Let it be fully understood that I love Stranger Things.
I love its X-Filesy intro.
I love its plucky troupe of nerds-in-training. (Seriously: if I were a twelve-year-old in Hawkins I would definitely fancy Mike.)
I love the fact that there are people of three distinct ages I can identify with in some way. Eleven, because obviously. Jonathan, because also obviously. Joyce and Karen, because you get the pattern.
I love Hop and his tragic backstory and his fluently sexist office banter (‘your wife didn’t have time to cook for me, know what I mean?’).
I love Dr. Brenner’s ridiculous silver foxy malevolence.
I love Joyce getting a moment of fleeting happiness from hugging fairy lights in a cupboard because if that’s not a metaphor for life I don’t know what is.
I love Steve’s three-point-turn into being a decent guy again.
The only character I actively dislike is Carol, because she seems to exist solely to be some kind of Pink Lady caricature. Come on, guys. Marty Marascino was better than that.
But with that all said, and recognising there are various other problematic things in the show along the way (Eleven sacrificing herself at the end being top of that particular list), what bothers me the most is that the bad guys in Stranger Things aren’t bad enough.
Sure, their experimentation on the minds of human children ends up opening a portal to a terrifying helldimension where a sarlacc and the creepy eye guy from Pan’s Labyrinth went to have babies. But still, they’re a bit soft.
I get that it’s the eighties and a more innocent time and what have you, but what earthly reason would they have to let Hopper live when he first breaks into the lab? If you’re a secretive government agency determined to keep all attention diverted away from you, then stage his suicide then, ferchrissakes.
And what kind of a clandestine organisation that tries to weaponise children would be so underresourced as to use dummies as their decoy corpses? I expect nothing less than Creepy Government Agents having access to real bodies to use in these kinds of situations. Much harder for rando country police chiefs to get on your case that way.
And would you really set Joyce and Hopper free on the promise they never talk about the lab in relation to Will’s disappearance? Even if Hop hasn’t told the whole story about what he promised them, they seem quite happy to let Joyce just… go. Sure, maybe they don’t believe the pair will survive Flower Face’s fury anyway, but that’s just sloppy antagonising, the undoing of many an evil mastermind.
You’ve also got half the town establishing a temporary spa at the school and no one seems to notice. I mean, you’ve set the AV Club up with new gear which you have PRESUMABLY bugged to the hilt (but seriously guys, I am starting to doubt you managed even that) – why would you not be keeping a close eye on the school as a matter of course? Or Will’s house, for that matter?
I’m glad they made all these mistakes, of course. But the fact that they happened makes me wonder whether the Hawkins lab might not have been where the CIA sent its less-capable evildoers. You know the ones: the guys who don’t take feedback very well, who don’t think things through and generally disdain proper protocol. Still, it’s just too hard to performance manage them so you shunt them off to some middle-of-nowhere top secret facility to “conduct experiments” and leave it at that. There’s a Jon Ronson novel based on these guys out there somewhere, guaranteed.
I’m looking forward to the rumoured series 2. For the sake of all the excellent characters I want to be friends with forever and ever, I hope the Hawkins lab won’t have its professional development budget renewed in the mean time.