It might be banking on a tidal wave of nostalgia, but who cares? Stranger Things was the hit of the summer because it was a compelling show filled with likable characters played by an even more likable cast of child actors and a gripping story line that made its audience binge watch, eager to discover what happened next. A perfect sense of ’80s culture, complete with references to everything from Stand by Me to E. T., only enhanced this crowd-pleasing Netflix show. The icing on the cake, however, came in a series of truly WT-actual-F moments.
Jaw-droppers are nothing new. Plenty of TV shows, from Grimm to How to Get Away with Murder, rely on those episode arcs out of left field to keep audiences guessing– and returning. Somehow Stranger Things managed to drop these bombs without seeming too over-the-top, delighting audiences with moments of bewilderment, disgust, and utter insanity. With plenty to choose from in a single season alone, here are the 17 Most WTF Moments In Stranger Things.
17. Joyce Written Off As A Loony Toon
The mounting frustration of audiences across the country seemed palpable as people practically frothed at the mouth, seeing Joyce Byers attempt to convince everyone that she knew her son was alive. How could no one believe her? Characters put more faith in a pill-popping, drunkard of a sheriff than an overworked single mom, and Hopper seemed perfectly content to doubt her across the board.
Given that Joyce’s story did sound, well, crazy, it’s understandable that people might not buy the entire thing, hook, line, and sinker. Eventually additional eyewitnesses and Hopper’s own investigation helped to corroborate Joyce’s story, but viewers might think that at least Jonathan would give her a little more credit. Grief does strange things to people, of course, and her concerned son chalked up his mom’s paranoia to her lack of sleep. He was also a little busy with an investigation of his own, but more about that later in the list.
16. Sweet Bully Revenge
Stranger Things took the nostalgic element of evading or getting revenge on bullies and amped it up a notch. Whereas the trio of bullies in The Neverending Story at least get scared by a flying luck dragon and the boys of Stand by Me aren’t so lucky when Ace Merrill’s gang comes for revenge, the bullies of Stranger Things experience some pretty unique revenge moments courtesy of Eleven. Who hasn’t fantasized about their bully being humiliated in front of the entire school, just as that very bully likely embarrassed so many others in excruciating frequency?
There may have been dozens of things that Eleven found to be difficult as she attempted to assimilate into the outside world, but she knew a “mouth breather” when she saw one. Whether her revenge stemmed from a place of justice needing to be served or simply loyalty toward Mike, it was much appreciated by the audience. Later, when she broke a bully’s arm as a stronger warning to leave her friends alone once and for all, viewers loved her even more, hailing her as a hero who saved Mike’s life.
15. Benny And His Death
He was the male character that everyone wanted to get to know better but will never have the chance. When Benny Hammond first caught El stealing from him, everyone held in their breath, wondering how the unknown character might deal with the intruder. Mere moments later Benny’s kind heart was revealed to the audience as he gave Eleven food, clothing, and a place to stay. He also called social services, hoping to help the young girl in the best way he knew how.
Benny’s death marked one of the most shocking moments of the show, not only because it hurt to see such a kind man murdered for trying to help a child, but also because it was the first sure death in the show. Although the audience knew that Will had disappeared, everyone still held onto the hope that he was alive somewhere. Benny’s point blank shot in the head left no chance of recovery for the friendly restaurant owner and cook.
14. Nancy Loves Steve
After all that she’s been through, after all that she endured with Jonathan Byers, and after the side of Steve Harrington that she witnessed, Nancy Wheeler chose to stay with Steve at the end of season one. Unlike many one-dimensional players of the 1980s, Steve did surprise everyone by turning a new leaf by the end of the season, earning him some audience love and respect. Still, plenty of people thought that Nancy should have kicked him to the curb after his immature jealousy, camera-smashing temper tantrum, and total jerk behavior over Barb’s disappearance.
The good news is that, after much fan speculation over whether or not the decision was merely a plot device to fuel season two, even the cast members are hinting that Nancy’s choice to stay with Steve was indeed simply the beginning of a love triangle for the next season of the show. Although they’ve only seen a few bits of script at this point, it is possible that fans rooting for Nancy and Jonathan will enjoy a different resolution next year.
13. Eleven Sends People Airborne
Watching Eleven alter the movement of an annoying fan or shut a door was interesting, but seeing her send people flying had a much bigger visual impact on the show, in both positive and negative ways. Most fans noticed that both times Eleven picked people up with her mind and tossed them aside outside the research center she did it to protect Mike. In one instance, while Mike and Lucas argued over whether or not Eleven was leading them in circles to avoid the Upside Down, she separated them by screaming and throwing Lucas off Mike, worrying both Mike and Dustin over whether he was seriously hurt. This drove a wedge between Lucas and Mike for some time, even though many fans believed the action to at least partially be an accident on El’s part.
