As I write this, there’s no news yet that Netflix has actually renewed Stranger Things for additional seasons, but think about it: the show has become a modern cult classic that’s received boatloads of praise for its blend of ‘80s nostalgia, sci-fi creepiness, and coming-of-age drama and the show’s producers have said they’ve got ideas for subsequent seasons. Personally, I think it’s all but a done deal at this point. So let the nerdy conjecturing and theorizing begin…
I hope you’ve finished the series since the following contains massive spoilers. Now, join me as I go down the rabbit hole — or journey into the “Upside Down,” as the case may be.
If/when Stranger Things does come back for another season or three, what might happen next? As you’ll recall, the first season ends with some ambiguity that definitely left this viewer wanting more (in a good way). So let’s quickly recap…
Whither Hopper, Eleven & Will?
After he successfully saves Will Byers from the “Upside Down” (the parallel universe where the demogorgon lived), Hawkins’ police chief Hopper is whisked away by some men in black, and it looks like we’ll never see him again. The episode jumps ahead a month and good ol’ Hop’s back at the police station to pick up some goodies from the Christmas party — which he then leaves in a box somewhere in the forest, along with a couple of Eggos (Eleven’s favorite snack).
Even more ominous, though, is when Will is preparing to enjoy Christmas dinner with his mom Joyce and brother Jonathan. He goes to the bathroom to wash his hands, but instead coughs up a slug-like creature and has a flashback to the “Upside Down” and its decay and corruption. In the finale’s closing seconds, he does sit down to Christmas dinner, but as the camera pans out and the series’ awesome theme music starts to play, it’s clear that all’s still not well in Hawkins, Indiana.
For my money, the most tantalizing scenes are Hopper’s. We know little about his past, other than he was married once, he lost his daughter to cancer, and he used to be a “big city” cop. A series of poignant flashbacks in the finale provide evidence for those first two, but it seems doubtful that he was ever a “big city” cop, for several reasons:
- He’s able to infiltrate a top secret government facility with relative ease.
- He knows an awful lot about bugs, wiretaps, and surveillance.
- He makes quick work of a trio of armed government agents with his bare hands.
- He’s pretty comfortable wielding some high-powered weaponry.
Then there’s the deal he makes with Dr. Brenner, in which he (apparently) sells out Eleven’s location so that he and Joyce can enter the “Upside Down” to find Will.
Returning to the “Upside Down”
So here’s my theory: Hopper used to be a government agent himself, and the deal he makes with Brenner includes some sort of promise to come back into the fold, so to speak. When he’s picked up by that black sedan, it’s to take him back to his old life as an agent — though he’s keeping up appearances as a small town police chief. As for him leaving the Eggos in the forest, that could either be a sign that he knows Eleven is still alive or a little tribute to her memory. I suspect it’s the former.
After destroying the demogorgon with her psychic powers, Eleven has traveled into the “Upside Down” because she knows that if she sticks around, Mike and his friends will continue to be endangered by the government’s “bad men.” We know that she psychically created the first gate to the “Upside Down” as a result of her traumatic encounter with the demogorgon, so I think it stands to reason that she can create additional gates (even if she’s not entirely aware of how she does it).
As for Will, his abduction and experiences have left him changed and marked; he now exists “between” the real world and the “Upside Down.” This makes him a beacon to that other world’s denizens (I suspect the demogorgon wasn’t its only resident)… and so do the continued government experiments at the Hawkins National Laboratory. The government being the government, they still want to make weapons to fight the commies — it is the Cold War, after all — and otherworldly monsters might make for powerful weapons.
So, I think that Eleven comes back because she knows what’s out there in the “Upside Down” and she wants to seal it off forever. Which brings her into contact with Hopper, since he’s now working for the government (and no doubt feeling a bit guilty for selling her out). And since she knows Will is an unwitting link in all of this, he — along with Mike, Dustin, Lucas, Joyce, and everyone else — is pulled back into the mix.
Admittedly, there’s a part of me that thinks it’d be cool if the “Upside Down” was ultimately populated/controlled by something more malevolent and intelligent than mere demogorgons — say, some sort of Lovecraft-ian presence hoping to break into and devour the real world. At the same time, I fully realize that sort of epic-sounding plot-line — as cool as it may sounds on paper (it is Lovecraft-ian, after all) — could spoil the series.
