The hype is real, and even though I was a little behind to get to the hype and stumbled on some spoilers beforehand, I didn’t mind because the show delivered beyond these spoilers. It has heart, emotion, friendship, determination and courage. And yes, Stranger Things is an absolutely wonderful series, with exceptional performances by kids inside a big homage to the 80’s.
There are a few things I need to get out of the way before I discuss this series. First, I’m aware of its homage to the 80’s from various blogs and tumblr posts, but I myself haven’t seen the inspirational movies Stranger Things pays homage to. Now, maybe it’s because I’m stupid and weird, but mostly because when I was growing up in Estonia, these were not the movies we were shown during the 90’s. We had Lion King and Free Willy, and even if we did have The Shining and The Nightmare of Elm Street, those weren’t the movies I would have watched as a kid. And even now, I’m really bad at watching these classic movies, which I know are really good.
Second thing I need to add, is that despite it being a horror genre, I’m surprised how approachable it was for me. I’m not a fan of horror, as many of you probably know, so giving a Stranger Things a try was sort of a small challenge for myself. But turns out, it’s not that bad because the horror doesn’t really jump-scare you but instead it builds gradually throughout the 8 episodes. And that slow build-up, with a few adrenaline moments, worked out so well for me that I even watched it in the dark!
Now, I’m ready to discuss the series and its elements, but in case you have not seen this show yet, turn around and watch it before reading, because this definitely contains some major spoilers:
DARK AND BEAUTIFUL SUPERNATURAL ELEMENTS
One of the appeals of the story is definitely the fact that it takes place in the 80’s. There’s no internet, no mobile phones and well, the outfits make an interesting visual instead of current trends. As far as the thriller elements go, there are definitely moments where you are at the edge of the seat. But one of my favorite elements is definitely the supernatural things the show introduces, most importantly the concept of Upside-Down, which is sort of like a parallel reality to ours.
The contrast between the real world and the Upside-Down is beautiful visually, with different colour schemes and presentation. We have the real world with warm tones and cleaner shapes, and then we have the upside version where everything is dark and less extinguishable. What I loved the most was the dust? flying around, adding the Upside-Down a winter or dark dream like quality. And then there’s the black glass surface that kind of signifies the collected consciousness of people, where Eleven can enter, and listen in on conversations, as she did with the Russian. This element looks beautiful but it’s also interesting because my understanding of it is not clear.
But coming back to the parallel universe, which doesn’t exist without its monsters, and in this case, Stranger Things has its own faceless blood thirsty creature. While the monster itself was scary, it wasn’t visually my favorite thing in Stranger Things because I didn’t really find it that special. Its world though, and the way it entered our reality, those little bits and pieces were definitely the monster’s more interesting aspects. But the main question regarding the monster is of course where it came from. We find out, from flashbacks, that Eleven found this creature from this black glass surface place, and woke it by touching it. There are various theories of this, but my favorite is the one that describes the monster as a former test subject just like Eleven, who got stuck there and became this dangerous creature. This might also explain a little why Will survived, because maybe the monster saw itself in him (this again is totally my own little theory).
The main character of Stranger Things is hard to pinpoint exactly, but Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) is definitely a standout in terms of acting and becoming a fan favorite. She is a governmert experiment and has abilities to connect with the Upside-Down, like already mention, listen into conversations in anywhere and control things with her mind. Since being locked up in a lab she is unaware of social norms – making her a sort of an alien among the real world. She talks very little, and yet manages to form strong bonds with the boys she ends up with after she escapes the lab. I read somewhere that her lack of dialog flattens her character but for me, her ability to remain silent and use very little words actually makes her more mysterious and interesting.
Eleven for me is an important link in between all the characters, as she provides hope for the boys as well as the mother. In the end of the last episode, we also see the chief putting out food in the woods, Eggos as well, which sparked some rumors that Eleven has survived in some form and the chief is taking care of her. Which is especially sweet, since we find out throughout the season that the chief has lost his own daughter, and might reflect his fatherly feelings now towards Eleven. But who knows, especially since the second season is still not confirmed!
Favorite scene: When she finds Barb and Will in the Upside-Down. Bonus: When she steals Eggos from the store.
THE BOYS – WILL, MIKE, DUSTIN & LUCAS
I’m pretty certain that everyone who has seen Stranger Things, finds the kids to be at least good if not the highlight of this show. I think they are wonderful, all of them in their own way, and they elevate the show from being just another hit to a classic among its kind. The kids bring a certain honesty to the show, and the curiosity that sometimes isn’t as pure among the adults. They also showcase friendship in a very simple way – friends don’t lie. And just that one sentence, is almost like a whole theme throughout the series and it teaches a lesson to all of them.
