Supreme Court Rulings (End of Term 2022)

This was a shit year for the Supreme Court. And when I say that, I don’t just mean I don’t like the outcomes of the rulings. Process is more important than outcome in the judiciary system; otherwise justices are just using the law to push their agendas instead of staying in their lane as interpreters. (The whole point of our checks and balances system.) Usually I find myself agreeing with conservative and liberal justices about equally, depending on the case. Not this year. Read on for the details.

At the end of June 2022, SCOTUS ruled that:

(1) a federal statute requiring stiff penalties for crimes involving a gun is too strict. (7-2)
(2) it is sometimes mandatory for states to use public money to fund religious education (6-3)
(3) states may not impose strict limits on carrying guns in public (6-3)
(4) you can’t sue for money damages if your Miranda rights are violated (6-3)
(5) the Constitution does not confer a right to abortion (6-3)
(6) a public high school coach can pray at midfield following a game (6-3)
(7) a high bar is required for prosecuting doctors who prescribe pain medication (9-0)
(8) district courts are obligated to give a fair hearing to retroactive sentence reductions based on new laws (5-4)
(9) state authorities may prosecute non-Indians who commit crimes against Indians on Indian reservations (5-4)
(10) asylum seekers arriving at the southwestern border don’t have to await approval in Mexico; they can be detained in the U.S. (5-4)
(11) the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not have the power to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants without authorization from Congress (6-3)

Details below.

(1) United States v. Taylor (6/21/22). The decision: An attempted Hobbs Act robbery does not qualify as a crime of violence. Written by Gorsuch for a 7-2 ruling. (4 conservatives + 3 liberals; dissent by 2 conservatives)
— Gorsuch is obviously right. The Hobbs Act punishes robbery that affects interstate or foreign commerce, not crimes of violence. Attempted Hobbs Act robberies don’t invariably involve the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force. In Taylor’s case, he agreed to sell someone pot, and then conspired with someone else to rob the man instead; the co-conspirator shot and killed the man. Taylor got a 30-year sentence: 20 for conspiracy and 10 for a crime of violence. SCOTUS ruled that he should have gotten only 20 for conspiracy, because no element of his offense required proof that he used, attempted to use, or threatened to use force during the robbery. The law can’t be used to lengthen sentences for those convicted of a Hobbs robbery offense.
— Alito and Thomas dissented, arguing that the offense for which Taylor was convicted constituted a “violent felony” (use of a gun) in the ordinary sense of the term. This ignores the whole point, that Taylor took a plea deal admitting to attempted robbery under the Hobbs Act, and that the attempted robbery statute of the Hobbs Act contains no language that makes it a crime of violence. Alito and Thomas were dissenting on the basis of what makes practical sense to them, not as jurists.

(2) Carson v. Makin (6/21/22). The decision: A state cannot exclude religious schools from tuition assistance programs that allow parents to use vouchers to send their children to public or private schools. Written by Roberts for a 6-3 ruling. (6 conservatives; dissent by 3 liberals)
— I’m on the fence with this ruling. Here’s the background: In rural sparsely populated states (like Maine and Vermont), many towns aren’t large enough to operate their own public schools. So the states offer families public dollars to send their children to schools, both public and private, elsewhere. In this case the state of Maine created a tuition assistance program to help families who live in such remote regions. Under the program, parents can send their kids to certain private schools, and the state covers the cost of tuition. To qualify, these schools must give students a secular education. They may be affiliated with — or even run by — a religious organization, but their actual curricula must align with secular state standards. Two families challenged this limitation, arguing that it violated the First Amendment’s free exercise clause.
— In this ruling Roberts claims that secular schooling is a smokescreen for “discrimination against religion”, even though thirty-seven states have amendments to their constitutions that bar government from funding religious institutions, including schools. This ruling invalidates those laws and (arguably) undermines the broader constitutional basis for the nation’s public school system. In her dissent, Sotomayor said the majority opinion “dismantles the wall of separation between church and state that the Framers fought so hard to build”.
— The reason I’m on the fence with this ruling is that it only applies if a state chooses to send taxpayer dollars to private schools through vouchers, tax credits, or scholarships. So a state could avoid this whole business — that is, avoid the obligation to provide assistance to religious schools — by simply sending all its money to public schools; in that case no constitutional issue arises. In this sense Roberts stands by what he wrote in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue (6/30/2020): “A state need not subsidize private education. But once a state decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.” That’s fair, but I have mixed feelings. If a state is going to be generous enough to do something it’s not obligated to do in the first place, then perhaps it should have the right to set qualifications based on appropriate academic standards and exclude religious ones.

(3) New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen (6/23/22). The decision: States may not impose strict limits on carrying guns in public. Public possession of guns is a constitutional right under the Second Amendment. Written by Thomas for a 6-3 ruling. (6 conservatives; dissent by 3 liberals)
— Background: In most of the country gun owners can easily carry their weapons in public. But that’s been harder to do in New York and other states (California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island). New York’s law, which has been in place since 1913, says that to carry a concealed handgun in public, a person applying for a license has to show “proper cause,” or a specific need to carry the weapon.
— For the majority, Thomas states: “Because the State of New York issues public-carry licenses only when an applicant demonstrates a special need for self-defense, we conclude that the State’s licensing regime violates the Constitution. We know of no other constitutional right that an individual may exercise only after demonstrating to government officers some special need.” For the dissent, Breyer states: “The primary difference between the Court’s view and mine is that I believe the Amendment allows States to take account of the serious problems posed by gun violence.”
— The majority would be right if it was interpreting the Second Amendment correctly. As Thomas says, the idea that one must demonstrate a special need in order to exercise one’s amendment right is otherwise unheard of. But the Second Amendment doesn’t mean what many gun advocates believe that it means. The Second Amendment applies to militia; it’s not about sweeping inalienable gun rights for everyone. So I’m with the dissent on this one. It’s worth underscoring that the liberals are actually the Constitutional conservatives in this case, and the conservatives are the judiciary activists. That’s why I’m a conservative when it comes to the judiciary.

