A Vagina for a Face: The Monsters, Men and Women of Stranger Things Season 1


Ridiculous, Epic Amounts of Analysis, Commentary and Questions, Just in Time for Season 2

I have a lot of thoughts on Eleven, the Upside Down monster, and the other female characters from Stranger Things, going in several different directions. I want to explore as many of them as possible, so this is going to be another rambley post that goes all over the place. (Like I ever write anything else.) I’ll throw in some character analysis of the boys as well, since not all of them fall into the monster category. 😘


Who Is El?

Before we get to El, let’s look at her nemesis, the Upside Down monster for a moment. The Upside Down monster turns out to have a lot in common with the Alien monster and the Thing. All are female and using human bodies to incubate their young. All three are unusual in that they have monstrous appearances, unlike most female monsters. All are relentless in their drive to kill humans, which is really a combination of survival instinct and the drive to reproduce that all species feel. The narrative never points this out with any of these monsters, even though you’d think a breeding mother would elicit some understanding.

El, the powerful counterpart to the Upside Down monster, is a prepubescent girl on the brink of womanhood/menstruation, discovering her power as a woman, feeling the hormones rise in her body. She bleeds every time she uses her powers to symbolize this, and because women are kept shackled in our society, so that they can’t turn on men or become too powerful.

Female superheroes are rarely intelligent, attractive, powerful, and emotionally well-adjusted all at once. There will always be at least one area in which they need men to guide and support them. Superman, Ironman, Captain America, and Batman all function fine without a woman, even though they each have flaws. But Buffy, Black Widow, the Scarlet Witch, Wonder Woman and Cat Woman are emotional messes, children or childlike, who need lovers, brothers and father figures to show them how to function in the world.

So El is weakened by the use of her powers, and kept ignorant of the world, leaving her easier to control and less likely to escape. In our culture, most men can’t handle watching women who are better than them and don’t need them. Since these shows are made by men, this says some interesting things about male psychology. A truly strong, confident man wouldn’t need to hold women, and even little girls like El, back, to make himself feel strong and necessary. Yet in show after show, we find women who are overtly powerful, but held back by excuses their male creators have made up to keep them tied to men long after a man would have become independent.

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Stranger Things Season 1 Chapter 8: The Upside Down Recap and Analysis/Speculation

The persecuted warrior queen of Stranger Things.

This episode’s title, The Upside Down, is an accurate description of the episode. We do spend more time in the Upside Down, and learn more about it, but some of our assumptions are also turned upside down. Characters do things we don’t expect, and outcomes aren’t necessarily what they seem. And El has a few issues she’d like to discuss with The Duffers.

After the required pan down from the starry night sky that starts every episode, we join Joyce and Brenner in the lab’s interrogation room. He tries to get her to reveal what she knows by using logic and sympathy, the way he did with Karen and Ted, but she’s just buried a fake body provided by Hawkins National Lab. She’s not going to buy into his BS so easily. She tells him right where he can go.

Agent Frazier and the Hawkins Head of Security don’t bother with the nice approach with Hopper, they go straight to mild torture using tasers. He keeps his cool and lets them know that he’s gotten very deep into their wrong doings with his investigation, and has left the information with a reporter. They threaten to kill him, but he suggests a blackmail deal instead. He and Joyce and the others will keep their mouths shut about the lab’s wrong doings, and he’ll tell them where to find El, if they will let him and Joyce go through the portal to find Will and if they’ll leave the other kids alone.

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Stranger Things Season 1 Chapter 7: The Bathtub Recap


The main characters finally pool their information and briefly work together in this episode, but, no one ever told Hopper that it’s safer to stick together. He ditches everyone but Joyce as quickly as possible, and we’re back to the original rogue age-based groupings by the end of the episode.

But first, there’s the most awesome evil van vs kids on bikes chase scene ever. El sends a van flying over their heads, rather than letting it catch them. It’s a mirror to the scene in ET when he makes Elliott’s bike fly. But El isn’t ET, and those aren’t benign scientists who are trying to save her life.

