Whether episodes are set in Hawkins or in the Upside Down, the Duffer brothers’ massively entertaining science fiction horror series on Netflix combines influences from all the key pop culture points of the ‘80s – Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter, Stephen King etc. – to give us a story that is dark, engaging, beautifully crafted, has a huge heart, and really invests viewers. The show is filled with shocking moments and plot twists, many of which end episodes in order to keep you binging. Ahead of the third season of this wildly popular beast, here are the 10 craziest moments from the series’ two seasons.
10. The Demodogs get into the lab
This was the cliffhanger ending that came right before that detour into Eleven’s adventures with Kali and an emo look, which was controversial, because viewers didn’t want to see that – they wanted to see how Mike, Hopper, Joyce, Will, and everyone else were going to make it out of this pickle. The Demodogs climbed out of the Upside Down and started roaming around the lab with a thirst for blood! Stranger Things is a show known for its use of violence and horror to really stun the audience. As Matt Duffer, one of the series’ two creators, explained, “When we were growing up, some of those Amblin films, those Spielberg movies, led to the creation of the PG-13 rating, because he was pushing it so dark and he upset a lot of parents. I liked that, though. I think that that’s good and healthy and great and some of our favorite experiences growing up were having the shit scared out of us. As we get further into the show, especially when you get into the final episode, it ratchets up a notch. But by then, you’ve already got the kids watching, so then we can scare the shit out of them. Then the parents can get mad.”
9. Eleven makes a bully wet himself
All throughout the first season of the show, Eleven was serving up slices of revenge served ice cold to the bully that was terrorizing Mike and his friends. She made one bully wet himself using her telekinetic powers and also broke an arm when she decided to turn it up a notch. It was instances like these that made audiences fall in love with her – and consider her to be a badass. Bullies are often an integral part of Stephen King narratives – whether it is It or Stand By Me or what have you – and so it made sense to put bullies in a show inspired by King’s stories. Matt Duffer said, “When we were developing the title sequence, I think we sent thirty paperback covers to the people who were making the title sequence. I think twenty of them were Stephen King. We made a little notebook to help sell the show when we were pitching it and the cover of it was aesthetically modeled after a Stephen King book. I think we literally took the Firestarter paperback and put a picture of a bike on an empty road.” So, in terms of influences on the show, it’s pretty safe to say that, above all, this show was inspired by King’s work.
8. Dart attacks the school bus with his friends
Where did all of these Demodogs come from?! And when did Dart get so big?! We all had so many questions that we didn’t have time to answer as we saw a horde of demon hounds descend upon Steve and Dustin’s school bus barricade. Steve Harrington went from being one of the worst characters from the first season of this show to being one of the best characters in the second season. The relationship that he developed with Dustin became the internet’s favorite thing in 2017. Joe Keery, who plays the role of Steve Harrington on the show, has commented on the development of his character into a kind of mom to Dustin and his friends: “Story wise, I kind of look at it as these two characters that kind of get left in the cold by their friends. They’re kind of there for each other when no one else is. It’s kind of an unlikely friendship, because it’s almost as if they don’t get along, but they do get along very well and they kind of learn a lesson from each other that they needed to know.” It’s sweet. It’ll be fun to see Steve develop even more in season 3.
7. The Mind Flayer makes its first appearance
The first thing that a lot of people noticed about the trailer for the second season of Stranger Things was that the monster featured in it was a heck of a lot bigger than the Demogorgon from season 1. It was a giant, horrifying spider thing crawling around the landscape. There was something very Lovecraftian about it. Its first appearance was a shocking WTF moment in season 2. In the lead up to the release of season 2, one of the show’s creators Matt Duffer explained, “Our big reference for [the Demogorgon monster in] season 1 was mostly Jaws. It’s a shark and the other dimension is the underwater. So, [for the monster being featured in the second season], there has to be something more sentient and that’s that big thing in the sky…There’s an H.P. Lovecraft sort of approach, this interdimensional being that is sort of beyond human comprehension. We purposely don’t want to go too much into what it is or what it wants.” The big, bonkers, terrifying cliffhanger ending that closes out the second season of the show hinted that the Mind Flayer is still alive and well, so the kids in Hawkins are not out of the woods yet.
6. Eleven disintegrates
We’ve had to deal with a twisty plot point being major characters disintegrating in thin air at the hands of a menacing villain recently in a certain superhero blockbuster movie. But two years earlier, a similar twist befell a different beloved fictional character with mystical abilities: Eleven. She faced the Demogorgon fearlessly, conquering all of her previous anxieties, in the classroom and, much to Mike’s dismay, she ended up crumbling into dust as if she was Spider-Man or Doctor Strange. It seemed as though she might have died, but as we all know, in the science fiction genre, if you don’t see a supernatural character actually die and be buried, then they probably aren’t dead (and even if they are dead and buried, that’s still no guarantee – just ask Superman). Luckily, we weren’t left completely in the blue about Eleven’s whereabouts for the whole hiatus between season 1 and season 2, because Hopper leaving Eggo waffles in the woods hinted at her possibly still being alive out there somewhere. As the second season revealed a year later, she had actually been staying with him out in a cabin in the woods. But that doesn’t lessen the impact of the scene where she disappeared in the season 1 finale.
