SPOILER ALERT – This is a recap of the season 1 finale and so we’ll give a lot of stuff away.
Netflix’s original series Stranger Things, created and directed by the Duffer brothers. The show kicks off with the disappearance of a boy named Will Byers, a mystery leads to a puzzle that’s darker and more complicated than anyone in Hawkins, Indiana expected — least of all Will’s mother Joyce, his brother Jonathan, or his three best friends Mike, Dustin, and Lucas who go out to find him and instead discover Eleven, a lost girl wielding psychic abilities.
We over at Oodon love Stranger Things. Particularly the season 1 finale, “Chapter Eight: The Upside Down,” which features Will’s mom Joyce Byers and Police Chief Hopper travel into the dark dimension nicknamed the Upside Down, while Jonathan and his new friend Nancy attempt to take down the creature called the Demogorgon, and elsewhere Eleven and the boys make their final stand against the corrupt scientist Dr. Brenner. The episode ties up many lose ends, but others are left hanging. So here’s our deeper look at the episode, our questions, and what it could all mean for the show’s, as of yet unannounced, second season.
ELEVEN’S FINAL STAND
The extent of El’s powers and Dr. Brenner’s repeated experiments with her was a gradual reveal throughout the show, building up to her a showdown with a hallway full of Dr. Brenner’s people, followed by a seemingly sacrificial victory against the Demogorgon in order to save her friends.
In Eleven’s final stand against the Demogorgon, she’s in a weakened state given her psychic search for Will’s location (which occurs during the penultimate episode, “Chapter Seven: The Bathtub”) and her mental attack on Brenner’s associates. When Eleven destroys the Demogorgon — breaking the beast down into particles of matter — she’s enveloped in the destruction and disappears. It’s unclear what happens to El, whether she was destroyed along with the Demogorgon or if she was transported elsewhere, such as the Upside Down or yet another dimension.
It’s established throughout season 1 that El’s powers weaken her, causing some kind of physical damage to her brain as evidenced by her nosebleeds and the blood coming out of her ears during her stand against the Demogorgon. So, it’s possible her use of her powers to defeat the Demogorgon causes her body irreparable damage. Considering she turns back to her friends and specifically says goodbye to Mike, Eleven certainly believes in that pushing the limits of her telekinetic powers to defeat the beast could potentially cause her death.
But it’s more likely Eleven transported to another dimension. We know the creature retreats to the Upside Down when it’s injured since that’s what it did following Nancy, Jonathan, and Steve’s attack.. And what about the monster who made a habit of retreating to the Upside Down when injured? Eleven’s powers target a living being from the inside (the bully’s broken bone, the brains of Brenner’s people), but the Demogorgon seems to disintegrate into particles of matter — and there’s no precedence within Stranger Things for what a Demogorgon on the brink of death can do. Perhaps it returned to the Upside Down, or traveled to an entirely new dimension, and carried El along with it — this seems possible since the cloud of Demogorgon particles envelop El prior to her disappearance.
After searching for Will during the entire season, Joyce Byers and Sheriff Hopper head into the Upside Down in biohazard suits. The emotional weight of the scene draws upon Joyce’s season-long arc as well as Hopper’s flashbacks to the loss of his daughter throughout the episode. This rescue effort is the viewers’ longest look at the Upside Down in season 1. By the end of “Chapter Eight,” Will is one of four characters who has traveled to the Upside Down and returned to their home dimension — the others being Joyce, Hopper and Nancy.
Though the Upside Down is explained conceptually through the boys’ knowledge of Dungeons & Dragons and the game’s fictional Shadow Realm, we are limited by their understanding of science and there is still plenty we don’t know about it. What are the growths on the walls and streets, and what they were doing to Will? Are these growths created or controlled by the Demogorgon?
There is one scene in Hopper and Joyce’s trek through the Upside Down that offers a specific tease: Hopper investigates what appears to be a hatched egg. It seems strange and without much purpose to show viewers the egg at this point in time if it’s just there to show how a Demogorgon is born, so that seems unlikely. But if the egg isn’t where the Demogorgon came from, then what exactly hatched from it? Another creature entirely?
The final sequence of ‘Chapter Eight’ features a time jump that sees the boys back to leading a Dungeons & Dragons campaign — this time with Lucas, Will, and Dustin on the same page about throwing a fireball. A brief shot of the bulletin board in the police station wraps up how Will’s disappearance, seeming death and subsequent return are explained to the public. A series of newspaper clippings are seen with the headlines: “The Boy Who Came Back to Life,” “Hawkins Lab Blocks Inquiry,” “More Heads Roll in Ongoing State Trooper Scandal,” and “Coroner Arrested For Falsifying Autopsy.”
All in all, the epilogue returns Stranger Things back to a status quo of Hawkins, Indiana: Nancy is with Steve (who might be nicer now), and both are on friendly terms with Jonathan, giving him a replacement camera for Christmas; the Byers return to life as usual in their now-fixed home; Hopper is still gruff and teasing with his co-workers. However, there are brief glimpses of repercussions: Hopper leaves a container of food in the forest along with some Eggo waffles (Eleven’s favorite meal), and Will coughs up a slug-like thing while experiencing a vision of the Upside Down. Does Hopper simply hope Eleven is alive and may find these waffles or is he helping her hide?
Prior to the time jump, Hopper gets into a car with Hawkins Lab employees. Though it’s unclear what that was in regard to, it may be that he worked out anew deal with them (the first deal being that they he and Joyce be allowed to rescue Will in return for their silence). What is his relationship with them now? Are they watching him and the others?
As for Will’s vision, it would seem that his week-long exile in the Upside Down — is still affecting him. Is it the Upside Down’s toxic air that the Hawkins Lab warned about, or something else? How is he altered and will the effects get worse or better over time?
LOOKING TO SEASON 2
Although season 1 of Stranger Things wrapped up its overarching mystery — the disappearance of Will — and saw the Demogorgon’s defeat, the main characters (and, by extension, the viewers) still don’t have very much knowledge about the Upside Down, the creature, the full nature of Hawkins Lab or the extent of Eleven’s powers. ‘Chapter Eight’ leaves plenty more to be explored in season 2 and, in an interview with Variety, the Duffer Brothers revealed that was the point to the finale: “By the end of the show they don’t know or understand everything. That is purposeful.”
Additionally, the showrunners have said there will be a time jump between seasons 1 and 2. Viewers will return to the characters roughly a year after the events of season 1The time jump will allow Stranger Things to pick up with somewhat of a blank slate since it will have been so long since Will’s disappearance and return. But considering all these lingering threads, we’re also sure to see further exploration of these sci-fi aspects going forward — and hopefully see another season of compelling and entertaining TV in the process!