Dr. Brenner (Matthew Modine) and his team at the Hawkins National Laboratory have done some extraordinary scientific work in the field of telekinesis.
They’ve also failed miserably in keeping that work from going public alongside a gore beast from another dimension. Halfway through the first season of Stranger Things, it becomes clear that we need to talk about how bad they are at all of this.
Maybe we should start with a little sympathy. Who among us hasn’t dabbled with unknown, otherworldly forces beyond our control and gotten in over our heads? They accidentally discovered a malevolent, transdimensional being, and set it loose on our world. These things happen. But if you’re going to keep that kind of thing hush-hush, you’ve got to give it a better shot than what Brenner and his team offer.
First up, there’s the fact that they needed a cover-up in the first place. Security around the Hawkins Lab is abysmal considering the kind of powerful creature they’re dealing with. Underestimating it was a massive error. They’re knee-deep in the kind of tech reserved for Asimov stories, and they didn’t think to do better than padlocks and ten-foot wire fencing? Please.
Likewise, after physically and psychologically torturing a young girl they’ve held captive since her birth, purposefully training her to hone her psychic abilities, why did they think doors and guards would handle her? How could they not see her escape coming?
THEY ADD TO THE LIST OF THINGS THEY’RE COVERING UP
So, fine, the monstrous beast is out there in the world, and it’s kidnapped a young boy from town. Plus, your living super weapon against the Communists somehow managed to bust loose using only a drain pipe that led directly out of the compound. Now it’s time to get the situation under control without letting all the Top Secret elements out into the rumor mill.
Their first mistake comes in the very first episode, when they track El down to Benny’s Burgers and, instead of giving their agent some credible fake identification from Children’s Services, they shoot Benny, unleashing a whole host of problems. For one, a living bear hug is dead. For two, why would you scare off the very girl you’re trying to catch? Just bush league work all around. Sloppy.
Now they’ve got to cover up the monster’s existence, El’s existence, what happened to Will Byers, and Benny’s death. They decide to stage it as a suicide, which exactly zero people believe. In fact, it’s the first thing that sets Sheriff Hopper’s (David Barbour) neck hair tingling. Meanwhile, it’s not like Team Bumble bothered to silence any of the witnesses at Benny’s who saw El there earlier in the day, so their stories eventually work their way to Sheriff Hopper. Of course they do! The whole town is looking for a missing kid, and they have an unusual story about a stray kid passing through!
THEY’RE WAY TOO SUSPICIOUS
Hopper started investigating the Department of Energy compound in the third episode, with a quick tour of the place that included a look at security footage that was so poorly staged that even the second-rate lawman (yeah, I said it) noticed that the weather on the tape didn’t match the weather on the night Will went missing. Once again, the government tried, but not that hard. Not hard enough.
What’s so baffling is that, if they’d bothered to play their hand right on the security footage, Hopper would have been less suspicious of them, but since they didn’t, it ensures that he’ll keep tugging at their loose threads. They had a chance to calm down a local cop and ended up making him more suspicious. Really, a 100% failure there.
WHAT WAS THE POINT OF THE FAKE BODY?
Then they make a fake body of Will Byers and dump it in the quarry and have the State Troopers “discover” it. What was the long game here? Sure, they get their own guy in the room to “do an autopsy,” and they pay off State Troopers to guard the body, but what about after that? What about when the funeral home director takes custody of it? Or if Joyce (Winona Ryder) spends time alone with it before the burial to say her goodbyes? Even if you don’t think that a professional undertaker and the boy’s own mother would, for sure, notice that it was a dummy and not a real dead body, it seems like Team Bumble was leaving a lot to chance there. Hopper knew it was fake after touching it once!
Plus, it’s unclear what the point of the body was in the first place. It clearly didn’t persuade Joyce that her little boy isn’t still out there in the Upside Down, and it’s not like the government has kept tabs on her to know her emotional state, anyway. They thought that producing a body would make Sheriff Hopper stop looking into whether the boy had been into the base that night, which is deeply moronic. As if finding a body causes less investigation, not more.
And, again, they somehow have the technology to make a convincingly real-looking human body but stuff it with cotton wadding? It’s the symbol for their whole program. Highly advanced, but half-assed.
Apparently they didn’t research the local area at all, either, because they get state troopers to take jurisdiction over finding the body despite dumping it in the quarry, which is privately owned. Hopper exploits that information when not-at-all-slyly questioning a trooper at the local watering hole, catching him in the lie, and then beating him until getting very few answers out of him. Not to keep hammering how dumb the government has been about all of this, but Hopper finds that state trooper because he went on television to talk extensively about finding the body! What?
This is after getting six troopers to surround the body when they find it and guard it 24/7 (see: “They’re Way Too Suspicious”). This whole fake body thing was just not a good plan from word one.
THEY AREN’T MOVING QUICKLY TO DEAL WITH THE MONSTER
The government is so bad a covering all of this up that a meathead cop and a group of children are busting the case wide open. However, they also seem infuriatingly passive about the biggest problem they’ve unleashed. In four episodes, we’ve gotten to see them send one sad red shirt into the Upside Down to get information about the Demogorgon with Brenner yawning his way through the entire exercise. Unnecessarily calm people unnerve me as much as the next horror fan, but Brenner is on another level. He’s completely chill about the disaster he’s in charge of.
On the same front, after killing Benny and losing El, they’ve basically given up finding her.
Maybe there are just too many tasks for Brenner and not enough hours in the day. He’s got research on the other dimension and its child-eating hell fiend, he’s got to find his missing adolescent psychic prodigy, he’s got to cover both of their existences up, and he’s got to cover the increasing pile of cover-ups up while keeping that hair looking silky and smooth.
He’s dabbling in oversight to keep all of these big plates spinning, but they’re all crashing to the floor. To be blunt, the government is so bad at covering up this whole Upside Down mess that they’ve actively made it easier for it all to be exposed.