Synopsis: A young boy in a small town goes missing on his way home from a night with friends and his mother is willing to do whatever it takes to get him back. Little does she know, there’s a lot more to it than a simple missing child’s case, and she and a few other members of the town realize their world is a lot bigger than it originally seemed.
Netflix has done it again with its latest original series, Stranger Things, which is a surprisingly perfect summer show to binge. In a little town called Hawkins, Indiana, back in the 80’s, a group of friends get together to play Dungeons & Dragons. Unfortunately, for one of them, he doesn’t make it back while biking home. He is separated from his friends and ends up in the woods where he encounters a strange, sinister force that leads to his disappearance. A la Twin Peaks, his disappearance—later presumed death—shakes up the entire town as they rally together to try and find Will Byers (Noah Schnapp).
Chief Hopper (David Harbour) leads the charge, as Will’s grieved mother (Winona Ryder) pressures him to take the case more seriously after it becomes clear Will has not merely run away from home or has gotten lost. Meanwhile, going against better advice to keep to themselves, Will’s friends Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) scheme to figure out a way to help find their friend. Though the search for Will is the major undercurrent of the series, the first few episodes continue to set the dense stage for the show as peripheral characters like Mike’s sister Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Will’s brother Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) have their own personal storylines introduced.
In the middle of it all, Mike and his friends end up discovering a little girl in the woods after they slip out of their homes to search for Will. She turns out to be more than that bargained for as they smuggle her back to Mike’s house and hide her in the fort in his basement. She insists her name is Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), we learn through intermittent flashbacks that she has quite an unpleasant past and that the people who have had her have been doing eerie experiments on her.
From there on out, the series gets even—yup—stranger, as creepy pseudo-government spooks from a power facility just outside the town begin snooping around. It is just what Hawkins needs in the midst of Will’s disappearance. To add to it, Will’s mother begins to “hear” him talk to her through the lights even after his body is found in a reservoir, she also starts to see a creature trying to break through her walls. Just another normal day in Hawkins, Indiana, right?
While all of the insanity goes around, and the little girl who goes by the name Eleven begins to reveal to Mike and his pals the reality of what Will is facing, Mike’s older sister deals with coming-of-age and having a popular boyfriend. Her 80’s high school drama takes a twisted turn, however, when her friend Barb (Shannon Purser) disappears from a small party where Nancy ditches Barb to go get it on with her new boyfriend, Steve (Joe Keery). From there on out, her story begins to weave into the bigger arc as she starts to suspect that what happened to her friend may have something to do with what happened to Will.
Chief Hopper, too, begins to notice something weird after he takes a trip to the “power facility” to try and investigate the grounds. After they lied to him about the night of Will’s disappearance, he grew suspicious that they might have known more than they were letting on, and began to delve deeper into the investigation. Thanks to his quick thinking, he learns that Will’s body, which had been pulled out of the water, is a fake stuffed with fluff, and realizes that Will is still out there somewhere.
Soon, everyone—Mike’s group of friends, Will’s mother, Mike’s older sister, and Chief Hopper—is all somehow invested in Will’s disappearance and wants to figure out where he could be. However, since no one communicates with each other, they all do it their own way instead of comparing notes. Nancy teams up with Jonathan after she catches a glimpse of the faceless creature stalking her in the forest and they decide they are going to try to catch it and kill it. Hopper goes to Will’s mother and insists he believes her when she says Will is speaking to her through the lights that she has strung up all around the house. Mike and his friends partner with Eleven, who teaches them about the “upside-down”—a parallel universe or shadowverse—and leads them to learn more about the concept of parallel universes.
Meanwhile, the dark-suited goons continue their pursuit of Eleven and are willing to kill anyone who gets in their way.
