Here’s to the Punks: Stranger Things season 2

Showrunners: The Duffer Brothers

Director of Punx Episode: Rebecca Thomas

Recommended? Yeah duh

Stranger Things season 2 was different from Stranger Things season 1, which is probably a good thing but sometimes I was not happy about it because season 1 was so good. This isn’t a review of Stranger Things season 2. It’s an ode to the punks, and to their representation.

“If you wanted to show mercy, that’s your choice. But don’t you ever take away mine.”

Okay so this is spoilertastic, but: in season 2, our physic lab rat Eleven runs off from cop-dad and finds her sister, Eight. Eight has reinvented herself as a punkrock angel of vengeance, working together with a crew of misfits (hereafter referred to as “the punks”) to murder people who all things considered probably deserve a good murdering.

Eleven joins them for a couple days and they teach her how to work with the dark side of the force to accomplish her goals and work her magic better, and the reason that Stranger Things is better than Star Wars (one of the reasons) is that anger is sometimes a good strategy for problemsolving. At the end of the season, when Eleven doesn’t feel strong enough to close the rift between worlds to keep out the evil space tarantula, she doesn’t draw on the power of goddammed love or some nonsense, she draws on her fucking anger at how the world has shit on her and she closes that fucking portal while cop dad is busy shooting aliens.

Yeah yeah I know they’re not technically aliens, whatever.

Okay so anyway, the punks.

In 80s movies, punks in the city are always violent criminals and also bad. In Stranger Things season 2, the punks in the city are violent criminals and also morally ambiguous. There, was that too much to ask for? That we be morally ambiguous? Apparently it was a lot to ask for. But we’ve finally got it.

Punks in old movies were stand-ins for the suburban fear of cities with their attendant gangs and all those black people. Want to evoke the fear of urban spaces to a white audience but not sound racist? Make your gang be punks. Punks are racially diverse so now you’re not racist. (Except actually you’re still racist.)

Here’s to the punks, without whom the giant space tarantula would have invaded the suburbs and destroyed the world.

Not content just to riff off of (and implicitly talk shit on the morality of) Star Wars, this season takes aim at the X-Men as well. Eight might as well be wearing a “Magneto Was Right” shirt. But instead of creating some boring good/evil dichotomy where it’s wrong to hurt people who hurt you, Stranger Things gets at something cooler: diversity of tactics.

When some “just doing his job” state torturer lies on the floor of his apartment at Eleven’s feet, and Eleven all the sudden stops force-choking him, Eight pulls a gun. Eleven tosses the gun out the window. As they escape the cops, Eight says: “If you wanted to show mercy, that’s your choice. But don’t you ever take away mine.”

This is the most important moment in the entire season, because it is the first time I’ve seen this articulated so well on screen. Eleven decides not to stay with the bad kids, but she doesn’t snitch on them either. They’re gonna do their thing, and she’s gonna do her thing, and it’s a shame they can’t work together but that’s just the way the world works sometimes.

There is more than one way to fight against oppression. Eight’s way might be darker. It might even be less ethical (though I’d bet money Eleven has a higher body count). But it’s a legitimate way to fight against oppression. The filmmakers know it, and maybe the audience knows it now too.

So here’s to the punks, without whom the giant space tarantula (that isn’t from space) would have invaded the suburbs and destroyed the world.

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