[major spoilers for the TV show Stranger Things below. don’t say I didn’t warn you!]
So okay, here’s my response to a lot of fan theories circulating. I have to admit I’m disappointed with the meta about this show — maybe I’m used to higher standards? But everyone is grabbing at obvious things and not thinking it through.
1. I think it is obvious that the polliwogs are embryonic demogorgons, but everyone seems to be treating them as separate monsters. I think our first glimpse of dead!Barbara is that clue — she was long dead, and the polliwog was sliming out of her mouth. Obviously, it used her as fuel during its early growth. This is further reinforced by the discovery of Will with a very Aliens-like esophageal implant — clearly “laying eggs” that become polliwogs. This also explains something about WHY the monster keeps stealing people (a question that bothered me a lot). Theoretically, its natural habitat is the UpsideDown, why would it suddenly take the risk of slipping streams to grab people? To eat? No, it has access to food, hell it can also grab as many deer as it wants. No, it needs creatures suitable to serve as gestation units.
2. Eleven is definitely NOT the monster. Why? Because there were at least TWO monsters. Think about it: the monster that Jonathan, Nancy and Steve fight is injured by the bear trap and the fire. We know this because we see the blood spot in the UpsideDown. It limped off, bleeding, to the library, tracked by Joyce and Hopper where they find Will. While that is going on, at the ~same time~, a very UNDAMAGED monster shows up at the school to attack, well, everyone. People think it’s the same monster because Joyce and Hopper never actually confront the monster, it just disappears, but if the library is the lair of the monster(s), then it makes sense that, when injured, it would go there to hole up and heal. It did not walk out the back door to go to the school. Yes I understand the narrative elegance of having Eleven and the monster be two sides of the same coin, but: TWO. DIFFERENT. MONSTSTERS.
3. The UpsideDown already existed prior to Eleven — the theory is that she created it so it did not exist until she willed it into being. But the “gate” opened only when Eleven made contact with the monster while it was feeding. I think there’s leeway on this theory, but the long and short of it are these points:
a. It takes a lot less energy to break a wall than to build a whole alternate dimension – this is an important note because the show is going a long way to rest its premise on scientific theories. It’s not going to break a crucial law “just because.”The blank space where Eleven first eavesdropped on the Russian and then “met” the monster was actually the UpsideDown, but Eleven was not fully aware of it — in other words, it’s not that she built it up into something around her, she was in essence serving as a lens ~through~ it, and could only “see” what she focused on until she actually made contact and, as a result, “broke the lens” (ie created the gate).
b. The “breaking of the lens” was, actually, what happened “naturally” when she and the monster touched, because those realities are never supposed to touch, and “touching” in even the slightest way would release a hell of a lot of energy (see point a. above). Eleven cannot create portals by herself. That’s pretty strongly supported by the events of the series and the fact that Hopper leaves food for Eleven at a drop-box in the woods. Presumably, it is a portal previously opened by the monster that Eleven can access. My logic here is that if Eleven could open and close portals at will, she could not only come back and forth at will but also Hopper could just leave the food in a cooler on his porch that she could grab. Eleven is powerful enough to (maybe kill and) banish the monster to the UpsideDown, but to do it she had to push herself into that portal knowing she was not powerful enough to get back out.
4. That said, I’m torn about the theories of what, actually, the UpsideDown is. A twisted version of Hawkins’s future? An AU where Hawkins was attacked by aliens and either lost or was nuked? ???? I don’t knowwwww! And that annoys me.
5. The ST wikia points out what I thought was also obvious: we don’t know if Dr. Brenner survived being attacked by the monster. I’m guessing he did. How? …errrr…I’ll get back to you on that. My working theory is that he got grabbed to be a gestation unit. But we’ll see, I guess.
6. Yeah, I’m 100% buying into the idea that Hopper’s daughter ties into this somewhere. Whether it’s because she was an implanted memory, or didn’t die, or something…it’s not a coincidence that he found her toy in the library in the UpsideDown. I’ve got more on this in point 8.c.
7. THE GATE STILL EXISTS omg people let’s not forget that. The reason Hopper is leaving food at the drop box in the woods for Eleven is that she cannot use the gate because it leads to the laboratory which is still operational.
8. THIS IS ALL ABOUT WILL
a. His friend Mike DM’d a demogoron? A demogorgon shows up. At the end of the series Mike DM’d a thessalhydra, and in the Superbowl ad for S2, we see a thesselhydra. I’m just saying that’s not a coincidence.
b. He’s the only other person to go into the UpsideDown and survive unaided for any length of time (Joyce and Hopper at least had hazmat suits; Nancy would not have made it out without Jonathan pulling her through the portal and would def. have ended up dead like Barbara).
c. Joyce is considered mentally unstable and several people refer to some kind of “episode” she had in the past. I’m guessing this is when Will showed up, or returned; was he an early escapee of Hawkins Laboratory? Eleven is, after all, ELEVEN…that means there are ten more like her somewhere. It’s possible they started tattooing them when they lost a few. Let’s not forget that the woman presumed to be Eleven’s mother, Terry Ives, has suffered a break with reality, and Hopper is “on meds” for some unnamed reasons related to his daughter’s death. Mental instability is a theme with the parents here, and I think that’s more than just “characterization.”
d. Will’s father, Lonnie, is always trying to “normalize” the kid while yet seeming supremely uninvested in him. He was not even reachable during initial stages of the manhunt. Sure, this is passed off in the show as pretty standard “this is a horrible father and awful human being!!!” fare, but…is it? really? He shows up just in time to bury the not!Will’s corpse and lure Joyce off the track of looking for Will. We’re given that it’s because he was there to try and get a settlement for money, but…was he? really? Nah. I’m not buying that. He’s either a plant or he’s in “debt” to Dr. Brenner/Hawkins Laboratory.
e. There is some kind of mushy link I think between Eleven’s power to communicate across the divide and Will’s ability to do the same. Also, Joyce hears and talks to Will when he’s in the UpsideDown, and then she hears Jonathon when she’s in the UpsideDown. This puts that link between Eleven, Will, and (to a lesser degree) Joyce. She would have also been in her teens/twenties during the 60s, and could easily have participated in some kind of “drug experiment” like Terry Ives and has had that erased from her memories…perhaps by Will himself.
f. Which all begs the question: if this IS all about Will, then…why? The idea that Eleven’s actions helped open the gate which then let a monster roam around Hawkins and then went after, of all the people out in the night, young Will Byers, is just too coincidental. If Will is a test subject like Eleven who managed to escape, why would he stay around Hawkins? If he is powerful enough to create reality, why not just “move” his family somewhere far away? No, there is a bigger connection here and that’s why I think it is all about Will.
g. Leading to the final theory, that “Will is now part of the UpsideDown and because of that might turn evil, or even into a monster!” which I kind of agree and disagree with because by my reckoning, Will, like Eleven, has always had some kind of connection the UpsideDown. It’s stronger now because of the time he spent there and the polliwogs, but he is a natural link and I don’t think it’s going to corrupt him any more than it has corrupted Eleven. The point is, Will is EXTREMELY POWERFUL all on his own, he just doesn’t seem aware of it, and I think the real story is going to be less “is he good or evil?” and more along the lines of Eleven’s arc in season one, that is, discovering his power and learning who he is.
And there you go. There are some finer hairs to split, especially about Hopper and Joyce, and I think we have not seen the last of Terry Ives or of Dr. Brenner for that matter, but overall those are my “big ticket” meta-thoughts about Stranger Things.
Also published on Medium.