Eagle-eyed viewers might have noticed Geralt (Henry Cavill) and Yennefer at what appears a masquerade sex party in Netflix’s first The Witcher trailer. But apparently, that’s not going to be the only nudity on the show. There’s a certain bathtub. You may have heard of it. And yes, it’s making a comeback—in a manner of speaking.
During a press roundtable for The Witcher, io9 asked showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich (Daredevil) about what Easter eggs fans of the books and video games can expect in the series. Of course, by that we meant the bathtub that Geralt takes a sexy dip in during Witcher 3. Obviously.
The scene has practically taken on a life of its own, inspiring memes, statues, even a birthday cake. But it also showed us a softer, more vulnerable side of Geralt. So, will Netflix’s The Witcher have a bathtub scene of its own?
“There is a bathtub this season. There is a bathtub,” Hissrich revealed. “I won’t tell you who’s in the bathtub, but there is a bathtub.”
Hissrich went on to explain that—as fans of the original books and video game adaptation—she and the writers wanted to honor the little details they’d come to love about the series. Whether it’s a little Easter egg, like the bathtub, or a much-bigger part of the lore.
She mentioned that the story she personally wanted to include was “A Question of Price,” a short story that explains how Ciri became Geralt’s surprise child, from the now-obsolete book, Wiedźmin, which is now part of The Last Wish.
We’re fans of the series too. We’re fans of the franchise. So one of the things that I asked the writers when they showed up on the first day was, having read the books, what did you love the most? It could be the tiniest thing. It could be, you know, something Jaskier says over and over again, or it could be something huge. For me, it was ‘A Question of Price.’ I was like I have to do ‘A Question of Price.’ And so I think people who are big fans of the franchise will find a lot of fun stuff.
The Witcher debuts on Netflix later this year. We’ll have more on the way from our interviews so stay tuned.
Update: Thanks so much to our internet sleuths who were able to identify the name Hissrich was citing: Jaskier, also known as Dandelion! Y’all are the best.
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We’ve had teases. We’ve had butt shots. But now, it’s finally time for us to properly introduce ourselves to Henry Cavill’s take on Geralt of Rivia, best known to fans of the CD Projekt Red RPG series and Andrzej Sapkowski novels as the Witcher.
Showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich has previously said the show would be heavily based on the books, not the games familiar to American audiences. What we see in the trailer appears to confirm that fact. The complex origins of Ciri and Yennifer are both central to the action. But don’t worry, the physical action is mainly reserved for Geralt, who takes on a whole host of men, monsters, and giant spiders.
The Witcher hits Netflix later this year.
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We’ve met Geralt of Rivia. We’ve met some of his closest allies. Now, it’s time to meet the most important character of all in Netflix’s adaptation of the Andrzej Sapkowski fantasy series The Witcher: this horse.
This is horse is, of course, Roach, Geralt’s trusty steed and steadfast companion in both the novels and the popular video game series inspired by the novels from CD Projekt Red, where Roach, uh, occasionally spent his time getting stuck on the top of buildings?
Anyway, that’s probably not going to happen in Lauren Schmidt Hissrich’s The Witcher series, because it would be incredibly weird, but still, Netflix gave us our first look at the show’s version of Roach via some new pictures of Henry Cavill’s Geralt looking very tired and miserable, but also on horseback.
What else can you say about a picture of a man on a horse? Not much, but, if you glare hard enough, you can see the pommel of Geralt’s silver monster-slaying sword hanging off of Roach’s left flank.
Fans of the games had wondered where Geralt’s second blade was when recently released shots of Cavill in costume showed him with only one sword strapped on his back. Although the Geralt of the Witcher games kept his two swords—one made of iron, for fighting most of his foes, one of silver, for fighting certain monsters he hunts in his duty as a Witcher—on his back. But in the novels, Geralt always stored his silver sword on Roach, to prevent it from getting damaged in regular combat.
It’s a nice little touch to see the show doing it like that as well, even if it’s not the Witcher imagery most fans who are aware of the series are familiar with. Plus, it gives TV Roach something to do other than ferry Henry Cavill from shot to shot. We’ll bring you more on Netflix’s take on The Witcher as we learn it.
UPDATE 11AM EST: Cavill has taken to Instagram to add his own commentary on the arrival of Roach, teasing the show’s presence at San Diego Comic-Con in the process:
The road to San Diego is long. The good news is, on her worst day, Roach beats the company of Men, Elves, Gnomes and even Dwarves. She’s not always easy, but she knows more than most and cares just enough to be the only kind of company worth enjoying.
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io9 ReviewsReviews and critical analyses of fan-favorite movies, TV shows, comics, books, and more.
The third season of Stranger Things is here and, if you’re like us, you spent most of July 4th weekend glued to your TV, desperate to know what’s next for Eleven and the crew from Hawkins, Indiana, circa 1985.
Overall, there was a lot to like in the Duffer Brothers’ third foray into this series and, below, we’ll discuss all of it in spoiler-filled detail, as well as a few things we didn’t love about this season.
