Warning: This post contains spoilers for Stranger Things 2.
It’s pretty rare that a season finale genuinely gives you everything you’ve been craving, but the ending of Stranger Things 2 could not have hit the spot any harder for me. That’s mostly because my favorite new addition has been the surrogate father–daughter relationship between police chief Hopper (played by David Harbour) and Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), which has been fractious throughout the season but was spotlighted in the finale as an incredibly powerful and intense bond.
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“The Gate” sees Eleven returning to the lab for the first time since season one, a traumatic location that’s only become more so now that she knows the truth about what happened to her mom there. But when she goes back, it’s with her fiercely protective new father figure, who could not be more different from the abusive Dr Brenner. “Maybe you could help her lead a normal life, one where she’s not poked and prodded and treated like some kind of lab rat. I don’t know. It’s just a thought,” Hopper tells the facility’s Dr Owens, with a threatening tourniquet-tug.
The contrast between Eleven’s two guardians couldn’t be more stark than in how they respond to her pain. Brenner flashes through Eleven’s mind in a series of flashbacks as she pushes her psychic abilities to the limit, trying to close the gate to the Upside Down. “You have a wound, it’s festering, and eventually it will kill you,” Brenner tells her. In contrast, after she’s closed the gate and exhausted herself in the process, Hopper holds her and tells her, “You did good, kid. You did so good.” The whole thing is incredibly emotional, especially after an earlier conversation, in which Hopper tells Eleven about his dead daughter Sarah for the first time.
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Their growing bond is cemented a month later, when Owens presents Hopper with a forged birth certificate that says he’s the biological father of “Jane Hopper.” At this point, my heart was truly close to exploding. (Side note: Do we have to start calling her Jane instead of Eleven next season? Is that ever going to fly?)
While Hopper and Eleven are at the lab, Joyce (Winona Ryder) is back home burning the shadow monster right out of her son, because Joyce is even more of a badass this season. After a long, grisly, Exorcist-style reckoning, Will is back to normal. Maybe he can get through at least half of next season without being abducted or possessed? Give poor Noah Schnapp something a little lighter to play!
On the subject of next season, I’m also wondering whether Max’s psycho brother Billy (Dacre Montgomery) is going to become a straight-up villain, because the finale really doubled down on him as an irredeemable monster (albeit one created by a violent father). Given the frosty first meeting of Max (newcomer Sadie Sink) and Eleven, I’m wondering how their relationship’s going to develop next season, and whether there are any parallels to be drawn with their experiences of abuse, especially now that Max has finally stood up to Billy.
We’re now halfway through Stranger Things, assuming the Duffers stick with their four-season plan. This was an insanely satisfying midway point that delivered so many payoffs—including Justice For Barb, who finally got a funeral—and a moment for just about every major relationship on the show at the winter dance. Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) finally works up the courage to ask Max to dance, which is delightful; Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and Eleven share a very chaste kiss, and Joyce and Hopper hang out, being quietly supportive of each other and reminding us all that they are definitely going to be a thing soon. Unlike last season, there’s no real cliffhanger here, though the Upside Down still lurks beneath the school, and doubtless won’t rest until the town is completely obliterated. But Eleven has a home and a father and a real life; Will seems to be back to normal, and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) got to deploy the secrets of Steve’s hair. At least for now, things are pretty great in Hawkins.