Audiences preferred seeing Eleven’s skills while maneuvering Mike out of the air after he bravely leaped off a cliff to save Dustin from being mauled by a bully. Not only does this scene deliver El at her most confident (and arguably Dustin at his most adorable with that relieved grin of his), but it also demonstrates the breadth of her power. Not only did she help Mike hover for several seconds, but she also broke his bully’s arm with a mere twitch of her head.
12. Jonathan’s Pictures
Plenty of Stranger Things fans swooned over Jonathan Byer, the awkward loner who combined Brand from The Goonies with Edward Furlong’s John Connor from Terminator 2: Judgement Day (which was technically a ’90s movie), plus a side of sensitive artist. Johnathan had to ruin that collective crush when he decided to spy on Nancy and her friends, taking photos of her before she had sex with Steve and rendering himself a grade A creep.
The WTF factor here is simply behind fans no wanting to believe that Johnathan, a steady and responsible young man who works and cooks for his single-parent family, could possibly be a pervert. There are arguments to be made that he really isn’t a creepo, of course; he did not set out to spy on Nancy. His original intention, to seek out his missing brother in the dark of the night, was both responsible and courageous, traits that he demonstrates over and over again in the show in true oldest sibling fashion. He obviously expressed remorse after taking the photos as well. While that does not excuse his actions, and the scene still makes people shake their heads, most would agree that Jonathan is not some weird stalker who would repeat his mistake.
11. Will Turning Modern Teens Into Fans Of The Clash
How many downloads did “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” get after Stranger Things aired? Will’s communication from the Upside Down via his favorite song, along with his manipulation of the lights chilled viewers to the bone. While most people believed Will was still alive, in order to fuel the premise behind the show, they could not confirm it until this point, which was the catalyst for dozens of theories.
Viewers speculated that Will was a ghost playing with the lights or that he had left his body via astral travel. Theories about where he was and whether or not he was still living fueled the season well into the finale, especially after Hopper discovered that he hadn’t actually died at all. Will’s communication from the Upside Down held a creepy factor from the moment he contacted his mom, but it also had a sweet, familial feeling, particularly when his mother held a ball of white lights, symbolizing Will’s living presence.
10. Eleven, The Murderess
Her wide-eyed innocence and lack of general knowledge about the world overall make Eleven seem like a fragile little bird who could do no harm, but viewers quickly realized that was not the case. Who could have guessed that this fresh-faced child was not only a killer, but could rack up body counts like a George R. R. Martin novel? When audiences first realized that Eleven was a killer when she refused to murder an innocent cat but almost casually took out two orderlies with the movement of her head, living rooms nationwide sighed with shocked gasps.
Sure, the nefarious nature of the experiments that Eleven were hinted at by this point in the show, but this was the incident where her story took a sharp turn into darker territory. No one blamed the poor girl for engaging in self-defense, and she obviously suffered from severe post-traumatic stress due to the first incident at the very least, but seeing Eleven murder these two men and, later, an entire room of agents, simply shook people to the core.
9. That Van Flip Tho
As mind blowing as the semi-truck flip was in The Dark Knight, the van that Eleven flipped seemed just as amazing, if not more so, given that a little girl did it with her mind. This was one of the big moments in the show where nostalgic ’70s and ’80s kids were taken back. It recalls the moments where Charlie McGee of Stephen King’s Firestarter or Carrie White of Carrie executed telekinesis on a large scale. Eleven is packing some serious heat and it’s all of the cerebral variety.
Although Eleven had already demonstrated the breadth of her skills at this point in the series, flipping the truck indicated just how much she could lift with her mind. Given that the audience is privy to so many things that her friends can’t see, it also served as a testament to the strength of her abilities to the boys, who were visibly impressed with the incredible feat.
8. Hopper’s Deal
Watching Sheriff Hopper mourn the loss of his daughter through so many episodes lulled fans into a false sense of security around his stance with Eleven once he finally caught up with her. Believing the jaded yet obviously caring sheriff to be on all the kids’ side, every viewer’s mouth dropped when he agreed to make a deal with Dr. Brenner, the very villain he has been researching and fighting against since he first found out about the atrocities committed by the mad scientist.
To be fair, people held out with bated breath, crossing their fingers and toes in hope that Hopper simply lied to be released to find Will, but that was not the case. He led the team straight to Eleven, where a bloodbath awaited them all. Hopper’s eerie ride away with the research center’s team of survivors still provokes more questions than answers, though. Given the show’s strange cliffhanger, of course, things may still not be what they seem.
7. There Are Such Things As Monsters
Glimpses of the Demogorgon scared viewers on more than one occasion. It was a skillful move on the directors’ part to keep the creature hidden for that long in order to scare the audience with the things they could not see– a common tactic in horror movies, particularly of the ’80s variety. Once viewers finally got a view of that faceless, all-mouth creature, the big reveal was jarring, to say the least. Surely someone out there whispered, “Mouth breather,” watching that huge-mouthed thing open wide.