What an ending. The Byers are moving? Eleven is going with them? She’s lost her powers? Hopper is alive and in a Russian prison? The freaking Demogorgon is back? The final few minutes of Stranger Things 3 packed enough surprises in for a whole other season. And, well, they’re gonna have one to try and explain how that all plays out. But after an already satisfying ending with the crew saving the world once again, it was awesome to see how the consequences of this season may loom larger moving ahead. We haven’t seen the last of the Upside Down. Plus, the promise of action outside of Hawkins may bring Stranger Things to a whole other level of epic. We can’t wait to see how it plays out.
The growing up
When you make a show starring young kids, obviously, they are going to grow up as the show goes along. In the case of Stranger Things 3, this was handled beautifully, giving us stories that felt perfectly age-appropriate for the characters and also completely different from everything we’ve seen in the past. They’re all, in some way, impacted by young love. The show dove deeper into the romances of Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and El (Millie Bobby Brown), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Max (Sadie Sink), and Dustin and Suzie (kind of), and provided new perspectives on the subject from other characters. Steve (Joe Keery) finds out the girl he is attracted to is gay. Will (Noah Schnapp) realizes he hasn’t matured as quickly as his friends and he himself might be gay (more on that in a bit). All the other relationships have plenty of ups and downs too, whether it was Mike and El sneaking behind Hopper’s back, Max and El pushing the boys aside, the girl talk, the boy talk, spying, all of the romance added another layer of strong relatability to the characters.
Billy Hargrove didn’t have the best debut in season two—mainly because he wasn’t given anything to do, other than bully his younger sister and eventually get chewed out for it. It was clear that actor Dacre Montgomery was capable of so much more though and we got it with Billy’s turn in season three. Early on, Billy was possessed by the Mind Flayer and became its main host, sent to recruit more victims to fulfill its dark purpose. Montgomery nailed Evil Billy’s raw sinisterness, but also managed to give the character vulnerability, depth, and beauty underneath the tragedy. It was one of the rare times a villain’s noble sacrifice felt like it was actually warranted because Montgomery gave us a reason to see who Billy was under all the layers of trauma and possession. It’s a shame he had to lose his life in the end but ultimately, the sacrifice was the perfect ending to an excellent arc.
The scope of it all
Each season of Stranger Things has gotten bigger and season three takes things to a whole new level. Not just the massive Battle of Starcourt Mall, but the battle at the sauna, the fights with Hopper (David Harbour) and the Russian Grigori (Andrey Ivchenko), the fact there’s a freaking Russian base that’s accessible only by a potentially deadly elevator ride into the center of the Earth. Oh, and that skyscraper-sized bad guy too. Everything about Stranger Thing 3 felt like it had finally gotten the budget and scope the Duffer Brothers had so desperately wanted to emulate since season one, and the change was not wasted.
Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) has always been probably the most interesting member of the group, what with his hilarious demeanor and crazy confidence. But season three took that to a whole new level. He came back from camp a changed man. He had a girlfriend. He seemed wiser than his buddy Steve and he felt like a true leader in a dire situation where he was fighting his very own version of the Cold War, at the height of the real one.
The construction of the plot
El and Max are looking for the missing lifeguard. Steve, Dustin, and Robin are figuring out the Russian code. Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) are looking into pest problems. Hopper and Joyce (Winona Ryder) are curious about magnets. Everyone this season is solving their own mystery and, in each case, the characters think their journey is the most important thing happening. However, the viewers know not only is that not the case, but that all these storylines are connected.
That simple structural choice works wonders for the show. Giving the characters clear, distinct goals makes every story feel different. That, in turn, brings the show to life and helps the actors dive deeper into their characters. Plus, it allows the show to tell a more complex, richer, more epic story resulting in some huge moments later on. And most of those moments come when the characters finally meet up and figure out what’s going on.
The rise of Erica and Max
Stranger Things started off as a show about four boys, plus El. Ahead of season two, we were excited to hear that another girl—Max, the tomboy skateboarder—would be joining the crew, only to be left wondering what the point was when the show didn’t give her enough to do. Season three finally did right by Max; she’s still very much a supporting character, but beyond being “Billy’s sister” or “Caleb’s girlfriend,” she formed a close friendship with El, giving her relationship advice and introducing her to the wonders of carefree stuff like shopping and Ralph Macchio. As for Erica (Priah Ferguson), Caleb’s sassy little sister was a breakout character in season two, so her increased presence this time around felt natural. You just knew, when she kept turning up at Scoops Ahoy, that she’d be drawn into the bigger story, and sending her through the air ducts, John McClane-style, was perfect—as was her slow realization that nerd culture, which definitely includes My Little Pony, is actually way cooler than she ever realized.
Erica realizing her truth
Yup, we offering up a double scoop of Erica. Going into the third season, one of the biggest questions concerning Erica focused on how the series would handle her, especially given Stranger Things’ so-so history of introducing other female characters like Max. Though the show could have easily relied on the already established formula of letting Erica drag the older kids with wisdom beyond her years, it went further by giving her a small character arc of her own that has a significance that’s larger than Stranger Things.