(4) Vega v. Tekoh (6/23/22). The decision: You can’t sue for monetary damages if your Miranda rights are violated. Written by Alito for a 6-3 ruling. (6 conservatives; dissent by 3 liberals)
— For the majority, Alito says that a violation of the Miranda right “is not itself a violation of the Fifth Amendment,” and that “we see no justification for expanding Miranda to confer a right to sue.”
— For the dissent, Kagan says that the court’s ruling strips “individuals of the ability to seek a remedy for violations of the right recognized in Miranda. The majority here, as elsewhere, injures the right by denying the remedy.” She’s right.
— Though I believe this is the wrong ruling, the impact won’t be as dire as some are making it out to be. The ruling doesn’t strike down Miranda rights. Miranda violation is still grounds for evidence being suppressed or convictions being overturned. The ruling arguably makes Miranda harder to enforce, because you can’t sue if your Miranda rights are violated — if the case never goes to trial, or if the government never seeks to use the statement, there’s no remedy for the government’s misconduct. On the other hand, lawsuits against police seldom have impact on police behavior anyway. The police department just pays them out of the city’s treasury and individual officers don’t suffer any consequences.

(5) Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization (6/24/22). The decision: The Constitution does not confer a right to an abortion. Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey are overruled. Written by Alito for a 6-3 ruling. (6 conservatives; dissent by 3 liberals)
— Alito writes for the majority: “Roe was egregiously wrong from the start. The Constitution does not confer a right to abortion; Roe and Casey are overruled; and the authority to regulate abortion is returned to the people and their elected representatives. The Constitution does not prohibit the citizens of each State from regulating or prohibiting abortion. Roe and Casey arrogated that authority.” Also: “The viability line, which Casey termed Roe’s central rule, makes no sense, and it is telling that other countries almost uniformly eschew such a line. The Court thus asserted raw judicial power to impose, as a matter of constitutional law, a uniform viability rule that allows the States less freedom to regulate abortion than the majority of western democracies enjoy.”
— Thomas concurs separately, saying that the due process clause also does not protect a right to an abortion.
— Kavanagh concurs separately, saying that the Constitution is neutral on abortion, and so the Court was wrong in Roe to weigh in and take a side.
— Roberts concurs partly, saying that he would have gotten rid of the viability line (the idea that the Constitution protects a right to an abortion until the fetus becomes viable), but he would not have decided anything else. So even though he upholds the Mississippi law’s abortion restrictions, he doesn’t share the majority’s reasoning in overturning Roe entirely. This is why it fell to the most senior justice of the majority (Thomas) to assign the writing of the opinion, rather than to Roberts as the chief justice. In actuality, Roberts’ “concurrence” reads almost as much as a dissent — chastising the court for a lack of judicial restraint in not rendering a more narrow opinion that wouldn’t have overruled Roe and Casey — but that’s an illusion, since his more narrow interpretation would have rendered Roe a dead letter anyway.
— The dissent is a joint dissent — very unusual, but not unprecedented — written by Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan: “With sorrow — for this Court, but more, for the many millions of American women who have today lost a fundamental constitutional protection — we dissent. The majority says that from the very moment of fertilization, a woman has no rights to speak of. A State can force her to bring a pregnancy to term, even at the steepest personal and familial costs. Because, as the Court has often stated, protecting fetal life is rational, States will feel free to enact all manner of restrictions.”
— Who’s right? I’m strongly pro-choice and don’t like this outcome at all. But the question is whether or not Roe v. Wade is Constitutional. You can make a strong case for either side, and that’s what happened here. I’m not going to say the ruling is wrong, but if I were a justice, I would have argued much as the dissent did.

(6) Kennedy v. Bremerton School District (6/27/22). The decision: The free exercise and free speech clauses protect a coach’s right to pray at midfield following high school football games. Written by Gorsuch for a 6-3 ruling. (6 conservatives; dissent by 3 liberals)
— Says Gorsuch: “the Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment protect expressions like Mr. Kennedy’s.” Really? “The fear of offending the Establishment Clause does not require the government to single out private religious speech for special disfavor.” But was Kennedy’s expression private? “The Constitution and the best of our traditions counsel mutual respect and tolerance, not censorship and suppression, for religious and nonreligious views alike.” Of course, but that doesn’t mean government employees can parade their religious expression in prominent ways when they’re on the clock.
— The Supreme Court has consistently rejected prayer in public schools when the prayer is officially required or part of a formal ceremony (like a high school graduation or sports game). Organized prayers led by students at high school football games were held to violate the First Amendment’s prohibition of government establishment of religion. “The delivery of a pregame prayer has the improper effect of coercing those present to participate in an act of religious worship,” wrote Justice John Paul Stevens 22 years ago (Santa Fe Independent School Dist. v. Doe, 6/19/2000)). Kennedy’s lawyers claimed that school prayers like that are irrelevant because they involve government speech, whereas Kennedy’s speech is private speech, not governmental. He insisted to the Supreme Court that he was acting on his own behalf in praying, not speaking as a mouthpiece for the school. The school district told a different story: that the students on the football team looked up to their coach and felt coerced into doing as he did. But frankly IMO it doesn’t matter if the students felt coerced or not. Kennedy was a mouthpiece for the school whether he intended to be or not. He was on the clock and engaging in a prominent public display of religiosity. The school officials have every right to tell him that such behavior is inappropriate for a government employee.
— Sotomayor dissented, joined by Breyer and Kagan, arguing that a public school is under no obligation to allow a school official to kneel, bow his head, and say a prayer at the center of a school event. “The Constitution does not authorize, let alone require, public schools to embrace this conduct.”
— The dissent is correct. The majority’s ruling will encourage government employees to express their faiths more openly while on the job. I think it’s important to note that this ruling is very different from the landmark case involving religious speech in public forums (Good News Club v. Milford Central School (6/11/01)). In that case, Clarence Thomas rightly wrote for the majority (and he was joined by the liberal Breyer, who dissented in this case) that a school district cannot prohibit the free speech rights of religious groups wanting access to a school district’s public forums. In that case, Milford Central School was trying to discriminate against religious speech by an evangelical Christian club for children, on grounds that its policy prohibited the use of school facilities for religious purposes. Thomas rightfully argued that the Establishment Clause argument didn’t carry weight because it wasn’t a mandatory classroom setting, and parents had to give permission for their children to attend the after-school meetings. Things work similarly at my public library. Religious groups are allowed to book our public meeting rooms on this very basis, as I believe they should be able to (as long as they’re non-profit). But public events involving staff who prominently express themselves religiously on the clock is another matter. It would be inappropriate for a pubic librarian to do something like that while on the job, and my library director would be fully within her rights to discipline one of her librarians for doing so.
— A note about Sotomayor: While I agree with her opinion, I wonder if she would have sung differently had this case involved a Muslim coach praying to Allah. Would she have adopted the same line — that the Constitution doesn’t require public schools to embrace such conduct — or would she have said that disciplining such a coach amounted to discrimination against Muslims? I’m confident that Kagan and Breyer’s judgment would have been the same, but Sotomayor I’m not sure about. Ditto with the majority: I have no doubts that Gorsuch would have written the same ruling on behalf of a Muslim coach (he makes a career of defending the rights of everyone under the sun, from the Native Americans, to the transgendered, to the religiously devout), but I could see any of the other five conservatives going differently in that case.

