Stranger Things was the surprise hit of the summer. It was as close to a perfectly structured television show as I’ve ever seen, both telling a complete story in eight episodes and leaving some things open for future seasons. It has an excellent cast, a story which was compelling from the start, and a lot to bring back fond memories of both the 1980’s and previous stories in the genre. The early 1980’s was a perfect period for this story, when kids could roam freely without being immediately available by cell phone, kids would have to ask their science teacher for information rather than looking it up on line, and Cold War paranoia made the background of the story seem a bit more plausible. I briefly discussed the show last week without spoilers. In order to discuss the finale and where the second season might go, major spoilers are unavoidable.
If I had any complaints after the conclusion, it might be that questions which we might not have had time to wonder about while binging were left unanswered. I’m thinking of where the story was at even before the final few minutes when additional teasers for the future were inserted. Fortunately the producers do have an outline which presumably contains information which might answer some of my questions in future seasons.
We know something about the research being done at Hawkins Lab, and how Eleven presumably opened a portal to another dimension. There could be far more going on at the lab, and was there a one through ten?
What happened in the other dimension, which appears to be like ours with the atmosphere destroyed and people no longer alive? Some scenes which looked up to the stars led me to believe it was due to aliens, while the 1980’s time frame also makes me suspect it was the consequence of a nuclear winter. Why did we see only one Demogorgon? Perhaps such monsters, and perhaps other types, are roaming the other dimension, and only this one made it to their version of Indiana. Did such monsters destroy Earth, or were they created by radiation from a nuclear war? The kids faced a Thessalhydra while playing D&D at the end of the episode. Is this what they will encounter next? Is there a connection between their games and what is found in the Down Under? What was the egg which Hopper discovered?
What happened to Eleven and the monster? If this was a completed story we might assume she died after saying goodby to Mike. However, as we are dealing with parallel universes and the ability to travel between them, it wouldn’t be surprising if a sequel shows that they did go to another dimension. Deaths always must be questioned if there is no body–and in this show even a body did not prove death. If two dimensions were shown this season, are there other dimensions which might come into play in future seasons?
It is plausible that Will remained alive as long as he did by hiding out in alternate versions of places he knows in his universe, but how did he communicate with the lights? Even if messing with the wires in one dimension affected them in the other dimension, he showed remarkable accuracy in turning flashing specific lights by specific letters. Barb was not so fortunate, but to maintain some degree of horror I think it was necessary for her to have been killed. Most of the characters who were put in danger did survive. Will was alive in the end. His mother and Hopper were both captured but managed to be released. The kids survived the final attack of the monster in their school Someone had to actually die for the monster to be menacing in the end, and a character such as Barb who was only in a handful of scenes was the obvious “red shirt.”
The final few minutes of the series went further in providing loose ends to tie up in the future. What happened when Hopper went in that car. Why was he leaving Eggos Waffles in the box in the woods? Either he knew that Eleven was out there and was leaving her favorite food for her, or he perhaps he was leaving them to see if she returned to take them. I think the later is more plausible as if he was actually feeding her he would have presumably left more.
The biggest sign that we have not seen the last of the Upside Down was when Will coughed up the slug and briefly saw the other dimension. Was that just a mental flash back, or was there a breakdown between the dimensions in the bathroom? Is this the original Will, or yet another type of fake, this time created in the Upside Down? What about Will’s mother and Hopper? Both were in the Upside Down and had breathed in the air.
The Duffer brothers have verified in various interviews that they are hoping to produce a second season involving the same characters, with additional ones added. There will be a time jump of one year which makes matters much simpler when dealing with children actors, and allows for the story to have advanced.
Here are some excerpts of interviews with Matt and Ross Duffer:
How much do we know about Eleven’s true origins at this point, and how much did you want to keep a mystery?
Ross: We get the hint that her mom was involved in the experimentations back in the day resulting in her being born with these powers, but what we wanted to do with the show — and this season specifically — was mostly seeing the mystery and these extraordinary things through the eyes of these ordinary characters. By the end of the show they don’t know or understand everything. That is purposeful.
We do cut away to the government occasionally for these pops of mystery or horror, but what we didn’t want was to have a scene of the scientist just sitting down to explain everything. We wanted to slowly peel back layers of this mystery for audiences through the eyes of these very ordinary people. It’s not all solved by the end of the season. We wanted to resolve the main mystery of Will being gone, that was the story of this season.
Do you see the government or science conspiracy angle as a long-term mystery for the show?
