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More Stranger Things - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
More Stranger Things
I don't know if any of my readers are watching this or not, but I have writer-y thoughts about it. Not fic thoughts; I actually don't have any of those to start and abandon at the moment. Just writing technique thoughts about the show.

First thought: Watching reactors, I see over and over again, "Oh, this is going to happen now"... but it's not with the usual cynical eyeroll, and when it happens, the response is generally cheering. That's my response, too.

What, happy at predictability?

Well... in a sense. I've been listening to a book lately. It's one a lot of people like, so I won't name it, but it's based on a fairy tale. When the author isn't going to the fairy tale, it tends to be fast paced and interesting. But every time she brings up the fairy tale elements I wince with, "Ugh, yes, that's that part." But in ST, when you get, "Well, of course it's going to be Eleven coming in" or "Of course Joyce is going to solve the problem by doing X," it isn't the cringe-y feeling. It's the sense of a beat falling in the right place. The Duffer brothers have a great sense of how to use expectations, not to surprise, but to satisfy. To draw out the music metaphor (and add dancing, I guess), you know the basic steps of a waltz. Always. The surprises are in flourishes and exactly how the dancers will resolve the movements of the music. Heck, even take dancing out of it, and go to composing. When you're in, say, the key of C, the song resolves itself in the key of C, and your ears absolutely expect it. If you finish on a random D-sharp, the listener says, "Huh... that's, unexpected I guess? But where's the rest?" Because your mind does know the movements, even if you don't know the technical reasons. In ST, the Duffer brothers always go to the best chords, the ones you can feel building up, and when they hit, you want to stand up and cheer. In the book, it feels like a first year student going, "Oh, shoot, have to go to a C variant now," and kind of mashing keys and tripping over the tempo to get there, then hitting it clumsily. You know it's coming, but it doesn't provide resolution so much as remind you that you do know the technique, and you've seen it done better.

Does that make sense? And of course, in ST, it's not just the writing. Scripts are never complete in and of themselves (up to and including Shakespeare). Everything else plays into it -- the score, the acting, the camera angles, the lighting, the sets -- it's all used well to get that sense of fullness and completion when the beats fall. It's very skillfully done.

Second thought: Lots of people seem to dislike episode 7, "The Lost Sister," largely because they were invested in the end of Episode 6 and it broke away for the whole plot to show what Eleven was doing while the drama at the lab was going down.

I do understand the criticism, but I think they made the right choice here, because Eleven, as much as I love her as a character, can be a plot killer. At the end of Episode 8, "The Mind Flayer," she comes in and takes about a minute to stop the danger that has been threatening the lives of the others for most of the hour (and in fact, has killed one of the minor protags). This would have made the escape from the lab somewhat anticlimactic. So these were their options, as I can see them:
  • Eleven just sits out the battle, for no particular reason, or maybe because she's angry at Hopper. This isn't exactly a great option for her character. For one thing, it's her other friends in danger as well, the ones she's missed all year and who she's been checking on telepathically. It wouldn't make sense for her, if she were in physical proximity, to just say, "Eh, let them do it themselves."
  • Eleven hasn't spent the year developing her powers, and she's still weakened as severely as season 1, so her help wouldn't be as decisive as it ended up being. Again, character-wise, this is a no-go. As someone on TV Tropes pointed out, she's been on her own for a year, just seeing Hop in the evenings... she's had nothing to do but watch TV and tool around with her powers. If she were still at the same point she was at last year, it would be odd. And also, playing with those expectations again, she's hitting puberty, and if you know the genre, you know that's when the superpowered girl tends to level up. There wouldn't be value to subverting that expectation, for the plot or the character.
  • Eleven is captured, or otherwise disabled, at a critical point. Eh, getting into more feasible ideas, but Eleven spent most of last season hiding and being protected. Turning the super-powered heroine into a damsel in distress twice doesn't strike me as a great option.
  • Do what they did -- send her on her character-building quest at a good physical distance -- but combine Episodes 6 and 7 and intercut the action, since they were happening concurrently. Again, this is a feasible solution, but I don't think it would be optimal one. Episodes 6 and 8 were tense, heart-pounding examples of pacing. Cutting the script back and forth to show Eleven meeting Kali and realizing that she needed to come home would have broken that tension and been a much more jangling note.
  • Which leads us to what they actually did, which I think was the best solution: They took two episodes that were happening concurrently, and made each into a single-focus episode, using Eleven's psychic powers to check in with what we'd just seen so we knew where the timelines intersected. She was focused on her own mission, which had wider implications for the world-building (finding out what happened to her mother, and introducing another test subject), and which helped expand her power enough to deal with the real challenge of Episode 9. Meanwhile, the tension of "The Spy" wasn't reduced, and -- since teleportation isn't one of her powers -- explained where she was while the lab was under siege, so she could make her entrance at the end of Episode 8.

So, while I understand the frustration of not wanting to cut away from the cliffhanger -- there were demodogs crawling up the passage right toward Hopper! -- I think that, given the rules of this 'verse, they made the best possible choice. I'm a little concerned going forward about El's plot-killer abilities, but the way that they did this suggests that the Duffer brothers understand the problem, at least, and are giving it solid thought.