As Erica becomes increasingly involved in the gang’s investigation of the latest round of paranormal happenings in Hawkins, she repeatedly butts heads with Dustin, who she accurately identifies as the most prototypically nerdy member of the group. Erica, who is objectively cool as hell, sees herself as being fundamentally different than Dustin, her brother Lucas, or their friends because she’s never really been one to get wrapped up in fantasy roleplaying or Ghostbusters.
But what Erica gradually realizes, in part because of her interactions with Dustin, is that she really, really isn’t all that different than them when you really think about it. Dustin points out that not only is Erica particularly good at math and very down to go on dangerous adventures, she’s also an avid My Little Ponystan who knows the franchise’s fantastical lore in and out. Much as Erica may loathe to admit it, she’s a nerd of the highest order who fits right into Stranger Things’ larger cadre of Soviet-fighting children. But the great thing about Erica’s arc and her realization is that it explicitly recognizes the role she plays within Stranger Things’ narrative, a space that little black girls like Erica have been largely missing from in genre pop culture for far too long.
This season of Stranger Things dialed the cheesy ‘80s fashion up to 11, and we were here for it. The scrunchies, the short-shorts, the fanny packs, the neon makeup that magically stayed on Mike’s mom’s (Cara Buono) face after she went for a swim. The series was visually trying to show us that times were a-changing in Hawkins, that the small town of previous years was making way for something bigger and flashier. But it wasn’t just about the symbolism, it was also about celebrating some truly glorious style. El wasn’t the only one who was having a ball with the hip, happening threads. “Put on your jelly bracelets and your cool graffiti coat. Let’s go to the mall today.”
This might seem like an odd one, given that El actually loses her superpowers at the end of season three, but prior to that, she discovers an inner strength that she’d previously been lacking. Season two saw her assert her independence and do some soul-searching, but as season three starts off, she’s putting all her energy into her relationship with Mike. After she dumps him, she’s able to explore her own personality (and personal style!) for the first time. She’s no longer afraid of her powers; her powers are what make her unique and she uses them all the time. And while El will presumably get her powers back next season, she’s still got some catching up to do when it comes to being a regular old human being…with fewer nosebleeds, too.
That’s it. That’s the entry. Everything about her. Fine, you want an example? How about…
Things Got a Little Queer
Like in so many of the classic films this season of Stranger Things pays homage to, love works its way into a number of the characters’ arcs, and after spending seven episodes endangering his life alongside newcomer Robin (Maya Hawke), Steve clumsily professes his romantic feelings for his new friend, which she quickly rebuffs. As much as Robin enjoys spending time with Steve, she immediately reiterates an anecdote from high school she previously told him, only more specifically this time, revealing she’s a lesbian and not romantically interested in him. Rather than getting bent out of shape about it, Steve rolls with it.
Robin’s purpose in Stranger Things isn’t really to exist as the object of Steve’s desire. To be clear, that is technically what she ends up being for most of the season even though she turns him down, and this is an instance where a queer character’s identity could have been fleshed out a little bit more outside of the context of her not being interested in some guy. But to be fair, this is a kind of coming out experience that a lot of people on both sides of the equation can relate to, and the way it plays out in Stranger Things is infinitely more progressive than how an ‘80s genre classic likely would have handled it.
It’s never addressed in the season again, but there’s also a brief moment when Will and Mike have a confrontation about the growing fractures in their friendship and Mike suggests that Will doesn’t understand why everyone wants to hang out with their girlfriends because Will doesn’t like girls. In the original pitch for Stranger Things, Will was initially described as identifying as gay which might mean that the significance of that exchange could be explored in future seasons.
Malls are so totally 1980s, so setting Stranger Things’ latest nostalgic adventure in a great big shiny shopping center—complete with the expected exact recreations of staple businesses like the Gap, Zales, Orange Julius, and Hot Dog on a Stick—was a clever move, as was working in other media (like the iconic Back to the Future scene set in a mall parking lot) that fit the theme. But the show didn’t just use Starcourt Mall as set dressing, it was part of season three’s massive conspiracy, distracting Hawkins with the joys of consumerism while hiding that secret Russian lab many, many stories underground. And the mall’s impact is shown to be even greater than the more obviously terrifying monsters running around, with empty storefronts filling downtown and protestors begging the city government to support small businesses over giant chains. The Mind Flayer might not be real, but anyone who’s lived in a small town that’s been completely reshaped by a mall or a Wal-Mart can certainly relate to that particular horror.