Ross: There’s a lot there we don’t know or understand. Even with the Upside Down, we have a 30-page document that is pretty intricate in terms of what it all means, and where this monster actually came from, and why aren’t there more monsters — we have all this stuff that we just didn’t have time for, or we didn’t feel like we needed to get into in season one, because of the main tension of Will. We have that whole other world that we haven’t fully explored in this season, and that was very purposeful.
Matt: We wanted a simple drive and a somewhat simple mystery with bizarre pops of supernatural horror and then add a larger mythology behind this rift that we only know and refer to as the Upside Down because that’s what the boys decide to call it. Everything they’ve learned about it is kind of hypothetical. They’re theorizing based on their knowledge from fantasy gaming and their science teacher, Mr. Clarke. That’s as much as we get to understand it. I think part of it is us thinking in terms of horror, it’s scarier when you don’t fully understand what’s happening. If you were to encounter something from another world or dimension, it would be beyond comprehension. We talked a lot about Clive Barker and his stories. They’re very weird, and the weirder it is, the more inexplicable it is, the scarier it is.
As you head into future seasons, have you thought about how much of that 30-page document you want to reveal and explore?
Ross: We leave these dangling threads at the end. If people respond to this show and we get to continue this story — we had those initial discussions of where we might go with it. If there was going to be a season two, we would reveal more of that 30 page document, but we’d still want to keep it from the point of view of our original characters.
Even though you tell a complete story within the season, you end on a couple of major cliffhangers — the first being Eleven’s disappearance. Did you want to hint at where she’s been with the scene of Hopper leaving Eggos in the woods?
Matt: Obviously something happened to her when she destroyed and killed that monster and we don’t know what she went. Hopper is left with this guilt because he sold her out. We wanted to leave it sort of mysterious exactly what he knows… Have there been sightings in the woods or is he hoping she’s out there or has he already made contact with her? We don’t answer any of that, but we like the idea of potentially putting her and Hopper together.
It also seems that the Upside Down has changed Will or maybe he’s brought some of it back with him. What can you say about the flash he has in the bathroom?
Ross: We love the idea that [the Upside Down] is an environment that is not a great place for a human being to be living in. Will’s been there for an entire week, and it’s had some kind of effect on him, both emotionally and perhaps physically. The idea is he’s escaped this nightmare place, but has he really? That’s a place we wanted to go and potentially explore in season two. What effect does living in there for a week have on him? And what has been done to him? It’s not good, obviously.
They discussed more of these plot points with IGN:
IGN: What can you say about where Eleven is? That’s a very open question, of course, since there are different worlds you’re dealing with here.
Ross: It is. We wanted to leave it purposefully ambiguous. We always, from the very beginning, liked this sort of childlike idea that this escapee from this facility with these amazing powers would be able to just move into Mike’s basement and they’d have this wonderful life together and she’d go to school. It’s not that simple. The goal is to make it as complicated as possible, and without going into too much detail, to really tear them apart at the end of that season, to make things much more difficult. But we love Eleven.
Matt: But the great thing about having a portal to another dimension is that you’re not boxed in, narratively. There’s a lot we can do.
Ross: What did James Cameron say? No one’s ever dead in sci-fi.
IGN: Will clearly has been changed by this experience, it doesn’t seem in a great way. But he’s not the only one that went over there. Should we assume he might not be the only one affected?
Ross: That’s a good question. Though I will say that Will obviously was in there much longer. He had that thing hooked up to him. He went through a much more traumatic experience. A big part of Season 2 that we’ve been discussing is what is that effect? Did it affect anyone else? But specifically, is Will okay? The short answer being no.
Matt: But you’re absolutely right, three of the other characters were in there.
Ross: And they took off their helmets. And we know it’s a toxic environment. Nancy was in there too. Yeah, that’s an interesting question…
IGN: Is that the cool thing about doing a time jump? Asking what has Will been like in the year in between?
Ross: Yeah, that’s exactly it. And how have these characters moved on with their lives and not just in the plot and supernatural [aspect] but also just in terms of their characters and what have they done to fill that time?
Matt: We like that they’ve all had a very traumatic, nightmare experience together and after it’s over they kind of try to sweep it all under the rug. Season 2 would be very differently, structurally. It would be that everything seems great on the surface and then there are hints that things aren’t okay or that there are lingering effects from what happened last year. The initial instinct is to push that back and sweep that crap back under the rug but eventually it becomes impossible to ignore and so they have to confront the repercussions of everything they’ve experienced. I like to think about Stephen King’s It too. — that’s a big time jump. They jump like thirty years. But the idea that the evil is still there and comes back to haunt them and one of the characters finds out about it and kills themselves immediately. That image always stuck with me.
