The Horror of Victory — Stranger Things Season One Review


You wake in a maze, at the mouth of the entrance. You feel the walls; they are cold, and still. You call out, at first, asking for someone to come to you, to take you away, but the echoes fade, and you are left alone. You put your hand on the wall, and with trembling fingers and shuddering breath, you walk into the darkness. 

* * *

I’ve never been a horror fan, per se. I’ve liked certain horror movies, like The Shining, or shows, like the first and second seasons of Supernatural, but I’ve never really enjoyed the genre as a whole. I’d like to say that it’s for academic, intellectual reasons; that I just had never found horror to be particularly smart, let alone entertaining. But while I do think that a lot of the horror genre misses the point, it’s always been because I rarely found a reason to enjoy being scared. Why the hell would I want to spent a few hours trying not to scream? What in the hell would be fun about trying not to piss your pants?

When Stranger Things first debuted, and the world went crazy over it (or, at least, my little Twitter subsection of the world), I blew it off. Ain’t no way I’d be spending a second of my time watching this show, scared out of my mind, or worse. Why would I want to ruin a perfectly good night’s sleep? But, ultimately, I crave being part of the pop culture conversation; I love the podcasts, and the articles, and the Twitter fights. I need it, man. I shoot that shit into my veins like… that monster shot worm babies into Will’s stomach? Idk. This got away from me a little bit. Point is, I wasn’t going to watch it. But I did.

I found a reason to be scared.

* * *

You hear a roar, way off in the distance; you jump at the sound, and your fingers scrape the rock wall, and blood comes to the surface. You don’t dare take your hand off the wall, not in this darkness, and not with that roar. You keep going, forward and onwards, into the deepening black. 

You think back to how you got here; you think back and can’t remember, and then you put it out of your mind. You just go, forward and onwards, looking for the exit, looking for the door way that will take you into the light, and back to your home. The roar comes again, but this time you just squeeze your eyes tight, and follow the path. 

* * *

In Stranger Things, the good guys lose, and lose, and lose.

Not a single victory was won. Not a single person was made better. Do you think that Mike is better off now, having experienced what he experienced? Is he better for the mortal terror that gripped him, and held him tight, for weeks and weeks on end? Will isn’t better off; he’s out, sure, but he’s also infected, acting as a host for the creature, and slipping in and out of his own dimension with increasing regularity.

And El? God Almighty, what that girl is going through.

There was a great line written about her, perhaps on the AV Club: she gives and gives, because that’s all she knows how to do. She was raised to be a dispenser for her warmongering masters, given no affection or attention except what came after brutal pain and murder. Her sacrifice was a hero’s death; but it was a sacrifice she made in part because she had been so neglected and tortured that she saw it as her only option. She gave and gave, until she had no more left to give.

It kills me. El was the best of all of them, more human than any of the people she interacted with. Every decision she made was to protect the people she cared about, and she gets thrown into a dark, toxic hell, alone; she gets leftovers from terrible Christmas parties and Eggo waffles, as if that is somehow an acceptable compromise.

El is twelve years old. El killed the monster. El is in Hell.

* * *

Just let me out, you say, over and over again. You stumble along in the darkness. The walls stay cold, and still. The roars change direction. They are behind you. Then they are in front of you. Then they are beside you. 

Your foot touches something on the ground, and you scream. It’s someone else, with a soft, tired voice; they’ve been here longer than you have. You reach out, and take their hand; you interlock fingers, and walk on together. You have found a friend. 

* * *

What is it, Hopper? Why would you do this to a little girl? Do you not see the parallels? Do you not realize you traded one child for another?

You barely know her; I get it. You know Will Byers, and care about his family; I get that too. But what is the point of being a police officer if you only protect the ones you care about? The premise of your job is service to something greater than yourself, and instead, you gave a twelve year old back to her abusers, and sent her into a worse hell.

You could’ve lied. You could’ve sent them three counties over. You couldn’t have believed that they were going to let you go, or those kids go. But it didn’t matter if you succeeded, did it? It didn’t matter if you found Will, or got out of the Upside Down alive; you wanted to be the hero, for the daughter that was ripped away from you, and the compassion that slipped through your fingers.

You lost the girl, again.

* * *

The roars grow louder, and louder, and louder, and your friend slower, and slower, and—

I can’t go on, they say. I’ve been here too long, they say. You can see light ahead, after miles and miles of twisting tunnels, but they can’t go on, they say. But their feet still move, and their breathe still comes, and the roars are not loud enough for you to pretend that those cold fingers in yours aren’t real. 

You go on, and they do too; the roars are loud; the door is in sight. 

* * *

The fight for the status quo is what drives this show. A return to normalcy is the goal for all involved. And for the most part, that is what they achieve; the Byers family (or, at least, the part that matters) is reunited, Nancy is back with Steve, and the boys are playing Dungeons & Dragons in the basement of Mike’s house again.

But the thing about the status quo is that it’s not a state that you can ever return to. Once you break away from your current condition, you can never get it back the way it was. Nancy is never going to forget the time she spent with Jonathan; Mike is never going to get over El; Joyce will have the vice grip of fear around her heart every time Will isn’t where she can see him.

There is some lip service paid to some sort of longer term victory, but I don’t buy it. They, what, investigate the lab, and that’s it? Brenner gets dropped by the petal-faced monster, and that’s it? Brenner wasn’t the only man working on MKULTRA; Brenner wasn’t the only person in the government to know about Eleven. Not only did they not reestablish the status quo, they might’ve made things worse.

The Horror of Victory, I called this piece; you get what you want, but it’s not what you need. Joyce has Will back, the monster is banished, and the world goes round and round. But it cost them Barb, and El, and revealed Hopper to be a man who believes that he can atone for hours outside of his control by creating others that are.

What the hell is the point of getting Will back, of saving the world, if you had to give up everything that made Will and the world worth fighting for away?

* * *

You left them behind. You left them behind, because their feet shuffled instead of walked. You left them behind because you wanted to get free, and survive; you left them behind to die. They needed you, and you chose you. You chose you. 

They chose you, too, when you let go of their hand. You never saw their face, but you did hear them lay down, not reach for you, and not fight when the monster over came them. You looked back and saw their shape in the light coming from the door, and then you moved on; you left the sounds behind. You left the sounds behind. 

Here you are now. This place is so bright, brighter than you’ve ever seen. You’ve escaped! You’ve mad it! But the light fades from your eyes; you haven’t escaped; you’re in another maze; there are torches on the wall; you can see what’s coming now. 

The sounds from behind you have stopped. They have moved on. You feel your chest tighten. You feel your hands shake. You hear the roar again, from deep within the tunnel, but it sounds different this time. Congratulations, it seems to say; you’ve won. 



Stranger Things season one was dope. I am no better a writer than I was the last time I wrote a piece.

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