I really hoped you’ve watched Stranger Things on Netflix. If you haven’t, I highly suggest that you close your laptop or put down your tablet and do so. It is a captivating, suspenseful and wonder-filled eight hours which you can definitely finish in time to read this post without falling behind here at NogginSquall. Spoilers do follow.
It is rare that I finish watching a show (or reading a book for that matter), and immediately have to desire to dive into it again from the beginning. Not since Breaking Bad. Luckily, Stranger Things is only eight episodes. And those eight episodes are each so well crafted, well acted, and well written that nothing is wasted. There is no filler, no mindless, wandering dialogue or forced romance to drag out the plot. The Duffer brothers tell a concise, tightly-woven story. There is no doubt that all eight hours are never anything more or less than the story they wanted to tell. There are plenty of articles across the web concerning the Duffers’ love for Stephen King or how the show is a love letter to Spielberg and Carpenter. And they’re great articles that help unravel the creative threads and inspirations behind Stranger Things.
What strikes me most about this Netflix original series is how committed the creators were to telling a story; they didn’t give into the temptation to tell the audience everything it could ever know about this parallel universe known as “The Upside Down.” The Duffer Brothers have said they have a 30 page document describing this eerie, distorted shadow of our side of existence, yet have kept it largely on a need-to-know basis. Sure, one could say, “It’s just good marketing to keep some secrets.” To which I respond “No, it’s just good story telling, and good story telling captivates.” If the presupposition amongst production companies as that a good story telling sells, why do we not see more reserve in other shows or movie franchises, preferring to rush to pack every easter egg or cameo possible into them?
If the Duffer brothers had decided to restrict the show to an eight episode mini-series, the show would follow in the same mysterious tradition of the sci-fi/horror films from the 80’s. Many of them, especially adaptations of Stephen King’s work, conclude ominously. The return of Will Byers, and the sacrifice of Eleven bring appropriate closure to the two primary narratives. And while Will’s bizarre glimpse or shift into the Upside Down right before the credits roll implies stranger things are still to come, it is not necessary for the story to feel complete. The first season stands on it’s own, much in the same way that the ending of John Carpenter’s The Thing or Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind are better left without sequels. The mystery of the unknown becomes part of the narrative itself.
Now don’t get me wrong. I can’t wait for a second season. I think a mark of a well crafted story is that when it ends, you’re satisfied but desiring more. It leaves enough for your imagination to engage that you can’t help but keep wondering how the story continues. But the way it would continue in a sequel usually isn’t as satisfying as your wonderings. Nancy Wheeler’s arc comes full circle as she spends the Christmas evening with Steve. Joyce is eating with both of her sons as the family unit is restored. And Dustin, Lucas, Mike, and Will conclude a rousing game of Dungeon&Dragons with a climax similar to the game that introduces their characters at the beginning. While Hopper seems displaced amidst the seasonal cheer and is leaving food for Eleven (and we’re not sure if the two of them are communicating or not), it illustrates the reality that while some find closure, others do not. I’d argue that what brings the narrative full circle is that not everyone finds closure in the resolution because some people’s stories were not invested in quite the same way. Hopper was in a state of disorientation from before the show’s start. it would seem a little too convenient for Hopper to find the closure he needs by the end. His narrative goes beyond the concerns of finding Will Byers and defeating the monster.
I could say more about the monster. For now I’ll just say it is an incredible feat of practical movie magic. I hope you heeded my warning about spoilers. I think I may go start Stranger Things a second time tonight.