Pop culture done right
As Stranger Things’ larger story has grown more intricate and complex over the course of its three seasons, the series’ initial conceit of paying tribute to classic genre films has gradually shifted in an interesting way. This season features a number of nods to films like The Shining, The Terminator,Alien, and George Romero’s zombie films, but they’re all incorporated into the fabric of Stranger Things’ world in much more subtle ways because the show’s gotten to a point not where its mythos can really stand on its own two legs. The nods to the classics don’t exactly jump out at you when they pop up this season because they aren’t meant to be the point of the show. Rather, they’re reminders that the Duffer Brothers are well aware of what came before them, and they’re comfortable making a go of putting Stranger Things into the larger pop cultural canon.
The gore and creature design
When Stranger Things 2 ended with that shadowy, spidery figure looming over Hawkins, it was a lot to live up to. Stranger Things 3 delivered on that and then some, revealing the Mind Flayer in many, many forms, each of them terrifying and gross. It started small, absorbing exploded, gooey rats, and then graduated to devouring its many, many, mind-controlled humans. Along the way, it T-1000’d itself through grates like the Blob, all of which lead to the big reveal of the Flayer at its full size, trampling through the Starcourt Mall. Complete with tentacles, fangs, slime, you name it, the creature was like everything we know from ‘80s horror movies, and the first two Stranger Things seasons, all rolled into one.
The Byers’ exit
The season ended with Joyce Byers moving her family, which now includes El, out of Hawkins. Seemingly for good. The final scene of them packing up and driving out was heartbreaking, with the four boys and their circle of friends being forced to part ways…some of them for the first time in their lives. As someone who moved a lot when they were younger, this really resonated with me. I was always the one leaving town, not the one staying behind, but seeing this made me realize how tragic that experience is for people on all sides.
Plus, we got that one redeeming moment from Hopper (more on him in a bit), when El got a chance to read the speech he never ended up giving her and Mike. It was an appropriately poignant message on the nature of growth and change, which is really what the season was all about. I’m sure something will happen to bring these characters back together in season four, but until then we’re left on division and uncertainty. It’s going to be a rough road for all of them, and for us too.
“The NeverEnding Story”
Events were building to an intense climax in the final episode of Stranger Things 3. The kids square off with the Mind Flayer in the mall while Joyce, Hopper, and Bauman (Brett Gelman) infiltrate the Russians’ underground lab to desperately try and close the doorway to the Upside Down. To do that, they must crack a safe that will only open using a specific math equation…but in these pre-Google times, nobody can remember the correct sequence of numbers. The world’s only hope is Dustin’s ham radio set-up and his long-distance girlfriend from science camp, Suzie—and even though everyone had pretty much decided Suzie was made up at that point in the story, the mystery girl steps up all the way from Salt Lake City with the info they need.
But there’s a catch! Before she’ll spill the digits, she makes “Dusty-bun” duet with her on English pop star Limahl’s gloriously corny theme to 1984 fantasy epic The NeverEnding Story, which also happens to be about a kid saving the world. In the context of the story, it initially feels like a NeverEnding musical moment, as all the other characters (and the audience) can’t quite believe what they’re witnessing. But despite the delay in the action, the musical sequence is so adorable—and the young actors so surprisingly good at singing (Gaten Matarazzo and Gabriella Pizzolo were both on Broadway); same goes for later in the episode, when Max and Lucas offer a mocking reprise of the song—that it ends up adding a jolt of fun into the moment, not to mention fitting perfectly into Stranger Things’ nerds-win message.
We didn’t love…
We love Dad Bod Sheriff as much as the next person, but he was insufferable this season. Jim Hopper spent most of his time acting violent, ill-tempered, drunk, and emotionally and verbally abusive. His treatment of El and Joyce was toxic and did not get the dressing down needed by either person. In fact, the opposite happened. Joyce ended up stuck with the emotional labor of placating this unstable person, rewarding him with a date when he did not deserve one. It’s clear they were going overboard with the overprotective father trope—especially in how he treated Mike, which was seriously fucked up—but if you fail to properly unpack or break down the stereotype, it instead just becomes who he is.
Like season two, Stranger Things 3 takes a while to get going. Basically, the first three episodes felt like meticulous table setters. It’s not until episode four, “The Sauna Test,” when things actually kick into gear. Then, even after things ramp up a bit, almost every single major reveal comes in the final episode. Some of the characters don’t even see each other until then. And while that separation helps the show in some aspects, it also holds it back in others, like narrative balance. Plus, even in the superior later episodes, stuff like Hopper and Joyce trying to translate what Alexei (Alec Utgoff) is saying feels so long and drawn out. The good parts greatly outweigh the bad but we just wish the Duffers could figure out how to pace this stuff more evenly.
Cary Elwes, star of The Princess Bride, played Hawkins’ deeply sleazy mayor, a neat bit of casting that unfortunately didn’t really offer much payoff. Elwes was fine, but the role felt more like a glorified cameo than anything. Last season’s Dr. Sam Owens (Paul Reiser’s character) was similarly light on screen time, but he was so important to the plot it made a lot more impact. We wouldn’t expect to see Elwes’ Mayor Klein unexpectedly pop up next season either, like Reiser’s Dr. Owens did. Why would he?
