Jason Carver’s Satanic Panic

In my recent marathon of Stranger Things 4 (celebrating my birthday with a friend) I was struck by the levels of irony in Jason’s town hall speech. This speech follows the slaying of Patrick, which Jason witnessed first hand.

Jason: “Last night I saw things… things I can’t explain. Things the police don’t want to believe. Things that I don’t want to believe myself. But I know what I saw. And I’ve come to accept an awful truth: these murders are ritualistic sacrifices. We’ve all heard about how Satanic cults are spreading to our country like some disease, and Eddie Munson is the leader of one of these cults. A cult that operates right here in Hawkins. The mall fire. All those unexplained deaths over the years. Some people, they say our town is cursed, they just don’t know why, but now we do. Now we know.” [Takes out a flier and holds it up.] “They call themselves ‘Hellfire.’ ”

Erica: “That’s bullshit! The Hellfire isn’t a cult. It’s a club for nerds.”

Jason: “A club… a harmless club! That’s what they want you to think. But it’s a lie. A lie designed to conceal the truth. And now this cult is protecting its leader, Eddie. Hiding him, allowing him to continue his rampage. Last night I became overcome with this feeling of hopelessness. Then I remembered Romans 12:21: ‘Do not be overcome by evil. But overcome evil with good.’ And God knows there’s good in this town. So much good — it’s in this room! It’s in this room, right here! Right now! So I came here today humbly, to ask for your help. To join me in this fight. Let us cast out this evil and save Hawkins. Together!”

The takeaway from this scene is clear: Jason is a jerk, who in defiance of police authority instigates a vigilante manhunt. He’s a stand-in for the Christian fundies of the ’80s, who claimed that Dungeons & Dragons is an evil game that calls forth demonic activity, and encourages ritualistic sacrifice. He’s a fanatic who gets worse as the show progresses.

What often goes unmentioned is how right Jason is. He indeed knows what he saw: Patrick being levitated into the air, his bones snapped and eyes gouged out by an invisible force. It’s clear that Patrick wasn’t killed by a human being or an animal, which means that Chrissy and Fred (the earlier victims) weren’t either. Having witnessed Patrick’s inexplicable slaughter, Jason is quite rational to assume that a demonic force of some kind is the serial killer (Vecna is for all intents and purposes a “demon”), and he’s absolutely right that these murders are ritualistic sacrifices. Four sacrifices are necessary for Vecna to escape his mental prison and start the apocalypse.

And while Jason is wrong about Eddie and the Hellfire Club, his accusations are again entirely reasonable. After all, Chrissy was killed in Eddie’s trailer, and Eddie has been a fugitive ever since, hiding from the police. We as audience members know the truth of Eddie, but if I were in Jason’s shoes — if I had a girlfriend who was killed and broken apart hideously in the home of a guy she had never associated with, and that guy subsequently vanished — he would be my number one suspect. And if I later saw a teammate of mine killed in the same fashion (in close proximity to Eddie, my number one suspect), and this time I saw the killing as it happened (by an invisible force), then I would, very logically, put two and two together: that Eddie Munson is summoning the evil force that is killing people… and for that matter, Eddie’s entire Hellfire Club could be involved in the ritualistic evil.

We’re supposed to see officers Powell and Calahan as rational for scorning ideas about the supernatural and ritualistic murder, just as we’re meant to disdain Jason and his buddies for fanning the flames of “Satanic Panic” paranoia. The twist is that those paranoias aren’t so irrational in the context of a Stranger Things drama. Jason is an asshole, but his deductions are 100% logical and at least 50% correct. He’s wrong to endorse vigilantism, though you can hardly blame him for being frustrated with the police who refuse to give his testimony about Patrick any credence.

The Duffers are good with ironic twists that don’t let the audience off the hook so easily, and I admire the irony behind Jason.


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