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The Strangest Thing

In Episode 3 of Stranger Things 2, Will Byers finds himself in the Upside-Down. The shadowy, multi-limbed monster, later known as “The Mind Flayer”, rises high above the school. 

Will sprints from the monster, but then he stops. He remembers the story Bob Newby, his mother’s boyfriend, told him about standing up to someone he was scared of as a young boy.

“I said, ‘Go away!’” Bob told Will. 

And the thing Bob was scared of disappeared. 

Will decides to take Bob’s advice. He looks up at the monster and screams. “Go away!”

The Mind Flayer nears.

He screams again. “Go away!” Tears now in his eyes. 

The Flayer’s pace quickens. Even closer. 

“GO AWAY!” He screams with everything inside of him. 

But the Mind Flayer refuses. It surrounds him.

And then, it takes him.  

II

As a child, there’s a moment where you realize there are monsters in the world, and sometimes, the monsters win.

You come to understand that not only is there evil in the world, but that on occasion, it gets its shit together and lands some decent punches.

And when that happens, you wake up in this unknown space — this nothingness — where the once-solid ground gives way, and without warning, you’re in free fall. 

The question, then…is “What next?”

III

When the Mind Flayer takes over Will, it’s akin to the physical/spiritual possession of Regan McNeil in The Exorcist (1973).

In that film, it’s up to Father Merrin to cast out the demon. Here, it’s up to Joyce, Jonathan, Nancy…and a red hot poker. 

However, whereas in The Exorcist we’re not shown the moment of possession, Stranger Things 2 makes it the climax of Episode 3. And it’s horrific.

The Mind Flayer thrusts tentacles into Will’s eyes, ears and mouth. It fully possesses him down to the core of his being. It is, for me, the single-most terrifying scene of Stranger Things yet.

The physical possession of Will Byers is reminiscent of both old sci-fi possession stories such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), as well as the more intense body-horror sub-genre, which includes Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), as well as two David Cronenberg films: Videodrome (1983) and The Fly (1986). The films are linked by a common idea of foreign/uncategorized entities overtaking a human body and using it as a host. 

Thankfully, Stranger Things avoids some of the more graphic elements (chest-bursting, decomposition, metamorphosis, etc.), but in doing so, it sets its sight on far more fragile, and frightening ground.

Will’s emotions. His memories. If the Mind Flayer can control Will’s emotions and memories, then it’s found the perfect host. 

IV

This is how Will Byers arrives to the knowledge that monsters exist:

He witnesses the monster’s power. 

He stands up to the monster’s power.

And then he loses.

And here, perhaps, a difficult lesson: Just because you’re brave doesn’t mean good things will happen to you. However, just because good things don’t always happen, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be brave. 

It means you’re going to lose something you love. Or someone.

V

It’s precisely because of their bravery — because they’ve chosen to stand for something — that’s why it’s a certainty they’re going to experience trauma.

And the kids of Stranger Things exhibit this bravery, this wounding, and this continued courage. They are all wounded at some point — all challenged to give up the fight.

But just because they’ve lost, it doesn’t mean they stop. If anything, it means they fight harder.

Sci-fi is best when it places ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, and the more Stranger Things digs into its characters, the better it’ll be. 

I have no idea what the Duffer Brothers have in store for Season 3, and I’m not going to lose any sleep over it. I’ll be watching, that’s for sure. 

Stranger Things 2 delves more into childhood trauma and PTSD far more than I thought it would — and for that, it has my respect, fandom and admiration. 

So much so, I might even forgive it for “The Lost Sister.” 

Almost.

 

Do I Still Believe in Magic?

Mozart’s dying, and it’s all his fault. 

Antonio Salieri, a good-but-never-great composer, a figurine thrashing against the Almighty, meets Mozart and views him as a lunatic or divine joke, a brat not worthy of the genius inside him. In response, he hatches a plan to drive Mozart insane and destroy God’s angel.

And now, standing at the foot of Mozart’s bed, looking at the dying cherub, he’s almost succeeded. 

Except now he sees, before him, an unfinished work — a requiem. He examines the sheet music, and he’s overcome by the beauty of the piece. 

Yet Mozart, near-delusional and beyond the point of saving, laments its unfinished nature. Salieri, compelled by a new vision, hatches one more plan:

“…Let me help. Let me help you finish it.”

Mozart’s spirit awakens. Salieri pulls a desk over and stacks up blank sheet music. Then, armed with ink and quill, he prepares to transcribe Mozart’s dictation.

He begins with the tenors, and in isolation, their voices float over both Mozart and Salieri. The bass voices follow, linked now with the tenors. Bassoon and trumpet and timpani and strings cascade behind them, instrument building upon instrument. Salieri struggles to keep up — 

“You’re going too fast!” 

“Do you have me?” Screams Mozart. Have you translated it right? Is it written?

Salieri finishes the last notation and flips the pages to Mozart, who lunges for them. His eyes scan the pages, his right arm raises as if he’s conducting the orchestra, and — 

— with Bombast and Goth and Power and Fury, the requiem rises to life, all parts in unison, more beautiful and terrifying than Salieri or Mozart could have imagined. God’s glory on full display.

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This isn’t a story from the history books. This is a scene from a movie, Amadeus, which itself was an adaptation of a play. 

Regardless of whether or not one calls the veracity of the scene into the question, the scene still hits like a wrecking ball every time I watch it. 

Each time I watch Mozart conduct an invisible symphony, I feel the hair stand up on my arms. 

Every time Salieri sees God on the page, I believe in magic. 

Every time two men engage the divine and experience grace, healing, awe — it makes me want to be a storyteller all over again.   

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Here now, the question I pose to myself: Do I still believe in magic? 

Do I still believe in the power of storytelling? 

Because this year I’ve felt, more than ever, like quitting. The spec projects I’ve worked on go out into the world, and return void. I feel like I’m throwing all heart and soul into the ether, and it makes me want to cage up all the wild animals in my ribcage, and snuff out all the flames in my lungs.  

Because the world doesn't need cute stories. The world doesn't need ugly stories, either. The world doesn't need fairy tales. The world needs shields and bricks and cash and gas and pills. The world needs justice and revenge and more bullets and higher walls and faster download speeds and more renewable resources. 

Because the world will not, cannot, listen to 'once upon a time.' Unless you're building an empire along with it, the world will not stand for 'in the beginning.' 

That’s something they don’t teach you in undergrad — not how to knock on the next door when the previous one shuts in your face, but how to keep knocking on the fucking door, period. 

Even when no one answers. Because Christ brought you to the door. Because He put a bird in your heart, full of song and radiant light, and He promised you He would teach you how to sing, and you said — 

“Father, I’m s-s-scared.” Like Moses at the Burning Bush, yeah? ‘Not a good a speaker,’ said Moses, ‘better off with someone else.’ But Padre, He smiles, and laughs deep, and he says — 

“I will teach you to sing. Because you are mine.”

And then He walks you to the door. 

“Now, knock.”

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This is my story, this is my song. 

knock, knock. knock, knock. 

Praising my Savior, all the day long. 

knock, knock. knock, knock.

This is my story, this is my song.

knock, knock. knock, knock.

Praising my Savior, all the day long. 

knock, knock. knock, knock.