Stranger Things is a show steeped in the legacy of its '80s influences, from the iconic opening credits and logo to the costumes, language, and regular pop culture references that pepper each episode. As we move over the halfway point of the second season, the creative team has begun to explore themes of trust within their beloved influences and with it, they're taking their metatext to a far more conceptual and emotional level. This episode, "Dig Dug" constantly asks us to question who we can trust and what drives us to make the choices we make when it comes to letting people in. It's a powerful exploration that echoes many of the seminal cult movies and books that inspired the Duffer brothers nostalgia-heavy world.
The end of episode four ramped up the body horror of the Demogorgon and the newly introduced Shadow Monster, harkening back to the iconic facehuggers of Alien. Though it seemed like just another freaky set piece, it actually established the main threads for episode five because it immediately left us wondering if Will might end up being the show's big bad. Could we really trust the kid from the Upside Down who puked up a Demogorgon and is now inhabited by a living shadow? Hasn't Hopper been acting strange too, a grizzled hero turned paranoid survivalist who's keeping a young girl prisoner in the forest? It left viewers wondering who we can really trust and what being "good" means in the world of Stranger Things.
This gave the Duffers a perfect opening to explore ideas of trust and companionship whilst calling back to iconic relationships from fan favorite movies. Stephen King is obviously a massive influence on Stranger Things. From the typeface of the logo, to the small town location to, the nostalgia fueled period setting, King's influence can't be overstated. And for the first time the show began to delve into the relationships that are key in his books and adaptations, recreating them for the audience and using them as a tool to explore just what trust and truth mean in a world where conspiracy theories are as real as the monster from your Dungeons and Dragons quest.
The most obvious and immediate example of this is Finn Wolfhard's Mike and his never ending dedication to Will. From the first moment that Will went missing in the first episode, Mike never gave up on his best friend. With Will now half-back in the real world, Mike's commitment to his best bud hasn't waned. This episode leaned hard into their relationship, with Mike immediately seeing the good in Will's new true sight even though he's essentially possessed. This seems to be straight out of Stephen King's iconic Stand By Me. Will is the show's Chris, a lost working class boy who's constantly underestimated and disregarded, called a liar and a freak even by those who are meant to protect him. And Mike is Gordie, a middle class kid from a "good" family who never lets other people's opinions of his friend change his perspective or feelings about him.
Mike and Will's closeness was also used to highlight the split between the once close group, with both Dustin and Lucas exploring life without their party. Dustin seemed to be on an ET-esque journey with his beloved Dart--the new species of lizard he discovered in a trash can--which just happens to be the mini-Demogorgon that Will spat up at the end of last season. It was nice to see the Duffer brothers use the dramatic irony of a compassionate kid and his new alien friend to really cement the thematic resonance of the group's now synonymous catchphrase "Friends Don't Lie." From the moment Dustin hid Dart and told his friends he didn't know where the Babygorgon was, we knew it was likely going to end badly for the crew's cutest member.
Since her introduction it's been clear that Max (Maxine) is posed to be the Bev (Beverly) of Stranger Things' Losers Club. From her red hair, masculine-coded interest in skateboarding and video games, and her clearly abusive brother--not to mention that at least two members of the group have crushes on her--it's obvious that the showrunners have a clear It influence for this sophomore addition. Lucas' choice to trust Max and tell her about what really happened last year in Hawkins was a huge moment for him, as it signaled a distinct split from the others and presented a huge risk for the usually sensible member of the group.
At the same time, the relationship between Max and Billy reflects a subversion of one of the Duffer brothers' clearest influences, The Lost Boys. Max and her (maybe) brother Billy are an inverted nightmare of the sibling relationships that fuel the cult vampire classic. We've already seen Billy's violence in both language and physicality towards his young charge, and this is a dark mirror image of the close brotherly bonds that drive The Lost Boys. So now we've seen Lucas trust Max, the real question is will Max trust Lucas enough to tell him the truth about Billy?
We also saw Joyce make the decision to trust Bob, even though he has no knowledge of the Upside Down or what Will has truly been through. This was a perfect exploration of what drives us to trust. For Joyce, it was desperation. As soon as she realized that Bob had the tools to find Hopper, she decided to trust him. It was a decision that ended up saving Hopper's life and played perfectly into the main lesson of the show. If Hopper had trusted anyone enough to tell them where he was going--or to even let them go with him--he would've never ended up trapped alone in the Upside Down.
After another emotionally resonant episode, we trust that the Duffer brothers aren't afraid to subvert their influences whilst they pay homage to them. Where do think the show will go next? Will the group get back together? Will their lies continue to break them apart? Will Hopper go full Misery? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!
Catch Up On Every Episode of Stranger Things 2!
- Episode 1 – Stranger Things 2 gets off to a surprisingly somber start
- Episode 2 – Stranger Things characters try to get back to normal
- Episode 3 – What do you do when your bully is a transdimensional being?
- Episode 4 – The real and figurative monsters plaguing Hawkins
- Episode 5 – Stranger Things explores the tropes of trust and truth
- Episode 6 – Stranger Things goes Aliens
- Episode 7 – Why Eleven is the heart of Stranger Things 2
- Episode 8 – All the Jurassic Park references this season
- Episode 9 – Where does the Stranger Things finale leave its characters?