IGN: We see Hopper go for a little meeting at the end there. What can you say about everything he was involved in and how it might open up the world?
Ross: The intention in the scene when he gets in the car – and we want to get into this in the next season – is the clean up of what happened and the mess of all this and Will dying and coming back to life, whatever happened at the school, and the dead bodies… This is not a simple clean up job. It’s complicated. We have all these characters that know that these crazy things happen. We liked the idea that, sort of lead by Hopper, our characters are drawn closer to the government, in terms of having to make a bit of a deal with the devil. To us, that’s an exciting place to take our story.
Matt: But also the idea of going back to the laboratory and pull back the curtain a little bit. Maybe they brought someone new in. It’s not as evil and mysterious as it was in Season 1. We might start to get into what they’re doing a bit little more. Maybe they seem a little bit more friendly… as least at the beginning. A lot of the agents involved in that project are dead.
Ross: The monster and Eleven did a clean sweep of that whole operation, really.
Matt: So it would be new people which I think is cool. I think our initial instinct, when you talk about all of this stuff and “Oh god, this is all such a pain in the ass. We created such a mess.” But then we decided let’s just lean into the problems this created.
Ross: And even someone like Barb, where we left them, her poor parents think she’s just run away. There’s no closure there at this point, which I think is another reason why audiences are reacting like that. They’re like “You saved this boy, but…” What we were trying to do with that last scene in the hospital when Nancy leaves and Jonathan catches her right as she’s going is that there isn’t closure for Nancy. There isn’t closure for Barb’s parents. There is still, despite the relief that our boys are feeling, there still was tragedy here. We want to make sure that we don’t forget about that. We don’t want to forget about Barb.
Collider asked about the benefits of working with Netflix:
Eight episodes was the perfect length for the Season 1 narrative. Was that your decision, to keep it that tight?
MATT: Yes, it was.
ROSS: When we first pitched it to Netflix, we said, “This is an eight-episode story,” and they were like, “Great!” That’s the amazing thing about Netflix. They do not dictate. They don’t tell anyone that it should be 10 episodes or 13 episodes. They just say, “What do you need to tell your story?,” and that’s an amazing freedom that most storytellers who are working in film or TV haven’t had. This is a very recent thing. On television, you’ve gotta have a certain number of breaks for commercials. You’re working on a very clear structure.
MATT: On Wayward Pines, we were writing to commercial breaks.
ROSS: And you know how many episodes it has to be because they’ve got so many slots. Or with a film, you know it can’t be too long ‘cause you can’t get enough showings in. You’re very locked in. So, I think it’s an exciting time. We can play around a bit with form and length, and all of that, and it really just boils down to what we need to tell the story.
MATT: But even though this show has been successful, there’s no pressure to make it 13 episodes. People say, “They need to make way more episodes,” but I like to think one of the reasons it works for people is because it’s paced and it feels like a movie, and that’s because it’s not too long. I think, if we pushed it to 13 episodes, we’d have to start coming up with all these bullshit adventures they’re going on, that aren’t directly tied to the main tension. Eight felt about right. But if we’re developing Season 2 and it feels like seven or nine or eleven, Netflix would support any of those lengths.
How long do you see this series running? Have you thought about future seasons?
ROSS: We don’t know, specifically. We’re very weary of making it go on past the point it should. You want to end on a high note. That’s the goal. We’ve had initial discussions, but we haven’t quite landed on it.
They spoke more about the structure of the series with Huffington Post:
One reason “Stranger Things” is effective is because the monster is revealed slowly. At first, it’s only glimpses. That out-of-sight, fear-of-the-unknown quality feels very “Jaws.”
Ross: “Jaws” was a big one. It’s a classic. The shark not working while making that movie made it much better. Also, we looked a lot at Ridley Scott’s “Alien.” On YouTube, there’s a cut of all the instances where you see the alien in that first movie, and it’s a couple minutes long. And that’s a two-hour movie. I think the reason it’s so scary is that, when it does appear, it has a certain amount of impact. So we thought, OK, we’re going to see the shadow in Episode 1, because we knew we had eight episodes. We were trying to slowly reveal it, until you finally saw the full thing. We don’t really deal with it until Episode 8. It’s a dude in a suit, and I remember reading old interviews with Ridley Scott about “Alien.” The studio was upset with him for it because it’s an amazing alien suit and you’re not shooting it. But the reason is because so much of it will look like a guy in a suit, and so much of it is that what you don’t see is much scarier. We tried to go back to that old-school style of filmmaking…
I want to pose a logistical plot question: Why did Will survive the Upside Down but Barb didn’t?
