Stranger Things is the eight part, Netflix event series. On the evening of November 6, 1983 in Hawkins, Indiana, an innocent night playing Dungeons & Dragons takes a tragic turn for a group of friends when Will Byers disappears…seemingly into thin air. As friends, family and local police search for answers behind his disappearance they are drawn into an extraordinary mystery involving top-secret government experiments, terrifying supernatural forces and the discovery of one very strange little girl.
Chapters 1 & 2 Catch-Up can be found here.
Chapter 3 – “Holly, Jolly”
Chapter 4 – “The Body”
The most successful genre entries, be they books, tv series or films, succeed because you become fully immersed in the world you’re watching, regardless of how outlandish the premise may be. Stephen King is, of course, a master at this; his world-building creates it’s own reality in which anything he puts on the page seems both possible and normal. Stranger Things is pulling off the same trick (and even Mr King may be forgiven for thinking “Am I sure I didn’t actually write this?” should he watch it) and doing it with immense style and confidence.
Poor Barb. Last seen being snatched by ‘something’, she’s here being chased along the bottom of the empty swimming pool she was just dangling her feet in. What gives? She’s where she was, but not, instead finding herself in some sort of parallel world. Upstairs, Nancy is getting it on with Steven but stops her imminent deflowering a couple of times because she thinks she hears something. That would be Barb, Nancy, your friend who’s about to be gobbled up by a faceless monster in a different realm. Never mind eh? You’re about to get laid!
At home, Joyce is going full-on Roy Neary. In Close Encounters of the Third Kind, our protagonist (played to perfection by Richard Dreyfuss) fixates on household items to recreate a vision he’s had. Here Joyce fills her house with fairy lights, convinced that lost son Will is somehow using them to communicate. And she’s right. A hastily assembled, proto-ouija board painted on her wall is quickly used by the disembodied boy to spell out “RIGHT HERE” when she asks where he is. And then he spells “RUN” before the faceless monster emerges from her living room wall. And Joyce runs alright.
Chief Hopper has abandoned all cynicism regarding Will’s disappearance and, after some research at the local library (no Google in 1983!), becomes convinced the secretive Hawkins Laboratory is at the heart of the mystery, suspicions which are confirmed when a visit to the high-security compound results in him and his men being given the runaround.
Eleven – now nicknamed Elle – is home alone at the Wheeler house and continues her E.T. homage, roaming around, watching tv and being entranced with her new surroundings. She stops short of getting drunk and mentally linking with Elliot…sorry Mike…but an advert for Coca-Cola triggers a flashback to evil Dr. Brenner making her use her telepathic ability on a soda can.
After school Mike, Dustin and Lucas take Elle on a search for Will and the strange girl leads them to Will’s house. They’re annoyed at her – this is where he was, not where he is? (Oh, how little do they know!) – but are interrupted by sirens and flashing lights; it’s a police convoy speeding toward the quarry and they duly follow. Once there they are witness to what they all feared – the lifeless body of Will being pulled from the water.
Mike is annoyed at Elle for convincing him Will was still alive whilst Joyce doesn’t believe the body in the morgue is her son. We know the boy – or at least some form of him – still exists, so what’s with the body? Chief Hopper is surprised to learn that the town’s coroner was sent home and state officials performed the autopsy, but clearly that’s the boy’s body. Right? Will’s brother Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) clearly thinks so and a gulf opens up between mother and son.
Elle once again shows Mike that Will is still…somewhere…by channelling him singing his favourite Clash song through his walkie-talkie and a plan is hatched. Across town, Hopper tries to convince Joyce that what she’s experiencing is grief but she’s having none of it – as far as she’s concerned, her boy is still alive and she needs to bring him home. Quite right!
The boys smuggle Elle into school so that they can use the powerful ham radio there to attempt further contact with Will. They succeed briefly before the equipment bursts into flames and the voice they hear is scared and crying for help, a scene echoed at his home, with mother Joyce tearing at the wall in the lounge and seemingly seeing across dimensions through it to her son, being chased by a monster. Ecstatic and bereft at the same time, Joyce urges Will to hide and promises him that she will save him. Meanwhile at Hawkins Laboratory, Dr. Brenner is sending someone through the portal that exists in the bowels of the building. Attached to a metal cord lifeline, and in touch on a closed-circuit system, the man goes through and tries to describe the netherworld he finds himself in. He doesn’t have long however, and is quickly consumed by whatever is on the other side.
Hopper has finally decided to get some concrete answers and forces his way into the morgue. Finding Will’s body, he cuts it open – and finds it filled with cotton wool. Is the body even real? Where’s the rest of Will? What’s in this other dimension? Follow it all here at XO.TV.
- The classic movie references are almost too many, and some too subtle, to mention, but best of all is Chief Hopper and his ride; in Jaws (a poster for which features prominently in Will’s bedroom), two of the three main characters are Chief Brody and Hooper. Chief Brody drove a Chevy Blazer. Here Chief Hopper drives a later model in the exact same livery.
- There’s also a ‘Battle of the Bands’ poster (a Back to the Future riff) displayed at Hawkins High School. And the chemist where Joyce works and buys her fairy lights bears a striking resemblance to 80’s horror master David Cronenberg (it isn’t).
- When Elle got on the back of Mike’s bike and the boys set off into the woods, the E.T. DNA could not have been stronger. If she had made them fly, it would all have turned to parody…
- …and the trick of playing up to all these references without going beyond them is a fine line, perfectly handled.
- Chief Hopper’s arc from drunkard to proper detective is very well written and acted.
- You KNEW the scientist was going to get gobbled-up. You WANTED him to as well, admit it.
- Dr. Brenner’s hair could handle it’s own show. Just saying.