The Stranger Things Characters Ranked (For Each Season)

I’ve seen many rankings of the best Stranger Things characters, but they’re kind of superficial because characters change from season to season. So here are the definitive rankings for each season. I’m only doing the top 5 for each, followed by some honorable mentions. And for season 3 there are no “best characters” — for that one I list the five worst!

Season 1

The first season is all the kids. And Hopper who is boss.

1. Mike. He’s the soul of season 1, a killer dungeon-master and natural leader for the nerd crowd. He loves El from the start but with all the anxious denials of a 12-year old.


2. El. What she conveys in her silences and curious stares is sublime. If anyone other than Millie BB had been cast for Eleven, the series wouldn’t be the cultural phenomenon it is.

3. Hopper. Haunted by the death of his daughter, he does everything to save Will Byers. He has so many dimensions, rage and tenderness, and is played flawlessly — one of the best characters in any TV series.

4. Lucas. There were a lot of Lucas haters for season 1, but I loved him for all the reasons he was criticized. His jealousy over Mike and Eleven, and how it drives his character, is precisely what makes him so real and endearing.

5. Dustin. Everyone adores him for obvious reason. He’s genuinely funny without trying, and his dialogue is so natural it seems ad-libbed by Matarazzo.

Honorable mentions for season 1: Nancy (great character arc), Steve (another fabulous arc), and Joyce (plays the hysterical mother very convincingly).

Season 2

The sophomore season is all the lonely hurt. And Hopper again, who is even more boss.

1. Mike. This season he’s Emo-Mike, mad at the world, shitting on his friends (except Will), acting out in school, still hurt by the loss of Eleven. His mother even makes him throw his toys away. I love him even more this season ’cause I feel his pain.

2. El. She gets even better this season as she comes to terms with her anger and homicidal impulses. Her relationship with Hopper is handled perfectly and her reunion with Mike a major high point of the series.

3. Hopper. He too gets better and better. We see deeper flashes of rage but also unexpected tenderness. He’s territorial of El and wants to keep her secret and on a tight leash.

4. Will. This is Will’s season, and Noah showed us what he can do when being torn inside out. Seriously.

5. Max. With season 4 in our rear-view, it’s hard to remember the days of Max-haters. Not me. I loved her from the start, how she was a loner preferring the company of boys. Everyone (Mike, Dustin, even El) shits on the poor girl this season except for Lucas, yet Max takes it all in stride.

Honorable mentions for season 2: Sam Owens (love that guy), Steve & Dustin (their bromance was born here), Lucas, and Joyce.

Season 3 (The Worst)

Ranking the best characters of season 3 would be meaningless. Aside from Eleven no character stands out. They’re all given lousy material to work with. So here I’m doing the five worst characters, who are easy to single out.

1. Hopper. I can’t think of a character from any TV series who undergoes a perverted caricature like the Jim Hopper of Stranger Things 3. He’s light-years away from Hopper of seasons 1 and 2 — over the top in every frame and acting like a buffoon. His rage could have been compelling if taken seriously, but he’s played entirely for laughs.

2. Erica. Young sassy brats work in small doses. Erica’s brief moments in season 2 were amusing. As a main character in season 3 she is 100% annoying.

3. Robin. Her motor-mouthing isn’t endearing. She’s almost as annoying as Erica.

4. Joyce. Joyce isn’t terrible this season, but she does play into Hopper’s silliness. It’s a major downturn from her compelling performances in seasons 1 and 2.

5. Mike. Like Joyce he’s not exactly bad this season, but he’s just kind of there, and played too much for comic relief. Quite a fall from the Mike who was the best character of seasons 1 and 2.

Season 4

This is the season of hell — ladies put through hell (El and Max), a guy accused of summoning demons from hell (Eddie), a poor kid going through hell (Will), and a man living in hell (Hopper in prison). They are the best characters of season 4 hands down:

1. El. She’s put through the ringer 700 ways to Sunday — bullied in high school, arrested for lashing out at her bully, taken to the Silo Lab where she relives her worst traumas (involving more bullying), on top of being manipulated by Papa, and then shot at by government assassins. For all her pain she fails to defeat Vecna — who not only gets away but initiates the end of the world. But you’ve never been more proud of El than in season 4. What a performance.

2. Max. Like El she has nothing to smile about this season, and by the end she’s braindead, blind, and broken. Max has come a long way since season 2, and has easily catapulted up to the #2 character.

3. Eddie. The only seasonal guest who makes a top five, Eddie is easily the best character after the ladies. He’s overtaken Mike as the dungeon-master god, is scapegoated for murder and demon-worship, and damn, he can jam some metal.

4. Will. The most heartbreaking scenes are between Mike and Will. The genius is that Will’s sexual orientation is never mentioned by anyone; it doesn’t need to be, and while Mike remains oblivious, Jonathan seems to be catching on. Wonderful work from Noah.

5. Hopper. Not quite the boss he was in seasons 1 and 2, but still a great comeback for Hopper, and almost enough to atone for his atrocious outing in season 3.

Honorable mentions for season 4: Sam Owens (as solid as his season-2 performance), Mike (still not back in the top 5, but almost), Nancy (the perfect army commando), Steve & Dustin (their bromance continues), and Lucas (good arc as he bonds with the jocks). I should also point out that Erica, who was 100% annoying in season 3, has been dialed way back in season 4 to become fairly tolerable.