Every season of television needs a villain in one form or another, and while the returned Mind Flayer would have been perfectly terrifying on its own, Stranger Things spread out its story by tying its presence to a secret Soviet testing facility hidden beneath the mall. The problem with Stranger Things’ Russian threat this season is that we’re never really told what it is that they’re trying to do, which is a problem that you can perhaps attribute to the fact that the show is aping stereotypical depictions of villainous Soviets who have to be stopped by American action heroes. While that kind of bad guy archetype might work for a cinematic story that only runs for two hours, Stranger Things’ episodes clock in at a whopping eight, which is to say that the series had more than enough time to give its shadowy Soviets a bit more substance. Yes, they’ll be back, but it all felt a little disconnected this time around.
Mrs. Wheeler and Billy
While her poolside fashion sense cannot be denied, the whole “Mrs. Wheeler has a crush on Billy” subplot, which was teased last season, was slathered on so thick it quickly became uncomfortable. Of course Mike and Nancy’s mom isn’t going to sneak out to a Motel 6 to cheat on her husband with Billy the lifeguard, but Stranger Things sure dangles that possibility before us. Their would-be tryst does give Billy a reason to be speeding around late at night when he first encounters the Mind Flayer, but did Hawkins’ resident bad boy really need a reason for that in the first place? The whole thing just felt out of place and didn’t really add much to either character.
The newspaper subplot
Nancy spends most of Stranger Things 3 getting spit on by sexist pigs. Hooray for the golden age of television! We can understand the series wanting to dive into sexist politics in the workplace, much in the vein of something like Working Girl, but boy, oh boy this subplot went downhill—then nowhere. It boiled down to “Nancy Drew” trying to pitch a story, getting laughed at by some gross jerks, then heading out to work on it anyway with the help of Jonathan. Then, the publisher and his star reporter get killed. Sure, it’s by Jonathan and Nancy, but when they’re gone they’re gone. The show made it clear that Nancy was smart and had a lot to offer the paper, so it was forced to turn the publisher and his cronies into complete asshats to justify the obstacles. We never even got to see if she sold her story anywhere else. There are much better and more realistic ways to show sexism in the workplace—maybe the Duffers should’ve hired more women writers, who could’ve helped explain it.
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And so the hit hand-drawn animated video game spawns a hand-drawn animated Netflix series. Called The Cuphead Show, the series will chronicle Cuphead and Mugman’s adventures on Inkwell Isle, expanding on that bizarre 1930s animation wonderland.
Though the official announcement gives scant details on the plot of the upcoming series, in an interview with IGN, game creators Chad and Jared Moldenhauer say it’s not a “little kids cartoon” and that it will expand upon the “same kind of vibe that the game hints at.”
The series is being animated in-house by Netflix and produced by Netflix and King Features Syndicate, the license holder for many classic animation properties, including Popeye and Betty Boop.
No word on a release date, but The Cuphead Show is coming. Hopefully it won’t be too hard to watch.
Toys and CollectiblesAction figures, statues, exclusives, and other merchandise. Beware: if you look here, you’re probably going to spend some money afterwards.
Lego my Eggo! When we saw that Stranger Things was getting its own 2,300-piece Lego set, Gizmodo video producer Raul Marrero knew he had to journey into the Upside Down and create this monstrosity. Check out our time-lapse video build of the Byers’ home, just in time for season three of Stranger Things. Be careful: The Mind Flayer might be watching too.
Built in about 12 to 16 hours (over the course of three days), this Stranger Things set recreates both the regular and Upside Down versions of Joyce, Jonathan, and Will’s home, stacked on top of each other. It’s 2,287 pieces of cool Easter eggs and references, featuring special cameos from the Alphabet wall, Will the Wise’s wizard hat, Eleven’s Eggo waffles, and of course a cute little Demogorgon figure you can use to haunt the heroes. If you want to stop him, there’s an oh-so-adorable bear trap too.
Be sure to check out the video to see how this Stranger Things Lego set came together. We’ve also included some amazing photos of the build, so you can get an up-close peek at all the fun details.
Stranger Things: The Upside Down Lego set is currently available at the Lego Store for $199. Stranger Things 3 is now out on Netflix.
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Trying to remember what the hell happened on Stranger Things before the third season returns on July 4? We don’t blame you: It’s tough to recall binge shows in detail. Now, there’s no need to comb through episode recaps or season reviews for the main points. Here’s a post and video guide to all the things you need to know before the return of Stranger Things.
The series starts in 1983 in the town of Hawkins, Indiana. It’s a little town with a very big problem (hint: it has to do with a parallel universe). You’ve got your four main characters: Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard), Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin), Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo), and Will Byers (Noah Schnapp). In season two they’re also joined by Max Mayfield (Sadie Sink), the new girl in school. You’ve also got Mike’s sister Nancy (Natalia Dyer), her friend Barb (Shannon Purser), Will’s older brother Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), and Nancy’s shitty boyfriend-turned-everybody’s favorite haircut Steve Harrington (Joe Keery). Dang, that’s a lot of people.