(7) Ruan v. United States (6/27/22). The decision: Prosecutors need a lot of proof to convict doctors who are accused of excessively prescribing addictive drugs. Written by Breyer for a 9-0 ruling.
— A sound ruling, saying that once doctors produce evidence that they are authorized to dispense drugs like opioids, prosecutors need to prove they knowingly or intentionally acted in an unauthorized manner.

(8) Concepcion v. United States (6/27/22). The decision: The First Step Act requires district courts to consider intervening changes of law in exercising their discretion to reduce a sentence. Written by Sotomayor, for a 5-4 ruling. (3 liberals + 2 conservatives; dissent by 4 conservatives)
— Background: In 2008, Carlos Concepcion pleaded guilty to crack cocaine charges, and in 2009 he was sentenced to 19 years in prison. While he was serving his sentence, Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced the statutory penalties for most federal crimes involving crack cocaine. In 2018 Congress made these changes retroactive, and Concepcion moved for resentencing. The district court denied his motion, and Concepcion appealed. The U.S. Court of Appeals affirmed, finding that the district court was not obligated to update and reevaluate the sentencing factors.
— Sotomayor wrote for the majority, joined by liberals Kagan and Breyer, and conservatives Thomas and Gorsuch. They overruled the lower courts, saying that the First Step Act requires district courts to at least consider intervening changes of law in exercising their discretion to reduce a sentence: “It follows that when deciding a First Step Act motion, district courts bear the standard obligation to explain their decisions and demonstrate that they considered the parties’ arguments. The First Step Act does not require a district court to be persuaded by the arguments raised by the parties before it, but it does require the court to consider them.”
— Kavanagh wrote for the dissent, joined by Roberts, Alito, and Barrett. “District courts have free rein either to take into account — or to completely disregard — intervening changes since the original sentencing.”
— I don’t have the competency to evaluate the First Step Act, but I’m persuaded by the majority’s reasoning.

(9) Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta (6/29/22). The decision: State authorities may prosecute non-Indians who commit crimes against Indians on Indian reservations. Written by Kavanaugh for a 5-4 ruling. (5 conservatives; dissent by 1 conservative + 3 liberals)
— The case involves Victor Manuel Castro-Huerta, a non-Native, who was convicted in an Oklahoma state court of child neglect and sentenced to 35 years. The victim (his stepdaughter) is Native American, and the crime was committed within the Cherokee Reservation.
— In his dissent (joined by the 3 liberals), Gorsuch rightly blasts the majority: “Where this Court once stood firm, today it wilts. Where our predecessors refused to participate in one State’s unlawful power grab at the expense of the Cherokee, today’s Court accedes to another.”
— Gorsuch is referring to McGirt v. Oklahoma (7/9/2020), which held that states cannot prosecute crimes committed on Native American lands without federal approval. But this ruling left open the question of non-Natives who commit crimes on Native lands. Gorsuch wrote the opinion for McGirt two years ago, and was joined by the 4 liberal justices at the time. Today’s ruling should have gone the same way, but with Ginsburg replaced by Barrett, it was not fated to be.
— Gorsuch is also referring to the landmark ruling of Worcester v. Georgia (1823), which has persisted for over 200 years: Native tribes retain their sovereignty unless and until Congress ordains otherwise. Gorsuch indicts his “conservative” colleagues for going back on the U.S. government’s promise to respect, honor and uphold tribal sovereignty. In fact, it is Gorsuch who is the proper judiciary conservative here, along with the liberals.

(10) Biden v. Texas (6/30/22). The decision: The Biden administration can end the Trump-era immigration program that forced asylum seekers arriving at the southwestern border to await approval in Mexico. Written by Roberts for a 5-4 ruling. (2 conservatives + 3 liberals; dissent by 4 conservatives)
— In other words, the Biden administration is not obligated to continue enforcing the Migrant Protection Protocols, because the Biden Department of Homeland Security decision to end the policy has legal effect. It seems a no-brainer, since immigration policies are determined by the executive in charge. The legal question is whether immigration authorities, with far less detention capacity than needed, must send people to Mexico or whether they have discretion under federal law to release asylum-seekers into the United States while they awaited their hearings.
— Roberts was joined by Kavanaugh, Kagan, Sotomayor, and Breyer. Barrett partly agreed with the majority, but dissented on other points, joined by Thomas, Alito, and Gorsuch. It’s a complex case, but I think I’m with the majority.