Will (Noah Schnapp) is the boy who gets kidnapped and taken to the Upside-Down, so his presence in the show is sparse, but he is the motivation that drives all the other boys, so his sort of like the holy grail. He is, like all the others, brilliant because in a very limited timeframe he manages to capture a part of our heart and you just want to root for him.
The most shocking thing about his character of course is the end, when we see him in front of the mirror, flashing back to the Upside-Down – is he having hallucinations, or is he really the new link between that parallel universe? The fact that he was saved from there, while being fed or fed on, for me is a strong indication that Will has not really left the Upside-Down.
Favorite scene: The one where he gets taken away. Bonus: The one where he hums Should I Stay or Should I Go in his Upside-Down hideout.
Mike (Finn Wolfhard) is sort of like our main protaganist, because he seems to be the leader of the pack, but that’s a very loose term because honestly, the boys are definitely equals among themselves. But Mike is the one who takes up the task of hiding Eleven, and sort of pushes others to believe in her and her connection to Will. He gives a really believable performance and his chemistry, as a 13 year-old, with Eleven is just… it’s precious!
His relationship with his parents is also a bit funny, because he has been hiding a girl in their basement and yet the mother is very certain of knowing everything that is happening in the house. It’s funny because that sort of fuels the idea of Mike as the adult, and in turn, makes all the kids feel more like adults, capable of everything, and less like kids.
Favorite scene: The one where he jumps off a cliff. Bonus: The ones where he is with Eleven.
Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) is the funny man of the bunch and he gets to have some great moments throughout. The actors real-life condition was written into the show, which I think is admirable, and it works not just a quirk but as an inspiration because once its addressed, it is forgotten as it should be. When the other boys have a fight, Dustin is also the one who urges them to be friends again and get past it, acting as a voice of reason.
He definitely is there for some comedic relief, as he provides very many lighter moments after some really heavy moments. But he also seems the most smartest, especially when it comes to knowing facts and about science. It was especially cool to listen him talk about how a compass works, because yet again, his character created an illusion that he was an adult.
Favorite scene: The one where he joins the hug. Bonus: Where he goes to search for the pudding.
Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) is sort of like the dad of the group, being the most calm and collected at times. He also doesn’t jump into conclusions, is hesitant to believe something that hasn’t been proved, and is cynical at times. He also takes the longest to bond with Eleven, which is logical since he seems like someone whose loyalty takes the longest to achieve.
Out of the group, I connect with Lucas the most, because I think I myself would be as synical and hesitant in that sort of situation. He is like the grumpy grandfather. When he goes to investigate on his own, having had a fight with Mike, he doesn’t hesitate to warn his friends – that was a very cool moment because the boys were still fighting and yet, they still joined their forces against the bad men.
Favorite scene: When he spies the enemies and warns his friends. Bonus: When he apologies to Eleven.
THE TEEN TRIO – JONATHAN, NANCY AND STEVE
While the kids definitely steal the show, I have a soft spot for Stranger Things teenagers as well, because they all showcase the same attributes that the kids, Will and Mike the most as they are the brothers to two of the main teenagers. The teen trio also, despite it being a total cliché, have a bit of a love triangle going on. Though, luckily, this doesn’t take away from the show but gives it a whole new dimension, because instead of having to chose between a good guy and a bad guy, the choice really comes down to two great guys instead.
Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), who portrays Will’s brooding brother. is definitely a great guy. Though Jonathan is one of those people who keeps to himself and prefers his camera to actual people, likes The Clash and making breakfast for his mother and brother, he still finds a way to open up to Nancy. He seems caring, protective, forgiving and kind, which is evident during his interactions with his mother, brother, Nancy and even Steve.
Favorite scene: When he hangs out with his brother. Bonus: He makes his bed on Nancy’s floor without asking.
Nancy (Natalie Dyer) is pretty much the same as Jonathan, except she is better with people and being social. Even though she is a nerd, she is also a rebel, and breaks out of her shell a lot in the beginning of the show. By the end though, she becomes a total badass and it’s no surprise Jonathan and Steve like her so much. Her relationship with Steve is surprising, because you would expect him to be a bad guy, but he isn’t, so it’s hard not to like Nancy based on her choices. Even in the end!
Favorite scene: She goes through the tree into Upside-Down. Bonus: When she asks about Barb.
Which brings me to Steve (Joe Keery), who is just so precious that I can’t stop thinking about him. And yes, I like Jonathan a lot, but for Nancy, I’m team Steve! Here’s why: Steve wasn’t going to last but Keery was too likable to be a bad guy! Which is exactly how I feel, because even when you want to see Steve as a jock and a douche, he comes off likable and adorable. He keeps to his word, he doesn’t let Nancy down, he gets beaten up by Jonathan, tries to mend his wrongdoings and is a badass with a bat! Love him, can’t wait to see more of him! And I wouldn’t mind some bromance between him and Jonathan either, especially since he was behind the idea of buying him a new camera. I’m telling you, Steve is a good guy!
