Stranger Things: Season One
The Vanishing of Will Byers
Have you ever wondered if you play it too safe? Are you a risk taker? And when are you willing to take the risk - when your life depends on it? When the lives of others are at risk? To stay cool in the eyes of others? To keep from being bullied? To forget the pain that lies behind? Would you be willing to figuratively "roll the die" to determine your fate or that of your friends and family?
These are just some of the questions that the Netflix original show Stranger Things addresses in the amazing pilot episode, "The Vanishing of Will Byers." Set in rural Hawkins, Indiana in the early 1980's, we are first introduced to a frantic scientist running for his life through a dimly lit concrete hallway. Lights are flashing, a siren blares, and that all-too-frequent slow elevator door opens and waits (too long) to close. We hear a low growl, creaking, the scientist looks up in the elevator, and he's gone. In the next scene, we are jolted to suburbia at evening time. A Rainbird clicks with the familiar lawn spray of summertime nights, and we find ourselves among a group of four twelve year old boys gathered around a basement table, battling it out in a game of D&D (Dungeons and Dragons). Mike, the DM (Dungeon Master), appears to be one of the leaders of the group, and as DM, is narrating the pending D&D scene:
"Something is coming. Something hungry for blood. A shadow grows on the wall behind you, swallowing you in darkness. It is almost here!"The other three begin to freak out with cries of "What is it? What if it's the Demogorgon?"
Mike continues… "An army of troglodytes charge into the chamber! Troglodytes? Wait a minute. Did you hear that? That, that sound? Boom...Boom...Boom! That didn't come from the troglodytes. No, that...that came from something else. The Demogorgon!"
As the television audience, we find ourselves caught up in the ensuing anxiety and chaos. Mike's voice rings out over the tumult as he calls Will to act. " It's Will's move." What are his choices? The table is screaming with plans: "Fireball him! I don't know! I'd have to roll a 13 or higher! Too risky! Cast a protection spell! Fireball him! Cast protection! Fireball! Cast protection!" A die is rolled and goes scuttling off the table and across the floor. The boys run around frantically trying to see what number is showing on the die. And then Mike's mom calls down and interrupts the game.
During this moment of chaos with boys and a die tumbling around the room, a few issues are raised. Dusty is seen repeating (and almost begging), "13! 13! 13!" hoping for the protection that a 'fireball' would bring to the team (or more realistically to himself). Mike is desperately but futilely trying to persuade his mom for 20 more minutes (after an agonizing ten hour campaign and at least two weeks of planning). Will finds the die and comes to Lucas with the question, "Does the seven count?" followed by Lucas' question, "Did Mike see it?"
Let's pause right here. Lucas' response to Will begs the question, "If Mike didn't see it, should they still play by the rules?" Lucas and Dusty are quick to tell Will that if Mike didn't see it, then it doesn't count. But we get an insight into Will's character a few moments later as he is saying goodbye to Mike.
Will: (to Mike and out of earshot of the others) "It was a seven."
And with these incredible opening minutes, the show captivates audiences of all ages as it unfolds in a sci-fi, fantasy, horror fashion. Numerous characters are introduced, all dealing with various flaws and struggles, insecurities and fears (and one with seeming magical powers, a shaved head and 011 tattooed to a forearm). But in the midst of these, we realize that Will is a good guy. He plays by the rules, and he's willing to take the hit (as it were) and suffer the consequence of an undesired roll. He takes it for the team. We also learn a bit about the characters of Lucas and Dusty - definitely willing to cheat when no one is looking (what Mike didn't see doesn't count). Mike is moved to reflect on Will's character later in the episode and his conviction forges a rescue attempt. After being told not to intervene by Chief Hopper and his parents, Mike defies the powers that be in a stealth walky-talky conversation with Lucas later the next night (the day after Will's mysterious "vanishing"). Mike's call to arms is enough to compel Lucas (and later Dusty) to join up and go in search of their missing friend:
Will: "The roll. It was a seven. The Demogorgon. It got me."
Mike: "I'm worried about Will. Over."
With shout-outs and homages to Steven Spielberg, J.R.R. Tolkien, George Lucas, Stephen King and John Carpenter throughout, Stranger Things is rife with mythology and exploration of human character. In her desperation to find her son, Winona Ryder's character Joyce walks toward Will's fort in the woods. She struggles to remember his password, and finally gets out the word, "Radagast." For those of you Tolkien fans, you'll recall the legendary wizard, one of the Istari, whose help was sought in the struggle against the Dark Lord Sauron. And who is this Demogorgon? So many connections.
Lucas: "Yeah. This is crazy. Over."
Mike: "I was thinking. Will could've cast Protection last night, but he didn't. He cast Fireball. Over."
Lucas: "What's your point? Over." (Is Lucas feeling a bit caught or guilty here?)
Mike: "My point is he could've played it safe, but he didn't. He put himself in danger to help the party. Over."
Lucas: "Meet me in ten."
Mike: "Over and out."
The episode culminates with the three boys riding bicycles in the dark into a restricted area (where Will's bike was last seen). Dusty hesitates one more time and tries to convince the guys to leave, but Mike takes the lead and heads into the dark forest. We are left with the final words of episode one, "Shut up. Shut up. Did you hear that?" and then a faint growling sound in the forest.
The cliffhanger lingers. And we are left to wonder. Is Will alive? How safe are his friends? What is this Thing? And I'm also struck with the mythology in the show that in certain ways is dealt with in reality - the Demogorgon can be symbolized as Satan, and the peoples' responses around the Demogorgon can be thought of in terms of mankind's various reactions. As a follower of Jesus, I find the character of Will most compelling and interesting in this first episode. He is a mild mannered kid, who despite outward pressures to cheat, takes the high road and confesses to his roll of "7." And his motive? He is a rule follower. But is there more to it than that? Is he compelled by an act of love for his friends? Is he helping the "party" as Mike suggests?
In the Bible, we come face to face with Jesus. He is the ultimate example of a real historical character who shows His true colors in every situation. He walked His talk and people could count on Him to be true to what He said. Like Will, Jesus was willing to risk it all and accept the penalty. But in Jesus' case, it was the ultimate penalty (far more than just a badly rolled die) of going to the cross and taking on the sin of the whole world - fighting the ultimate Demogorgon - and winning.
While the show Stranger Things leaves much to the imagination, and potentially an aftertaste of fear for some, to me as a Christian, I am reminded of the victory we have in Jesus. Satan, the real Demogorgon, while thinking he may have the upper hand, doesn't actually have it. Death, as Jesus encountered it on the cross, would not be victor, but would actually be conquered three days later, when Jesus rose from the grave. Following Jesus is the winning move.
- What risks are worth taking?
- What are the demogorgons in our life? Our biggest fears or threats?
- If people don't see things (i.e. the "7" on the die), did they actually happen?
- Where does absolute honesty fit into friendship?
- Is it ever OK to break the rules? When?
- If Jesus were playing at the D&D table, what would he have done?
- In Ephesians 6:12, it says: "For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places." (New Living Translation). What is our role in this ‘battle'?
- Are you willing to risk following Jesus? Is it really a risk? And if so, what is really at stake?
Written by Amy McKee
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