(11) West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency. The decision: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not have the power to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants without authorization from Congress. Written by Roberts for a 6-3 ruling. (6 conservatives; dissent by 3 liberals)
— Says Roberts: The EPA “must point to clear congressional authorization for the power it claims. Capping carbon dioxide emissions at a level that will force a nationwide transition away from the use of coal to generate electricity may be a sensible solution to the crisis of the day, but it is not plausible that Congress gave EPA the authority to adopt on its own such a regulatory scheme.”
— The ruling means that agencies like the EPA cannot create regulations that have expansive social and economic impacts on their own, despite decades of precedent doing just that. Such rules now require Congress to specifically create laws to implement them, and given the difficulty of passing federal legislation, the EPA’s ability to regulate pollution that’s baking the planet is now seriously impaired.
— Kagan is in top form, writing for the dissent: “Today, the Court strips the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the power Congress gave it to respond to ‘the most pressing environmental challenge of our time’. The limits the majority now puts on EPA’s authority fly in the face of the statute Congress wrote. The majority says it is simply ‘not plausible’ that Congress enabled EPA to regulate power plants’ emissions through generation shifting. But that is just what Congress did when it broadly authorized EPA to select the ‘best system of emission reduction’ for power plants. The ‘best system’ full stop — no ifs, ands, or buts of any kind relevant here. The parties do not dispute that generation shifting is indeed the ‘best system’ — the most effective and efficient way to reduce power plants’ carbon dioxide emissions. And no other provision in the Clean Air Act suggests that Congress meant to foreclose EPA from selecting that system; to the contrary, the Plan’s regulatory approach fits hand-in-glove with the rest of the statute. The majority’s decision rests on one claim alone: that generation shifting is just too new and too big a deal for Congress to have authorized it in Section 111’s general terms. But that is wrong. A key reason Congress makes broad delegations like Section 111 is so an agency can respond, appropriately and commensurately, to new and big problems. Congress knows what it doesn’t and can’t know when it drafts a statute; and Congress therefore gives an expert agency the power to address issues — even significant ones — as and when they arise. That is what Congress did in enacting Section 111. The majority today overrides that legislative choice. In so doing, it deprives EPA of the power needed—and the power granted—to curb the emission of greenhouse gases… Whatever else this Court may know about, it does not have a clue about how to address climate change. And let’s say the obvious: The stakes here are high. Yet the Court today prevents congressionally authorized agency action to curb power plants’ carbon dioxide emissions. The Court appoints itself—instead of Congress or the expert agency—the decision-maker on climate policy. I cannot think of many things more frightening.”

Songs That Might Save Me From Vecna

I don’t think I can name a favorite song (unlike films and novels, my favorite songs are always in flux), but here are some that might do the trick for me if I needed to escape Vecna.

A Sort of Homecoming, by U2. This one comes first to mind. One of the best songs ever written, providing “a high-road out from here” (Vecna’s nightmare), with a melody and lyrics forming a perfect liberation: “And still we run, we run and don’t look back…”

Keep Me A Space, by Glasvegas. A song about childhood friends that drift apart but then come together again (very reminiscent of Stranger Things 4). Compulsive and drenched in emotion.

Pictures of You, by the Cure. I thought of this one when Max remembered all the images of the good times she had with her friends.

Ode to My Family, by the Cranberries. Like “Pictures of You”, but for family memories.

Disarm, by The Smashing Pumpkins. Child abuse is one of the many traumas Vecna loves to exploit in his victims, and this song is about an abused boy overcoming his retributive killer instincts.

Release, by Pearl Jam. The repeated cry of “release me” says it all.

Prime Mover, by Rush. This song feels liberating. “Anything can happen” involves magnetic needles “moving back and forth” (shades of shadow gates) and suggests limitless possibilities if you have the will for them.

— These three are probably too depressing for most people. For me they might work.

No Surprises, by Radiohead. About the “handshake of carbon monoxide”, or the way we live our unhappy lives which amounts to killing ourselves. Yet it’s so transcendent, almost purely so.

Graffiti, by Chvrches. An ode to childhood friendship inspired by Stand By Me, so it’s a perfect Stranger Things theme. But it’s about the disappointing fantasies of kids who want their childhood relationships to continue into adulthood. “I’ve been waiting for my whole life to grow old… And now we never will, never will…”

You’ll Be Mine, by The Psychedelic Furs. This one is risky. The clock theme (“like the ticking of the time”) and refrain (“you’ll be mine”) sounds like it’s Vecna’s song, especially with the eschatological overtones. But I like it so much, perhaps it would be like using Vecna’s own apocalyptic weapons against him.

Revised Stranger Things Quiz

Updated to include season 4. Take the quiz directly here or read below.

1. Who do we see killing the most people in season 1?

a. Dr. Brenner
b. Eleven
c. The Demogorgon
d. Connie Frazier

2. Who made the spiked bat?

a. Mike
b. Steve
c. Jonathan
d. Nancy

3. The boys are flipping mad at Eleven when she says she knows where Will is, and leads them to his house. Why did she lead them there?

a. It’s actually where Will is.
b. She was slightly off-steered by her powers. Will is in the quarry close by, where they race to find him next.
c. She was deliberately misleading them. She doesn’t want them to find Will for fear of the consequences.
d. She wanted to warn Joyce Byers to leave the house.

4. What movie poster is hanging in Mike’s basement?

a. The Empire Strikes Back
b. Poltergeist
c. The Evil Dead
d. The Thing

5. Whose family is Republican?

a. Mike Wheeler’s
b. Lucas Sinclair’s
c. Dustin Henderson’s
d. Will Byers’

6. Which is NOT another name for Will Byers?

a. Will the Wise
b. The Spy
c. Zombie Kid
d. Freak

7. Which film was NOT an influence on season 1?

a. Stand by Me
b. Blade Runner
c. E.T.
d. Alien

8. Which was NOT a place that Eleven called “home” at some point?

a. Mike’s basement
b. Hopper’s cabin
c. Her Aunt Becky’s
d. The abandoned warehouse taken over by Kali and her crew

9. Who doesn’t know how to shoot a gun?

a. Will
b. Jonathan
c. Mike
d. Nancy

10. Who founded the Hawkins Middle School AV Club?

a. Bob Newby
b. Mr. Clarke
c. Lucas’s father
d. Jonathan Byers

11. Which of the following is NOT a rule for Eleven under Hopper’s roof?

a. Always keep the curtains drawn.
b. Only open the door if you hear my secret knock.
c. Don’t play outside unless you ask my permission first.
d. Dinner first, and only then dessert.