Plus, I want to add that out of every character in this show, I think Steve grew on me the most. I didn’t care for him in the beginning, but as the show progressed, and his character developed, I started to love him more and more. I think that’s good writing, but most importantly, as the show runners implied, good acting that actually changed the outcome of the show!
Also, since I can’t seem to stop talking about Steve, I’m proud of myself for going against the main canon. Like, everyone else is rooting for Jonathan, most fans at least, so being in Team Steve is like going against the current. I like it. I’m usually all about the underdogs but this time, I’m like, no, Steve’s great, and Steve deserves Nancy!
Favorite scene: When he freaks out about the monster. Bonus: He asks to clean up the movie theater sign his friends vandalised.
TEEN BONUS – BARB
Barb (Shannon Purser), a character who was sparsely present, and was talked about throughout, is probably the biggest mystery of the show. The reason is actually simple, she is the only known character, who we actually get to know, that gets killed by the monster. This has birthed many theories and questions, especially from hardcore Stranger Things fans – why was Barb killed? She was a nice person, or at least seemingly, and seemed to protect her friend Nancy. So if Will, a good person, was kept alive, why wasn’t Barb?
Favorite scene: Notices Nancy’s new bra. Bonus: Fights for her survival.
CARING MOTHER, DEVOTED FATHER – JOYCE AND CHIEF HOPPER
Now some have said that they did not care for how the mother, Joyce, was portrayed by Winona Ryder. I must agree to a degree because I would have preferred Joyce to be stronger, more level headed and a little less crazy-looking. While her efforts to find her son, and her strong belief that her son was alive, was definitely something to admire, she didn’t hit stride until the very end. Ryder’s performance was the same, it lacked a little in the beginning, but was a bit better at the end, especially when she was interacting with Eleven. Maybe it was because she was interacting with Eleven, but maybe it was because the character was closer to the truth, and became less disoriented and more focused. Either way, her character was needed but not as appealing as she could have been.
Favorite scene: When she confronts the Chief that she’s going with him. Bonus: When she tells Eleven she’s a very brave girl.
The opposite to Joyce was Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) who was my favorite grown-up of the entire season! In the first episode, Hopper indicates that nothing ever happens in this town, making us believe that he doesn’t really do much police work and then boom!, he starts to investigate. He is skilled, he doesn’t jump into conclusions, he seems very smart and intelligent, which breaks the typical clichés of small town chiefs being unfit for the job. And then there’s his back-story of his daughter’s death, which he deals with throughout the series, and is forced to relive while he looks for Will, it’s just heartbreaking. At times, I sort of saw Hopper as a possible love interest for Joyce as well, but was glad that the series didn’t follow that because it would have been too much. Maybe in the next season though..
Favorite scene: When he sneaks into the facility. Bonus: Every time he thinks about his daughter.
SUMMARY – THE ULTIMATE FEELING
Out of everything I’ve wanted to discuss today, one thing remains that I haven’t really summarized yet, and that’s the heart of the show – love. Now, this sounds super cheesy, and it probably is, but it’s not hard to notice it while watching Stranger Things. It’s pretty much the force behind each character. Will’s love for his family is keeping him alive. His friends, Mike, Dustin and Lucas, are looking him because they love him. His mother Joyce is destroying the house because of her son. Jonathan loves his brother and is willing to risk his life for him. Nancy loves her friend Barb, who went missing, and is ready to fight for her. Steve loves Nancy, so he is willing to look past his fears and protect her. Chief Hopper’s love for his lost daughter is what motivates him to search for Will. And then there’s Eleven, who in the beginning knows nothing of love and friendship, yet ends up knowing it all and is ready to protect that feeling with her life.
So I’m left with the same ultimate feeling, love. Love for a really special show that came out of nowhere to me, and love for the characters that are unique and special. Love for a show that broke some stereo types, and love for a show that wasn’t afraid to borrow from 80’s classics to become a classic on its own. Yes, they might have put too much of their inspirations in their, but to be honest, as somebody who hasn’t seen those movies, it motivated me to watch them. So maybe Stranger Things is a little time machine, that shows us 80’s movie novices what we’re truly missing, and is guiding us to look out those classics. Or maybe it’s just a really good homage to these movies, yet with a new and a fresh take on these classic stories that might take its own course.
OTHER COOL STRANGER THINGS THINGS
Here is FoundFlix explaining the ending and sharing some possible second season clues
Video of 50 facts you didn’t know about Stranger Things by TheWhyGuy
One of my favorite reviewers, Chris Stuckman spoiler free take on Stranger Things
Maria on BigCityBookworm also gushed about this series