This post contains spoilers — but come on, you guys, it’s been out for like, a full week.
Finally, what we’ve all been waiting for — the long-awaited, synth-driven second season of Netflix’s Stranger Things has arrived! It’s been fifteen long months since we’ve last seen our sweet, spunky kids in action, and to say we missed them is an understatement. Not much has changed in good old Hawkins, but its residents have. With the season one finale’s heart wrenching cliffhangers — from Eleven’s sacrifice to Will’s pukey surprise — we had a feeling that season two’s main struggle wouldn’t be about Steve’s fave hairspray spray being discontinued. What we didn’t know was just how dark and scarily relevant it would be. On the surface, Stranger Things is a joyful ‘80s romp, full of suspense, adventure, and friendship, but really it’s become one of the most important depictions of PTSD and childhood trauma in modern television.
The show’s second season follows our small-town heroes one year after Will’s disappearance and Eleven’s arrival, as they scramble to save the world once again. Throughout the chaos, two of our tiny protagonists are deep in the throes of recovery — Will is regularly suffering from panic attacks, and Eleven is in hiding from the men who want to control her and her psycho-kinetic powers. While the rest of the gang is busy trying to figure out how to deal in the aftermath of the demogorgon, Will and Eleven’s struggle to become whole again after experiencing the Upside Down becomes a powerful metaphor for post-traumatic stress, isolation, and depression.
The best thing about Stranger Things is that it doesn’t shy away from the ugly parts of recovery, and how it affects everyone differently. Will’s episodes begin to increase as time moves closer to the anniversary of his abduction. Survivors of violence or traumatic events often experience what is called anniversary reactions — a time of “increased distress” often triggered by painful memories associated with specific dates. Will describes feelings of fear and powerlessness. He becomes a frozen shell of his former self, literally and figuratively. Eleven becomes restless and volatile. Her anger towards her captors — whether it be the nefarious Papa or a misguided Hopper — begins to fester, often causing her to lash out and become hostile. After a particularly excruciating fight with Hopper, Eleven embarks on a journey to confront her past and those who hurt her. Along the way she meets Kali, another former Hawkins Lab victim, a girl who uses her powers to deliver her own twisted forms of justice. While Eleven can’t bring herself to use her powers to inflict violence, even against the men who hurt her, she learns from Kali that her anger can be channeled and used for good.
The most powerful moment of the show comes in the season two finale, “Chapter Nine: The Gate”, when Eleven returns to Hawkins Lab to close the gate to the Upside Down. The gate is symbolic of the trauma and suffering Eleven has spent her whole life trying to escape. This tear in time and space is literally a wound in the ground that beckons the darkest and ugliest of creatures to the surface. Deep in her heart, Eleven understands that she has to be the one to close the gate, just as she was the one who opened it. Closing the gate means addressing her painful past head on, because after the hurt, begins the healing.
Most of the time, dealing with mental illness feels like fighting a Shadow Monster — an otherworldly and impossible task. However, it’s important to note that no one has to do it alone. According to the World Health Organization, one in four people suffer from mental disorders — that’s over 450 million people worldwide. It’s refreshing to see such a frank and satisfying discussion of mental health in such a critically and commercially beloved show. Grounded by stunning performances, Stranger Things 2 reminds us that whether we’re teenagers, mothers, or “MTV punks," we all have the power within ourselves to heal.
Top photo: Netflix
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Franki Gambino is a 21 year-old literature major at the New School. Originally from western New York, she is an avid sunscreen user and actively mourns the death of Vine. Follow her on Instagram for grainy concert pics: @taintedlovebysoftcell