12. In their argument over Ghostbuster costumes, Lucas essentially accused Mike of being:

a. forgetful
b. racist
c. bossy
d. stupid

13. Who do we see killing the most people in season 2?

a. Terry Ives
b. Will
c. Eleven
d. Kali

14. Whose house is this?

a. Mike’s
b. Will’s
c. Lucas’s
d. Dustin’s

15. Which film was NOT an influence on season 2?

a. Near Dark
b. The Exorcist
c. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
d. Aliens

16. After Will is pronounced dead in season 1, only Joyce Byers refuses to accept it. Not including Joyce, who first becomes convinced that Will is still alive?

a. Mike, when Eleven channels Will’s voice over his walkie-talkie
b. Hopper, when he sees the fake body at the morgue
c. Nancy and Jonathan, when they share information at the funeral home, and then examine the photo of Barb by the swimming pool
d. Lonnie Byers, when he is shocked by the damage Joyce has done to her house

17. TO WHOM was the following statement said? “Nobody normal ever accomplished anything meaningful in this world.”

a. Terry Ives
b. Eleven
c. Will
d. Dart the Pollywog

18. In Mike’s fantasy, Lucas is a ranger, Dustin is a bard, Will is a cleric, and Eleven is a mage. What is he?

a. a thief
b. a druid
c. a paladin
d. a ninja

19. To make it easy to enter the Void and spy on people, Eleven has used all of the following EXCEPT:

a. a photo of the person she’s spying on
b. Christmas lights
c. radio waves
d. a sensory deprivation tank

20. Which literary/cinematic character is Eleven NOT based on?

a. Princess Leia from Star Wars
b. Lucy from Elfen Lied
c. E.T. from E.T.
d. Charlie McGee from Firestarter

21. In the final episode of season 2, Eleven goes to the lab with Hopper in order to close the Gate. But they have to wait for Will to be given an exorcism by his mother, Jonathan, and Nancy. (So that Will won’t die when the Gate closes.) Meanwhile, there is a third team — consisting of Mike, Lucas, Dustin, Max, and Steve — who go into the underground tunnels to set them on fire. Why do they do this?

a. To eradicate the shadow vines completely
b. To draw the demo-dogs away from Eleven
c. To distract the Mind Flayer and weaken his hold on Will
d. Because they’re pyromaniacs itching for arson

22. At the Snow Ball all four boys end up dancing with a girl. Who is the only boy who asks that girl to dance with him (as opposed to the girl being the proactive one)?

a. Lucas
b. Will
c. Dustin
d. Mike

23. Which film was NOT an influence on season 3?

a. Day of the Dead
b. The Abyss
c. The Blob
d. The Terminator

24. In season 3, Eleven defeats the Mind Flayer through the power of _____.

a. illusions
b. telekinesis
c. a shared memory
d. a sonic yell

25. Who do we see killing the most people in season 4?

a. One
b. Eleven
c. Dr. Brenner
d. Jim Hopper

26. Which film was NOT an influence on season 4?

a. Hellraiser
b. Nightmare on Elm Street
c. Shutter Island
d. Last House on the Left

27. Which famous gay mathematician does Will choose for his class presentation at Lenora High?

a. Andrei Nikolayevich
b. Paul Erdos
c. Alan Turing
d. Ludwig Wittgenstein

28. During Mike’s California visit, Eleven becomes hurt because:

a. He won’t have sex with her
b. He signs his letters and cards, “From Mike” instead of “Love Mike”
c. She realizes that Will is in love with Mike too
d. Joyce insists that she and Mike sleep in separate rooms

29. Where does Hopper enjoy a brief moment of peanut-butter freedom, before getting captured and imprisoned again?

a. a store
b. a communal kitchen
c. a school
d. a church

30. Eleven is taken to the Silo Lab by Sam Owens to regain her powers. Where is the lab located?

a. California
b. Nevada
c. Utah
d. New Mexico

31. The Nina project involves all of the following EXCEPT:

a. a computer program
b. a sensory deprivation tank
c. memory therapy
d. time travel

32. Where does the name “Nina” come from?

a. an Icelandic poem
b. a Norwegian princess
c. a French opera
d. a Russian novel

33. When investigating the haunted Creel House, Max is worried about listening to Kate Bush on a 46-minute loop. Her concern is that

a. She won’t be able to hear her friends shout for help
b. Hearing her favorite song too much will make her sick of it, and the song will lose its potency against Vecna
c. Her walkman is old and eats a lot of tapes
d. Lucas hates Kate Bush

34. Suzie’s siblings are demented kid-geniuses. Which of the following activities are these rugrats NOT engaged in, when Mike, Will, Jonathan, and Argyle crash Suzie’s home?

a. Overcooking lamb for the family meal
b. Sword-and-shield bashing
c. Filming a family member strangling herself on the floor
d. Shutting down the household electricity

35. Who rules the Upside Down? The Mind Flayer or Vecna?

a. The Mind Flayer
b. Vecna

36. When Nancy, Steve, and Robin enter Vecna’s house, they soon become ensnared by the vines crawling over the walls and floors. What eventually causes the vines to weaken and release their captives?

a. Steve cutting open a large vine, which hurts all the vines in the house
b. Eddie’s furious guitar rifts
c. Eleven’s comeback when Mike tells her that he loves her and that she needs to keep fighting
d. The demogorgons dying from Murray’s flamethrower

37. What novel is Lucas reading to Max in the hospital, and what elements of the story resonate with Max’s tragedy?

a. The Dead Zone, by Stephen King (the main character goes into a coma for many years)
b. Shadowland, by Peter Straub (two kids go into a shadow world and one of them dies)
c. The Talisman, by Stephen King & Peter Straub (involving a dark parallel world and a character who is blind)
d. Legion, by William Peter Blatty (involving a string of serial killings committed by a very powerful entity)

38. In which season do none of the protagonists enter the Upside Down?

a. Season 1
b. Season 2
c. Season 3
d. Season 4

39. Which season does not feature a Dungeons & Dragons game being played?

a. Season 1
b. Season 2
c. Season 3
d. Season 4

40. There isn’t much about season 3 in this quiz. Stranger Things 1, 2, and 4 are masterpieces of modern TV, while Stranger Things 3 is best described as:

a. a lazy sitcom with hollow humor
b. a cartooning of Jim Hopper
c. containing one excellent episode (the finale) and the rest mediocre
d. all of the above

***********************************

ANSWERS

1. Who do we see killing the most people in season 1?

a. Dr. Brenner
b. Eleven
c. The Demogorgon
d. Connie Frazier

b. Eleven kills sixteen people: two men chasing her at Benny’s, two orderlies who tried to lock her up, four people in the van that she flipped, and eight lab-agents at the school. The Demogorgon kills seven people: four people working at the lab, two unnamed Hawkins residents, and Barb. Connie Frazier kills one person (Benny Hammond), and Dr. Brenner kills no one.

2. Who made the spiked bat?

a. Mike
b. Steve
c. Jonathan
d. Nancy

c. Although Steve ended up using it more than anyone else, it was Jonathan who made the thing.

