Five Theories on the Future of Stranger Things

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As happens when a pop culture phenomenon catches on the internet is awash with articles about the Netflix original series and 80s zeitgeist, Stranger Things. Reddit is plagued with them to the point that the comments sections are themselves bogged down with complaints about the number of articles that somehow still get upvoted. And I am guilty of indulging in these articles because like anyone else I crave details about a thing that I like as much as this show. I want to know more about the actors and the writers and all the trivia I can absorb because I have no social life to speak of and it fills the emptiness inside where my heart used to be it’s a fun hobby that compliments my other passion; writing. But the thing about all these articles, for the most part, is that there isn’t a lot of content to be found in them. Some of the interviews with the Duffer brothers have been fascinating regarding their inspirations and intentions with the story but the world of Stranger Things itself is very new. Part of its charm is how grounded and conventional and familiar it seems while at the same time, the supernatural elements are that much more intoxicating because of how little we know about them. Which leaves a big void for us nerds and geeks to stare into while we scratch our heads; we’ve been beating our chests and stomping up and down over Star Wars sequels and the future of the DCU but when it comes to a tiny 8 episode unique intellectual property there isn’t a whole lot to say other than, “Yeah. It’s uh…..really good.” And then we go make a Hot Pocket.

But because I’m a shameless opportunist and a nerd from back before it was cool I thought I’d get in on the action but with the objective of adding on to the conversation rather than reiterating it. For some reason folks are still wondering if a second season is going to be greenlit (it will) and I wanted to explore some ideas and theories about it using some imagination and my experience with the material that inspired the shows tone and direction. Also, I’m going on record that although I have read a few interviews and other reviews of the show I have not read any other season two theories with the intention of keeping other peoples ideas out of my head. So if anything I come up with bears any similarity to someone else’s….I thought of it first. *loads up a Hot Pocket*

 

Barb is Coming Back

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The Evidence: I liked Barb a lot. Not as much as some other fans of the show, but something about those glasses and her awkward sense of responsibility just struck a chord with me and although she serves her purpose perfectly in the story as our introduction to the Upside Down and our first real look at the Demogorgon there is something not quite right about her story line and here is why: what really happened to her? The monster attacks her in the pool, that much is clear but he doesn’t eat her like the deer or anything. Instead, we don’t see her again until near the end when Eleven locates her somewhere near where Mike will eventually be rescued so although she was in the other dimension for a shorter amount of time without being eaten how did she die? Why wasn’t she sitting upright with a slug down her throat?

Eleven never actually confirms that she is dead, she only apologizes, but there might be something else going on here. This is going to be one of the most trite things I’ve ever written but good storytelling is like magic; it’s not just about what you see but what you think you’ve seen and the Duffer Brothers left themselves an out here by being vague about her fate. So what is the alternative? Well, let’s walk through it. The Demogorgon is a terrifying, no-face having monster that appears to randomly terrorize the town of Hawkins but is that really all it’s doing? The fact is it must have somehow delivered Will to the place where he was being…incubated?…implying some level of reason or agency. That Barb, discovered by Eleven while searching for Will, seemed to be nearby also implies a pattern and if its purpose was only to kill humans why take them anywhere at all?

The Theory: Dark Side Barb. Or, alternatively, Upside Down Barb.

If she suddenly shows up back in the normal world seemingly unphased and with a new sense of confidence or mystique there are two basic possibilities. Either we have an Invasion of the Body Snatchers situation, which would be disappointing because that implies some kind of huge conspiracy and then a paranoid fear of who is really who, etc., etc. Okay, that actually sounds kind of cool. OR, Evil Barb is some kind of one-off projection of an evil Upside Down sentience, that is sooo evil. The thing about that other dimension is that it appears to be some kind of dark reflection of our own world, everything here has an analogue there. So what is the analogue of a human being or a society in that dark, ashen place?

Plausibility: Reasonable but not certain. If not I will miss her like the rains down in Africa.