Stranger Things Doesn’t Need Scope Creep
One of the things that makes Stranger Things so special is that, despite including government experiments and extra-dimensional horrors, its story is actually quite small, focused, and even humble in its scope. It takes place in a small Indiana town, and the vast majority of its populace are completely unaware of what’s actually going on. What they think is a tragic disappearance is actually something far greater and more dangerous, but Stranger Things balances otherworldly terror with small town mundanity — and the mundanity makes the terror more, well, terrifying.
Put another way, my greatest concern with future seasons of Stranger Things is that the Duffer Brothers and the show’s other producers will try to make it bigger and more epic and complex then it can or should be. The thought that reality-changing events occur in a secret government facility on the outskirts of Anytown, USA is, in its own way, creepier and more affecting than if the series’ scope and setting had been bigger and more “epic” (which it could’ve easily been, being set in the middle of the Cold War).
Similarly, there’s something more affecting and heroic if the ones saving the world from extra-dimensional horrors aren’t bad-ass government agents, heavily armed soldiers, or highly trained and educated specialists, but rather, some Dungeons & Dragons-loving middle school nerds, a young, traumatized girl, a stressed out single mom, and a trio of high schoolers. (OK, fine… I guess that, in Hopper, they might have one bad-ass government agent.)
Indeed, as I’ve tried to make sense of why, exactly, I find Stranger Things so moving, one thing that I’ve kept returning to is the show’s emphasis on insignificant and ordinary heroes who — though clearly outmatched and existing outside the usual power structures — band together to do the right thing… no matter what. And that is what ultimately saves the day. This is, of course, in keeping with the various titles that Stranger Things references: consider the little kids who befriend an alien in E.T. or the kids who band together to destroy a demonic entity in It. As a child, watching other kids save the day precisely because they were kids was quite entertaining — and as an adult, such a storyline has a capacity for innocence, optimism, and joy that I find quite affecting, even beyond the obvious nostalgia.
One of my favorite scenes in Stranger Things occurs in episode six (“The Monster”), after Eleven uses her psychic powers to save Mike and Dustin from a pair of bullies. Overcome with exhaustion and despair, Eleven calls herself a monster — which Mike immediately denies. Instead of rejecting Eleven, both he and Dustin embrace her. It’s a very sweet scene that drives home the point that as powerful as Eleven may be, her powers find their true purpose and strength within the framework of simple, child-like friendship and loyalty — things she had been denied her entire life until she met Mike and his friends.
It’s that sort of small-ness and (dare I say) intimacy that I hope always remains at the heart of Stranger Things, even if/when the series ventures deeper into the otherworldly strange-ness of the “Upside Down.”
Other Random Thoughts
If her name is any indication, Eleven isn’t the only one out there who received “gifts” as a result of government experiments. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we meet a few more like her in a future season.
The first season had a killer soundtrack featuring Joy Division, New Order, and The Clash. Maybe subsequent seasons will feature the likes of The Cure, Depeche Mode, Cocteau Twins, and/or The Smiths (one can hope). It might be a bit too on-the-nose but I confess to getting goosebumps imagining “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” playing for Eleven and Mike.
More Mr. Clarke, please. Whether discussing parallel universes and Dungeons & Dragons with Mike and his friends or telling the boys how to build a sensory deprivation tank, this science teacher was one of the show’s best secondary characters.
The John Hughes-ish triangle between Nancy, Jonathan, and Steve was really fascinating and surprisingly redemptive. However, it won’t be a shock if Nancy and Jonathan end up together. Sure, it might be a bit clichéd and the show’s creators have shown how much they like to buck expectations, but after everything that Nancy and Jonathan have been through together, it seems rather inevitable.
Before the series ends, I really hope that Tommy H. and Carol — i.e., Steve’s terrible friends — get their comeuppance.
I’ve read some discussion that the show should be an anthology series, and I can see the merits to that. However, the producers have already made it clear that they’re sticking with the current cast of characters. And why wouldn’t you when you have the likes of David Harbour (Hopper), Gaten Matarazzo (Dustin), and of course, Millie Bobby Brown (Eleven) to work with?
What, exactly, is the relationship between the “Upside Down” and the black place that Eleven appears in when she’s in the sensory deprivation tank? Is it some sort of psychic passageway linking the real world and the “Upside Down”? And if so, can it provide passage to other worlds?
Alissa Wilkinson does an excellent job of highlighting another aspect of Stranger Things that made it such a special show for me: the way it suggests that there’s more to the world then what we can see. (I confess I never drew any parallels to the novels of Frank Peretti but that’s rather genius actually.)