Spoiler warning for the Netflix original series Stranger Things! If you haven’t seen it yet, go watch it! What are you waiting for?
Stranger Things is fantastic. It simultaneously functions as an homage to pretty much every one of your favorite 80s sci fi and horror films and as an intriguing mystery in its own right. It looks and feels and sounds like my childhood, from the theme song to the props and costumes (Rotary phones! Wood paneling on the walls! I swear I owned one of Barb’s exact frilly blouses when I was a kid!) to the font used in the opening titles.
It’s not surprising that fans have been obsessing over what Season 2 might hold. Could there be justice for Barb? Could Steve be the father of Parks and Recreation’s lovable miscreant Jean-Ralphio? And, most intriguing of all, could Eleven be right when she tells Mike “I am the monster?”
Alex Diedrick over at Uproxx thinks so.
Throughout the series, instead of her actually fighting some otherwordly creature, she could be fighting a version of herself. Her time in Hawkins Lab led her to further develop and stretch her telekinetic abilities to their limits, and it’s only when she enters a completely empty, black space — that looks nothing like the Upside Down — that she encounters the Monster for the first time. Instead of sending herself outward, she sent herself inward, and in turn brings the Monster out of herself. That’s why the Monster raises its hand in an identical way to Eleven in their final fight, and when it disappears, so does she. At one point, she even calls herself the Monster.
The theory is compelling, but I have a slightly different take. What if Eleven is the human-monster hybrid daughter of the beast that is terrorizing Hawkins, Indiana? Let’s look at the evidence.
First, we learn about halfway through the series that Eleven is mostly likely actually Jane, the daughter of one of Dr. Brenner’s experimental subjects named Terry Ives. Terry is pretty much catatonic when Joyce and Hopper track her down, but her sister tells them that she was unknowingly pregnant when she went through the Brenner’s drug trials and that she wound up losing her baby, though she delusionally still believes that her daughter is out there somewhere and has special powers.
Of course, we know that Hawkins Lab is willing to go to great lengths to cover their tracks, including creating a stuffed dummy version of Will for his family to find, so we are lead to believe that Terry is right, and that Brenner stole Jane and transformed her into the cute, little, bald-headed superhero we know and love.
But we don’t actually have a solid timeline for these events. Just how early along in her pregnancy was Terry when she dropped acid with Dr. B? And what if she wasn’t actually pregnant when she went into those isolation tanks at all? What if she got pregnant while she was in that blacked out world-between-worlds where we later see Eleven encountering the monster for the first time? What if the monster is really Eleven’s dad? This seems to me to be a better explanation for the origins of her psychic powers than “her mom took a lot of drugs.”
One of the things that lead me towards this idea was the pervasive imagery from the movie Alien that we see all over The Upside Down. In the Alien franchise, the ultimate horror posed by the monster is its violation of the human body as a vector for its reproduction. And Stranger Things is constantly evoking the look and feel of the Alien films. There are glowing green eggs, the scientists walking around in hazmat suits, and the humans trussed up in slimy webbing barfing out slugs that are reminiscent of facehuggers. Eleven even looks like a tiny version of Ellen Ripley in Alien 3 (the one where Ripley is incubating an Alien Queen).
So then why does she call Dr. Brenner “Papa”? As an evil scientist who revels in playing God, it is not hard to imagine Brenner giving himself the credit for Eleven’s miraculous gestation. After all, if my theory is correct, Jane/Eleven would never have been born were it not for his experiments.
So, in a twisted way, (and he is very twisted) Brenner is responsible for her birth as the conduit through which the monster was able to make contact with our world. Or maybe it’s more insidious than that. Maybe Dr. Brenner and the monster are the ones who are more closely related than we suppose. What if Brenner made contact with the monster long before Eleven ever did and came away from the experience changed?
Maybe Brenner is doing the monster’s bidding in our world, trying to open the portal between Hawkins and The Upside Down all the way up so that more creatures can come through. Or maybe he was captured, turned into an egg sac, and killed by the monster long ago and the man we see chasing Eleven and her friends is actually some sort of body double a la another movie that the show heavily references: The Thing.
Or maybe I’m totally wrong. But I can’t wait for Season 2 to find out if Hopper’s Eggo deliveries are getting picked up, if Will is still spitting up slugs, and if Barb will finally get the loving sendoff she deserves.