“This is Hawkins, Not Westeros”

Maybe so, but this is a feeble reply.

The reply comes from Matt Duffer in response to Millie Bobby Brown, who opined in an interview that the Duffers need to start taking things more seriously and kill off some of the major characters in Stranger Things.

Millie Bobby Brown: “They need to kill off some people. The cast is way too big. Last night we couldn’t even take one group picture, there were like 50 of us… Matt and Ross Duffer are two Sensitive Sallies that don’t want to kill anyone off. We need to have the mindset of Game of Thrones.”

Matt Duffer: “Believe us, we’ve explored all options in the writing room, but we aren’t Game of Thrones. This is Hawkins, not Westeros.”

Matt continued, saying that Stranger Things wouldn’t be Stranger Things anymore if there were deaths for death’s sake, and without ‘realistic’ ramifications. But that’s not the idea. I don’t think Millie was intending the Game of Thrones analogy that literally. All she was saying is that the Duffers need have the balls — and indeed the “realism” they disingenuously appeal to — to kill off at least one or two major characters, for Christ’s sake, and for good. They can’t just keep knocking off the Barbs and the Bobs and the Eddies, and faking it with the Hoppers and the Maxes. Not only has that formula become painfully predictable by this point, it is NOT realistic to keep your major characters shielded like this. Audiences have come to expect more in the post-Game of Thrones era — not so that body counts need to be as high as in the Westeros world, but so that show writers at least take a cue from that world, and have the artistic integrity to let a precious character die once in a while. We’re in season 4 with one to go, and that hasn’t happened yet.

I should make clear that I love Stranger Things 4 — it way exceeded my expectations after a turgid season 3 — but Millie’s point here is well taken.

The Best Scenes in Stranger Things

Now that season 4 has had its say, it’s time for this. I have 50 scenes total: 11 from the first season, 15 from the second, 6 from the third (yes, surprisingly, that many), and 18 from the fourth.

(See also my rankings of all the episodes and the four seasons.)

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1. The Snow Ball (Season 2, Episode 9). Happy endings aren’t my thing, but when done right they hit like the deepest tragedies. After a season of misery and estrangement, the kids find happiness on the dance floor, as each of the four boys ends up with the “right girl” — Mike with El, Lucas with Max, Dustin with Nancy-to-the rescue, Will and a nameless “Zombie Boy” fan. To the stalker smash “Every Breath You Take”, as only appropriate, since El has been stalking Mike in the Void for a whole year. I’m hard pressed to think of an epilogue in TV history that pays off the entire season like the Snow Ball does in Stranger Things 2. Of course it’s my favorite scene of the series.

Stranger Things Finale: 6 Questions After Season 3, Episode 8
2. Leaving Hawkins (Season 3, Episode 8). No, you’re not misreading this. For all my trashing of season 3, the finale is excellent and its epilogue almost as good as season-2’s (see #1 above). The Duffers managed to produce a Stranger Things equivalent of the Grey Havens. Mike, Lucas, and Dustin are Sam, Merry, and Pippin tearfully watching the departure of “Ring-bearers” Eleven and Will, who have taken the most punishment in the series and are sailing west to start over. The reprisal of “Heroes” (the Peter Gabriel cover) is perfect for this montage after Hopper’s voice-over.

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3. Max and Vecna (Season 4, Episode 4). The final sixteen minutes of Dear Billy never lose their power, no matter how many rewatches. The sequence starts with Max reading her letter by Billy’s grave, and ends with her falling from the sky into Lucas’s arms, while in between she is pulled into a waking nightmare that I keep thinking will kill her even though I know she escapes it. The power of music is portrayed in a way never seen before. I’m not sure what my song would be to save me from Vecna (any of these might work), but the Kate Bush song works cinematically, and the montage that plays as she resists Vecna is brilliant. Those flashbacks are virtually the only times we see Max and Eleven smiling this season, underscoring how grim the fourth season is for each of them.

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4. Mike and El’s Reunion / Mike Attacks Hopper (Season 2, Episodes 8 & 9). From the end of season 2, where everyone is huddled inside Hopper’s cabin bracing for a demo-dog attack, to El’s surprise rescue, to her reunion with Mike, to Mike’s furious assault on Hopper. All of this enormously pays off El’s season-long absence, and it’s the highest emotional point for me of the series. You feel Mike’s rage at Hopper for keeping her hidden so long. You feel El’s jealousy over Max when she snubs the poor girl (Max has been shat on by everyone except Lucas throughout this season). You want Mike and El to hold each other forever; Finn Wolfhard plays it wonderfully, asking through tears why El never called back to him in the Void.

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5. The Massacre at Hawkins Lab (Season 4, Episode 7). The final eighteen minutes of this episode involve the most despicable acts of violence in the series, with twists and reveals brilliantly executed. Eleven leaves the closet to find One and finds mangled corpses down every hall. She bursts into the Rainbow Room and sees One killing the last child (Two), and then listens to his sickening views of humanity and the world. She attacks him in rage and almost gets torn apart for it, before blasting him into the shadow realm where he turns into Vecna. This is the culmination of three episodes in which El is put through the Nina ringer, reliving traumas worse than high school bullying.

https://rossonl.files.wordpress.com/2022/06/goofbye-hello.png6. Good-bye Mike, Hello Will (Season 1, Episode 8). Even if El doesn’t really die, it’s not a cop-out like the season-3 Hopper. Her sacrifice fits like a glove; she certainly thinks she’s about to die as she blasts the demogorgon and follows its disintegration into the Upside Down. It’s the ending the season deserves, with Mike left crushed, not fully understanding how he came to love this girl in the space of six days. Meanwhile, as his girlfriend vanishes, his lost friend is resuscitated in the Upside Down by Hopper and Joyce, with extremely emotional flashbacks of Sara Hopper dying in the hospital. The double climax pays off everyone’s arc perfectly.