El and Mike had been in Mike’s basement cleaning up after the quarry adventure, and just about to kiss, when Dustin interrupted them to say that Lucas was radioing in with a warning. The evil scientists had located them and were on their way to Mike’s house, thanks to Mr Clarke’s enthusiastic sharing.

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Stranger Things Season 1 Chapter 6: The Monster Recap


In this episode, the OTPs all finally unite around their common goals. The villains also become aware of who their adversaries are. The fighters are separated from the slackers, and battle lines are drawn, even crossed in some cases. We are definitely gearing up for the major climax of the season, though I’m not sure if the “climax” will involve any of the OTPs even getting as far as first base.

We pick up where we left off, with Nancy and Jonathan frantically looking for and calling out to each other. They can hear each other, and eventually Jonathan notices the tree portal. He goes over to inspect, continuing to call for Nancy. That allows Nancy to pinpoint where the portal is, so that she can find it again. Just as I’m wondering if Jonathan has it in him to go in after her, Nancy’s hand pops through the gate, startling us all. He pulls her through to safety and they hold each other while the opening credits run.

Meanwhile, Douchey Steve and his Brat Pack are looking for Nancy because Steve, intuitive guy that he is, sensed that she was upset about something, and now she’s not answering her phone. Steve climbs up on her roof to be the Peeping Tom this time, and sees Nancy and Jonathan innocently sitting on the edge of her bed, with Jonathan’s arm over the top of her shoulders. It couldn’t be more friendly. But Nancy is a possession to Steve, not a person. All that he sees is another guy moving in on his territory, and the girl allowing it.

Hopper has told Joyce every detail he can remember about his investigations into Hawkins Lab and what really happened to Will. Now Joyce is having him go over the details again, looking for important clues. He’s been assuming that the kid’s room that he saw was where Will was being held, but Joyce helps him realize that the details don’t match. He starts to put together the idea that Terry Ives, the woman in the newspaper articles, might have been telling the truth. Thank goodness the characters and groups are starting to share information now.

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Stranger Things Season 1 Chapter 5: The Flea and the Acrobat Recap


We start to get some answers this episode, as both Hopper and Nancy quite literally enter the belly of the beast. The kids enter an homage to the film Stand by Me, with friendships tested and train tracks walked. We’ve entered the Stephen King portion of the season, so viewer beware.

Hopper has made his way into the buildings at Hawkins Lab secretly and alone, because he’s completely lost his mind. And he knows no one will listen to his crazy theories, just like he didn’t listen to Joyce, or even bother to talk to Nancy about Barb. He sneaks and fights his way all the way down to the monster’s lair. He finds 11’s cell on his way down. After that, he races through the halls, yelling for Will.

He takes the elevator to the monster’s floor as Dustin reads the description of the Vale of Shadows* to Mike and Lucas. It’s a scary, dark, mirror world to our own. The boys don’t know how to get there, and neither does El. She just knows that Will is stuck there.

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Stranger Things Season 1 Chapter 4: The Body Recap


Everything begins to change in this episode, the midpoint of the season, as even most of the pragmatists among the main characters realize that something mysterious and sinister is going on. We’re starting to reach the meat of the story, with more clues about the lab and cover up being revealed, and the characters beginning to work together. This show is so well done that, while it seems obvious how some of it will play out, I have no idea where they’re going to go with other aspects. Will the stock characters and situations stay that way, become modern clichés instead, or evolve into something totally original?

This episode picks up not long after the end of episode 3. Joyce has told Hopper her story, and Hopper has told Joyce and Jonathan that Will’s body has been found. Joyce refuses to believe that Will is gone. Hopper at least does a cursory inspection of the house, rather than dismissing Joyce completely, but he also mainly talks to her as one grief-stricken parent to another. Any outsider would logically think she’s hallucinating, and he’s crushed by his own depression that’s been dredged up again full force.

Hopper goes out to his truck to drive away, but thinks better of it and settles in to spend the night sleeping outside of the Byers’ house. Joyce resolutely goes to the shed and gets an axe, then sits back down in her living room to stand watch, in case Will or the monster come back. Jonathan tries to pretend things are somewhere near normal so that he can get some sleep.