 

Jim Hopper is Going to the Dark Side

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The Evidence: I’m cheating a little bit here because I have actually read the AMA with David Harbour where he discusses the future of his character and he comments on the idea that he thinks Hopper still has a ways to go before he becomes the hero he can be. There’s a lot of Han Solo in this character, I think, who was a little bit of a craven scoundrel to begin with and had to grow up a little bit before saving the day. Lest ye all forget, I know I did because I was blinded by emotion and also tears, but Hopper sold out Eleven in the end of the series in order to get the cooperation of the Hawkins Lab people. Ultimately, it was to save Will from the Upside Down but the fact of the matter is he traded her life in to do it. So whose shady vehicle did he jump into in the last episode? Why is he stealing food, specifically, Eggo waffles to leave in the forest? And what really happened to his daughter?

That last question is the important one. And Harbour may have tipped his hat a little with regard to it because when it came up in the AMA he dodged the subject by saying it’s probably going to be explored more if (when) there is another season. Which means her fate is going to have some bearing on his motivations and this is where the theories start to crop up. I think that we’re going to be trading in the Hawkins Laboratory for something a lot scarier: the US Government. Specifically, the CIA and their ilk, and I think that Hopper’s success in rescuing Will Byers is going to make him their number one guy for exploring the Upside Down to a greater scale. Further than that, I think that they are going to use the fate of his daughter to somehow manipulate him into doing some unethical stuff, something that is going to lose him the trust of the folks he helped in the first season.

The Theory: Hopper will betray Eleven. Again.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way. First, Eleven is alive in some form or another. Second, Hopper knows this and is somehow in contact with her, based on the Eggos. That’s given. What’s also apparent is that no one, including the shady government types, are aware of this. The portal is still open but without Eleven the normal world is basically defenseless and since a ton of Hawkins employees were violently and inexplicably murdered in a small town school it’s reasonable to assume the G-Men are going to want to figure out a way to deal with a threat from the Upside Down a little more effectively which, of course, means escalation. Experimenting on people even more with stuff that makes MkUltra look like the Pepsi Challenge. I’m going out on a limb here because I can’t make the exact connection without the plot points involved but I believe Hopper will be asked to choose between somehow getting his daughter back and sacrificing Eleven. And I think he’s going to make the wrong choice.

Plausibility: High. I’ve got a strong feeling about this one. I don’t like it, but this has classic Hero’s journey written all over it.

 

Will Byers is the Enemy

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This might be too obvious to figuratively put in print, but Will did not come back from the Upside Down without bringing back some demons. Possibly literally. The bathroom scene in the epilogue of the season showed us a couple of very important things. Either Will is now somehow able to flip back and forth between the two dimensions without a portal or he’s having severe PTSD and thinks he’s flipping back and forth. Neither of these possibilities bode well for his mental health. Second, he’s got some kind of extra-dimensional tapeworm situation going on and I almost threw up a little bit in my mouth just typing that. This goes back to the incubation thingy that Hopper and Joyce pulled him out of and whatever he spat up clearly looks like the thing they pulled out of his throat so here’s where it gets even more icky: who was feeding whom? Was the tube some kind of life support while he waited to be carved up like a Christmas turkey? Or was the pod feeding off of him somehow, absorbing his life….juice? Is it in some way related to all the slimy roots that are everywhere?

I have no idea. But what I do know is that Will is clearly hiding his condition from the group and, if it persists, he’s only going to distance himself from both them and any kind of help, it’s going to drive a rift between them all. This is also something of a trope in the fiction the show is emulating and I anticipate it being one of those frustrating arcs that could be resolved if the character would just say something but such is the nature of narrative suspense. However, I don’t think the goal of season two will be to save him, we already did that in the first. I think it will be to stop him.

The Theory: Will has powers now and/or is part of the Upside Down

At one point one of the Hawkins scientists comments on the other dimension and refers to its atmosphere as ‘toxic’ which is pretty non-specific and not very ‘sciency’. What are we talking here? Chernobyl toxic? Three Mile Island? Or a truck stop bathroom in West Texas? Relative to the biohazard suited scientists and Barb, Will spent a lot of time over there, including inside some kind of a cocoon but the doctors just seemed to let him sleep it off before sending him home. More than that, what incentive does the government have to leave the kid alone now? Without Eleven, he’s the most significant link to the other side and the only one to survive the place that we know of, why isn’t he in a lab somewhere being poked and prodded? What’s more likely is that the scientists haven’t let him go at all, they are just sitting back and waiting for him to turn into some kind of Mutant Will.