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7. Max’s Death / The Apocalypse Begins (Season 4, Episode 9). By far the most upsetting scene of the series, and the most catastrophic. Max’s death initiates the apocalypse (the earthquake does take at least one satisfying victim, ripping Jason in half), and Lucas and El unleash enough tears and anguish to indict the gods. Max’s resurrection by El isn’t a cheat (though it easily could have been), since Max is broken and blind and returns in a coma. I’d rather be dead than come back like that. As a post-script, the book Lucas reads to Max in the hospital is probably the most brilliant homage of the series to date: The Talisman, by Stephen King and Peter Straub. The novel is about a dark parallel world — a medival version of the United States — and the passage Lucas reads involves the blind character Speedy. A not so subtle hint about what’s in store for Max if she ever wakes from her coma.

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8. “Home” (Season 2, Episodes 3, 5, & 7). In each of these scenes El seizes onto the idea that she has found her true home. The first comes in the flashback with Hopper (episode 3), when he brings her to his cabin. The second comes at her Aunt Becky’s house (episode 5), where she is invited to live. The third comes in Chicago, at the abandoned warehouse of Kali and her crew (episode 7). That last one especially is poignant, but the “home” theme works powerfully as an arc over all the episodes. At each place — cabin, house, and warehouse — El repeats the word “home”, with an increased desperation to know her place in the world outside Hawkins Lab.

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9. “Heroes” (Season 1, Episode 3). The early scene that made me a fan and makes me tear up every time. A corpse is dragged from the quarry and everyone thinks it’s Will’s. Mike’s furious reaction as he accuses El and runs home enraged, to the scoring of Peter Gabriel’s cover for David Bowie’s “Heroes”, is a rare piece of cinematic art. It’s in this scene that two things come sharply into focus: the kids’ acting talents, and the Duffers’ writing-directing skills. From here I binged the rest of the episodes and never looked back.

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10. Snow Ball Nightmare (Season 4, Episode 9). In this dark homage to the season-2 Snow Ball dance, Max hides from Vecna inside her happiest memory. There are the blue and white balloons, the glitzy decoratives, and “Every Breath You Take” is playing. But it all quickly unravels as Vecna breaks down her mental barriers. The Police song segues into the eerie-sounding “Dream a Little Dream of Me” (the favorite tune of Vecna’s father), the balloons explode into blood, and everything turns gray and Upside-Downish. Vecna arrives to finish Max off, but then Eleven intervenes — having piggybacked onto Max’s mind — and a battle on the dance floor paves the way to pain and the apocalypse. The Snow Ball nightmare is cut into six scenes adding up to about ten minutes, and it’s absolutely brilliantly constructed.

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11. Closing the Gate (Season 2, Episode 9). Pulling this off requires more than an expenditure of power. El must look within and face herself, lest she be paralyzed by her inadequacies. The flashbacks of her lab traumas, trials with Kali, and the ghost of Papa are brilliantly used to show the conflict raging inside her: “You have a wound, Eleven, a terrible wound. And it’s festering. It’s rotting. And it will grow. Spread. And eventually, it will kill you.” Kali urged that the wound comes from Dr. Brenner and his abuse, making vigilante justice the path to healing; El sees that the wound comes less from Papa and more from herself, even if by accident. Giving in to homicidal urges is self-destructive — and it’s this epiphany that liberates her from self-paralysis, allowing her to blast the Mind Flayer and close the real wound.

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12. El and Hopper’s Heart-to-Heart (Season 2, Episode 9). I use those words deliberately. In episode 1 of season 3, we were supposed to believe that Hopper found the idea of a “heart to heart” wholly alien; that discussing serious issues with his daughter was out of his comfort zone and beyond his comprehension (such that he needed Joyce to coach him every step of the way). This despite the fact that in the last episode we saw him in — this one, episode 9 of season 2 — he was having the purest heart to heart you could imagine. Hopper and El have a lot of great scenes together in season 2, but this one is their best, as they each admit to each other how wrong they’ve been.

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13. Will Inside the Wall (Season 1, Episode 4). This scene has given me a few nightmares, at least three or four that I recall, maybe more. Joyce rips down her wallpaper and sees her terrified son shouting to her in a flesh-encased portion of the wall. Her hysterics are convincing; this is the way a mother would act. Stranger Things is at its scariest when it does weird shit like this, and although seasons 2 and 4 are darker and scarier on whole, season 1 managed to land what I consider to be the most frightening scene. It makes us feel as helpless as Joyce. Will is up close but out of reach, alone in Hell, being terrorized out of his mind.

