In Stranger Things 2, writer-directors The Duffer Brothers took their biggest risk yet with how they dealt with the story of Eleven (Millie Bobbie Brown). The second season brought back virtually everything that was beloved and worked like gangbusters about season one while deepening the characters’ relationships and delivering amusing new team ups, like Steve (Joe Keery) mentoring Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and taking charge of the entire group of kids. The Duffer Brothers had different plans for Eleven, however, and in the 7th episode, ‘The Lost Sister’, they not only finally revealed Eleven’s origin but opened up the larger Stranger Things universe beyond the town limits of Hawkins, Indiana.
‘The Lost Sister’ is unlike any other Stranger Things episode, which is one of its virtues. This isn’t to say it was a perfect episode of television. It can be tough to swallow the logical holes of Eleven, a young girl who is sheltered, barely educated and hardly aware of how the world works, being able to travel all the way to Chicago and easily finding her ‘sister’ in one of America’s biggest and most dangerous cities. Removing all of the action from Hawkins to Chicago was also a jarring deviation to the series’ formula for some fans and thus created controversy, but flaws aside, this divergence turns out to be Stranger Things‘ most exciting story not just in and of itself, but for what it means for the series’ future.
Related: Who is The Lost Sister?
In ‘The Lost Sister’, Eleven meets Kali (Linnea Berthelsen), a fellow psychic who was also experimented on by Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine). Kali, who is a few years older than Eleven, is possessed of different psychic powers – the ability to cast illusions – and runs a group of outcasts loyal to her whom she saved in ‘heart and mind’. In Chicago, Eleven isn’t ‘Eleven’ or ‘El’, she is Jane, her real name, and for the first time, Jane finds someone who shares her past tragedy and is an ersatz sister to her.
Stranger Things proudly wears all of its myriad influences on its sleeve – from Stephen King to Steven Spielberg films – but with ‘The Lost Sister’, the Duffer Brothers go hard and expertly into X-Men territory. Eleven’s story is very much an X-Men tale and the ‘The Lost Sister’ makes that analogy overt. Eleven’s adventure with Kali and the outcasts would be at home in a Bryan Singer X-Men film from this decade or from The Gifted on FOX. Even the real name of Eleven, who is an incredibly powerful psychic and telekinetic, revealed itself to be an X-Men nod: Jane is an anagram for Jean, the X-Men’s tragic psychic Jean Grey. ‘Jane Ives’ is similar (by design) to ‘Jean Grey’ in the number of letters and syllables.
For Jane, Kali isn’t just a long lost ‘sister’ and newfound ‘family’ who takes her in, Kali is a mentor, serving as both Charles Xavier and Magneto to Jane. (Not to mention Kali’s purple hair invokes Psylocke, another of the X-Men’s psychics.) The scene where Kali teaches Jane how to harness her anger to fuel her telekinesis and thus move a train car towards them harkens to the scene in X-Men: First Class where Xavier taught Magneto how to use his powers to move the enormous satellite dish that would serve as the original Cerebro. Kali succeeded in showing Jane how to unleash her true potential, and their bond as ‘sisters’, even in one hour-long episode, was brilliantly established to be as genuine and complex as the eternal brotherhood between Professor X and Magneto.
Kali could have been one dimensional and upon meeting her, we awaited the obvious reveal that her friendliness masked her true duplicitous nature, but that thankfully didn’t happen. Kali was much more textured and fascinatingly multi-dimensional. Like Jane, she suffered at the hands of Brenner’s experiments but had the strength of will and daring to escape and forge a life for herself. She found other young people ‘society discarded’ and became their leader and savior. While the mission she dedicated her life to – finding and executing everyone associated with Brenner who kidnapped and experimented on her – is dark, Kali also welcomed Jane with open arms and was caring and compassionate towards her ‘sister’.
Kali offered Jane a home, recognizing that Jane was desperately searching to belong. However, Kali did also want to use Jane’s powers, specifically her ability to find people psychically, to her advantage. Still, Kali never manipulated or deceived Jane; she offered her a choice and was true to her word that Jane could leave whenever she wanted. Ultimately, what Jane learned was that she didn’t want to live as some kind of dark avenger. She didn’t want a life, such as it was, of being a criminal always on the run, dedicated to dealing death, even though she herself has killed ‘bad men’ in the past. The moment when Jane refused to execute Ray Caroll, one of the scientists in Hawkins National Laboratory who helped lobotomize Jane’s mother, and then used her telekinesis to stop Kali from killing Caroll was a pivotal moment for her. At that point, Jane decided who she really was and what she wanted.
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