SPOILER WARNING: This article contains spoilers for the second season of Stranger Things, streaming now on Netflix.
Stranger Things contains a lot of deep cuts, blending mystery, horror and sci-fi to win the hearts of fans of comic books, board games, video games and everything from the ’80s and ’90s. However, the show is more than a mere trip down nostalgia lane — it’s also a coming-of-age story, one that folks of all ages can connect with thanks to how relatable its characters and situations are.
Whether it’s a first kiss, social anxiety or the “monster” obstacles we have to overcome in life, Stranger Things speaks to us. In doing so, it also tackles real world issues head-on, thanks in no small part to the show’s creators, the Duffer brothers, having been socially awkward growing up. While Season 1 addressed the topics of teenage sex, high school social pressures, young love, and of course, parents losing their children, Season 2 turns it up a notch, tunneling even deeper and making bigger statements.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Will Byers’ (Noah Schnapp) PTSD is evident after being freed from the Upside Down. However, his infection by the Mind Flayer means he’s still connected to the dark dimension, reminding him of the torture from the Demogorgon’s kidnapping. The Duffers subsequently detail how tough it is for Will to regain a sense of normalcy. His mental fatigue leads to seizures, which break his body and eventually his mind, providing an opening for the Shadow Monster to possess the boy.
The approach to Eleven’s (Millie Bobby Brown) PTSD, however, is more subtle. Sequestered in Chief Jim Hopper’s (David Harbour) cabin, she’s kept secret and protected. In this isolation though, she experiences flashbacks of the Demogorgon, the Upside Down, foraging alone in the real world, and the trauma of the MKUltra program. While Will is trying to reconnect with his identity, Eleven is trying to discover hers in the first place, a very different type of mental burden for someone so young. Both cases end up illustrating how tragedy at a young age leaves a lasting impression.
In flashbacks to the MKUltra program at Hawkins National Laboratory, we see Eleven and Kali (aka Eight) tasered in order to fall in line. It’s scary watching kids abused in order to train them as soldiers, but it’s a stark reflection of certain societies in the world today. They’re not treated like humans but like weapons, which informs how they turn out — vengeful and dangerous — as seen with Kali’s lust for revenge.
Later, we witness why Billy Mayfield (Dacre Montgomery) is such a vagabond. At first glance, he seems like your typical high school jock, raging because of his testosterone levels, but after failing to keep an eye on his sister Max (Sadie Sink), the source of his anger comes to light. His father, ticked that Max is missing, verbally berates him with angry homophobic and sexual slurs. He then physically assaults Billy, reminding us that kids’ behaviors often reflect their home environment.
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