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14. Helicopter Sniper/Papa’s Death (Season 4, Episode 8). Eleven’s farewell to Papa doesn’t miss a beat, nailing all the right cords of love and hate. She does love Brenner, but also hates him for his monstrous manipulations, for trying to convince her that she’s a monster, for abusing her mother, and for robbing her of choice in the name of liberation. When he begs for understanding as he dies, she feels a genuine pull toward forgiveness, but is strong enough to refuse absolving him. A heartfelt “good-bye” is all she has to give; it suffices. The prelude to this is the explosive spectacle of her bringing down the helicopter containing the sniper who kills Papa and comes close to killing her too.

Stranger Things Season 3|Billy saves Eleven from The Mind Flayer - YouTube
15. “The Wave Was Seven Feet” (Season 3, Episode 8). Oh, season 3, how shitty thou art. Your plot is a carbon copy of season 2’s: the Mind Flayer has taken over a human host (Billy this time instead of Will); there is a Gate that makes this possible (at the Mall instead of the Lab); the Gate thus needs to be closed, to sever the connection to the Upside Down. El can’t close the Gate this time though, because she has lost her powers. And yet the Duffers were able to make lemonade out of these lemons in the way El defeats the Mind Flayer: by empowering its victim. She describes a memory she had shared while inside Billy’s mind, and manages to reach Billy, who sacrifices himself. It’s an extremely moving scene.

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16. D&D Campaign: The Demogorgon (Season 1, Episode 1). The next two are really a tie, but I’m giving pride of place to the season-1 game. It’s the first scene of the series and does more with less. The boys’ campaign is a perfect summation of my nerdy childhood and shows why the game was so fun in the early ’80s. Mike is established as the group leader (and so of course the dungeon master), Lucas the pragmatic skeptic, Dustin the hilarious, and Will the sensitive kid. It also establishes the series trope of using D&D creature names for the real shadow threats about to devastate Hawkins. It’s almost as though these D&D games are summoning evil from the Upside Down.

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17. D&D Campaign: The Cult of Vecna (Season 4, Episode 1). Be assured that the season-3 game is nowhere on this list. Will’s dungeon-master costume was ridiculous, his DM skills were atrocious, and Mike and Lucas were a pair of jerks. The season-4 game makes D&D shine again. Eddie is the supreme DM, his Hellfire pals rock, and Mike and Dustin are in top form. The power of this scene is magnified by the basketball intercut. Lucas’s final shot and Erica’s last die roll have me holding my breath every time I watch it. “That’s why we play,” says Eddie, when only two player characters are left standing, and how bloody right he is.

Stranger Things] Hopper & Eleven Fight dub w/ CamdoesDubs - YouTube
18. Telekinetic Tantrum (Season 2, Episode 4). El and Hopper are so pissed at each other you can feel the fire. She returns from stalking Mike at the school — having flouted Hopper’s rules that keep her confined in his cabin — and he goes through the roof, screaming in her face and taking away her Eggo and TV privileges. She retaliates by throwing a mega-tantrum, hurling books and shattering windows. She’ll have to clean up her mess the next day, but it’s pretty sweet to see a frustrated kid let loose like this. Some of the rawest acting talent is on display between Millie and David Harbour in the tantrum scene, and I’m not surprised it’s a favorite of Ross Duffer.

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19. Possession Trauma (Season 2, Episode 4). Possession is the king of horror tropes, but also the riskiest because it’s hard to do right. Noah nailed it with subtleties that even Linda Blair didn’t pull off in The Exorcist — alternating between being shaken and terrified, to making resolute demands (that his mother run him a freezing bath, because his possessor “likes it cold”), to stalking about the house confused — and it’s the first of those that he delivers at the start of Will the Wise. Season 2 then becomes an assault-on-all-fronts, as the Mind Flayer plans to wreak devastation through this kid, and slowly eats away his mind.

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20. Tracking-Shot: Home Invasion (Season 4, Episode 4). The Dear Billy episode is known for Max and Vecna (see #3 on this list), but this scene did just as much to make me a nervous wreck. It’s prefaced by a touching moment between Mike and Will, as Mike admits he’s been a jerk and Will so obviously wants to fuck him on the bed right there, to Mike’s utter obliviousness. Then the government goons crash the house and start shooting. A shootout like this is surprising enough in Stranger Things, but it’s done in a single tracking shot that looks viscerally real. The last time I was this impressed by a tracking shot in a TV series was True Detective‘s “Who Goes There?”

https://rossonl.files.wordpress.com/2022/06/save-them.png21. “I Can Save Them” (Season 2, Episode 7). Contrary to popular opinion, The Lost Sister is one of the best episodes of season 2 (my third favorite, after The Gate and Will the Wise). The fact that Kali isn’t the strongest character is irrelevant; she’s all that she needs to be. The episode isn’t about her (despite the title), it’s about Eleven, and how she comes to terms with herself — her murderous impulses, the question of where she belongs — to which Kali serves as a mentor to follow or reject. Without Kali, Eleven wouldn’t have had an arc to speak of in season 2. Her decision to return to Hawkins and her real friends is one of her best moments.

https://rossonl.files.wordpress.com/2022/07/el-will-needs-mike.png22. Can’t Say the Words (Season 4, Episode 8). This has to be the most heartbreaking scene of the series. Will assures Mike that El needs him, loves him, and can’t live without him, but of course he’s talking about himself, not El. The look on Jonathan’s face in the driver’s seat, as it begins to dawn on him what’s really up with his brother, is some fine subtle acting. The genius of Will’s arc is that his sexual orientation is never spelled out. It doesn’t need to be, and the drama is stronger for it.