Eleven tries to keep Mike and his group of friends from pursuing Will any further and ends up getting into a fight with them which causes her to run away. Hopper and Joyce (Will’s mother) look into similar disappearances and find one, where a baby girl had been taken and never returned even after her mother raised hell to get her back, never mind the fact everyone else in the mother’s life believed the story that her daughter had been stillborn. Nancy and Jonathan continue to plan out how to kill the monster that has taken Will.
Throughout the back half of the season, Eleven’s story becomes clearer. The audience learns that she had been taken from her mother and subjected to a number of mental tests made to cultivate some sort of psychic and telekinetic abilities. They started by having her “reach out” with her mind into the world to spy on Russians, or find other enemies, but soon transitioned into having her reach out to another side. She was told to embrace the terrible creature she found there instead of running, and when she did, ended up ripping a portal between two universes that would allow the creature to hunt in our world while taking things and even people to its universe.
Good job, creepy government psychos.
Aforementioned creepy government psychos begin to throw their weight around as they attempt to track down Mike and his friends, knowing Eleven was with them. With the psychos hot on their heels, Mike and his friends, with help from Eleven’s ability to flip moving vehicles with her mind, hide in a junkyard in an old bus. It is there that they are contacted by Nancy, who had joined up with Hopper and Joyce after Jonathan gets into a fist fight with Steve, and Hopper realizes what the two are up to. With that, the teams finally meet up and communicate with each other to create a game plan.
Meeting up at the school, Mike’s friend Dustin calls their science teacher to get advice on how to build a sensory deprivation pool, because Eleven wants to use it to help them find Will. They manage to do it with a heck of a lot of salt and a kiddie pool, and she is able to venture into the upside-down to find Will. He is hiding in his fort—a mirror copy of the one he has in our world—and he does not have much time. The environment of the upside-down world is killing him and he doesn’t have much in the way of sustenance. Hopper and Joyce resolve to go into the portal, which they figure would be in the energy facility, a convenient cover for sketchy government operations, and leave all the kids behind.
With Hopper and Joyce gone, Nancy and Jonathan decide their plan can still work and they also ditch the kids in order to go and try to catch the beast to kill it. Hopper and Joyce end up getting caught by the government goons, and it does not look good until Hopper strikes a deal with them: exchange the whereabouts of Eleven in order to get a chance for him and Joyce to go through the portal to find Will. They suit up and make their way through the portal into the other dimension, just as Nancy and Jonathan lure the beast into their dimension and manage to catch the thing in a bear trap and set it on fire (with minimal help from Nancy’s boyfriend/ex-boyfriend/boyfriend again, Steve, who shows up out of the blue trying to reconcile with Nancy).
Unfortunately, with everyone else occupied, the goons show up at the school to collect Eleven. In a confrontation with her, clearly weakened from her earlier psychic gymnastics, the beast is inadvertently summoned due to blood on the ground. As a result, the goons end up being slaughtered while the kids run and hide. The beast eventually corners them, but Eleven stands between the boys and the beast and faces it down with the last of her strength. As she battles it, Hopper and Joyce manage to locate Will who is in bad shape and not breathing. They do CPR, as Hopper relives the memory of watching his sick daughter die, and are able to resuscitate him just as Eleven defeats the beast and turns to dust.
I guess she isn’t going to join Mike’s family after all.
A couple months and a time jump later, Christmas comes. With it, we see the families back together. Mike and his friends are playing D&D like old times, Nancy gives Jonathan a Christmas gift when he comes to collect Will, then ends up back with Steve on the couch, and everything seems to be well again. The darkness has passed, except not quite, as it turns out Will still carries with him some piece of the upside-down, as evident when he coughs up a nasty alien worm into the sink right before Christmas dinner.
To further the idea that everything beneath the surface has changed, the season ends with Hopper making a trip out into the woods to a wooden box. In the box, he leaves some items, including a stack of Eggos, which were Eleven’s favorite. Could she still be alive somewhere? Is the portal still open? And how on earth is she going to toast the Eggos? All of these questions will have to be revisited in Stranger Things season two.