Unless, you are living under a rock then Netflix's original series Stranger Things should be something that you are familiar with. Although, I typically write on my own world mythos, lore and world-building I came around this show. I finished it in a weekend, and was blown away from the way that I was enthralled to the characters, the pace and writing the show instilled on me. A week after I watched the show I decided that I would dedicate this week's blog post to this show and why I think it works as a show. This statement rests on three reasons, the overall writing of the plot, the characters and the blend of elements to create a unique experience that ushers back into 80's sci-fi/horror of old.
The show itself was created by the Duffer Brothers, and immediately starts off in a small town of Hawkins, Indiana a town after my own heart. The starting characters are four nerdy middle-school kids playing a game of Dungeons & Dragons, again this show really knows how to hook a nerd. The episode begins when Will, one of the boys mysteriously disappears and from that we are introduced to more characters including the Sheriff ,the mother of Will, and a cast of other important to semi-important characters.
The plot moves slow, but it picks up by the third episode when the plot and conflicts start to be brought to the surface with a series of weird and bizarre things occurring in the town. The main reason for this seems to build the setting, the time, and to establish the characters. This is set in the 80's in a small Indiana town, so getting the tone and the setting down to mold the viewer into a specific mindset. The plot wheels really start to go when doubts of our main cast of characters are thrown into motion.
Slowly, but surely small hints of a greater conspiracy including psychics, the government, and a a monster are brought to the surface, with a few more character arcs that slowly move the characters towards initial contact and conflict. Even when they give you enough that you understand what is going on, there are more surprises near the end of the show. These surprises don't jump out either as much as they are slowly given to you and the viewer has to put together the plot like a puzzle. Nothing is given too easily or too quickly.
The plot is itself in two main paths, unless we count the antagonists then there is a third path. These paths and plot points are really a series of rising and falling actions. We get some clarity occasionally and then something happens to screw up that clarity. We find a body of Will, but it is not the actual body. But, this causes the Sheriff to investigate even further and a huge reveal is staged after this event. Which escalates the character into more peril.
Which segways into my second great thing about this show is the characters. Not just their development, but their character arcs. The eight main characters particularly who have character arcs. The three boys Mike, Dustin, and Lucas; their psychic friend Eleven who goes by Eli; Chief Jim Hopper; Joyce Byers who is Will's mother; Jonathan Byers who is Will's brother; and Mike's sister, Karen. There is also Dr. Brenner as the main antagonist of the series, but we will discuss him in a second.
The characters themselves are very proactive bunch of protagonists who go out and try to solve the case of the missing boy and each have a character arc to boot. The boys sorta ties in with El's arc, but El has her own arc as well. Each of the boy's have a rising and falling action with Lucas and Mike having the more important roles that are tested in the story. Lucas is there for support, but as he is counted as one of the boys I feel he has an important role to play in the character arc of the boys.
Eleven or El has her own arc that is both coming in terms with her powers, but as she was in a lab for most of her life, she has to come to terms with being a girl in 80's society. Her character arc is probably one of my favorite from the series, and she is one of my favorite characters because of that. Her powers resolve what the boys can not, and because of that she is sort of their answer of finding Will. She is what moves the plot forward for the boys, and in reality the whole story is centered around her in a way, which we will talk about in a second.
Chief Hopper is tied to Joyce in terms of character arcs and support. He is trying his hardest despite his own trauma about his own daughter to help find Will. He pushes the plot along first, and is the first to discovery something is not quite right with the events surrounding Will's disappearance. He is one of the most proactive characters in this show, and along with El, my favorite character.
Joyce's arc is also tied to her sons, and her son to Nancy. The three of them have their own arcs that are very similar. Joyce's arc is all about her losing her sanity, but still wanting to find her son. Her brother gets emotional due to his brother's disappearance, and when Nancy's friend goes missing her arc collides with that of the others.
Each of these character arcs are eventually brought together near the finale where Dr. Brenner is featured as the antagonist of our protagonists. He is a man of science, and apparently has some relationship to El. He also is the one who might be responsible for breaking the walls between dimensions using El's powers. Yeah, there are quite a bit of science stuff, that is mostly theoretically addressed which is an important part of the story.
The way science is used, makes it a huge part of it's science fiction/horror genre plot and setting. The way this show blends multiple ideas about science, and pseudo-science in a somewhat historically accurate Indiana town is quite interesting. We have big government funded science and conspiracies as the main driving force of the antagonists and slowly our protagonists are sent to face this. Pretty much the sci-fi trope of the big bad government and corrupt science did something bad and unleashed a monster in the form of demogorgon a monster from Dungeons and Dragons.
Speaking of the Dungeons and Dragons themes in the series, they are quite appealing to me as a nerd and avid table-top player. However, they function not just as references for fanboys, but references to easily explain the science-fiction and horror aspects and world-building that this series tries to accomplish. It might help nerds like myself get into the series, but more importantly it is a starting point for the viewer. Since the show starts and ends with a Dungeons and Dragons campaign.
Besides science-fiction and horror the main source of conflict and plot point in the show is that of a mystery. Everyone is trying to find Will. His disappearance is what sparks the plot into motion, and draws all of these characters into the fray. But, it is not the only mystery as Hopper as he is trying to find Will ends up following the trail of not Will, but of Eleven. This allows for the eyes of the viewer to see Eleven's story play out in a very creative and mysterious way. Not only that, but it ties directly back into the evil government conspiracy. Everyone comes together, just like characters arcs and just like the writing.
So, in conclusion the show bridges it's characters, it's overall plot and it's elements to create a very nice homage to 80's science-fiction. If you enjoy stuff like The Thing, or enjoy the writings of Stephen King, then I recommend this show. I am not a huge fan normally of horror, but the way that Stranger Things is written I can respect. It was a wild and short ride with an ending that makes me hopeful of some sort of sequel series. My hat goes off to the Duffer Brothers and to Netflix, such a phenomenal show that takes it's influences and creates something new. Watch out Hollywood, Netflix is coming.