5. Eight evades the police
Based on the fact that Eleven is called Eleven, we could assume that there were at least ten other kids that the secret government lab that gave her telekinetic powers had also experimented on, but since we were watching Eleven’s story, we wouldn’t have expected to meet any of the other kids. But sure enough, in the very first scene of the second season, a girl named Kali is being pursued by the police and uses her telekinetic abilities to destroy a bridge. Her arm is revealed to be marked with a tattoo: “008.” She’s Eight! She’s like Eleven! There are others! While the episode that focused entirely on this character and her friends, which came right after a major cliffhanger in the Mike/Will/Joyce/Hopper storyline, was a controversial one, this scene sure was a tantalizing way to begin the second season. Actress Linnea Berthelsen wasn’t too bothered by the mixed reception that the episode received, anyway, since she had a lot of fun working with Millie Bobby Brown. She told NME, “We had a lot of fun. It was good for me as an actor to see how she approached the work. And I just learned a lot from it. We laughed a lot.”
4. Eleven flips a van with her mind
The Duffer brothers described this spectacular scene in a piece they wrote for Entertainment Weekly: “The van flip was a lot of fun…and very stressful. Like with the monster, we wanted to achieve the effect practically, without the use of CG. Our plan was to shoot the kids with a locked off camera as they biked across the street, and then merge that with a separate shot of a van flipping. Simple in theory – except for the part about flipping a van. We were initially told that there was no way we could flip a van of that size that high into the air. But we kept pushing, and our stubbornness eventually wore down our line producer, and he agreed to give it a try. The first parking lot test was a rousing success; explosives went off under a van, sending it rocketing high into the air. But…it was just a test. Now, we had to replicate it on location with the cameras rolling. Easy, right? Not quite. One of the explosives didn’t go off and the van skidded head first into one of our cameras, destroying both the camera and its lenses, and costing the production thousands of dollars. Our line producer was understandably [reluctant] to try the stunt again, but we eventually wore him down again by promising that it would be heavily featured in the trailer (sorry, Iain – and also, thank you!). Thankfully, the second time was the charm. The van soared high into the air, our cameras captured it in all its glory, and it made the trailer, as promised. And that crazy van flip just brings us to the title sequence!”
3. Billy beats the shit out of Steve
Joe Keery, who plays Steve Harrington on the show, has joked recently that his character gets beaten up in every season. He said, “Steve gets beat up once per season. So, next year, he’ll probably get beat up. I think it’s in my contract.” In the first season, he got punched in the face by Jonathan Byers, and in the second season, he got the shit beaten out of his face by Max’s older brother Billy. Dacre Montgomery played the psychopathy of Billy incredibly well in the second season of the show. Keery explained the shooting of the scene: “The fight scene wasn’t too bad. Last year, Charlie [Heaton, who plays Jonathan Byers] punched me in the face once or twice, so I was like, ‘Oh, man, I gotta get ready.” No offense to Charlie, but Dacre is like a big dude. He could do some damage. The only time we got close to getting hurt was – the plate we used to break was a homemade plate and it was a little thicker. And we only got two takes in, but he hit me right with the ridge on the side of my head and that was like, ‘Oooof,’ and after that, I was like, ‘Okay, guys, I think we got it! Let’s wrap it up!’”
2. The Demodogs get Bob
Oh, man. It has become cool in recent years, thanks to sick puppies like Robert Kirkman and George R.R. Martin, to kill off major characters in TV dramas. But few TV deaths in recent memory have been as hard hitting as this one. Bob was just proving himself to be heroic in the face of danger – and he succeeded! And then at the last second, he was taken down by a bloodthirsty Demodog. Matt Duffer, one of the creators of the series, has said of the use of CGI effects to bring monsters to life in horror movies and TV shows, “One of the things we were really excited about is that we wanted to build the monster and we did. There was a company called Spectral Motion that did a lot of stuff for Guillermo del Toro. The monsters and creatures were always scarier when they felt very real and tangible, and there’s something about CG that lessens the impact of it. Often it’s scarier when stuff is weird and when you don’t fully understand the motive. Pennywise [the Dancing Clown] is very weird. This is nothing like Pennywise, but we wanted to sort of create that strangeness. The ambiguity around it is very much purposeful.”
1. Hopper finds stuffing in Will’s body
When Will Byers’ body was found not too long after he had gone missing, it was a little disappointing. We were just getting into the mystery of it all and then he turned up dead. And then Hopper found stuffing in his chest. This was the moment that the show really came into its own. As Hopper dug deeper and deeper into the conspiracy surrounding the government lab in Hawkins and the disappearance of Will Byers, it was hard to buy into any of it – until he went down to the morgue, cut into Will’s body, and found stuffing. It was a fake body! Now, this was a deep and investable and terrifying mystery. When David Lynch made his own supernatural horror series back in the ‘90s, Twin Peaks, he referred to his own mysterious character, Laura Palmer, and the circumstances surrounding her death as the goose that kept laying golden eggs. Those golden eggs were metaphors for storytelling opportunities (and also moments of fright that would keep you up at night). The Duffer brothers certainly took that on board with their own story of a missing child whose case involves paranormal circumstances. As soon as Hopper pulled out that stuffing from the fake body, their viewers were chilled to their core, and a new pop culture phenomenon was born.