‘Stranger Things’, Explained

When the Duffer Brothers came up with the idea of ‘Stranger Things’, they had no idea about the magnitude of popularity it would gain. Considered one of the best out of Netflix’s offerings, the story of four geeky kids and a mysterious, super-powered girl is one of the top choices in people’s “binge-watch list”. What made this show so successful was, to begin with, its ‘edge of the seat’ storyline and the classic ‘80’s setting that sends people on a nostalgia drive. Add to that a bunch of lovable character, right from the toothless and adorable Dustin to our favourite cop in town, Hopper. The characters and their relationships evolve as much as the storyline does. That’s why Dustin and Steve’s bromance became our favourite thing, with the latter gaining exponential popularity.

While the show doesn’t try to be too complicated, there are some things that the audience need to wrap their heads around. The third season being nowhere near the horizon (until 2019, that is), we are left with the two seasons that have proved to be one hell of a ride. The fans are poking in and fashioning out incredible theories while the Duffer Brothers chalk out the script for the next season. Here we prod at a few things that kept our brains busy after we were done watching the show.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

What Is the Upside Down?

Let’s start with the most basic and defining thing about the story of the small town of Hawkins. The high-school science teacher, Mr Clarke, did a good job with explaining the kids about the Upside Down with an analogy of the acrobat and the fly. The real-life world is on one plane and the Upside Down is right below it, on the same plane but on the different side. It is a dark place resembling our world, or rather Hawkins. It has a foggy and ash-filled atmosphere with vine-like tendrils spread out everywhere. In scientific terms, it is a parallel universe where the world has been destroyed(?) by the monsters that lurk in its sun-less environment.

There is a possibility that the Upside Down itself is a living organism. Opening up its portals requires energy and it looks like tearing through the flesh. Also, the openings look like wounds on the skin and they shut off like a healing wound. This gives the idea of an organism. And if it really is a living thing, the vines and tendrils that occupy its surface could be its blood vessels. This would make the Mind Flayer its brain and the rest of the monsters, Demogorgon and Demodogs, its organs. This is also compatible with the fact that the Mind Flayer controlled the Demodogs like the brain controls the organs of our body.

How Does the Upside Down Affect People?

There is a great difference in the depiction of the two different sides of Hawkins. While one is sunny and colourful and full of people, the other is dark and stormy with monsters lurking in every corner. How the Upside Down came to be, and where the monsters came from is still a mystery. But one thing that was made clear to us early on in the show was that the air of the Upside Down is not the one you’d want to breathe in. Whenever scientists enter it, they always wear hazmat suits. Before Joyce and Hopper enter it, they are made to wear the suits by the scientist who warns them about the environment of the place.

So, is the place radioactive? Possibly. However, we do know this that the effects of this radioactivity don’t show any immediate effects. You’d have to be there for quite some time before the place begins to take its toll on you. For instance, when Nancy, unknowingly, entered the place through an opening in the tree, she wasn’t wearing any safety gear. She was in there for a couple of minutes (maybe!) before she ran back to the normal world. And, evidently, she seemed completely unaffected by it. No long-term consequences (yet).

But Will, who was there for a longer time, is the one who suffered the mental and physical ordeals of the Upside Down. He becomes weaker as the time passes by. This could be, partially, because he is constantly running and doesn’t have anything proper to eat. Plus, the place is beginning to affect him. It’s like the Upside Down is draining his energy. As if he is being damaged by the radioactivity of the place.

So, summing it up, a quick in-and-out trip will do you no harm. Just don’t stay in too long.

How Did Will Survive for So Long?

Speaking of Will, kudos on surviving that long trip on the other side, but how exactly did he manage to do it? Right in the first episode, we saw the monster take him to the Upside Down. The monster took Barbara, as well. But she didn’t survive. Then how did Will get to be so lucky? To answer this question, we have to, first, consider the reason the monster took Will in the first place. It is revealed to us later that the monster is attracted by the smell of blood. This is the reason it took Barbara. But I don’t remember Will bleeding when he first encountered the monster. The poor boy only happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Just when the monster was crossing the road (!), he bumped into it. And this put the monster on his trail.

