“The campaign was way too short.”
“It was 10 hours!”
“But what about the lost knight? And the proud princess? And those weird little flowers in the cave?”
In its final minutes, Stranger Things comes full circle, and the irresistible Netflix nostalgia bath, salted with 1,500 pounds of 1980s sci-fi movie references, ends where it began: Four friends wrap up an all-day session of Dungeons & Dragons, eager for the next adventure. The conversation above is a cheeky meta-moment, like talking through a pitch session for a second season. Wasn’t 10 (or, in this case, eight) hours of Stranger Things enough? Are there enough lingering questions for the show’s dungeon masters, Matt and Ross Duffer, to justify a second session? As ever, Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), the geeked-out kid with cleidocranial dysplasia, speaks for the fans: “Do you really want to end with a freakin’ medal ceremony?!”
No. No, we do not. And we have some lingering questions that we hope get answered during the show’s second season. (Assuming the series gets another season, given that Netflix has not announced one yet —can we get on that, please?)
1. So is Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) alive now?
It would appear so. In the closing minutes of the season, Chief Hopper (David Harbour) slips away from the precinct Christmas party with some goodies he’d furtively tucked in Tupperware container. He drives to the woods outside town and leaves the Tupperware in a snow-covered chest, along with stack of Eggo waffles — the junk food most treasured by Eleven, the psychic girl who we presumed was dead. So yes, it’s safe to assume she’s alive, but this isn’t a Jon Snow situation, where she’s revived on the slab. Killing the creature obliterated her, too. They both disappeared in cloud of ash. It’s possible she doesn’t have a physical form at all. And that’s to say nothing of her mental state.
2. Will Winona Ryder get put through the ringer again next season?
The final scene of the season features Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), the boy abducted by the faceless creature from another dimension, in a dinner scene that’s like a milder version of John Hurt birthing the monster in Alien. Excusing himself to the bathroom, Will coughs up a red, worm-like creature that slithers down the drain and he flashes briefly on the “Upside Down” parallel universe that had trapped him for a week. It’s possible that the boy’s role as a human host is over and his mother Joyce (Ryder) won’t have to worry about rescuing him a second time and losing her mind again in the process. Then again, that flash to the Upside Down suggests that Will hasn’t entirely escaped the creature’s realm, at least psychologically. This means Mom will most likely have to go through hell again to bring him back. Brace yourself for another round of anxious looks, chain-smoking and inter-dimensional Christmas-light word games.
3. Wait, doesn’t leaving the door open for a second season kind of fuck up the first season?
A little. When Eleven expends the last drop of her psychic energy to save the boys — and possibly humanity itself — from the creature, she sacrifices the promise of a normal life with Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard) and his family, as well as all the Eggos and school dances that go along with it. When Will upchucks the specimen that’s been incubating inside him, it trivializes the extraordinary effort to find and kill the creature, because now there’s presumably one for every Hawkins, Indiana resident it ensnared. A glass-half-empty type might complain, legitimately, that Stranger Things has just spent eight hours getting back to Square One — or maybe worse, since so many of the mysteries of this sci-fi universe have been revealed.
4. It took the entire season to track down and kill the creature, and abductees were used as human hosts. Is there precedent for this, perhaps in the form of a Eighties sci-fi blockbuster?
As a matter of fact, there is! Stranger Things has now shifted from Alien to Aliens, from a single creature doing maximum damage to multiple creatures necessitating a bigger response. James Cameron’s 1986 follow-up ranks among the best sequels ever made because the increased threat prompted a total shift in approach, from a spare horror film about one alien stalking a defenseless space-mining crew to a no-holds-barred actioner involving an infestation of beasties. That doesn’t necessarily mean the Duffers will change genres in Season Two, but everything will have to be bigger and opening up the show to more characters, wider conspiracies, and the obligatory uptick in scale.
5. Is Dr. Brenner (Matthew Modine) really as awful as he seems?
Season Two has the opportunity to add a third dimension to Dr. Brenner, who seems like a manipulative and abusive surrogate father to Eleven but may also have a less sinister agenda than we assume. Everyone has their reasons, after all, including a government scientist willing to have a short-order cook popped in the head for the greater good. On the other hand, if Stranger Things goes the Aliens route, Dr. Brenner stands to be its Paul Reiser.
6. What’s going on with Chief Hopper?
As Will recovers in the hospital, Hopper has a rendezvous with agents at a side exit and takes off in a black Ford Cutlass to destinations unknown. He knows enough about Dr. Brenner’s operation to willingly meet with his agents right after defying them to help rescue Will. He knows Eleven is alive. Are there secrets about him we don’t know? Has he been coerced or convinced?
7. What about the white-hot Steve/Jonathan/Nancy love triangle?
For a moment, it looked like certified weirdo Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton) had a chance to stalk his way into Nancy’s heart, especially after her boyfriend Steve (Joe Keery) went on a slut-shaming campaign with a can of spray paint and a ladder. But the pompadoured Tom Cruise wannabe won Nancy back in the end by defying his bully friends and joining the fight against the creature. Has Steve truly suppressed the Hughes-ian jerk within? That seasonal reindeer sweater may be a little too snug.
8. Are there any movies left to reference? And are the Duffers taking requests?
Stranger Things is nothing if not an elaborate patchwork of nods to other movies: E.T., Poltergeist, The Goonies, Stephen King adaptations, anything by John Carpenter, and dozens of other references, big and small. So the Duffers may have to dig deeper to keep the Eighties party going. To that end, we look forward to the inevitable homages to the ninja prophecies of The Last Dragon, the jive-talking robot in Ice Pirates, and the long-awaited continuation of Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins. Your move, Duffers.