Sometime last week, I sat down to binge watch the first season of Stranger Things. I’d kept hearing conflicting reports about the show—some people
thought it was very well done and feminist, and others, not so much—so I decided to give it a try myself.
Stranger Things is a science-fiction horror show that takes place in the 80s and features a monster that looks like it came out of a movie from the 80s. Like all stories, Stranger Things is by no means perfect, and some of the problems I had with it are hard to ignore, but on the whole, I loved this show.
Spoilers up ahead.
Our story begins when a young boy named Will Byers mysteriously vanishes after a monster follows him home. Following that, strange things keep happening. Will’s mother, Joyce, notices that the lights in her house flicker on and off in a pattern, and after receiving a mysterious phone call from Will, she becomes convinced he’s still alive and is communicating with her through the lights in her house. She teams up with the town sheriff Hopper, and
the two of them eventually discover a government conspiracy and a mystery surrounding another young child who went missing years before.
Will’s D&D-obsessed best friends have a mystery of their own to deal with. While out searching for Will one night, they come across a psychokinetic girl named 011, or El for short, who is the aforementioned missing child. Using El’s abilities, they’re able to hear Will through their radios and learn that he is in a parallel world called the Upside Down. There, the monster, which they dub the Demogorgon, is hunting him and the only way to save Will is to find a portal to the Upside Down.
While all this is going on, Will’s older brother Jonathan and a girl named Nancy, the older sister of one of Will’s friends, also get caught up in the strange ongoings. Nancy’s best friend Barbara is taken by the monster at the end of the second episode to the Upside Down where it kills her at the beginning of the third. Desperate to find her friend, Nancy notices that Jonathan managed to take a picture of the Demogorgon right before it took Barbara. Together, Nancy and Jonathan head out into the woods to search for Barbara, where Nancy discovers a portal to the Upside Down and is almost killed herself as a result.
Right away I noticed that these three plotlines, though all connected by the Demogorgon, felt very different in terms of tone. I couldn’t put my finger on why that was until reading some meta on Tumblr, when someone pointed out that it’s because they’re all different genres. Joyce and Hopper are in a mystery plotline, the young boys and El follow a sci-fi narrative heavily influenced by their love for D&D, and Jonathan and Nancy deal with the horror plotline. Eventually, all three groups of characters come together to save Will, destroy the Demogorgon, and end an evil government entity. Stranger Things easily ran the risk of feeling disjointed, but it manages to handle all three storylines really well, and I found myself enthralled by the story.
I’d say my biggest problem with Stranger Things ended up being Will’s friends—Mike, Dustin, and Lucas. While they do accurately act like twelve-year-old boys, most of the time that meant they were simply annoying. This really wouldn’t have been a problem, but the fallout from losing Will and gaining El into their party puts a strain on their friendship. Their arguments with each other just sound mean half the time and make them really unlikable. It doesn’t help that Lucas, the only Black character in the show, is pretty much the asshole of the group, and it also really doesn’t help that they use awful ableist language. They called El “crazy” and “psycho” all the time, and as a mentally ill person, I found them really off-putting.
I can’t say that there’s much for LGBTQ+ representation either. Initially, I thought that Barbara might be gay, but if she is, it’s never really mentioned. And even if she was gay, she’s dead now. Hopefully, these problems will be addressed in the future, since the show leaves off on a cliff hanger. El saves everyone from the Demogorgon, and though it looks like she killed the monster, both she and its body disappear. On top of that, Will keeps seeing flashes of the Upside Down and we learn that his time there infected him. He coughs up a giant black slug into his bathroom sink, and it disappears down the drain. Given all that, it’s pretty clear that there’s more to the story and that the characters themselves still don’t fully understand what the Upside Down really is.
As for the rest of the show, I found myself enjoying it quite a bit. Every character has some major flaws they need to work their way through, and while I may have found the small children annoying, I do have to appreciate that all the characters’ flaws feel real and cause serious problems. Jonathan, for instance, is a loner, socially awkward, and doesn’t understand boundaries. At one point he takes pictures of Nancy while she’s undressing without her consent. This might be a low bar to hold any story to, but Stranger Things doesn’t play this off as romantic. Instead, the story lets us know that what Jonathan did was creepy, violating, and way out of line. Jonathan eventually admits that what he did was wrong and apologizes to Nancy for it. The two do become friends, and though I suppose it’s possible to read some romantic tension between them, their relationship stays platonic.
Stranger Things also makes the characters deal with sexism. The night Barbara goes missing, she and Nancy were at a party without their parents’ knowledge or consent. While there, Nancy has sex with her boyfriend Steve. In the following days when she notices that Barbara is missing—her car is still at Steve’s and her mom hasn’t seen her—Nancy goes to the police. It seems that she is the only person who cares about Barbara’s safety. The police
are more concerned about her relationship with Steve and ask her questions like “was this before or after you took off your clothes?” Nancy’s mom is also more concerned about the sex and gets angry when Nancy says it doesn’t matter. Nancy continues to remind us that whether or not she had sex with Steve has nothing to do with Barbara’s disappearance and that people are more concerned about slut-shaming than they are with her friend’s safety.
Again, I wouldn’t say this show is perfect. Even when it comes to the issue of sexism it does have some failings, but Stranger Things gets a lot right, and after watching such subpar shows like Game of Thrones or even The Shannara Chronicles, it was awesome to just sit down and enjoy a really good story. There is so much going on in Stranger Things and so many plot points to potentially talk about that there is no way it could fit into one post. If you have not yet seen it, I would definitely give the story a shot. The characters, even the ones I hate, are fleshed out really well, the writing is pretty solid, and it was just fun to watch.