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23. Flipping the Van (Season 1, Episode 7). The pre-credits sequence of The Bathtub episode could stand on its own as a short film. As Mike and El almost share a first kiss in the bathroom, Dustin barges in, and all hell breaks loose. The government goons descend, and the kids take to their bikes, flying down roads and around corners, side paths that cut between homes, rendez-vousing with Lucas, until they’re sandwiched between oncoming vans. The van-flip is spectacular, as are the reconciliation scenes — between Lucas and El, and Lucas and Mike — in the junkyard. Did all that really happen in a pre-credits sequence? Yep.

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24. Emo Mike & Nancy (Season 2, Episode 1). These two scenes play wonderfully back to back: Mike getting scolded at the dinner table for acting out in school, and Nancy having dinner with Barb’s parents, who tragically believe their daughter is still alive. Mike retreats to his basement where he still keeps El’s fort; Nancy retreats to the bathroom where she breaks down over Barb. Through the Wheeler siblings we feel the cost of the season-1 losses, and I was glad the Duffers had the nerve to take those losses seriously throughout season 2. In the hands of other show writers, Nancy would have moved on already, and El would have reunited with Mike early in the season instead of at the end.

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25. Hopper in the Demo-Pit (Season 4, Episode 7). The best demogorgon outing is the season-1 classroom scene (see # 6) — with the boys shouting over each other and Lucas vainly firing his slingshot until El steps in — but the Russian Demo-Pit shows how fast these beasts are. Truth told, the boys in season 1 were confronted by a very slow one; Lucas wouldn’t have gotten off two rocks, let alone four, against the one in the demo-pit. Hopper has quite a time of it, as the creature tears his fellow inmates apart.

Stranger Things: 10 Things You Didn't Know About the Byers House | Flipboard
26. Joyce’s Ouija Wall (Season 1, Episode 3). If there’s a scene in Stranger Things that shouts classic, this is probably it. Joyce’s Ouija Wall has become such an iconic image that restaurants and fun houses have replicated it. The scene, in conjunction with “Heroes” (#10 above) — both from the Holly Jolly episode — is what turned me into a hard-core fan. It represents Joyce’s breakthrough with Will, as she communicates with him through the Christmas-tree lights, and he tells her to run from the house as the demogorgon bursts through.

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27. Stalking Mike (Season 2, Episode 2). Much of the drama in season 2 is carried on El’s presumed death, with Mike in denial. He has no idea how right he is, that El hears him calling her all the time and wants to let him know she’s okay. The scene that shows her stalking him in the Void is especially well shot, flicking back and forth between Mike alone and El only inches away from him in the black background. Their mutual pain is felt acutely in this scene.

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28. Inside Billy’s Mind (Season 3, Episode 6). One of the few scenes that justifies season 3’s existence. It runs eleven minutes, from the point of El washing up on the California beach, to being assaulted by chaotic images of Billy’s past, to finally returning to herself in Hopper’s cabin — only to find out that it’s a nightmare cabin, with her friends gone and Billy waiting there to torment her. It’s one of the freakiest scenes in the series that makes you feel the terror of being mentally trapped and unable to wake up.

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29. Reunion with Papa (Season 4, Episode 5). Not a happy one for El, but shocking and powerful. I was expecting Brenner to return in season 4 for flashbacks, but wasn’t thinking he was still alive. It was a strong move to bring him back and mentor El once again. Their dysfunctional relationship, and El’s Stockholm dependency, was so well presented in season 1 that it demanded a follow-up, and season 4 takes it to the next level. That Owens is working with Brenner (with mixed feelings) is a big bonus.

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30. A Bromance is Born (Season 2, Episode 6). Almost any scene between Steve and Dustin is list-worthy, and I could name several. But the train-track scene is where the bromance was born and it has attained a near mythological status. It’s hard to believe Dustin once had a crush on Max. Maybe he still would if not for Steve.

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31. The Diner Scene (Season 4, Episode 3). Paul Reiser is a great actor, Sam Owens a great character, and the diner scene a great homage to Reiser’s role in the 1982 film. His speech marks a turning point in season 4, as Eleven is offered a window of opportunity: to trade in the misery of school bullying for the monstrous torments of getting her powers back. The scene is shot as an epic montage with soaring music. We see (or hear) Vecna closing in on Max, as Owens explains to El the last resort he’s had in place in case a threat like Vecna emerged — and assures her that she’s probably not the bad person she thinks she is.

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32. “She Tried to Get Naked!” (Season 1, Episode 2). Unlike the slapstick comedy of season 3, the humor in the early seasons is natural and organic and genuinely funny. This scene being an excellent case in point. It’s exactly the way 12-year old boys would react to a girl about to take her clothes off. Mike is sweet as he takes care of this strange girl and gives her fresh clothes and a towel and teaches her about the need for privacy.

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33. Steve and the Demo-Bats (Season 4, Episode 7). The next three are Steve’s demo-fights from seasons 1, 2, and 4. This one gets priority for taking place in the Upside Down. The demo-bats are terrifying against the red and purple hues of the landscape. Steve doesn’t get to use the spiked bat this time — instead he pulls an Ozzy move and tears apart a bat with his teeth.