Then, of course, there’s Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), arguably the most important character on the show. We’ll get to her in a minute.
Will spends most of the first season…gone. Don’t worry, he’s rescued and comes back just a little different. In the first episode of the series, Will is attacked by a mysterious creature, which the boys name the Demogorgon after the Dungeons & Dragons creature. He ends up in a parallel world called the Upside Down. The Upside Down is dark, gross, and very creepy. Lots of dead bodies. Including, eventually, Barb’s.
In typical ‘80s fashion, everyone thinks Will was kidnapped…or ran off. But the boys know something’s wrong, and his mom, Joyce (Winona Ryder), does too—especially since Will finds a way to communicate through the lights in their house. Dad bod Sheriff Hopper (David Harbour) figures it out too, it just takes him a little longer. All the other parents are totally in the dark.
Things get spooky once the boys meet Eleven (real name: Jane), a young girl who escaped from a secret government facility run by her creepy fake-father figure. Eleven likes Eggo waffles and has awesome mental powers. It’s kind of her thing. She was taken from her birth mother by the government to be part of an experiment called Project MK (named after Project MK-Ultra), which was using kids like Eleven to contact the Upside Down and do all sorts of weird stuff. It was because of this government project that the veil between our world and the Upside Down tore open—letting the Demogorgon, and all sorts of other creatures, loose.
What can Eleven do? I think the easier question is what can’t she do. She shows signs of extreme preternatural abilities, and the limits of her powers haven’t begun to be explored yet. We even saw her go on a side quest into the city to gain more information about her powers. Here’s a handy list of some powers she’s demonstrated so far:
Telekinesis: the ability to move, change, or reform inanimate objects. For example, she levitates a van and a Millennium Falcon model. Also shows signs of biokinesis, in her ability to hurt or kill other people and creatures using her mind.
Levitation: the ability to float above the ground, which she does while closing the Gate at the end of season two.
Extrasensory Perception (ESP): the ability to gain knowledge or information through the mind, which she uses to find Will in the Upside Down and communicate with him. Examples of this include telepathy, remote viewing, and “token object reading,” like when she was able to identify Will’s D&D figure before having met him.
Portal Creation and Manipulation: the ability to open a portal into the Upside Down and travel into it, this is what causes the veil between the two worlds to open.
At the end of the first season, Eleven banished the Demogorgon, seemingly destroying herself in the process. Spoiler: She didn’t. She’s now living with Hopper, and doing side quests with other Project MK kids to expand her powers to fight—both government agents and monsters alike.
How many creatures have we seen so far? Of course, there’s the Demogorgon, as well as the baby and teenage versions: Dustin’s tiny slug friend D’Artagnan, or Dart, and Demo-dogs, which ate Joyce’s boyfriend Bob (Sean Astin).
There’s also the vines, which spread throughout a bunch of tunnels in Hawkins, and seem to have a mind of their own. Or do they? Because finally, there’s the Mind Flayer. The big boss.
When Will was rescued at the end of season one, he came back with a souvenir. He was possessed by the Mind Flayer, a powerful creature that infected his body like a virus. Hurting the vines and tunnels would, in turn, hurt him. It was up to Will’s family, friends, and the now-likable Steve to get the virus out, and close the gate to the Upside Down, to stop the Mind Flayer from crossing over into our world. Which they did, thanks to a surprise arrival from the superpowered goth celebrity Eleven.
The second season ended with all the kids at the school dance. Eleven’s been adopted by Hopper and is dating Mike. Lucas and Max share a kiss. Will’s…he’s…he’s doing just fine, you guys. But outside, a threat looms. The Mind Flayer is back, and this time it’s not playing around.
Let’s see: What else did we miss? Oh yeah, Lucas’s sister Erica (Priah Ferguson)! She’s there to kick ass and call people nerds. I’m sure there’s a bunch of other details I’m missing. Like Nancy and Jonathan’s side trip to visit a conspiracy theorist in season two, along with Max’s problems with her abusive older brother, Billy (Dacre Montgomery)—who looks to be playing a huge part in the third season. It kind of shows how it’s hard to remember all the little details from binge shows. They come so fast, you don’t have time to remember the specifics. Just the bigger picture.
Upside Down bad. Squad good. Steve and his haircut, best.
It would be nice if you could step back and watch shows like this one piece at a time. But then, you risk missing out on the conversation. Hopefully we got you caught up! Stranger Things returns with season three on July 4, where we’ll see what everyone gets up to in a Hawkins summer.
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Kotaku Editor Natalie Degraffinreid and I watched the second episode of the new season of Black Mirror, which is about two old friends that reconnect through a video game. If that sounds both tame and normal, we would both like to assure you that it is neither. It was so out of control that we had to sit down and talk about it. Charlton Brooker, are you like, okay?
