*This post contains major plot spoilers for Stranger Things 2*
Last night, 1 a.m. was my hour of finishing Stranger Things 2. It was a night of Eggo Waffles, Demogorgons, and The Upside Down, all observed from the safety of my favorite arm-chair. It was a night of wincing during gruesome scenes, shouting at the characters (more often the writers) as if they could hear me through the screen, and jumping up in either excitement or anxiety during all the major plot points. If you couldn’t tell already, the rag-tag group of kids, teens, and adults from Hawkins, Indiana have a special place in my heart.
I woke up the next morning with my mind still spinning about the events of Season 2, my heart still very full from spending time with all of its characters. However, the more pressing thought on my mind was about a theme presented this season:
There’s Will Byers, who’s subjected to possession by a monster, tons of needle injections, psychotic episodes, and the burning of said-monster out of his very body with fire and heaters.
There’s Bob Newby, a bystander boyfriend turned Demodog dinner, and subsequently, Joyce, who witnessed his horrifying death.
There’s Max, abused physically and emotionally by her older brother, Billy.
There’s Billy, beaten and abused by his own father, and thus, abusing Max.
Mike, haunted by the loss of Eleven.
Nancy, mourning Barb’s death while the entire world moves on.
Hopper, still suffering through the loss of his daughter to cancer.
And Eleven. Eleven, the most traumatized of all, the girl who was stolen from her mother at birth and tested on by Dr. Brenner. The girl subjected to disgusting torture and experiments, the girl whose mother went insane trying to get her back. The girl locked in Hopper’s cabin for half of the season who just wants to break out and face the world outside.
And yet, these absolutely traumatized people are the only people who can (and do) save Hawkins from monsters and alternate dimensions. Despite the trauma, they keep moving forward. In fact, because of the trauma, they are able to ban together. They comfort each other, lift each other up, and take care of one another. Trauma is a part of them, but it does not keep them from being brave or lovable.
Take Steve Harrington as a prime example: he was a popular boy stereotype all last season until he became the protector of Mike, Dustin, Lucas, and Max this season. What kind of show gives a teenage boy that kind of role, especially after he just had his heart broken and there’s ample angsty teen trauma that could steal the plot instead? What kind of show allows for outlier-type relationships to be formed based on shared trauma and protecting another human being? Yes, I believe the answer would be Stranger Things, because its writers and creators are never afraid to tackle themes of trauma and give authentic character arcs based upon it. And, if I was one of those kids, I’d definitely want the Steve Harrington who is wearing sunglasses and wielding a bat with metal spikes by my side to face the Demogorgons rather than the one-dimensional-high-school-jerk-with-poofy-hair Steve. Again, what an amazing 180 degree transformation in a character!
Overall, I think this season was entirely relatable because of the multiple portrayals of trauma. Every human being experiences it. Me, you, and Will Byers. No one escapes tragedy, death, pain, or even bad days in a overall good life. No one escapes the Upside Down unscathed, which is clearly seen throughout the plot of Season 2.
To me, the Upside Down itself can be a metaphor for trauma from this world. It’s the dark, shadowy place of the human experience. The creatures that lurk there could be seen as metaphors of depression, death, abuse, prejudice, hate, and pain. People fall into the Upside Down and never come back (or in Barb’s case, they meet their end when they’re chilling by the pool after their best friend abandoned them). People fall into their own worlds of tragedy and never return, stuck in the darkest mindset possible. Stuck in their own trauma. Does the world see it? No, because the world looking in doesn’t know that you’ve fallen into your own version of the Upside Down and that it’s sucking on your soul. It’s hidden, like how we hide our traumas from each other.
Why do we do that? Why do we treat each other as if we’re all perfectly fine and no one has been through horrific things that they just haven’t shared yet? Why don’t we look at other human beings as victims of life too, as people who have just as much pain, struggles, and bad days as us? As people who have their own Upside Downs?
We should start. You never know if the person next to you fought off a Demogorgeon the night before.