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34. Steve and the Demo-Dogs (Season 2, Episode 6). A brutally intense scene in which Steve gets flanked by a second demo-dog as he faces the one ahead, and barely manages to bat them away. He beats a hasty retreat into the bus with Dustin, Lucas, and Max — who begin screaming their heads off when one of the beasts appears above them, looking down the ladder hole. I almost shit my pants when I first watched this.

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35. Steve and the Demogorgon (Season 1, Episode 8). Steve’s turning point is well earned, when he decides that his assholeries require atonement. He has had a genuine change of heart (finding that he doesn’t like being an asshole), making his character arc one of the series’ best. He goes back into the Byers’ house to help Nancy and Jonathan, and the strobe light works to great effect against the backdrop of the Christmas-tree lights, making his fight with the demogorgon mega-intense.

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36. Sauna Battle (Season 3, Episode 4). The next two are Eleven’s battles with the Mind Flayer in season 3, the first against Billy and the second against the Flayed. It was nice that El got to kick some ass before losing her powers in the finale, and equally nice that we never lose sight of her vulnerability. Billy nearly strangles her before she manages to throw him through a brick wall. Interesting post-script to this scene: when El collapses into Mike’s arms crying, that wasn’t acting on Millie’s part; shooting this scene put her through the ringer.

Stranger Things Season 3 ⁄ Hawkins Crew vs Mind Flayer Scene - YouTube | Stranger things, Robert englund, Netflix
37. Cabin Battle (Season 3, Episode 7). The last ass-kicking that El dishes out on the Mind Flayer before losing her powers, and brilliantly choreographed. Hopper’s cabin is devastated as the Flayed Beast punches holes through it to seize her. It’s a miracle she’s not torn in half by the tug-of-war between her friends and the Flayed, and also miraculous that no one in the cabin is killed by Nancy’s shotgun blasts. Mike ripping the flayed piece off El’s leg is excruciating to watch, and her splitting the monster apart gratifying.

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38. Mike Jumps (Season 1, Episode 6). Bullying is major theme in Stranger Things (except in season 3), and Mike’s bullies are the worst, making him jump off a cliff for humiliating them in front of the entire school. El’s surprise rescue is sublime, and the flashback of her opening the Gate is heart rending, as she sincerely believes that she’s the monster, despite Mike’s assurances.

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39. El Smashes Angela’s Face (Season 4, Episode 2). When it comes to her own bullies El is less effective. Without her powers and sense of self-worth she’s defenseless, and in this sense I felt far more sorry for her than for Mike in season 1 (who for the most part took Troy in stride). It was hugely satisfying to see her smash Angela in the face with a roller-skate — even more than seeing her break Troy’s arm with telekinetic powers. (I place Mike’s cliff rescue above the roller-skate incident because of the iconic moment when El, Mike, and Dustin share a group hug.) Once again her flashbacks reinforce her view of herself as a monster, only this time Mike isn’t the best shoulder to cry on.

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40. El Rips Mike a New One (Season 4, Episode 3). You can hardly blame her. Mike isn’t the most supportive or discerning boyfriend even when the pain is plain. He can’t say (or write) that he loves her, and digs himself in deeper by protesting that he thinks she’s the most incredible person in the world and a superhero — which she obviously isn’t anymore, but it’s the wrong thing to say in any case. This is how their season-3 fight/breakup should have been handled; with the seriousness it deserved.

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41. Eddie’s Death (Season 4, Episode 9). Eddie is the secret hero of season 4. Not just because he finally steps up and faces down the Upside-Down with metal jams, but for his cafeteria wisdom in his very first scene — his unabashed pronouncements like “forced conformity is what’s really killing kids” (see #47 below). Dustin’s reaction to Eddie’s death is the culmination of a bromance over season 4 which for my money is just as compelling as his bromance with Steve over seasons 2 through 4.

We Gotta Talk About Bob In "Stranger Things 2"
42. Bob’s Death (Season 2, Episode 8). On my first watch of season 2, the death of Bob Newbie took me completely off guard. Yes, the Duffers had killed off Barb in season 1, but that was as early as episode 3. Bob made it to the penultimate episode, was a lovable character and partner to Joyce, and I couldn’t see him getting the axe. When he outran the demo-dogs, I breathed again, knowing I was foolish for worrying… and then the doors crashed down. It’s a wonder Joyce didn’t go to Pennhurst after watching Bob torn apart and eaten.

The Full Significance of Barb's Death on STRANGER THINGS - Nerdist
43. Barb’s Death (Season 1, Episode 3). This is the scene I return to when I think of the “horrors” of season 3 that weren’t at all scary. Season 3 was body-horror (gross-out horror), and as far as that goes it’s okay. I like David Cronenberg films as much as the Duffers. But body horror isn’t menacing like the deeper and more feral horrors of seasons 1, 2, and 4. Barb’s death remains one of the most terrifying scenes in the series, relying on what you can hear and sense but not see (the demogorgon), and an utterly terrified Barb who fights vainly for her life.

