Has it only been a little over a year since Stranger Things arrived with almost no hype – and then, within days of Netflix dropping the first season online, became one of 2016’s most talked-about TV shows? Created by twin brothers Matt and Ross Duffer, the first season of the sci-fi/horror series paid homage to Stephen King novels and the Eighties’ classic Spielberg-to-slasher genre films, while telling a story about super-powered paranormal entities, covert government agencies, small-town Indiana kids and a dark dimension known as “the Upside Down.” Even more than the nostalgic kick, the project won viewers over with its many mysteries – not all of which were explained by the end of the initial eight episodes.
Now, last year’s phenomenon is set to become this fall’s obsession when the show’s sophomore season debuts on October 27th. But before we all start popping Eggo waffles into the toaster and begin examining the clues embedded in those upcoming nine new episodes, it’s probably smart to look back at where Season One left off – and remember all the questions we were left with last July.
1. Is Will still barfing up slugs?
The plot of season one kicked into gear when 12-year-old Will Byers meets a monster his buddies dub “the Demogorgon” (after a classic Dungeons & Dragons demon) and then disappears into the Upside Down. In the finale, Will’s anxious mother Joyce (Winona Ryder) and local lawman Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) venture into the other dimension and rescue the boy from the beast’s snare, bringing him back into the real-world version of Hawkins, Indiana. Happy ending, right?
Not quite. In a shocking cliffhanger, the season ends with Will at home, spitting up a thick, slimy, wormy creature – similar to those seen in the monster’s “nest” where he was trapped – while seeing flashes of the Upside Down overlaid on his bathroom. The new episodes will reportedly pick up the action a year later, in 1984 … which makes sense since all the child actors will have aged noticeably. But has Will spent all that time having visions and puking gastropods?
That’s not just an idle question. Given how much weight the Duffers put on that big twist, they’re pretty much going to have to open up their next episode by addressing the elephant – or slug – in the room.
2. When – and how – will Eleven return?
Here’s another question that’ll need to be dealt with fairly quickly. Although Stranger Things has a wealth of memorable characters, the one who’s become most identified with the series is Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), a boyish preteen girl with intense psychokinetic abilities. After she helps save the day in the season finale, she disappears, leaving a handful of partially solved mysteries about who she really is, why she was held captive by a shady scientific lab and where she may have gone.
The Duffers (and, um, the Season Two trailers) have indicated Eleven will definitely be back, and that she’ll be heavily involved with new plot-lines that’ll fill in some of the details of her story. Odds are that we’ll see her as early as the first Season Two episode, since she’s the heart of the show. But what kind of a reveal will it be? How long will we have to wait to learn how she’s been spending the past year? Is she still really, really into waffles?
3. Why was Chief Hopper taken away?
Hawkins’ resident square-jawed hero overcame his own alcoholism and tragic past to fight for Joyce and rescue Will; and in the Season One finale, he appeared to suffer the consequences. An unmarked black car – of the sort an off-the-books government agency might use – picked him up off the street and drove off. He’s seen again out in the woods in the “one month later” roundup at the end of the episode, delivering a box of food – most likely to Eleven, given that he throws in some Eggos. But we don’t learn anything about his little Sunday drive with the G-men, or the full extent of any deals he may have made with the shadowy scientists in order to gain access to the Upside Down.
4. What exactly was Dr. Brenner’s plan, anyway?
There has been speculation among Stranger Things fans that Hawkins National Laboratory honcho Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine) is alive, even though we see him get pretty viciously attacked by the Demogorgon in the finale. The main clue to his possible survival: a newspaper clipping on Will’s wall, reporting on his rescue, which quotes someone named “Brenner.” If he is still around, perhaps he can connect some of the remaining dots from last season about the nature of his work with HNL.
The implication – never wholly confirmed – is that the doc helped the CIA with their “MKUltra” experiments with psychotropic drugs and mind-control … and that Eleven may be the 11th iteration of a project to study the children of the original test subjects. (In this case, the mother may be the catatonic Terry Ives, who claims her daughter Jane was stolen from her at birth.) But how much Brenner actually knew about the Upside Down and the monster before Eleven stumbled upon both remains one of the show’s big gaps.
It’s entirely possible that he was intentionally using Eleven to explore this other dimension, as opposed to his stated goal of having her deploy her psychic powers to spy on America’s enemies. Some viewers have theorized that the monster could be a mutation of one of the earlier experiments with the MKUltra offspring, and that the government was allowing this beast to incubate an army of biological super-weapons, Aliens-style. Anyway, if Brenner doesn’t come back, the answers we’re looking for may arrive courtesy of a new character for Season Two: a Department of Energy stooge named Dr. Owens, played by Paul Reiser (who earlier in his career played a weaselly corporate lackey in – wait for it – Aliens).
5. What further wonders – and horrors – will the Upside Down hold?
Stranger Things has already been renewed for a third season, and the Duffers have said that they could see the show taking four seasons to wrap up its story. In other words, don’t expect this next batch of episodes to explain exactly what the Upside Down is, or why it matters to so many people. Given the way the first year ended though, we should keep seeing creatures from over there menacing the good people of Hawkins, with Will potentially as the only one who can anticipate what’s coming.
6. Will poor Barb ever get her due?
What, did you think you were going to make it through a Stranger Things article without someone mentioning Barb? Viewers seemed to care more about the life and death of Barbara Holland than her creators did, thanks in large part to Shannon Purser’s memorable performance as the dowdy, duly concerned local teenager – who later becomes fodder in the Upside Down for the kind of slug-beasts that Will spits up in the finale. None of the character’s friends or family seemed to think much about their friend for more than a day or two after her initial disappearance. Given what a fan-favorite she became, however, don’t be surprised if her name gets dropped a lot in Season Two, or even if the Duffers find a way to get the Emmy-nominated Purser back on the show.
7. What other 1980s stuff will the Duffer brothers reference this year?
The first extended Season Two trailer features overt and subtle nods to Ghostbusters, The Goonies, Videodrome, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video, the Reagan/Bush re-election campaign and the video game Dragon’s Lair. This year’s story will take place around Halloween, which should offer plenty of opportunities for Eighties horror movie homages. And since 1984 was the year of Gremlins, Footloose, The Karate Kid, Purple Rain, Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A., Miami Vice and Madonna’s performance of “Like a Virgin” at the first MTV Video Music Awards … well, there’s definitely a lot of material for the Duffers and their writers and directors to mine.
And speaking of directors, two episodes this year will be helmed by Andrew Stanton, the Pixar genius behind Finding Nemo, WALL-E and the underrated (yes, we said it) live-action Disney movie John Carter. He’s someone with a fairly encyclopedic knowledge of genre films and pulp. Your “__ Easter Eggs You Missed From Stranger Things Season Two” articles should be thick on the ground this October. Honestly, we can’t wait.