Nancy’s presence in the Upside Down coupled with the monster’s face increased the scare factor– not only because of the big reveal after all this time, but also because a larger, more complete view of the alternate dimension was clearly visible. The cliffhanger regarding her fate would have been even more mind-boggling if viewers weren’t able to immediately watch the next episode, a perk they were thanking Netflix for when they clicked to rush through the credits into the next episode.
If 2016 saw a cult following for any single character, it was Barb. Nancy’s friend represented Stephanie to Nancy’s Andi to Goonies fans, but she also played the sensible, responsible teen who really cared about her best friend. The fact that, of all of the teens at Steve’s party, it was Barb who met an untimely and utterly disgusting end still rattles her hardcore fans, many of whom are demanding her return to the show. Many are also completely fed up with Nancy, who, despite courageously searching for her friend, never seemed to feel much remorse about dragging her to the party where she met her death, which Barb didn’t wish to attend in the first place.
Barb looked pretty dead, but as unlikely as it is that she will return in some way, it is possible that a similar ending could come to Steve, who was supposed to die instead. Even so, if Barb did return, she would not be the first character in Stranger Things to come back from the dead.
5. Will’s Fake Body
When Will’s body was pulled out of that water and a hauntingly slow version of Bowie’s “Heroes” played in the somber background, the consensus was that Will was dead. Joyce stubbornly insisted that the body in the morgue was not her son as the town prepared for a funeral… for a dummy. Yep, she was right again and no one would listen to her. What ever happened to mother knows best?
Will’s drowned body might have been a shocking sight, but the scene where Hopper cuts through dummy-Will’s flesh to test it may have been much more disturbing. This scene, like many other tension-filled moments of the show, illustrated the deft hand that the Duffer Brothers used in creating the show. Not only did they embrace the slower, more dramatic style of storytelling from the ’80s in lieu of today’s nonstop, action-packed sequences that audiences have become accustomed to, but they really mastered the art of misdirection to keep the audience guessing. Hopefully they will be able to keep that up for season two.
4. The Worms Go In, The Worms Go Out…
The worms played pinochle in Will’s mouth, which was one of the series’ grossest or finest moments, depending on your tastes. As the showed moved past Jonathan, Nancy, and Steve’s ambush on the Demogorgon, we followed Joyce and Hopper’s journey deep into the belly of the beast to find Will. These moments were nothing short of pure fun in the way that cinema is supposed to be, but when the two finally found Will and it appeared that he had died after all, after everything, viewers’ hearts were momentarily crushed.
Then there was the worm. The nightmare-inducing thing that Hopper yanked out of Will’s mouth and destroyed was weird enough to remind us of Tremors while managing to pull off a creepier, more realistic vibe. Any time worms are involved in a piece of sci-fi entertainment, people know they’re in for a gross-out fest and Stranger Things did not disappoint.
3. Eleven Disintegrating
Friendship is a huge theme in Stranger Things, with plenty of nods toward classic coming of age tales like Stand by Me to remind the audience just in case they happen to forget. Proving her dedication to the only friends she’s ever had in her life (and particularly to Mike, whom she is pretty sweet on), Eleven gave the sincerest goodbye on film to Mike as she disintegrated both the Semogorgon and herself. She made the ultimate sacrifice to protect her friends from the horrors of the beast that she seemed to accidentally invite into our world.
With such a questionable (see below) ending and the promise of a second season, Eleven’s death does not seem real to audiences. Whether she died or not during the final battle, the fact remains that the scene was one of the most gripping moments in the entire series. It also proved that Eleven, who seemed so scared early on and refused to take the boys to the Demogorgon in the first place, was the bravest person on the entire show.
2. Will’s Worms, Round II
Really? After all of that, the season is going to end with Will hurling worms all over the sink just in time for the actual holidays? One of the most terrible yet riveting moments of the show occurred during the final episode when Will not only puked up more worms in his bathroom sink, but also experienced what seemed like a dual reality in which was present in both the Upside Down as well as the real world.
The entire episode could have been post-traumatic stress, but given the show’s style it seems unlikely. Is Will even fully back from the Upside Down at all, or does part of him remain in the other world? Was the slug or worm or whatever that slimy thing is just a piece left over from Hopper’s little operation, or is something growing inside Will? Fans will simply have to wait until season two to find out where the writers are going with this twist, but odds are that it will be just as addictive as the first season.
1. That Inconceivable Ending
Hopper’s waffle delivery at the end of the show gave viewers hope for two things: the survival of Eleven and Hopper’s ethics remaining intact. Who else would Hopper steal waffles for after Eleven clearly indicated her preference for the frozen toaster treats? That said, the fact that Eleven is receiving them outside in the middle of winter is distressing. Is Hopper helping Eleven hide, or is he merely hoping that she will come and find his stash? Has he been feeding her for long, and does it have anything to do with the deal he made?
Fans are entering season two with even more questions than they had during the first season, and if the debut season of Netflix’s Stranger Things serves as any indication, the mystery will only thicken until answers are given — a tactic that will hook the audience in just as heavily, if not more so, than season one.