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44. Conversational Affection (Season 4, Episode 9). As the bathtub is prepared for El, she and Mike enjoy some lighter moments, including an argument over pineapple pizza, which Mike rightly calls blasphemous. Will and Jonathan have a more serious talk, and as usual in season 4, Will is heartbreaking to watch as he can’t discuss what’s tearing him up inside. Though Jonathan seems to get it now.

pinterest || кαℓєyнσggℓє | Stranger things, Stranger, Historical figures
45. “Crazy Together” (Season 2, Episode 2). This moment shows Mike and Will taking comfort in each others damage. It’s almost as if Mike thinks Will is the only one worthy of his affections, on the logic that if he suffering so much (from the loss of El) then so should others suffer. It’s why he finds Lucas and Dustin so goddamn insufferable (as they persist in having a good time, and with a girl from California to boot), and ditches Halloween night to take Will back home with him. So they can be crazy together alone.

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46. Eddie’s Cafeteria Rant (Season 4, Episode 1). The moment Eddie walks that cafeteria table is the moment season 4 makes clear that Stranger Things is back in top form. You know you’re going to love this guy, you know you’ll love the Hellfire Club, and you know those damn basketball jocks will eventually join the Satanic Panic that Eddie is making fun of. The way he rips into Mike and Dustin when they tell him Lucas has gone to the dark side (i.e. joined the basketball team) is hilarious.

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47. Burning Inside Out (Season 2, Episode 6). As an Exorcist fan I got considerable mileage out of season 2, and the opening scene The Spy is inspired by Regan McNeill’s hideous PEG procedure. Will Byers is having it even worse than Regan, convulsing under the doctors who ask him where it hurts, to which he can only scream “everywhere”. Noah’s acting is so convincing that the actors thought he was really in agony during the shoot.

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48. Eleven’s Self-Surgery (Season 3, Episode 8). The season 3 finale is bookmarked by three mighty El moments. The last occurs in the epilogue when she reads Hopper’s letter (see #2), the middle is her transcendent moment with Billy (see #9), and the other is the very first scene, in which she rips the flayed piece out of her leg. It’s possibly the most visceral scene in the series. Millie screams so fucking loud I can imagine those mall windows really broke on set from sonic devastation.

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49. El’s Reunion With Hopper (Season 4, Episode 9). This was bound to be a tear-jerker, but with Millie driving the scene, it’s an ultra tear-jerker. I love how they comment on each others loss of hair.

Mike And Eleven (Mileven): Adorable Or Disastrous? • The Daily Fandom
50. Mike Makes His Move (Season 1, Episode 8). Can’t forget this one. Mike and El’s first kiss. He got the best girlfriend on the planet.

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.

Parallels Between My Novels and Stranger Things 3 and 4

There are strong parallels between Stranger Things 3 and 4, and and my fanfiction series. I wrote my stories with no knowledge at all of what would happen in those later seasons, so these similarities are striking to say the least.

1. El dumps Mike, at the engineering of Hopper. In the TV series (season 3, episodes 1 & 2), Hopper manipulates Mike, and also threatens him, in order to break up the relationship between him and Eleven. In my story, Hopper manipulates Eleven rather than Mike, in order to achieve the same goal. In each case the person being manipulated by Hopper doesn’t come clean: in the TV series, Mike starts avoiding El but lies about his reasons for doing so, to which she responds by “dumping his ass”. In my story, El tells Mike that she needs to break up with him, but won’t say why, which breaks his heart.

2. Dangers of the Void. In the TV series (season 3, episode 6), Mike warns Eleven of the dangers of communing with Billy in the Void. She has only tried this once before, when she accessed the memories of her mother in season 2 (and her mother was a willing subject who wanted to show El what Dr. Brenner did to her). Sure enough, when El accesses Billy’s memories, he is able to latch onto her mind, and see where she is in Hopper’s cabin. In my story, El warns Hopper of the same dangers, when he wants her to access the memories of a comatose hospital victim. She tells her father that the victim may rebel against her intrusion or even die from shock. Sure enough, that almost happens; the victim’s monitors bleep momentarily, though she doesn’t end up dying.

3. El loses her psychic powers, thanks to a creature of the Upside Down. In the TV series (season 3, episode 8), El loses her powers after a piece of the Mind Flayer gets in her leg. In my story, she loses her powers for two days (January 22-24, 1987), when she’s snared on the shadow tree and injected with anti-psychic sap.

4. El leaves Hawkins for the West Coast. In the TV series (season 3, episode 8), Joyce moves out of Hawkins, taking Will, Jonathan, and El to California (in October 1985). In my story, Hopper leaves Hawkins with El (in April 1987), when he takes a job as Sheriff of Yamhill County in Oregon.

5. D&D game. In the TV series (season 4, episode 1), there is a new dungeon-master (Eddie Munson), who puts a lot of players through a killer module. All the PCs are killed, except for Dustin and newcomer Erica. Dustin screws up, and newcomer Erica completes the quest. In my story, there is a new dungeon-master (Vijay Agarwal), who puts a lot of players through a killer module. All the PCs are killed, except for Dustin and newcomer Eleven. Dustin screws up, and newcomer Eleven completes the quest.

6. A major character assumed dead is alive and fighting like a gladiator. In the TV series (season 4, episode 7), Hopper is assumed dead, but is captive in a Russian prison and forced to fight a demogorgon in a “demo-pit” for the guards’ entertainment. In my story, Mike is assumed dead, but enslaved in the Upside Down and forced to fight shadow creatures, also like a gladiator, for the amusement of the Illithid.