But what did the monster do with him once they were in the Upside Down? It certainly didn’t eat him! We had hoped that Will would explain this to us in the second season. But, everyone wanted to leave him alone considering all the hell he had been through. Fair enough. But the mystery still lingers. What’s so special about Will? Maybe in the next season, we’ll get to know what exactly happened down there. Until then, let’s speculate.

So, here’s the idea. Maybe the monster didn’t take him to eat him. I mean, we didn’t see it eating Barb, either. We just saw her being dragged down the pool. And finally, when Hopper and Joyce did find her body in the school library, it didn’t seem like something had feasted on her. Her body was wrapped in a web of some sorts (which reminded of a scene in LOTR) and a slug-like creature slithered out of her mouth. Similarly, when the monster finally caught Will, it didn’t eat him. We saw him trapped in web-ish layers and a tendril/vine type thing plunged into his mouth.

Hence, maybe, this is what happened. The monster abducted Will. Once in the Upside Down, Will somehow managed to run away, and that’s what he did for the rest of his time in the place. He kept running away while the monster kept chasing after him. Why poor Barb couldn’t manage to do the same could be because the monster was more alert now. It didn’t want the next victim to run away. Also, Will is a kid and that’d make him better at running. Also, Bard didn’t seem like a person who would go on a daily run. So, athletic superiority could be one of the reasons. Also, Joyce mentioned that Will is good at hiding, so maybe, that’s what he did. He hid well.

And begging the question of what exactly it abducted Will for, here’s the possibility. For creating more monsters. Even I don’t know how that works, but here is a faint idea that I have. We did see a huge egg that Hopper passed by in the Upside Down. And, perhaps, that’s where the monsters come from. They hatch. But it must take a bit of time, and the monster had found a way to do it another way, the faster way. Maybe, it needed humans that could harbour the monster in its initial stage until it turned into something that could be up and about in the world.

Barb had a baby monster (?) coming out of her mouth when we saw her body. And maybe, this is what was happening to Will, too. He was a harbouring place for the monster. But, before the process could be completed, it was interrupted and Will was saved. But Barb went through the whole thing and she couldn’t survive it, so she died.

What Was with the Lights and Joyce’s Wall Sized Ouija Board?

One of the things that became instrumental in the saving of Will Byers was his mother’s relentless pursuit of finding him. Call it a mother’s love, but Joyce knew (even when she didn’t) that the body that was found in the lake wasn’t Will’s. She knew, even when she really had no idea about the Upside Down, that Will was “close, real close”. And when she noticed that the electricity responded in a queer way, she (literally) lit her house like a Christmas tree and painted the alphabets on the wall so that her son could communicate with her.

So, how exactly did that communication happen? What made the lights flicker?

We were told by Mr Clarke that opening a portal to the other side would require a large amount of energy and this would mess with the electromagnetic field of the surroundings. The effect is evident when the kids use the magnetic compass that points towards the gate, rather than true north when it is in the vicinity of the lab. Because the making/opening of the portals requires energy, the lights flicker when any such thing happens.

The lights also light up as Joyce and Hopper move around in the house in the Upside Down, while Nancy and Jonathan prepare a trap for the monster, in the real world. It seems that Will might have somehow understood this link between the two worlds, and so, he used it to send messages to his mother. Maybe he also tried to contact through the phone and the voice flickered while there was mostly static. But, the phone burned up when the Demogorgon approached, because the monster, clearly, had more energy radiating out of it. And it is through this energy that the monster can create small portals, just like Eleven uses her powers to stretch the portal through which she crawls out in season 2.

But there’s still a glitch. How did he manage to read the alphabets on the wall? Did they simultaneously appear on the Upside Down wall while Joyce was painting them on her own’s? Maybe. The true origins, nature, characteristics and workings of the Upside Down haven’t been fully explained to us. And reportedly, the Duffer Brothers don’t intend to completely demystify the place for us. Of course, they know exactly how it all works because they created it. And also, there is a 36-page document that they drew up explaining every single detail of the Upside Down. Maybe, this particular thing will be revealed in the further seasons. Until then, this explanation is as good to me as any other.