3. The boys are flipping mad at Eleven when she says she knows where Will is, and leads them to his house. Why did she lead them there?

a. It’s actually where Will is.
b. She was slightly off-steered by her powers. Will is in the quarry close by, where they race to find him next.
c. She was deliberately misleading them. She doesn’t want them to find Will for fear of the consequences.
d. She wanted to warn Joyce Byers to leave the house.

a. She was trying to convey the fact that this is actually where Will is, but in a different dimension (the Byers home in the shadow world).

4. What movie poster is hanging in Mike’s basement?

a. The Empire Strikes Back
b. Poltergeist
c. The Evil Dead
d. The Thing

d. The Thing

5. Whose family is Republican?

a. Mike Wheeler’s
b. Lucas Sinclair’s
c. Dustin Henderson’s
d. Will Byers’

a. In season 2, there is a sign on the Wheeler front lawn for “Reagan/Bush ’84”.

6. Which is NOT another name for Will Byers?

a. Will the Wise
b. The Spy
c. Zombie Kid
d. Freak

c. “Will the Wise” is his D&D name. “The Spy” is what Mike calls him when he becomes dominated by the Mind Flayer. “Freak” is what bullies call him, and what he calls himself when complaining to Jonathan. “Zombie Boy” is what many kids at school call him — but not “Zombie Kid”.

7. Which film was NOT an influence on season 1?

a. Stand by Me
b. Blade Runner
c. E.T.
d. Alien

b. Blade Runner

8. Which was NOT a place that Eleven called “home” at some point?

a. Mike’s basement
b. Hopper’s cabin
c. Her Aunt Becky’s
d. The abandoned warehouse taken over by Kali and her crew

a. Although she came to think of Mike’s basement as her home while she stayed there, she never actually called it that, unlike the other three places.

9. Who doesn’t know how to shoot a gun?

a. Will
b. Jonathan
c. Mike
d. Nancy

c. Mike

10. Who founded the Hawkins Middle School AV Club?

a. Bob Newby
b. Mr. Clarke
c. Lucas’s father
d. Jonathan Byers

a. Bob Newby

11. Which of the following is NOT a rule for Eleven under Hopper’s roof?

a. Always keep the curtains drawn.
b. Only open the door if you hear my secret knock.
c. Don’t play outside unless you ask my permission first.
d. Dinner first, and only then dessert.

c. Eleven is not to play outside at all. The rule is that she is never to go outside alone, unaccompanied by Hopper.

12. In their argument over Ghostbuster costumes, Lucas essentially accused Mike of being:

a. forgetful
b. racist
c. bossy
d. stupid

b. Mike insisted that Lucas had to be Winston, because Winston is black.

13. Who do we see killing the most people in season 2?

a. Terry Ives
b. Will
c. Eleven
d. Kali

b. Will kills at least 46 people when he is possessed by the Mind Flayer, using demo-dogs through the hive mind: seven lab scientists (in episode 6), six lab technicians (in episode 8), and thirty-three lab personnel who go down into the tunnels where he sends them (in episode 8). Each of the other three kill only one person in season 2: Eleven kills a hunter with a flaming log in order steal his coat (either that, or she knocks him out and leaves him to freeze to death). Terry Ives kills a lab guard, in a flashback of her trying to rescue her daughter from Dr. Brenner. Kali kills a guy who used to work at the lab, when Eleven refuses to do the job.

14. Whose house is this?

a. Mike’s
b. Will’s
c. Lucas’s
d. Dustin’s

d. Dustin’s

15. Which film was NOT an influence on season 2?

a. Near Dark
b. The Exorcist
c. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
d. Aliens

a. Near Dark

16. After Will is pronounced dead in season 1, only Joyce Byers refuses to accept it. Not including Joyce, who first becomes convinced that Will is still alive?

a. Mike, when Eleven channels Will’s voice over his walkie-talkie
b. Hopper, when he sees the fake body at the morgue
c. Nancy and Jonathan, when they share information at the funeral home, and then examine the photo of Barb by the swimming pool
d. Lonnie Byers, when he is shocked by the damage Joyce has done to her house

a. Mike is the one who first learns that Will is still alive, and he promptly tells Lucas and Dustin. Nancy and Jonathan are the next ones to figure it out, when they see the demogorgon in Jonathan’s photo, and conclude that both Barb and Will might still be alive. Hopper finds out last, when he breaks into the morgue and cuts into Will’s fake body. (As for Lonnie, he never figures it out.)

17. TO WHOM was the following statement said? “Nobody normal ever accomplished anything meaningful in this world.”

a. Terry Ives
b. Eleven
c. Will
d. Dart the Pollywog

c. Jonathan said this to Will, to assure him there was nothing wrong with being a freak.

18. In Mike’s fantasy, Lucas is a ranger, Dustin is a bard, Will is a cleric, and Eleven is a mage. What is he?

a. a thief
b. a druid
c. a paladin
d. a ninja

c. a paladin.

19. To make it easy to enter the Void and spy on people, Eleven has used all of the following EXCEPT:

a. a photo of the person she’s spying on
b. Christmas lights
c. radio waves
d. a sensory deprivation tank

b. Christmas lights

20. Which literary/cinematic character is Eleven NOT based on?

a. Princess Leia from Star Wars
b. Lucy from Elfen Lied
c. E.T. from E.T.
d. Charlie McGee from Firestarter

a. Like Lucy from Elfen Lied, Eleven escaped from a lab where scientists were performing unethical experiments on her. Like E.T., she was essentially an alien encountering the human world for the first time after her escape from the lab. Like Charlie McGee, she has deadly psychic powers, thanks to a parent who took experimental drugs. She is not like Princess Leia in any meaningful way.

21. In the final episode of season 2, Eleven goes to the lab with Hopper in order to close the Gate. But they have to wait for Will to be given an exorcism by his mother, Jonathan, and Nancy. (So that Will won’t die when the Gate closes.) Meanwhile, there is a third team — consisting of Mike, Lucas, Dustin, Max, and Steve — who go into the underground tunnels to set them on fire. Why do they do this?

a. To eradicate the shadow vines completely
b. To draw the demo-dogs away from Eleven
c. To distract the Mind Flayer and weaken his hold on Will
d. Because they’re pyromaniacs itching for arson

b. To draw the demo-dogs away from Eleven

22. At the Snow Ball all four boys end up dancing with a girl. Who is the only boy who asks that girl to dance with him (as opposed to the girl being the proactive one)?

a. Lucas
b. Will
c. Dustin
d. Mike

d. Lucas tries to ask Max to dance but can’t get the words out, and Max drags him out onto the dance floor. Will is asked to dance by an unnamed girl. Dustin is asked to dance by Nancy. Mike is the only one who asks (Eleven), “Do you want to dance?”