Natalie Degraffinried: This episode is Doing The Most. Sometimes that’s bad, and sometimes that’s great. People are talking about the Miley episode, “Rachel, Jack, and Ashley Too,” but there was so much going on in “Striking Vipers,” which, first of all, would you pick up a video game with that title? It sounds very made-up video game in a TV script. Though it also reminds me of Cable saying “Hyper. Viper Beam” in Marvel vs. Capcom 2, so maybe I’m full of shit.
Gita Jackson: I saw some people say that it was a reference to Fighting Vipers, a 32-bit fighting game. But it did feel like a cartoon parody of a video game, honestly. Like, Roxette? Excuse me? Can I find her at 30 Rock?
Natalie: Interesting! The game itself seemed to draw from a lot—Tekken probably, with the polar bear character Tundra, and I also got a little bit of a Killer Instinct vibe from the footage they showed at the beginning? Also Virtua Fighter, so maybe that makes sense given the game it was apparently based on. But then the actual in-game virtual reality footage came, which I dreaded, and it looked like the characters were dressed in cheap, store-bought cosplay, and I was just like, y’all can literally port my mind into a video game and this is what you’d have me wear? Really?
Gita: It was like they plundered a Party City. The actual fighting I liked a lot—it was a bit of an Edgar Wright rip, but that was the kind of dynamism it needed. The special moves and combos were especially well edited, I think. It was fast-paced, kinetic, and the punches really felt like they landed. I know you weren’t as into it though.
Natalie: I was actually going to bring up Edgar Wright! It felt like a cheap Scott Pilgrim scene. It was fine to me. I let it go, though, because there, ah, obviously wasn’t that much fighting going on, and more importantly, I feel like they needed a strong layer of camp to prevent those scenes from feeling too “real” and thus ruin the cognitive dissonance going on with Danny and Karl—is this cheating? Is this gay? Anthony Mackie and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, by the way—outstanding. And Nicole Beharie did that, oh my god, the restraint and control in all her scenes. But yeah, the in-game scenes did what they were supposed to do, I guess, even if they didn’t precisely hit the mark for me, tonally.
Gita: Okay, let’s zoom out a sec and set up the plot a little. This episode establishes that Karl and Danny are two longtime friends that haven’t seen each other in a while. Danny got married and had a kid, while Karl maintained a bachelor lifestyle. Nearing 40, they’re both just bored. They used to play fighting games together, but lost touch. Then Karl gifts Danny a VR version of Striking Vipers, and well, uh. They fuck. In the game. They fuck a lot. My big question for this episode is: Is Charlton Brooker okay? This is an intervention.
Natalie: Actually though, now that you bring that up, that’s one of the most interesting aspects to me. Karl had just gotten out of a 10-year relationship, I think it was?
Gita: Yeah, they implied that they’d been broken up for a year, and we met the ex in the prequel sequence, which takes place 11 years prior. Also just checking—is Karl supposed to be a model? He goes to a fitting at one point and he really doesn’t look 38.
Natalie: Maybe? I was trying to get a bead on that. His apartment did look nice. I know Danny was a banker. I wish we knew a little more about him and his past relationship, and why it didn’t work. We get a tidbit from Danny’s wife Theo that they weren’t good for each other, but I wonder exactly what was going on with Karl. He’s going through the motions just like Danny is.
Gita: They’re both so listless in their lives, and clearly found a sense of newness from being with each other. But also Danny recognizes this as damaging to his marriage, while Karl doesn’t see it as cheating really. The exploration of sex and relationships in this episode was actually…. kinda good?
Natalie: There’s a very clear implication that what Danny is doing is cheating, which I don’t necessarily disagree with. And I felt the same about the sex and relationship aspects! The sexual orientation aspect I was torn on. I wish this weren’t another “living out my gay life in VR” thing like “San Junipero” was, especially because this one very much toes the lines of the “downlow man” trope, but I found myself ultimately feeling pretty OK with how they handled it in the end, even though some of it was so whimsical I couldn’t deal.
There’s a scene of Danny trying to decide if he wants to send a little kissy “x” at the end of his text message to Karl, and for me it was just like, this great moment of wondering about boundaries and feelings and, really, Danny’s whole self-concept. I know we get tired of seeing reluctant gays on TV, or “straight people” doing gay stuff but not actually gaying it up, but there is something to be said about discovering or exploring a new aspect of your sexuality—whether orientation or kinks—later in life. It’s like, they’re feeling this strong urge in a way they hadn’t or hadn’t in a while, and that means something.
Gita: Yeah that’s exactly how I felt! That kind of urge or development of sexuality is very real. It’s entirely possible to have your sexuality continue to grow well past your 20s. I think it was best expressed in that one scene where Karl is trying to explain the female orgasm to Danny. He uses a dumb metaphor, but you can tell through the acting that he is fascinated by the experience of being a woman. He doesn’t necessarily want to transition, and clearly still enjoys sex as a man, but being able to also exist in a space as a woman is something that excites him. And he and Danny just have great chemistry!