Did Will Really Cross into the Other Side Without A Portal?

The first season ended with wrapping up the plotline of Will’s disappearance. But, it also left us on a cliff-hanger when Will puked a sluggish creature and, momentarily, found himself back in the Upside Down. While that creature had me questioning the physical condition of Will, the vision of the other side seemed more of a mental condition. Even though he survived everything, it must have taken a toll on his psyche. And this is what Dr Owens tells Joyce in the next season. These were just “episodes”, like PTSD, and that he just needed time to get over it. Turned out, it was something entirely different.

In the first couple of visions, it seemed like Will wasn’t exactly on the other side. He was just looking through a glass. Physically, he was still in the real world. But later, when Will has an episode and he decides to confront the monster (on a well-meaning but unintentionally wrong advice from Bob, poor Bob), the monster actually gets to him. How would this be possible if Will wasn’t physically there on the other side? But, didn’t crossing over require building portals and a lot of energy? Yes, it did. But, Will is a special case.

When Will was found by Joyce and Hopper, he clearly was in some sort of process. Something was happening, but it was stopped midway when Hopper pulled out that pipe-type thing from Will’s mouth. This means that things had already begun to change for Will. And when he was brought back, he wasn’t cleansed of whatever was physically in him now. So, that is the first thing that established his connection with the Mind Flayer and the Upside Down. And that ending scene of the first season was supposed to send this message to the audience. The Will that went in isn’t the Will that came out.

The increasing intensity of his “episodes” also coincided with the pumpkin problem on the other side of the town. As the tunnels below the ground spread farther, Will’s problem intensified.

What Were the Tunnels?

We’d think that the tunnels were portals through which one could enter the Upside Down. They did behave like the portals. For instance, when Hopper dug the ground and went in there, the ground healed back, just like the portals do. But, while the portals are gateways that lead one to the other side, the tunnels were on the real side. They weren’t in the Upside Down. And this is what makes it all the more horrifying. It means that the Mind Flayer had finally found a way to connect both the worlds with something substantial.

So, the tunnels were more of a bridge connecting the two worlds. And through these tunnels, it was slowly beginning to turn the real world into the Upside Down. So, maybe this is why Will didn’t need a portal to cross over. Because he didn’t need to cross over. He wasn’t going to the other side; the other side was coming to him.

Since we are dealing with the theory of the existence of parallel universes, we should keep in mind that there isn’t a limit to the number of parallel universes that can exist. So, maybe, the Upside Down was once a bright and shiny place, until the Mind Flayer found it and destroyed it completely. And perhaps, this is what it does. It travels through the parallel universes, by creating a bridge between them and destroys any form of life in it.

Where Did It All Come From?

Where did the Upside Down come from will be answered when we know where our own universe came from! If you stick to the theory of parallel universes, then there’s really no explanation as to how they came to be. They just are there, like we are here. So, don’t think too much of it. You’ll just go through an episode of existential crisis! Until the Duffer Brothers decide to publish that document or add that info into the plotline of the coming season, we might never know the real origins of the Upside Down.

There is, however, a theory circulating the Internet that says that Eleven is what caused it. Okay, we know that she opened the big gate that resulted in all this mess. She admitted it to Mike in the first season. But was she really responsible for creating a whole different world? It is as probable as it is not! Right now, as we speculate, everything is possible and nothing is possible. So, let’s explore this prospect.

We know that Eleven is powerful and her powers are escalating as she is growing up. There is also her troubled past. Her mother was experimented on when she was pregnant, and Eleven was taken away as soon as she was born. Throughout her life, she was treated as a test subject with the main focus being on strengthening her powers. She was clearly abused, at least mentally, if not physically. And all this is bound to take a toll on a kid. There is a possibility that she was latently depressed. And Upside Down is the representation of that depression.