Plausibility: The part about him being alienated from the group? High, almost certain. The part about him being alien-ized? Not great. The best thing about this show is how grounded it is and if a small child turns into the Brundlefly in the middle of it they are going to lose half their audience. If you don’t understand that reference, sorry I’m not linking what it is because I’d have to google it which I’m not doing because I’ve eaten recently and intend to eat again in the future.

 

Eleven is Alive

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The Evidence: If this theory had subtitle it would probably be ‘No Shit, Sherlock’ but let me expound on how and why. Well, actually, the ‘why’ comes first. Earlier I pointed out that Hopper more or less sold out Eleven in order to save Will but this may have only been what it looked like to everyone but Hopper and Eleven. They both knew and understood that anyone she is around is in danger and in order to protect her new friends from the government she was going to have to disappear, in this case literally. So Hopper gave her up but with the condition that she pull a vanishing act where everyone could see (everyone who survived, anyway) and give the impression she was gone for good in order to stop anyone from looking. Which is why he was stealing food for her and leaving it in the woods, she didn’t actually explode along with the Demogorgon, she’s just in hiding. So now for the ‘how’ which I answer with a question: how did she escape from the lab in the first place?

She has telekinetic powers, some kind of astral projection power, and some form of ESPN (that’s a joke, I meant ESP, but then again so is ESPN these days, BOOM! Roasted!). So…why not teleportation? Who’s to say she isn’t able to flip over to the Upside Down and then flip back somewhere else? And that the reason she hasn’t up until this point is because there has been a bipedal nightmare on the loose over there.

The Theory: If and when Eleven returns she’s going to be a different kid than the one that disappeared at the end of season one. Less skittish, more mature, and probably more in control of her abilities. I don’t really have much else here except to say that if the Brothers Duffer don’t bring back El I’m going to burn down the building.

Plausibility: Duh. The plausibility is ‘duh’. Of course, once she does come back…

 

The Others Will Come For Her

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The Evidence: Why was the Hawkins lab a part of the Department of Energy? Was this to hide their true purpose or scientific experiments? To hide in plain sight? Because for every Area 51 where conspiracy nuts and ufologists like to converge there are a dozen CIA black sites that no one will ever know about all over the place. It’s the Cold War for goodness sake and the potential Eleven has to be a game changing psychic weapon is unprecedented. So why the rinky-dink lab next to a small town run by the star of Memphis Belle? And the rent-a-cop security that four kids on bicycles were able to elude? Not to mention the kids who spent so much time hanging out with that potential weapon were allowed to just go on with their lives without having to sign so much as an NDA. The reaction to the whole situation seems a little bit…tame. And I think I know why: Eleven is not unique at all.

The Theory: Seems pretty obvious when you think about it. Her frickin’ name is Eleven. Not Three or Four. Eleven. Which is why the lab is so low key and no one is having religious experiences in her presence, she’s completely unremarkable with regard to the rest of the MKUltra program. Which means there are others out there like her with comparable abilities who might be loyal to the CIA who are going to hunt her down and the second season will play out like a dangerous game of cat and mouse that will culminate in an all out battle of psychic powers for the fate of the town Hawkins which threatens to be sucked into the nightmarish hellscape never to return unless Eleven can…..

/passes out

….*breathes*, I’m okay.

Plausability: Next to nothing. That would probably be a pretty amazing direction to take the next season and although it would be cool to do basically Aliens to the first seasons Alien, that is, a big budget explosive story on a large scale versus the intimate, detailed tone of the first, Stranger Things is great for many reasons but the best one, in my opinion is this one:

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So here’s hoping I’m wrong about that last one. The others I feel pretty good about, with the exception of the Barb theory. The reason being, while doing research and searching for pics I came across one of her dead face, and, well. That one isn’t looking so good. But I have to hope because Nancy is just not the same without her and I still don’t trust this Steve guy. This has been fun but my brain is tired and I need a nap. Maybe a drink. Definitely an Eggo waffle.

