Written by Josh Sarnecky
Stranger Things Season Finale Plot Summary:
Dr. Brenner (Matthew Modine) and his men intercept Chief Hopper (David Harbour) and Joyce (Winona Ryder) as they attempt to access the Upside Down via Hawkins Laboratory, while Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) plant a trap for the monster. Back at the middle school, Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and his friends wait for Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) to recover until unwanted visitors arrive.
When discussing finales, one question typically outweighs all others: was the ending satisfying? This question is especially difficult to answer in regards to season finales when showrunners are holding out for another season, which inevitably leads them to leave hints at events that may transpire next season or full-on cliffhangers. Thankfully, Stranger Things mercifully ties up its first season’s loose ends in a manner that gives viewers closure while leaving just enough breadcrumbs for fans hoping for the possibility of a sophomore season. The result is a formula for pure satisfaction.
Even the most satisfying endings, of course, are not exempt from minor flaws and nitpicking. While not necessarily a weakness, Stranger Things undoubtedly ends on a conventional note (complete with an epilogue); those viewers looking for a groundbreaking conclusion will be disappointed, but they should certainly not be surprised. As discussed in my review of the series premiere, this show is ultimately an homage to Stephen King, Steven Spielberg, and the ’80s, and the first season’s final episode continues to embrace those inspirations. To dismiss the finale and entire show as unoriginal would ignore one of the elements that makes this series so enjoyable. Furthermore, Stranger Things not only borrows pieces from ’80s supernatural thrillers but also refines them.
For those of you who can remember English class in high school, you may recall your teacher explaining that all stories have one thing in common: conflict. What your teacher may not have said, however, is that these conflicts always represent a loss of normalcy. One of the most important factors that makes horror (including supernatural thrillers) so distinct as a genre is that this change in status quo predominately involves a very specific form of loss, that is, the loss of innocence. Stranger Things firmly grasps this concept and expertly uses it as a frame for every event that occurs. This theme is on full display throughout the season (from Nancy’s deflowering to Eleven’s traumatic unfamiliarity with social conventions), but the finale crystalizes this idea by having Joyce and Hopper physically enter a dark reflection of our own world in search for the show’s most innocent character as we finally see flashbacks to the event that robbed the police chief of his innocence and happiness. Stranger Things is thus just as much a thematic exploration of the horror genre as it is a fun revisiting of Hollywood and literature in the 1980s. For an eight-episode TV series to fulfill such a feat is nothing short of marvelous to me.
Equally impressive are the acting and characterizations seen in each episode. “Chapter Eight” definitely includes some incredibly epic moments (predominately any scene featuring the monster or Eleven using her powers), but the character moments shine equally bright in the finale. If Winona Ryder is not nominated for an Emmy next year, I will riot! Ryder expertly crafts every step of Joyce’s desperate journey for her son, and the sheer force of each emotion she displays is staggeringly powerful thanks to Ryder’s exceptional performance. Seeing Joyce finally end her search is one of the most cathartic moments I’ve ever experienced watching television. Likewise, getting a glimpse into Hopper’s past and seeing this man go to such lengths to save Will (Noah Schnapp) is the perfect end to his character arc. While I am somewhat disappointed we didn’t get to see more flashbacks for Hopper earlier, they undoubtedly work as a wonderful reflection of his expedition through the Upside Down. With his mixture of baggage and good intentions, Hopper stands out as a fantastic reluctant hero.
The younger portion of the cast, meanwhile, has their fair share of heroics (and romance) as well. As I mentioned in my previous review, stellar acting from young actors is always a treat, and this group left me thoroughly impressed. Millie Bobby Brown may not have many lines in the finale, but her ability to capture both Eleven’s tender moments with Mike and her violent outbursts is remarkable. Eleven’s fate is largely predictable, but her scenes illustrate and stay true to what a complex and fascinating character she has become; her conversation with Mike about the school dance is an amusing yet touching culmination to their heartwarming relationship.
The show’s other romance, unfortunately, does not end so comfortably. The love-triangle between Nancy, Jonathan, and Steve (Joe Keery) often seemed like one ’80s trope that just didn’t fit as well as the others, but the show gradually integrated the plotline into the main conflict in a way that felt organic. I was surprised, then, to see the resolution of that love-triangle diverge from the initial trope in a way that seems so unsatisfying and out-of-place considering how faithfully the season conformed to other tropes. Besides this odd decision, the three high schoolers enjoy some entertaining character growth and even a surprising bit of redemption. I was not expecting to become as invested in these three characters as I did, but they ended up being a few of my favorites. In the event that Netflix does bring back this series for a second season with the same characters, though, I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t shipping a different arrangement among these three.
Of course, that begs the question of whether or not Stranger Things will be renewed for a second season and what that season may look like. As stated earlier, the season finale ends without too many lingering questions and without any unresolved plot points, so “Chapter Eight” could quite possibly be the final episode of the series. Having ended on such a satisfying note, the showrunners (The Duffer Brothers) may be content to move onto their next project. Like Netflix’s Bloodline, this show is another perfect candidate for a one-and-done series; conversely, this first season has delivered such a rich world and so many compelling characters that it would be somewhat of a shame to see them go so quickly. And then there is the possibility the show could go the route of American Horror Story and come back with a second outing full of new characters and storylines. The Duffer Brothers and Netflix certainly have a difficult decision on their hands, but they can rest assured knowing the first season of their new supernatural thriller is a tremendous hit.
I have not been so emotionally invested in and enraptured by a television series since Lost went off the air six years ago. Stranger Things‘ compelling characters, understanding of its genre, and devotion to its setting make it a show not to be missed. Minor complaints notwithstanding, the show’s finale closes the book (at least for now) on an outstanding watching experience with an immensely satisfying conclusion.