7. Vecna. In the TV series (season 4, episodes 4 and 7), Max and Nancy are inflicted by a curse inspired by the figure of Vecna. In my story, Will and Mike are inflicted by a curse inspired by the figure of Vecna.

8. Speaking humanoid more powerful than the Mind Flayer. In the TV series (seasons 4 and 5), the Big Bad (Vecna) who rules the Upside Down is smaller than the Mind Flayer but more powerful, and he speaks. In my story, the Illithid rules the Upside Down; he too is humanoid sized and speaks.

9. A major character dies and is soon after resurrected. That character is also blinded and crippled. In the TV series (season 4, episode 9), Max is killed by Vecna through the creature’s process of blinding and disfigurement. Max is then resurrected by Eleven into a coma state; if she comes out of her coma in season 5, she will be disfigured and (presumably) blind. In my story, Mike is killed by the Illithid and then raised back to life by the same creature. Much later the creature forces him to tear out his own eyeballs, and it also cripples his leg.

10. The End of the World. In the TV series (season 4, episode 9), multiple gates open in Hawkins, initiating the apocalypse — the “beginning of the end of the world”, as Vecna calls it. In my story, multiples gates open in Hawkins, blooming out across Indiana and many other states, initiating a shadow apocalypse — or, as my novella is titled, the “World’s End”.

Stranger Things 4: Separate Ways, Nightmares Apart

The Duffers try hard not to repeat themselves. Each season of Stranger Things brings a new tone, and the fourth wastes no time distinguishing itself from its predecessors. It doesn’t have the E.T. weirdness of season 1, the assault-on-all-fronts feel of season 2, or the slapstick fun of season 3. It has, rather, the feeling of a nightmare that dials the horror up to Eleven. It’s dark — darker than season 2 — with plenty of nasty and terrifying deaths though never gratuitous. We needed this — deserved this — after the sunny silliness of season 3, and it seems to be what the Duffers have been building towards. Stranger Things was bound to take us to hell, and there’s more of the Upside Down this time than in the previous three seasons combined. (I should say the first two combined, since the Upside Down wasn’t in season 3 at all.) As for Vecna, he’s the worst piece of work. He speaks, he watches, and kills you in your daydreams.

And yet, for all this new texture, the fourth season does pay its respects to the previous seasons. Season-1 fans will love the return of Dr. Brenner and Eleven’s backstory at Hawkins Lab. Season-2 fans will like the themes of trauma weighing down the kids (particularly Max), estranged friendships, and Eleven struggling with her identity and her place in the world. Season-3 fans (damn them) will warm to the comedy in certain places, especially the Murray-Joyce duo. That third is a liability. Season 3 was a misfire, and the Duffers should have left every aspect of it behind. That said, the comedy isn’t nearly as bad or all-consuming like it was in season 3, and in fact, season 4 is so strong that its faults are practically invisible.

The largest complaint about Stranger Things 4 is the length of the episodes, which for the record — and surely a new record for American television — are as follows:

Episode 1: 1 hr 16 min
Episode 2: 1 hr 15 min
Episode 3: 1 hr 3 min
Episode 4: 1 hr 17 min
Episode 5: 1 hr 15 min
Episode 6: 1 hr 13 min
Episode 7: 1 hr 38 min
Episode 8: 1 hr 25 min
Episode 9: 2 hrs 19 min

That’s about 13 hours, twice the length of the other seasons (each about six and a half to seven hours long). I can see why a casual viewer of Stranger Things might find these narratives bloated, but I wasn’t bothered at all. Just the opposite, I savored every extra minute spent with these characters I’ve become invested in. Each episode was over before I knew it; I’m glad they were this long.

The Plot

Season 4’s plot is driven by serial killings so gruesome that critics are wondering how the season got by with TV-14 rating. The murders are thought to be the work of a high-school dungeon-master, though of course he’s a scapegoat in the “Satanic Panic” culture of the ’80s. The real killer is a sentient creature from the Upside-Down who weaponizes peoples’ nightmares while they’re awake. The horrors of Stranger Things 4 are psychologically searing. Vecna feeds on the minds of his vulnerable victims, and then twists their bodies into hideous contortions until they die. He removes their eyes too, for good measure.

Insofar as influences go, this is the season of Nightmare on Elm Street, but I was also getting heavy vibes of Shutter Island and Hellraiser. Here’s how the tonal shifts look across the seasons:

Season 1: Stand by Me (primarily), also E.T., Firestarter, Jaws, and Alien
Season 2: The Exorcist (primarily), also Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Halloween, Gremlins, and Aliens
Season 3: Day of the Dead (primarily), also The Blob, The Fly, The Terminator, and Jurassic Park
Season 4: Nightmare on Elm Street (primarily), also Hellraiser, Carrie, Shutter Island, and Silence of the Lambs

The characters are split into new groups, as always, but this time separated by vast distances — only one group remains in Indiana — which makes their stories seem disjointed; only by the end do they converge. There’s the central mystery in Hawkins, a road-trip thriller in California, a torturous road of self-discovery for Eleven, and a prison movie in Russia. I got everything I wanted from these storylines, especially those of Hawkins and Eleven, which are the center of gravity. Sadie Sink and Millie Bobby Brown deserve Emmys for their traumatic portrayals, and the Duffers deserve accolades for landing the best season of Stranger Things yet.

 

See also

The Seasons Ranked
The Episodes Ranked