Well, we made it. Whew! That was a crazy ride. In just eight episodes we’ve been through a lot with the residents of Hawkins. On this side of the darkness, in my opinion, we’re all the better for the journey. Though there has been pain and loss, there has also been growth. Evil has been thwarted and things are back on track. Mostly. Ultimately the show accomplishes what the best thrillers do and leaves you reeling with a sense of wonder. As a season of television, it’s quite remarkable.
Of all the episodes, the finale feels like the least perfect. To be fair it has a lot to wrap up in an hour. That the show doesn’t feel the need to explain everything is a breath of fresh air. There seems to be so few actual mysteries to our entertainment these days. Watch any Marvel movie with unanswered questions and you know you’ll simply get the answers in a subsequent movie. Stranger Things is perfectly content to shroud its secrets. Is Eleven still alive? Where was Hopper taken by the black car? Why is Will coughing up slugs? Who knows? The mysteries add to the intrigue.
We do have a lot of resolutions, though. Namely, thematic ones. Setting aside the Christ analogies of Eleven and some others that we’ve covered at length in our episodic breakdowns, one specific picture painted by this show is that of parental sacrifice. There are certainly eternal implications of God as father, and I don’t want to dismiss those. But this show really digs into what it costs to love someone to the point of sacrifice, and does so through the eyes of a parent. Chief Hopper drives the message home in this episode. It’s a bit heavy handed here, but because it has been built up for seven prior episodes, it works. Joyce’s relentless fervor to save her son has been a central driving force, and we see other parental pictures on the fringes with Nancy and Mike’s parents. This is a further, deeper element of the nostalgia making this show so popular.
Most of us grow up with a myriad of comforts. These are different for everyone of course, but when we look back to childhood, nostalgia points our focus to these things. The guidance of parents is part of that. Sadly, this is a desperately broken image, as too many children grow up without that. Those of us lucky enough to have had it, understand as adults what it actually meant to us even though we couldn’t always see it as kids. As we try our hand at “adulting” in this complex world, we grow to really appreciate just how hard it is to care about anything to the extent that a good parent cares about a child. The show tries to capture a little bit of that. Maybe it doesn’t fully succeed, but it certainly moved me.
Adulting is hard. Being a parent, as I count myself incredibly lucky to be, is sometimes excruciatingly hard. The practical day to day things have their challenges, but that’s not what I mean. What makes it so hard is love. Love is such a painful companion. It isn’t all cookies and cream. Boy that’d be nice. No, love is actually like a bullheaded, incessant friend that won’t ever leave your side even if you want them to. Love causes pain not just because it’s a burden to bear, but because it’s a burden you WANT to bear. That agonizing terror in Joyce throughout the show is a very real part of life. When you lose the thing you spent so much time loving, well, it’s quite impossible to explain that kind of pain.
Hopper’s story does a lot of things in addition to wrapping up this theme. It introduces our final seed of doubt that Will might be saved. It reminds us that death can be a lot closer than we like to think. It shows us that the upside down extends to our own life. Hopper’s pain will remain with him forever. As unbearable and messy and burdensome as his love for his daughter continues to be, it still does its hardest to point him to a place worth living and something worth fighting for. By the end, he finds that and does the good he was meant to do by helping Joyce and saving Will. Love is our compass. It leads us to community if we let it. It gives us strength when we have none and knowledge when we face the unknown. It is right side up in the upside down.
From my own journey I have seen and experienced how painful love can be. I know too many wonderful people who want to be parents but are unable to do so. In myself and through others I have seen the loss of loved ones, bitterly broken hearts, and countless other tragedies. It makes you wonder why we even bother to love. Let me tell you one of the only things I know for sure: Love is worth it.
You want to know why I believe in God? Because I read about this eternal Father who loves greater and deeper than any love I can fathom and I can’t imagine the immeasurable pain that accompanies that. That kind of love and pain saved me. Love is worth it. This little TV thriller shows us that too. Mike and Lucas and Dustin got their friend back because they loved him enough to shoot rocks from a slingshot at a monster. Joyce got her son back because she put her life on the line to find him. Hopper found redemption for doing the same. It doesn’t always work out that way, but sometimes it does. Try it out. It won’t always be easy and it can be painful, but it’ll save you too.
Season 2 has officially been announced as a sequel. Here are my thoughts on what might be to come:
-Eleven is still alive in some form, and will definitely be back next season. She better be, anyway. Millie Bobbie Brown’s perfectly understated performance is the cornerstone of this show.
-The Upside Down is about to get a whole lot bigger. The gate isn’t closed as far as we know. If one monster can get through, then who knows how many else could?
-Will’s lingering side effects might be the central focus. This would make the most narrative sense to me. He was the catalyst this time, and trauma is a hard thing to deal with. Who knows what it has done to him?
-More retro! I was great fun to experience the 80s again. With that being so culturally significant, expect them to crank the volume on the retro.
What are your predictions for next season?