I've been consuming the series like most everyone else: easter-egging the 80’s nostalgia and vibing off the Scooby-gang realness. This latest installment was totally tubular on both fronts. The introduction of Star Court Mall as the seat of the action put suburban capitalist ideals on a neon acid trip. But I enjoyed the sickly sweet Orange Julius of it all. Plus I’m always game for a round of “how many folks with melanin are visible in the background ” ™ [let’s patent that] of any show, and it looks like Stranger Things continues to up their numbers in the Hollywood diversity lottery. Kudos?
One, Two-Three, Four? Four-point-Five? Five! Episode 6 is a winner. This game is fun.
Anyhow, the main characters are growing up and even though they've had unbelievable encounters in the past, they aren’t jaded. They still manage to take on new adventures with more aplomb than before. Though I suppose, if you have a bat embedded with nails in your arsenal then you’re likely ready for anything.
It wasn't until the last episode of season three that I began thinking about Stranger Things in a different light. Maybe it wasn't only about the aesthetics and meandering story line. I legit hadn’t fully made the correlation between the series and the psychology of trauma as written about by The Atlantic in 2017. And while I’m sure there has probably been a robust Reddit thread on the subject for years it wasn’t until [Spoiler Alert] Billy’s character shift and subsequent demise that I understood what else had drawn me into the show for years.
It was a heady rush trying to synthesize the emotional roller coaster that depression entails with the Stranger Things arc. At first it felt odd to think about depression wrapped up in the shiny retro chic packaging that Stranger Things offers via Netflix’s coffers. But sometimes, especially if offset in youth, depression does indeed seem mildly alluring.
Even in its alienation you are drawn to the solitude. The mental gymnastics necessary to access your very own personal Upside Down can be as haphazard as they are for young Will in Season One or as scientific as they are for Eleven in Season Two’s flashbacks.
You think you’re in it alone, and thus perversely special, but not in a celebratory sense. Only you can know what this solitude truly is. Battling all sorts of phantasms in the darkness of it all. But even if you were to find out that you are not alone in the battle, and others are waging similar wars, then the muted drama diminishes along with that “special” factor you once possessed, thus fueling further journeys into depression. You think perhaps this line of reasoning is foolish or crazy and that others won’t understand your circuitous logic. Eureka! It is along this thread that you find what truly differentiates you and keeps anyone else from fully believing what you’re going through.
Then for your differences, you’re labeled accordingly as the niche goth-emo-nerd-dweeb-metalhead-weirdo boo radley of the cafeteria and people think they might catch what you have. The hormonal upheavals which peak and cycle through your tween and teen years seem to be the actual Never Ending Story. (The labels might even follow you into adulthood, but somehow are now ironically on trend and cool).
By some miracle and more mental gymnastics, even though siloed by your emotions, you reach out to other people or other people reach out to you and suddenly you’re talking about the same messed up and seemingly impossible things. Maybe you’re even making plans together or strategizing about ways to defeat (all of ) the above.
That’s what I love about the show. Each season one or a group of characters have these singular adventures battling some iteration of the same monster thinking they have to go it alone and then eventually figure out that they are stronger together.
I also enjoy that it’s not necessarily all kumbaya, there are arguments, petty banter, and litteral bursting of guts because the process towards acceptance can be full of nitpicking, tears, frustration, anger and hopefully laughter. In this third season, the Mind Flayer collects and transforms average joes and janes, showing that even some of the sweetest people can be overcome by a darkness-rage-anger-hurt that twists them into an ugly thing lashing out and attempting to infect others.
I also especially like the idea that its okay to acknowledge that you may come across shitty people in the world. Whether they peripherally affect you and your life decisions (like say, the perspectives of others) or are full on bullies in your life (like say, Billy). Stranger Things throws those people a bone too, giving them (somewhat flimsy) emotional back stories. The skein of male reporters at The Hawkins Post however shows that — even before being infected with a seemingly transitory evil-impulse— some people where already shitty. Thank you Stranger Things.
This round-up was brought to you by: “Did you know that July was National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month? Neither did I”. Check in with your friends and fam, folks, and not only in July. Especially since it’s basically over. At the very least, check to ensure that their time in the Upside Down is temporary.