It was the rave reviews that finally convinced me to give Stranger Things a try. I’m a big fan of action-packed shows like Orphan Black, Dark Matter and Blindspot, so a storyline based in a quiet 80’s town sounded rather dull and uninteresting. I expected that the heaps of laudations dripping with glowing praise would prove exaggerated and overhyped.
Boy, was I wrong!
It’s a rare feat for a relatively low-profile TV series to become an overnight cult sensation. But Stranger Things managed to do so, and with good reason. What is most interesting about this show is that it’s so different from the norm. In an age where television is all about fast-paced action and riveting mysteries, Stranger Things stands out like a breath of fresh air with its combination of raw human emotion and highly convincing characterization.
SPOILER ALERT! (There are instances where the story has been given away so read further at your own risk!)
On the surface, Hawkins, Indiana, is just like hundreds of other small towns in a 1980’s America. Charming homes, manicured lawns, smart cars, crime-free neighbourhoods, peace and quiet—the perfect place to settle down and raise a family.
Except when an ordinary young schoolboy, Will Byers, mysteriously disappears one ordinary night.
With that one act, quiet, boring Hawkins becomes a hotbed of activity. Secrets long forgotten are unearthed—secrets a powerful (and trigger-happy) group will go to extremes to keep buried.
We are introduced to a motley crew of characters who help move the story along.
There’s Joyce, the devastated mother, who is convinced her son is still out there and is prepared to go to any length to bring him back home. Even if that means hanging Christmas lights all over her house to “communicate” with Will. She enlists the help of Jim Hopper, the burly (and rather fit!) chief of police, who is intimately familiar with the trauma of losing a child and pairs up with Joyce in a quest to find her son.
At the other end of the spectrum, we have Mike, Dustin and Lucas, Will’s trio of best friends, who launch their own amateur investigation into his disappearance. As they venture deep into the menacing woods near Will’s home, they come across a mysterious girl clad in a hospital gown. With no name, her head shaved, her only identity a tiny “011” tattooed into her skin, the young girl, aptly christened Eleven, soon forms an uneasy friendship with the trio, who are convinced her strange powers are the key to finding Will.
Then there’s Jonathan, Will’s older brother, an outcast with a passion for photography. His close bond with his younger brother compels Jonathan to scout the woods in hopes of finding clues to his whereabouts. His camera in hand, Jonathan clicks a few pictures of his crush, Nancy (who happens to be Mike’s older sister), at a teenage pool party near the woods. Unknowingly, he captures Nancy’s best friend, Barbara, sitting dejectedly by the pool seconds before she disappears without a trace. Determined to find their missing loved ones, Jonathan and Nancy team up to hunt for the mysterious figure “with no face” they are convinced captured Will and Barb.
As these three investigations take place, Eleven’s mysterious past is revealed in a series of flashbacks. Supernatural powers, top-secret government programs, illegal scientific experiments, human subjects, alternate dimensions, terrifying creatures—basically, all the elements horror and thriller enthusiasts love are crammed into these eight episodes.
The ominous Dr. Brenner, lead scientist at Hawkins Laboratory (the site where all those hush-hush experiments are being conducted), makes a very compelling villain. His “weapons” of choice are his charm and charisma, his warm countenance, and his soothing voice, through which he lulls “victims” into a false sense of calm as he furthers his own nefarious agenda.
Overshadowing all the action is the demonic monster nicknamed as the Demogorgon. The only known inhabitant of the forbidding netherworld called the Upside Down (where Will is being held captive as a tasty snack), the creature is made even more terrifying by its humanoid torso and its faceless visage.
As one binge-watches episode after episode, it’s easy to see how the dynamics between the different characters shift and swing. The vivid interplay between the complicated criss-cross of relationships, as they are stretched to breaking point before they finally mend, makes for a very absorbing watch.
It’s a race against time as our heroes join forces to uncover the ever-deepening mystery, while being chased by government agents desperate to tie up loose ends and pursued by the relentlessly bloodthirsty Demogorgon. As the show progresses, we see how all the characters come to realize they are stronger together, and that teaming up is the only way to beat their numerous foes.
The show offers an incredible play on human emotions. Winona Ryder delights audience with her touching portrayal of a single mother cruelly separated from her youngest child and her single-minded conviction that he is still alive, despite seeing his “dead body”.
Then you’ve got friendship and loyalty, represented by Will’s young posse, who use their fascination for the fantastical to try and find him, paying no heed to repeated warnings from both their parents and the police. Nancy and Jonathan’s shared quest to avenge their loved ones is another very poignant depiction of the theme of loyalty.
The ending was a bit weak for my liking. In the final confrontation, the Demogorgon, which remained such a powerful and omnipresent foe throughout the series, is blown to smithereens when Eleven unleashes her on-again, off-again supernatural powers. With all the hype and buildup in the previous episodes, it was rather disappointing to see a raging monster that had left a trail of blood and destruction in its wake, being snuffed out like a candle by a pre-teen girl. Yes, Eleven does have advanced powers, no doubt, but a more intense face-off would have concluded the story way more satisfactorily.
Overall, Stranger Things was quite a pleasant surprise. While I wouldn’t say the show made it to my “top five” list, it definitely shows promise. I am eager to watch the second season which, no doubt, has big shoes to fill. Hopefully, the upcoming season will answer the long list of questions that plague the viewers’ minds post-finale.