And now, to the random stuff.
  • As mentioned, Eleven is hitting puberty. Um, not to bring up awkwardness, but her caretaker is a middle-aged man whose only child is dead, and he's trying to keep her a secret. How did they handle getting sanitary products? And did Eleven ever get any information on what was about to happen to her body, or did Hop have to explain it to her? Man, that would have been awkward. ;p
  • Did Terry Ives have any powers before the experiments? They haven't talked about how the subjects were chosen. Was the experiment done to induce psychic powers (like in Firestarter) or to test and expand them? The possibility that she did have them might open up interesting angles on the show's universe. (And of course, there's the question of Papa -- did he just raise El and teach her to call him Papa, or was he actually her father? And if not, who is?)
  • All the reactors were talking about X-Men when Kali was trying to train El, and I can see it, but I really thought of it more as an inversion of Yoda's teachings... the Sith version.
  • Mike needs to chill out and accept that other girls exist and aren't solely there to try and replace his girlfriend.
  • Dustin's 80s hair was awesome at the Snow Ball, totally music video style... and it's totally accurate that his friends would have ragged him about it, despite knowing all the same bands.
  • Back to season 1, the one thing that didn't seem era-right to me was the cops interfering in a high school fight. All I can think is that an adult must have complained about the noise. I never remember a fight being broken up by cops at the time; they took the attitude that kids are going to deal with problems the way kids deal with problems, and it's probably building their character. If they'd cared about that, they'd have stationed a cop behind Rite-Aid after school... all the cops were local, and they knew where the fights would happen.
  • If they can't get Charlie Heaton back (he had some legal trouble), I think they should just send Jonathan to NYU, and occasionally get letters from him. I would not miss the love triangle.
  • Can the cars in the Upside-Down be driven?
  • Dear Lord, I hope they're not planning a romance between Billy and Mrs. Wheeler, because ick.
  • Three of the classical elements were represented in episodes -- Earth in "Dig Dug," Water in "Will the Wise," Fire... well, all season, but especially "The Gate." Was there an Air episode that I'm not thinking of?

Well, that' it. I need to go shopping now, so I'll just end there. Sorry, no ending resonant chord. :D
4 comments or Leave a comment
shiiki From: shiiki Date: December 16th, 2017 06:58 am (UTC) (Link)
Still watching your posts, but unfortunately I know nothing about Stranger Things (it's only just coming up on my radar as one of things I know exists but I have no clue what it's about) so I can't comment on the show itself.

But yeah, predictability can be done well. Even in books where I can guess the ending, sometimes it's like okay, I know that's going to happen, but I want to see how the author takes me there.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: December 19th, 2017 06:44 am (UTC) (Link)
In some kinds of books, like mysteries, if the ending comes and I say I didn't see that coming, then I think something is wrong -- it means the writer wasn't playing fair.
From: queen_bellatrix Date: December 19th, 2017 06:10 am (UTC) (Link)
So I'm still in the middle of season 1, A. because I'm slow as Christmas and B. because this show. Fern this show is such a damn joy, in the most visceral id way I can think of, and it's making me so profoundly happy at a time when I really needed it (I'm crazy greatful you started metaing about it to give me the impetus to watch) But even in S1 I'm noticing that phenomenon re expectations. Like: you *know* Mike is eventually going to take the kids searching for Will; they have to get involved somehow, and that's the easiest way. But yeah, one of the things that really hooked me in was that when that moment arrived, I was delighted at his bravery/loyalty, rather than going you're an idiot why aren't you listening to your parents? I think it also has something to do with the acting: the "good guys" are so fundamentally decent humans doing their best that you know that decency has to triumph. But they're not. how to say this. cloying in their decency. It's not a perfect decency, just a sort of. every-day human decency we want to aspire too. And so when they win, you're *glad* because you can see yourself in their shoes.

Can we also talk about the way their horror is so quiet and creeping? Things like Joyce being terrorized by something on the phone, or having the lamps constantly blinking at her, but not at anyone else? So that you start to doubt her unreliability/sanity, which then makes it not come as a surprise when she does too? Or, and I thought this was just masterfully done! the way the horror of Barbara being taken is not only her being taken, but the way it's juxtaposed with Nancy's obliviousness in the house with Steve? It's not horror that relies on gore; it's horror that relies on the same elements as a King novel: folks getting so caught up in their own lives that they're willing to throw other folks to the curb or just ignore the bad thing because it would disrupt things for them.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: December 19th, 2017 06:49 am (UTC) (Link)
I think you hit it on the head about their basic decency. They're realistic kids, they have their rude moments and stupid blow-ups about things, but they want to do what's right, and they're kind, and they lay themselves on the line for who they care about. (Have you seen S1 E6, "The Monster," yet? Mike takes bravery and loyalty up a few levels there.)

In S2, there's a new character that's very decent, but watching reactions, everyone kept thinking he was so decent he must be faking. Only... no. This is a show that allows for human decency, even to the point of naivete. It's so refreshing.

Stephen King referred to it as "Stephen King's greatest hits," in a kind way. He said it was all the good stuff about what he wrote.

The horror is psychological more than anything. Sure, there's a monster to beat, but there's also a little girl who was raised in total isolation. There's the horror of the guilt Nancy feels. And yeah, the gaslighting of Joyce Byers and Hopper. And, when you get to the last episode, you'll find something that's a mix between heartbreaking and horrifying as Hopper tries to save Will.
4 comments or Leave a comment