The ‘Stranger Things’ of Friendship

Editor’s Note: Today in our podcast, we go through the first three episodes of the Netflix hit Stranger Things. 

It only took me two months to click on the Stranger Things logo on my Netflix feed but it only took me a full night of binge-watching to completely ingest the magic, nostalgic 80’s throwback gem.

I don’t know if it was the haircuts, the music of the Clash, or the Queen of all thing 80’s Winona Ryder but all my heart was a flutter by the last episode.

Fair warning, if you haven’t seen Stranger Things yet you should probably borrow your friend’s password for the weekend and just set aside eight hours of your day and go for it. You won’t be disappointed.

If you haven’t then, go away ’cause I’m gonna drop some spoilers.

My initial takeaway was that The Duffer brothers probably pitched the show to Netflix as an “X-Files meets The Goonies with a soundtrack that sounds like a semi-techno version of The Never Ending Story soundtrack.” Not a bad comparison by a long-shot.

The biggest theme that runs throughout the entire eight episodes is friendship. And lucky for you, we get a wide range of it.

On the one hand, we have Mike Wheeler, Dustin Henderson, Lucas Sinclair, and Will Byers who are basically as nerdy as you can get in the 80’s… probably.

At that age, friendship is probably the most cementing, tangible thing. I know it was for me. So, putting that in a frame of your friend mysteriously disappearing out of the basically thin air has to do a number on your mentally.

And let’s be honest here: Mike, Dustin, and Lucas aren’t fair-weather friends. They take the search for their friend into their own hands and end up throwing themselves into a government conspiracy.

On the flip side, we have Mike’s sister Nancy. By episode two Nancy chooses a boy over her best friend Barb. The scene strikes a chord for anyone who has had a friend bail on them for a girl/boy.

But Nancy quickly pays the price for her decision and continues to pay for it throughout the entire season. Most likely this with being another issue that presents itself in the second season.

It is hard not to look at this in terms of age. Nancy is older, slightly more jaded. She is attempting to fit in with the ‘cool kids’. Her friend Barb is probably the best friend a girl can have. She’s there even when she doesn’t want to be and tells you exactly when you’re not being yourself.

Shame on you, Nancy. Shame.

If we flip the script and look at the relationship between Mike, Lucas, Dustin and Eleven there’s a lot of differences.

Awhile after Eleven has made her appearance, Lucas and Mike have a very physical showdown which leaves their friendship in a grey area. Dustin becomes the voice of reason and tells it like it is. Lucas and Mike were best friends by default because they lived next to each other. Then, you introduce a girl who Mike has seemingly fallen in love with and it creates a lot of awkwardness.

It is a throwback to the Nancy dilemma. Mike wants Eleven. Nancy wants Steve. Lucas and Barb kind of get the shaft, or at least Lucas feels like he is getting the shaft. Barb gets shafted.

Throughout the series, Mike tries to press upon Eleven the idea of “friendship” and how “friends don’t lie”. They don’t beat you over the head with it, but as the storyline progresses Eleven needs to understand that Mike, Lucas, and Dustin are there for her.

In the epic scene where Eleven pulls Mike back to the cliff side after being in full freefall, we get a grand sense of Eleven’s loyalty as well as her firmer grasp on what it means to care about other people despite whatever their own personal circumstances may be.

“She’s our friend, and she’s crazy!” As Dustin would say.

She needs to trust them in order to not only grow but to gain a sense of someone who hasn’t been a lab rat for however long.

The cliff scene, for me anyway, took me back to the themes that get used a lot in television shows and movies. Where the theme of friendship and love get used in tandem with power.

Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, Sailor Moon, Jessia Jones (these are only the one I can think of off hand).  Those characters more often than not use their “abilities” to protect the people they care about. Much like Captain America Civil War you have Steve Rodgers who is loyal to a fault when trying to protect his childhood friend. In a lot of ways, Eleven’s abilities are a personified example of “protecting your friends”. It is when her friends are in the utmost danger her powers are precise, like a laser. Eleven represents a more mystical trope of love and loyalty which is crazy since I’m pretty sure she doesn’t even know what love is.

Eleven, who has had no real human contact in her a whole life, basically gets an abridged lesson on humanity. Eleven’s arc throughout the series kind of reminds me of the way X-Men’s Jean Grey went (the comics, not the movie franchise). Jean Grey was infused with this amazing amount of power she could barely control and in order to save her friends she basically destroyed herself.

Now, I have no idea what happens with Eleven. And much like Jean, she’ll probably be back.

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