There’s a moment in this episode where Will Byers walks into school after being dropped off by Bob, and it is everything this season is about. Will shuffles his way towards the school doors alone, but quickly he is immersed within a crowd of other kids heading the same way. We’ve just seen Max learn why Will is called Zombie Boy, and Lucas refers to it as “public knowledge.” Everybody knows. And as they walk along with Will, you can tell. They look at him differently, trying to hide their gawking, betraying their curiosity.
Stranger Things is so great at the ordinary moments. Boring class lectures, a game of basketball in P.E., baloney sandwiches and Dr. Pepper for lunch. Hawkins is entrenched in the ordinary, made out to be a typical town that feels like a blip on the map. But of course, this place is home to the extraordinary, where a simple walk into school holds the full weight of past trauma. This is the mark that Hawkins must carry forever. Much like Phineas Gage.
Our perfectly hum drum teacher Mr. Clarke lectures the class on the American Crowbar Case, in which Phineas Gage “miraculously” lived through an iron rod accidently getting driven through his head. Sounds like a splitting headache. (Sorry, dad joke). Gage was changed to the point where he was referred to as “no longer Gage” by his friends. I bet the crowd stared at him too as he walked among them. Just as everyone stares at Eleven, and Will’s mom, and Jonathan Byers. They’ve all been marked. The question is, will they be changed for the better or the worse?
“See, it all works out in the end, doesn’t it?” – Bob the Brain
Oh, Bob. You’re my favorite. He tells Joyce it all works out but he doesn’t shoulder the same burden of the past carried by her and her family. His lightness of being is much needed for part two of our story, as we’re continually reminded of things that came before and are still lingering. While something sinister is infecting the land of Hawkins, old wounds are effecting our characters. Max has a strained family situation, Nancy is still mourning the loss of Barb (aren’t we all?) and Hopper’s over protection of Eleven illustrates that his daughter’s death still stings.
The show explores the fact that we are a sum of all our parts- both the good and the bad. We see that if the bad is left to fester, it can destroy us like the rotting pumpkins across the town. The gospel message affirms this idea, but goes further to show that we are not defined by our choices, our past, or our pain. We are defined by Christ and set free from that weight. Of course, it’s quite hard to remember this in the midst of a crowd of gawkers when the scars feel ever present.
The episode makes an important point about how we move forward. Will follows Bob’s advice to tell his monsters to go away. Clearly that doesn’t work out so well. But that’s because he faced it alone. Our journey through pain requires community. We are not meant to face our past alone. The adventure of this season is finding out if Will’s community can rally around him and help him defeat the shadow monster or not. Something tells me they can do it. Easy peasy, right?