23. Which film was NOT an influence on season 3?

a. Day of the Dead
b. The Abyss
c. The Blob
d. The Terminator

b. The Abyss

24. In season 3, Eleven defeats the Mind Flayer through the power of _____.

a. illusions
b. telekinesis
c. a shared memory
d. a sonic yell

c. Eleven reaches Billy by describing a moment from his childhood that she had experienced while inside his mind. This enables him to break loose from the Mind Flayer’s control and sacrifice himself, thereby saving El and her friends.

25. Who do we see killing the most people in season 4?

a. One
b. Eleven
c. Dr. Brenner
d. Jim Hopper

a. One kills the most people in season 4, even if you ignore his kills as the child Henry Creel and the creature Vecna. As One he kills about 30-35 people at the Hawkins Lab (kids, guards/soldiers, and doctors/orderlies); as Henry Creel he kills his mother and sister; as Vecna he kills Chrissy, Fred, Patrick, and Max. For a total of about 40. Eleven kills three Nina Project guards and two military soldiers in a helicopter, for a total of five people. Jim Hopper kills six Russian guards. Dr. Brenner kills no one.

26. Which film was NOT an influence on season 4?

a. Hellraiser
b. Nightmare on Elm Street
c. Shutter Island
d. Last House on the Left

d. Last House on the Left

27. Which famous gay mathematician does Will choose for his class presentation at Lenora High?

a. Andrei Nikolayevich
b. Paul Erdos
c. Alan Turing
d. Ludwig Wittgenstein

c. You can see Alan Turing’s name on Will’s project as he’s walking down the school hall with Eleven.

28. During Mike’s California visit, Eleven becomes hurt because:

a. He won’t have sex with her
b. He signs his letters and cards, “From Mike” instead of “Love Mike”
c. She realizes that Will is in love with Mike too
d. Joyce insists that she and Mike sleep in separate rooms

b. He signs his letters and cards, “From Mike” instead of “Love Mike”.

29. Where does Hopper enjoy a brief moment of peanut-butter freedom, before getting captured and imprisoned again?

a. a store
b. a communal kitchen
c. a school
d. a church

d. a church

30. Eleven is taken to the Silo Lab by Sam Owens to regain her powers. Where is the lab located?

a. California
b. Nevada
c. Utah
d. New Mexico

b. Nevada

31. The Nina project involves all of the following EXCEPT:

a. a computer program
b. a sensory deprivation tank
c. memory therapy
d. time travel

d. The Nina Project is a computer program that functions when El immerses herself in a sensory deprivation tank. She takes a drug that allows her to re-experience the past, and to retrain her brain through memories, especially traumatic ones. But there is no actual time travel involved.

32. Where does the name “Nina” come from?

a. an Icelandic poem
b. a Norwegian princess
c. a French opera
d. a Russian novel

c. The opera was written by the French composer Nicolas Dalayrac, and first performed in 1786.

33. When investigating the haunted Creel House, Max is worried about listening to Kate Bush on a 46-minute loop. Her concern is that

a. She won’t be able to hear her friends shout for help
b. Hearing her favorite song too much will make her sick of it, and the song will lose its potency against Vecna
c. Her walkman is old and eats a lot of tapes
d. Lucas hates Kate Bush

b. She fears that Kate Bush may “lose her magic” through overplay.

34. Suzie’s siblings are demented kid-geniuses. Which of the following activities are these rugrats NOT engaged in, when Mike, Will, Jonathan, and Argyle crash Suzie’s home?

a. Overcooking lamb for the family meal
b. Sword-and-shield bashing
c. Filming a family member strangling herself on the floor
d. Shutting down the household electricity

a. The only thing the kids are doing to the family meal is pouring too much salt on it.

35. Who rules the Upside Down? The Mind Flayer or Vecna?

a. The Mind Flayer
b. Vecna

b. Though Dustin hypothesizes that Vecna is the Mind Flayer’s top general, in the season-4 finale we learn that Vecna created the Mind Flayer.

36. When Nancy, Steve, and Robin enter Vecna’s house, they soon become ensnared by the vines crawling over the walls and floors. What eventually causes the vines to weaken and release their captives?

a. Steve cutting open a large vine, which hurts all the vines in the house
b. Eddie’s furious guitar rifts
c. Eleven’s comeback when Mike tells her that he loves her and that she needs to keep fighting
d. The demogorgons dying from Murray’s flamethrower

d. As soon as Murray incinerates the pack of demogorgons in Russia, the pain is felt by the shadow creatures in Indiana: Vecna moans as he battles Eleven; the demo-bats harassing Eddie fall to the ground; and the vines holding Nancy, Steve, and Robin loosen and fall away.

37. What novel is Lucas reading to Max in the hospital, and what elements of the story resonate with Max’s tragedy?

a. The Dead Zone, by Stephen King (the main character goes into a coma for many years)
b. Shadowland, by Peter Straub (two kids go into a shadow world and one of them dies)
c. The Talisman, by Stephen King & Peter Straub (involving a dark parallel world and a character who is blind)
d. Legion, by William Peter Blatty (involving a string of serial killings committed by a very powerful entity)

c. The Talisman, by Stephen King & Peter Straub. Lucas is reading a passage from the book that mentions the character Speedy, who is blind. Max went blind before she died.

38. In which season do none of the protagonists enter the Upside Down?

a. Season 1
b. Season 2
c. Season 3
d. Season 4

c. Only Billy enters the Upside Down in season 3 (the scene where he confronts his doppelganger).

39. Which season does not feature a Dungeons & Dragons game being played?

a. Season 1
b. Season 2
c. Season 3
d. Season 4

b. Season 2

40. There isn’t much about season 3 in this quiz. Stranger Things 1, 2, and 4 are masterpieces of modern TV, while Stranger Things 3 is best described as:

a. a lazy sitcom with hollow humor
b. a cartooning of Jim Hopper
c. containing one excellent episode (the finale) and the rest mediocre
d. all of the above

d. Of course.

