, but they have to trust him first. The creepy way he says this raises the hairs on the back of your neck. He doesn’t mean a word of it. Dr. Brenner is only trying to use them to get what he wants, which is Eleven. Michael’s dad buys the bullshit hook line and sinker even though his wife says she doesn’t trust Dr. Brenner. Her husband tells her, “It’s the government, they’re on our side.”
Though Michael’s parents are completely oblivious to everything going on in Hawkins, Joyce on the other hand is entirely in the know. When she and Hopper get caught breaking into Hawkins Laboratory in an attempt to enter the “rift” and search for Will, Dr. Brenner deals her the same line that worked on Michaels parents. Joyce knows too much about what Dr. Brenner has done in the past, and continues to do to allow his hollow promises to seem like anything more than what they are … manipulative lies. She knows he’s to blame for her son’s disappearance, his faked corpse, and Terry Ives daughter’s abduction (Eleven).
The only other adult who isn’t in the dark about what’s going on with Hawkins Laboratory is Hopper. I see touches of classic Harrison Ford swagger in David Harbour’s portrayal of Chief Hopper. When it seems Hopper is way out of his element, he’s able to force Dr. Brenner to the exact terms he wants. Dr. Brenner lets Joyce and Hopper enter the “rift” to find Will because he believes they will die inside, and the secrets will die in there with them. Hopper may or may not have told Dr. Brenner where to find Eleven, but his quest to find Will is influenced by the tragic loss of his daughter to cancer and his wife to how he dealt with that loss. Finding Will is important for Hopper, it’s an act which eventually heals the broken man he’s become. It gives his life purpose, and allows him to summon the kind of internal courage he’s been without for far too long.
While Hopper and Joyce search the world inside the “rift” for Will, Nancy and Jonathan aren’t about to sit back and wait to see what happens. They go back to their original plan of trapping the creature and killing it. Will may still be alive, but she’s pretty sure Barbara is dead. This thing took her best friend and Jonathan’s brother, and they want revenge. Jonathan’s house becomes their stronghold. They set bear traps in the hallways, fashion weapons out of baseball bats and nails, and douse a section of the house with gasoline in an attempt to lure in the creature and kill it. They know it’s attracted to blood, so they cut their hands, smear the blood around, and wait. Before the creature can appear Steve arrives to apologize to both Nancy and Jonathan. As he tries to clear the air with both of them, the creature shows up. Steve plays an integral part in wounding it, but in the end it escapes.
Eleven is the key that unlocks the entire mystery. Without her, everyone would be entirely in the dark about how and why strange things are happening in Hawkins. She, Michael, Dustin, and Lucas evade Dr. Brenner and his thugs when they chase after them. It seems Brenner’s vans have trapped them all on their bikes, but Eleven flips one of the vans up and over them with her mind blocking the rest of the vans behind them. Brenner soon has helicopters and the military searching for the kids, but Hopper comes to their rescue. When Eleven has troubles channeling Will on a walkee talkee they set up a make shift isolation tank in the school gymnasium to help her find Will and Barbara. With Joyce by her side, Eleven is able to locate Will, but he’s running out of time and on the verge of death. Barbara on the other hand is already dead.
Eleven has mixed feelings about everything. She feels responsible for opening the portal between worlds and letting the creature through, and it makes her feel guilty. It’s because of these feelings of responsibility that she tries so hard to help correct the situation. Whenever she uses her powers, she is physically drained, and has nosebleeds. In order to recharge her batteries, time needs to pass, and she needs to eat something. A romance buds between Michael and Eleven. He offers his family to take care of her after this is all over, and it means a lot to her. She’s never had a family, she’s only had Dr. Brenner who she refers to as “Papa”, but unlike a real father, he doesn’t try to protect her, he tries to exploit her. Michael and Eleven kiss, and it’s clear she feels the same way about him.
Before either of them can bask in their new love, Dr. Brenner and his goons show up armed to the teeth to capture Eleven. They try to evade capture, but are surrounded on all sides by Brenner’s agents. All hope seems lost, but you do not want to piss off Eleven. She channels her fury, and soon all of the agents are bleeding out of their eyes, and fall dead in unison. This expends more energy than anything else she’s done, and Michael and the boys can’t wake her up. Her breathing is light, and she’s unresponsive. Before they can get her to safety Dr. Brenner shows up with more men to take Eleven away. There’s one big problem though, all of the blood from the people Eleven just killed attracts the creature. It pushes its way through one of the walls to get to the blood.
The creature itself appears to be part man, and part alien hybrid with no face. Where the face should be just opens like one of the pods or cocoons from the Alien franchise, and inside it’s mouth is like the Sarlacc from Return of the Jedi. It’s clearly impervious to bullets, since both Nancy and Dr. Brenner’s goons have unloaded on it with little or no effect. Nothing seems to be able to kill the creature, and it soon takes out Dr. Brenner and all of his men. Michael, Dustin, and Lucas carry the unconscious Eleven to a science room, but when the creature breaks down the door, the only thing they have to defend themselves with is a slingshot and some stones. In a great moment, it looks like a stone Lucas shoots the creature with throws it all the way across the room. We soon realize it’s not the stone that did it, it’s Eleven. She brought the creature into this world, and she’s the only one who can destroy it. It takes all of her power to kill the creature, and in the whirlwind as it comes apart at the seams, she disappears with it. She’s sacrificed herself for her friends, but where has she gone?
Hopper and Joyce rescue Will right at the same time Eleven destroys the creature, and soon everything goes back to normal for the most part. Government agents pick up Hopper and we soon see him leaving food (Eggo Waffles) in a small wooden box out in the woods. Is Eleven still alive in some parallel universe and is Hopper takes care of her? Also Will is back home eating Christmas dinner with his family. He excuses himself to the bathroom, and coughs up what looks like a piece of the creature. Will flashes into the alternate universe momentarily. Has he been forever changed by his experiences? Did he just barf up a creature into the real world? Will things repeat themselves all over again, or will new adventures begin?
I really hope we get to live in this world again for another season. The Duffer Brothers have created something wonderful where everything great about 80’s movies coexists in a thrilling cocktail steeped in mystery. This is the kind of show I could watch repeatedly. It’s like a big wonderful eight-hour movie that hits on all cylinders. My hats of to the creative team, and the risk Netflix took on Stranger Things. It totally paid off.
Season 1, Episode 7 -8 (S01E07-08)
Stranger Things is streaming on Netflix
For six months out of the year Jeff is holed up in his home with nothing to do but shovel snow, watch television, write, and dream of warmer climates.
Jeff Iblings | Contributor