When she was put into the sensory deprivation tank, it increased the magnitude of her reach, so that she could listen in on people who were far, far away. Now, she didn’t actually teleport, but she did go into some Black Space, that reminded me of ‘Under the Skin’. So, this space must be the manifestation of her mind, a place of her own construct. This was also the time when she was stretching her powers to the fullest. And with great powers come great problems!

As her powers amplified, so did her depression that was lurking in the recesses of her brain. And going a little further, that’s when she first saw the monster. Maybe, just maybe, that monster was a personification of her depression. And when they made physical contact, it led to an energy upsurge that created the Upside Down as we know it. Also, as her powers are increasing so is the size of the monster. For instance, when she first needed to enter the Black Space, she had to be subjected to the custom-built sensory deprivation tank. The next time she did it was in a salt-bath in a tub! And the next time she did it, she only needed to blindfold herself, turn on the TV, and voila! She was there.

Yes, I know, it seems a bit far-fetched. But, there are little things that act as pointers towards authenticating this theory. I’d begin to recount those things, but that’d stretch this article even further than it already needs to! So, the next time you binge watch the series, keep this theory in mind and notice the little connections. For instance, when she finds her way back to the real world in the second season, Eleven enters through the same portal the monster did in the season one finale. I’ll leave the rest for you to figure out.

The Season Two Ending

Now, finally, let’s talk about that ending we were left hanging at. Like the first season, the Duffer Brothers wrapped up the second season with all loose ends tied up. And then they cut the main cord with that scene. As all seems well in Hawkins, the camera slowly turns around until we are in the Upside Down. And there it is, the Mind Flayer looming over the school. So, what does that mean?

Obviously, we knew the monster wasn’t dead. Eleven just closed the gate and trapped it on the other side. She never fully vanquished the Mind Flayer. (This again resonates with the depression theory, where with Hopper’s help, and her friends’, Eleven was able to overcome her depression and managed to close the gate, for a while. But what happened to her can’t be erased. The pain of her past is still there and it looms in the background, while she enjoys happier times.) And now, it seems the Mind Flayer has zeroed in on her.

There are a few things that are wrapped up for sure. The gate is closed. Done. The Hawkins Lab is shut down. However, whether the government is done with Hawkins isn’t yet clear. Will is fine. Yes, people! Whatever was wrong with him has been fixed. There is no trace of the Upside Down or the Mind Flayer in him. How can I be so sure? Well, the showrunners confirmed that Will will no longer be the central problem beacon of Hawkins. They’ll give him a normal life, for once. Unless they break their word, I’m going to trust the showrunners on this one. The kid does need a break.

So, if all connections have been severed, how will the Mind Flayer find its way back into the happy Hawkins? That remains to be seen, but we have an idea. Clearly, there isn’t just a single gate needed to cross over. We have seen several gates appear, sometimes spontaneously (the one through which Nancy crossed over), sometimes created by the monster (as in the finale), and sometimes by Eleven. So, being the giant world destroyer that it is, the Mind Flayer will certainly find a way in. It’s not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘how’.

What Comes Next?

What the Duffer Brothers have in store for the next season is yet to be seen. Considering, they’re still working on the script, it’ll take some time. What we can expect, in addition to the return of the Mind Flayer, is some more of super-powered kid. There is a reason Eleven is eleven. We’ve met Eight (Kali, the lost sister) and we know she is elder and in more control of her powers. This means we can’t really put an age bar on these people. Who knows how long the tests have been going on? And what we do know is that there are at least nine other test subjects like Eleven. Maybe, not all survived. But I’m guessing at least a couple more will be introduced in the next seasons.

Then there is Hopper’s connection with the lab. We have seen him get into shady deals with the government people. But there is a past connection too. Remember the stairway where Hopper cried, in a flashback, after his daughter, Sara, died? That’s the stairway in the lab. Confirmed. We knew this past trauma was leading somewhere.

So, sit tight, until next year. And ponder over these theories the next time you embark on a weekend-sized binge. Over and out.

Read More: Westworld, Explained

Add comment