Natalie: That was actually super interesting to me—the role-playing aspect, and the aspect of just exploring. It reminds me of what ultimately made me decide that nonbinary was the best way to describe my own gender, which is also fluid. It’s like, what if you just find joy in different things in different ways? What does that take away from you or from the people around you, and does it need to do that? We hang so much of who we are on who other people are—men do this, which means women do this, otherwise there’s a breakdown. It’s exhausting and imposing and doesn’t let people be who they want to be.
While I think there’s real room to criticize how they handled gender—particularly Karl’s very tired desperate-other-woman shtick, the vague way they waved their hands at changing or affirming or exploring gender—I also actually like that they left some room there. I also enjoyed all the cishet man feelings flying around in general. There are a multiple very angry, very sexually charged scenes, both between Danny and Karl and their avatars. It was an interesting way to poke at all that and how it gave them new ways to explore their feelings, underscored by Theo consistently telling them how bad they were at it.
It did some things very right tonally. But like I said before, I felt like the camp was necessary but not executed super well. Some of the scenes seemed kind of, I don’t know, sensationalized? Particularly the video game scenes, but then that was that dinner scene, which had me screaming and sort of reeling. It was very reality TV/soap/Maury—I probably reacted the way they wanted but was sort of cringing, too.
Gita: I’ve been a really big fan of Charlie Brooker’s work for a while—seeing the magazine cover for Sugarape, the fictional Vice magazine-inspired hipster rag from Brooker’s previous show Nathan Barley, in “Jack, Kevin and Ashley Too,” was a real treat. He’s usually quite good at heightened absurdity, as well as moments of abject humiliation, but I’ve always felt he lacked as a writer in like… actually liking or empathizing with his characters. Everyone in Nathan Barley sucks, which is the point of the show, but it means you’re left with a really bleak world where the only nice character is subjected to deadly pranks over and over (really!). So the fumbles here, and elsewhere on Black Mirror, didn’t surprise me but yeah… sometimes it just needs a defter hand.
The conversation about Karl fucking the polar bear, for example, is uhhhh hilarious. “I fucked a polar bear but was thinking of you the whole time!” I was cackling! But that also really needed to be a tender moment between two lovers consumed with guilt, and well, it’s just hard to thread that needle.
Natalie: Right, I yelped at him sexing up Tundra the bear. I definitely appreciated some of the comedic moments. I think that’s part of the problem, though—Brooker relies a little too heavily on comedy as that vehicle to make characters relatable, I think. I do feel like they actually think the guilt thing well, though—the moment with Danny going into a room and closing the door was particularly good for me, because it reminded me less of a traditional affair and more of, say, hiding porn from a loved one. They’re both just so stuck on their masculinity, which I found realistic to some extent since to be frank, it even happens in gay communities. Like there’s something to be said about how these men interact with femmephobia and transphobia and internalized sexism undergirding their whole concepts of themselves. But I think that’s the whole thing, right? Role-playing. Social scripts. What if we got to be, not someone else, just a version of ourselves with more options? Speaking of more options… Theo better get her whole life. Can we talk about the ending?
Gita: Oh hell yeah that ending. I’ve been reading that people see it as pessimistic, but it didn’t feel that way for me at all. By the end, Danny has come clean about his affair, and Theo and him come to an arrangement. On his birthday, he gets to fuck Karl in Striking Vipers, while she gets to go and fuck a dude from the bar, which is something that is repeatedly established as a turn on for her. That actually sounds like an extremely fair deal and is something that other couples that practice non-monogamy have done. What’s there to be sad about!!!! Theo just upgraded her whole ass life, man!!!!!!
Natalie: I’m going to sound judgmental, but I feel like it takes an extremely rigid view of marriage and what you can get out of it to call that ending pessimistic. They made a choice that seems to work for both of them. They love each other and their kids. They have outlets for when they don’t have the spoons for each other after over a decade of marriage. But people are weird about non-monogamy, assuming that it’s always one-sided or lopsided or a sacrifice/compromise. It doesn’t have to be and often isn’t! I finished the episode excited for them!
I do wonder—do you feel like the episode was conflating online and offline sex, though? I didn’t read the terms of them opening their marriage as a tradeoff—i.e., I didn’t think there necessarily had to be an implication that Theo having sex with real people is the same as Danny having sex with someone online. Some people did. I could certainly see that argument given the moments they put parallel in the closing scenes, but to me it was more like, “Oh they just talked about what they wanted and stopped repressing themselves.” You know?
Gita: The ending felt very freeing to me! When Theo cried over a sad anniversary dinner when she suspected something was going on with Danny, I was so sad for her. He got to be sexually fulfilled, but she didn’t. Now, they both do, and they get to keep their marriage and love for each other.
Natalie: Like they showed Danny booting up Striking Vipers, Theo out in a bar. I feel like each couple sets their boundaries on what’s right and wrong, and honesty is more of a factor in what is and isn’t cheating than a concrete/universal set of actions? And understanding your partner’s feelings.
Gita: I completely agree! Cheers to Danny and Theo. And Karl.