***********************************

YOUR SCORE (OUT OF 40)

 

0-8

9-16

17-24

25-32

33-40

The Misery of Eleven (I): “I Do Not Belong”

Millie Bobby Brown says she loves this scene in Stranger Things 4. Her character Eleven tears Mike a new one for not treating her properly, meaning he can’t say that he loves her. It sounds like garden variety soap opera, except that it isn’t, because it’s, well, El that we’re dealing with, about whom nothing is banal or ordinary. And she has bankrolls of excuse for her complaints. This season could well have been subtitled “Eleven’s suicidal misery”. On top of all the bullying and feelings of worthlessness, she has a distant boyfriend who is clueless about sensitivity and oblivious to her daily suffering.

Some of that’s her own fault, granted. She’s gone out of her way to hide the bullying and put on an air of sunshine — which makes her plight all the more heartbreaking — so that Mike’s California visit will be a happy one, indeed “the best spring break ever”. It turns out the opposite — as we know it must, as soon as they put on their roller skates — but even worse than the Rink-O-Mania horror is the way Mike deals with the fallout. In her bedroom he defensively piles on platitudes, assuring El that she is the most incredible person ever, a superhero, which is no longer true — and even if it were, it’s the wrong fucking thing to say. It’s a great scene that shows Mike so obtuse, and El so alone, with no place in the world to be understood or loved, even by those who try. “I do not belong,” she says to Mike, who can’t digest her meaning. As a monster (who just gave her bully a grade-2 concussion) she’s despised by her peers, and as a superhero she’s now defunct. How can she belong?

The build-up to this scene occurs throughout the previous episode. At the airport we catch El’s first flicker of annoyance as Mike gives her flowers. The note says, “To El, From Mike” (not “Love Mike”), and the look on her face signals hurt… but also a subtle slow-building wrath. The wrath explodes later in the day on the skating rink, when her bully Angela pushes her over the edge and provokes El to smash her face with a roller skate (a priceless scene worth watching here). The next day, after her fight with Mike, the cops come to arrest her, and the interrogation scene at the station shows more un-belonging. When the cops ask her why she hit Angela, and she replies “I don’t know,” she’s not being flippant; she’s genuinely unsure. Her violent impulses harvested at the Hawkins Lab may as well be part of her DNA. And to the question, “Did you want to kill her?”, instead of replying “no” like anyone would (whether honestly or not), El says again — and very honestly — “I don’t know.”

Brown plays these scenes flawlessly as usual, and her ability to convey a wide range of emotion — especially in silence — is something most actors (even veteran adults) can’t pull off quite this well. I doubt that Stranger Things would be the phenomenon that it is — or at least to the degree that it is — had a different actor been cast for Eleven. This season in particular puts her through the ringer in every frame: from her bullying trials in California, to her Nina trials in Nevada, to her harrowing confrontation with Vecna in Hawkins. (I’ll cover the latter two in later posts.) In seasons 1 and 2 she at least had a few saving moments of happiness, but in season 4 she remains mired at rock bottom, hopefully so she can transcend herself. She will never fully “belong”, but perhaps in season 5 she will be more at peace with herself, having wrestled with her season-4 demons present and past.

One more thing about Mike and El’s bedroom argument. It’s worth noting how different it is from their ridiculous fight and break-up at the mall in season 3, when El bitchily “dumped Mike’s ass” over a stupid slight. It’s one of the worst scenes in the series (which you can watch here), and like other season-3 scenes played for comedy that misses the humor mark entirely. Mike and El were reduced to bickering caricatures in that outing, and it’s a relief to see season 4 taking them seriously again. And giving them a fight they deserve.

 

Eddie Van Halen Munson: The Secret Hero of Stranger Things 4

One of my favorite scenes in Stranger Things 4 comes in the school cafeteria, where Eddie Van Halen Munson regales his pals by mocking the D&D Satanic Panic. He reads the following from a Newsweek article:

“The Devil has come to America. Dungeons & Dragons, at first regarded as a harmless game of make-believe, now has both parents and psychologists concerned. Studies have linked violent behavior to the game, saying it promotes Satanic worship, ritual sacrifice, sodomy, suicide, and even murder.”

To which he and his Hellfire buddies have a good laugh. The article is called “D and D: The Devil’s Game”, and is shown to be from the March 3, 1986 of Newsweek (the episode takes place on March 21), but no such article was ever printed in the 3/3/86 issue. Newsweek did cover the D&D Satanic panic six months prior to the setting of Stranger Things 4, in the September 9, 1985 issue: “Kids: The Deadliest Game?” called out the paranoia for what it was, concluding that parents (often religious ones) wanted a scapegoat for teen mental health problems.

It’s easy to join Eddie, Mike, and Dustin in laughing at the fundie idiocy (you can watch the scene here), but no one’s laughing when the Satanic Panic comes to Hawkins, and the jocks — led by Captain Jason — ignite a crusade at a town hall. It happens in episode 6 (you can watch that scene here), when after a string of serial killings Eddie Van Halen Munson is blamed for them, denounced as a vessel of diabolical evil. This triggers a vigilante witch-hunt for him and other members of the Hellfire Club.

The Duffers milked the Panic for all its worth and it’s fantastic drama. I came of age during the Panic and was only slightly older than Mike and Dustin. I knew how the D&D game was being scapegoated though never got a direct taste. I was an Episcopalian attending Roman Catholic High School, and the Catholics (whether Anglican or Roman) just weren’t good for these kind of fears. My high school was conservative to say the least, both socially and politically, but D&D was never seen as a problem. Students didn’t bully others (that I saw) and teachers supported the gaming club. For panic attacks, you needed fire-and-brimstone fundies and evangelicals.

Eddie Van Halen Munson is the secret hero of Stranger Things 4. Not just because he finally steps up and stares down the Upside-Down with his guitar, but for his cafeteria wisdom in the first episode — and unabashed pronouncements like “forced conformity is what’s really killing kids”. If not for D&D, my teen years would have been a lot less imaginative and rewarding. I’m glad I never conformed to what was popular or in vogue. Today D&D has become very popular, but the same principle holds: you don’t have to conform to whatever sanitized or woke standards are being imposed on the game. Do your thing. And be proud to be unpopular for it.