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The Little Prince: This Is Only A Shell

 

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The following is going to sound like a thinly disguised backdoor brag but it’s not meant to be. I started reading at a very advanced level at an early age so, if I did read The Little Prince, I don’t remember it. The reason this is not me patting myself on the back is that I also encountered a lot of adult oriented drama waaay too early in life. I was reading Stephen King when I should have been reading The Hardy Boys and although I didn’t understand all of it, it may have warped my psyche to the point that I don’t relate to the classics, at least not anything before discovering Grimm’s Fairy Tales and how dark children’s stories could be. So what I’m trying to say is, I am familiar with the cover of the book and some of the quotes that people sew onto pillows but I don’t harbor any particular sentimentality towards The Little Prince. But I do now.

It all started with this damn trailer that is so magical I didn’t even want to watch the film because there is no way it could live up to its promise. But by framing the original story within a new one Mark Osborne and company are able to tell two narratives, the former about the wonder of youth and the absurdity of adulthood and the latter, about the power of storytelling and the imagination. Both overlap somewhere along the way without overwhelming one another; both, ultimately, become fables about growing up, love, and death. The new plot line is cut directly from the Pixar formula combined with a touch of Miyazaki; it’s clear, expository, and charming. On the other hand, the dream-like sequences that recall the Prince’s story are cryptic and obscure but somehow just as clear, the transition marked by a switch to paper-cut animation and traditional stop motion from CGI. And the effect is hypnotic. It would also be easy to confuse its elegant dialogue for New Age pablum until you remember the novel was originally written in French and published in 1943. Although some of it can be confused with spiritual platitudes and semi-profound insights, some ideas are beautiful enough to transcend both language and generations. And instead of trying to duplicate whatever magic is found in the book, the filmmakers only tease the Prince’s story, touching on its themes without relying on it to carry the film.

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The voice talent on this film is out of this world (said stupid Peter Travers of Rolling Stone, probably). Jeff Bridges and Mackenzie Foy, Paul Rudd, Rachel McAdams, Ricky Gervais, Benicio Del Toro and the list goes on, it speaks to the quality of the story how many big names are on board for what are essentially cameos. The emotional center is Bridges who could be creepy or off-putting if his performance weren’t so heartrendingly genuine. When the story takes a mature turn I was heartbroken at his delivery, in all its simple grandeur or lack thereof. I can never remember loving the man’s voice as much as I do in this film or becoming attached to an animated character so quickly. Also, apparently this is Rachel McAdams first animated feature which is surprising, she has a real gift for it and brings a wounded diligence to the mother without coming off as villainous. But the real star of the film is 15 year old Mackenzie Foy who has done nothing but make me cry since her breakout performance in Interstellar as young Murph (don’t let me leave, Murph!). She simultaneously grounds the film while also elevating it with a surprisingly tender performance, all while handling the comedic beats like a champ.

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I don’t often watch animated films and that’s not an attempt to seem superior. I appreciate them but my taste in film has to do with nuance and imperfection and all the little ways an actor, director, screenwriter, cinematographer, editor and so forth compose a scene. I like to go back and rewatch those scenes come together, like a chemical reaction where you see something new every time. Animation, on the other hand, is precisely executed, there is no spontaneity. Hundreds of artists and designers and writers contribute to each frame which is not an inferior product, just a different one, the same way a three piece rock band can be as thrilling as a full orchestra, depending on the context. The Little Prince is both. Big and majestic and beautiful. Intimate and sweet and endearing. It succeeds in being both unique and familiar and instantly memorable. It’s on the nose with its message, unapologetically so and it’s an urgent one, a sadly beautiful reminder that growing up is inevitable but not the end of youth. That animated films and children’s books can be more than they seem and aren’t only for children. And that the most important things in life are invisible to the eye but not the heart.

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