Matt: Right, I guess we think of it as ― and this is continuing with the “Jaws” references ― it’s the other dimension, the Upside Down, where the shark lives, and every once in a while it comes out of that ocean into our world on the surface and then it grabs a victim and pulls them down to the Upside Down. You saw Barb at the top of Episode 3 in the Upside Down. Just imagine that’s a world, and Barb tried to escape and failed to escape, but Will was sneakier, so he was able to escape. He was able to hide. He goes, initially, to that cubby in Episode 3 inside the Byers’ house, which is why Joyce is able to communicate with him. We had this whole backstory for what Will is doing, but we don’t see it all.
Ross: It’s more like the monster bringing him back to the net, which is why Hopper and Joyce are able to distract Will into being held in this net like a spider caught in its web. He’s brought there by the monster for eating later. Is he there for other reasons? We don’t know. We have ideas.
The way the season ends, there are enough questions answered for it to almost stand as a complete series. But the many unresolved mysteries set up an obvious next chapter. How much of the backstory regarding Dr. Brenner’s experiments and Eleven’s history did you have in place from the get-go?
Matt: We had ideas that we were sort of feeling out. We have a lot more backstory built in for Brenner and Eleven. Every time that we were writing scenes in the Hawkins Lab, we wanted to stop writing them, just because it seemed like we wanted to experience as much of it as possible in the present day and through the eyes of our ordinary characters. We just wanted to leave that as mysterious as possible. I hope that, with the mystery, people are responding to it and it’s not frustrating. But to us, the sci-fi elements are so much more fun if we’re understanding it via our characters. I like that basically everything we understand about what is going on is pretty much through the boys. And they’re only able to understand it through Dungeons and Dragons terminology and by talking to their science teacher, Mr. Clark. It’s all sort of hypothetical. I never wanted any scenes in the laboratory where you have Brenner and the scientists sitting around discussing what’s going on. And Eleven even doesn’t fully understand how she wound up where she wound up and what their plans for her are, so there are very few scenes with Brenner without one of our other main characters. The scenes that are with Brenner and not our main characters have almost no dialogue in them.
Ross: Moving forward, we’re going to get more into detail about the monster and where it came from and what the Upside Down really is. But with this season, we talked a lot about “Poltergeist.” At the end of the day, what really matters in “Poltergeist” is that Carol Anne is missing and they have to go through a portal in the closet to get her back. That matters more than the backstory. People want explanations for all that, so while we have answers for all this, what we really wanted to get from this first season is that this gate opens to this other dimension. What it really boils down to is, Will is in there and we have to get him back. The hope was that, because we resolved that, the first season will be satisfying to people and work as a stand-alone. Hopefully we get to go back and explore more of this stuff.
While Stranger Things brought us back to the 1980’s, Mr. Robot had a surprising beginning by opening as if it was a 1990’s sit-com, including appearances from Alf. If you haven’t watched it yet, do not skip the commercials, as they play into the illusion of a 1990’s television show. Of course, like other less obvious examples on the show, we are seeing what is happening in Eliot’s head as opposed to reality. There was even a plausible explanation for this, which led to a reconciliation with the imaginary Mr. Robot portion of him, after attempts by each to destroy the other earlier in the season. While we still do not know what happened to Tyrell Wellick, he does have a symbolic appearance here also.
I’m still waiting for WikiLeaks to reveal ties between Evil Corp, The Clinton Foundation, and The Trump Organization–the true axis of evil (even if one is symbolic and only two are real). Actually, on some level, I think that this is what Sam Esmail is trying to tell us.
Bryan Fuller is slowly teasing news on Star Trek Discovery. It will take place ten years before the original show, bridging events between Enterprise and the original Star Trek. There will be seven lead characters including a gay character, and a female lead who plays a lieutenant commander, providing a different perspective than leading with the Captain as on other series.
The bathroom at The Way Station bar in Brooklyn is bigger on the inside than on the outside. The video above has a tour of the TARDIS themed bathroom.
In other Doctor Who news, the 1996 movie staring Paul McGann is being released on Blu-ray later this year.
Jenna Coleman and Karen Gillan had a joint appearance at Boston Comic Con. Hopefully someone videotaped it and will upload it soon.
Kenny Baker, who played R2-D2 in the Star Wars movies, died at age 81 during the past week.