Now that most of the internet chatter discussing theories and motifs and other such complexities about Netflix’s “Stranger Things” has died down, it’s my time to throw my hat into the ring about the show’s clearly constructed mythology.
While most forays into the alluring cinematic power of “Stranger Things” focus on its obvious homage to the 80’s, there have only been a few true articles on the show’s deliberate narrative vagueness. This is what I find most interesting and innovative about the series – unlike its counterparts, it doesn’t neatly tie up every plot point into a nice package that the reader is bound to understand. While there are some semblances of closure to the show’s main narratives, there are still boundless, tangential questions that linger. This is what I would like to focus on. I’ve got a few questions, too, and it’s the speculation as to their potential answers that I think is most fascinating.
The Christmas Lights
For those reading this, I’m trusting you’ve watched the show in its entirety. If you haven’t, then there are major spoilers, obviously. The show’s main focus is on finding Will Byers, the child who goes missing right in Episode 1. Until, and after, his alleged body is found a few episodes in, the boy communicates with his manic mother Joyce (played by a sensationally emotionally crazed Winona Ryder) via the flashing of christmas lights that Joyce has hung all around her home.
This ‘communication’ via the blues, reds and whites of the lights is conversational while silent. Even when her son’s alleged body is found, Joyce refuses to believe that her son is dead and so continues to communicate with him with these flashing lights. So, to this I raise my first question. What do the lights mean? Why is it via this strange channel does Will attempt to communicate with his mother from the parallel universe that he is stuck within?
Judging by the meticulous plotting of the entire series, I doubt that the decision of communicating through lights was an arbitrary decision by the shows creators. Yes, the lights and its colors clearly reside within the 80’s era that the show embraces, but I think there’s more to it than that.
In some of the show’s particularly moving scenes near the end of the season, we learn how Chief Jim Hopper’s daughter had died of cancer some years ago. Whilst attempting to help Joyce find Will in the ‘Upside Down’ parallel universe in episode 8, Jim finds a toy that his daughter was clutching when she passed away. Not only was this scene extremely emotional, it also upended the tone of episode. Why was this toy in the ‘upside down’? Is this where his daughter now lives? Is his daughter Eleven (El)?
I found Karen Wheeler, Nancy and Mike’s mom, to be a very mysterious character. She’s given more screen time than the other supporting roles, implying that her role carries more weight than it appears to be. She’s shown reaching out, trying to communicate with her children several times throughout the series, her attempts shut down by her children’s lies when they say they’re ‘ok’. We all know they aren’t.
A Mother’s Knowing Expression
So I ask why is Karen so seemingly prevalent in the show? Is she just a representation of a concerned parent in a small town, or is she somehow more closely entwined with some of the show’s larger narrative constructs, most notably, the mysterious El? For a character who runs a tight household, it seems odd that she didn’t discover a girl living in her basement. Don’t you?
Just a few of my thoughts. Weigh in with your opinions – I’d love to hear them. And if you haven’t seen the show, please do yourself a favor and check it out. It’s pretty awesome.