Song that plays at end of opening sequence as Hopper goes to his truck, Joyce gets the axe, and Jonathan puts on his headphones: Atmosphere by Joy Division. Joyce is like a Viking warrior goddess with her axe, ready to take on all comers to protect her home and family.

Is Hopper on suicide watch?

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Stranger Things Chapter 3: Holly, Jolly Recap


We get two of my favorite things this episode, an epic amount of Christmas lights and new information. The show is done with pleasant introductions, and ready to dive in deep, starting with wherever Barb is- possibly a metaphysical mirror image of the pool she was sitting next to, possibly the monster’s lair. Either way, she doesn’t seem to get out alive. Barb fighting for her life, as she screams for Nancy to help her, is intercut with Nancy and Douchey Steve getting to second base. It’s disturbing on several levels.

Nancy hesitates with Steve a few times, as if she might almost hear Nancy, or she could just be having second thoughts about what she’s doing with Steve. Steve continues to be a douche, and falls asleep when they’re done. Nancy is left to walk home alone in the dark through the neighborhood with the missing kid. At least she’s not a babysitter, or she’d surely never make it back to her house alive, given the horror movie tropes we’re working with. But she does make it home alive, and is met by her very worried mother.

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Stranger Things Season 1 Chapter 2: The Weirdo on Maple Street Recap


The plot thickens in episode two of Stranger Things, with Hawkins becoming a dangerous town for the first time in its history, at least according to Jim Hopper. Some of the kids who’ve clearly been perpetually bullied at school might feel differently about it. It’s a bad time to be a scientist, a good Samaritan, or a best friend in Hawkins, we know that much so far.

Mike and company have brought 11 back to Mike’s basement, and all three boys are talking at her while she tries to cope with being wet, cold, and in a strange environment during a thunderstorm. Dustin adds to the fun by making a loud noise to test his theory that she’s stayed silent because she’s deaf. Mike gets her some sweats to put on. 11 rubs them against her face like she’s never felt anything so soft.

The boys reaction to 11 getting ready to strip so that she can change her clothes is worth the price of admission, possibly the whole Netflix subscription. Mike quickly leads her to the bathroom, but she won’t let him close the door. “No” is clearly a very important word to 11.

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Stranger Things Season 1 Chapter 1: The Vanishing of Will Byers Recap


Okay, let’s do Stranger Things! I’m way late to the party with this, but, I figure, what the heck, maybe there are a few other people who want to watch in time for season 2. My first impression, as episode 1 starts, is omg, this is so 80s! Are those bikes going to take off like ET’s? The filmmakers got the look of an 80s show exactly right. Something made by Steven Spielberg, in particular, maybe The Goonies. Oops, Steven King just weighed in. Of course there’s an adorable dog and a little sister. Drew Barrymore might be able to look into copyright infringement here.

We begin on November 6th, 1983, in Hawkins, Indiana, at the Hawkins National Laboratory, run by the US Dept of Energy. This was the Reagan Era and the height of the Cold War. I’m sure a sweet old man like Ronnie wouldn’t have approved of any illegal experiments on children that could go wrong and terrorize a small midwestern town. Or maybe they were actually approved by Tricky Dick, and just continued by Ronnie.

Something is definitely going wrong, if the camera work and sound effects are anything to go by. Sure enough, one of the mad scientists runs by and gets attacked by something mysterious in the elevator.

Meanwhile, in a suburban basement, four preteen boys are playing the most exciting and intense game of Dungeons and Dragons ever, until Mike’s Mom breaks up the game because she totally doesn’t get the importance of fun and conquest. Will, Lucas and Dustin take off on their bikes toward their own houses. Lucas, the man of action, reaches his house quickly, then Dustin, the adorable mascot of the group, challenges Will, the sweet honest one, to a race. Will shows he’s not completely pure by taking off immediately, leaving Dustin in the, well, dust.

Lights have been flickering on and off around town. Will’s bike light flickers as he’s cutting through the grounds of the laboratory. He sees a figure in the shadows and falls off his bike, then runs home. He’s still spooked at home, and goes to the family’s shed to get a gun. The shed light brightens, and Will is gone.

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