Eleven and Steve Harrington: Growing Up in Stranger Things 2

SPOILERS AHEAD:

Ittai Sopher PZ '20

TV Analysist for The Scripps Voice

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The thing I love the most about Stranger Things is that it takes its characters more seriously than the action or the science-fiction. The adolescent stars of the series, experience their first steps into adulthood in front of a back-drop of the supernatural. In season two of the series, the two most noteworthy examples of this growth are from Eleven and Steve Harrington. These two characters come from almost the exact opposite positionality within their respective communities. While Eleven stands at the outskirts of society, often hiding from “bad men”, Steve proudly marches with his Ray-Bans and coiffed mane down the hallways of Hawkins High School, his arm wrapped around his picture-esque girlfriend. However, in Season Two both of these characters enter adulthood with confidence in their own self-worth and an understanding of the people that are most important to them.

Eleven had spent her entire life as a servant, whose decisions are characterized by the efficacy of her telekinetic abilities in any given circumstance. After Mike gained her trust in season one, Eleven began working as a “weapon” for Mike and Company: hurting bullies, saving Mike from falling to his death, and ultimately destroying the Demogorgon in order to protect her newfound friends. While these moments are definitely heroic, Eleven performs the bulk of these actions out of a learned obedience. Eleven’s sense of morality which motivates her to defeat the Demogorgon is unclear. At times, she is fighting out of vengeance for the cruelty of the staff at Hawkins lab, and sometimes she is fighting  in order to ensure the safety of her best-friend and crush, Mike. In Season One, Eleven’s unclear motivations are largely a result of her young age and isolation from the outside world, which limit her own understanding of what her powers mean for her relationships and responsibility.

Eleven’s transition into adulthood is actualized in the episode of season two, “The Lost Sister”, in which Eleven is introduced to her sister, Kali, a fellow psychic who also experienced cruelty at the hands of Dr. Brenner and his minions at Hawkins Lab. In the company of Kali and her self-formed band of warriors in Chicago, Eleven finds drastic differences between Kali’s moral code and her own. Unlike Eleven, Kali does not waver in her actions; mercilessly murdering those who caused her pain. Kali’s lack of hesitation and Eleven’s deep reservations about revenge stem from the contrasting ways Eleven and Kali process and perceive past pain. While Kali can only associate youth with pain and suffering, Eleven has been exposed to meaningful, stable friendships. Kali’s lack of love causes her to value retribution above all, willing to kill a former Hawkins scientist, even though he is now fathering two young girls. Yet, when strangling the scientist via Kali’s orders, Eleven finds she is morally unable to justify hurting another child, even indirectly. As she sees a photo of the scientist’s children on a blood-stained kitchen floor, Eleven gains a moment of clarity, realizing that her duty as a victim of abuse is to protect other children from the pain that she experienced. Eleven’s rejection of violence contrasts with Kali’s self-justification and vengeful anger. Eleven ends the episode overwhelmed with the small moments of love and compassion that Hawkins residents like Hopper and Mike showed her. As she returns to Hawkins, Eleven comes to the realization that her powers are defined by her love for Mike, Hopper, and all of those who sought to befriend and protect her. Eleven’s entry into adulthood in this episode is marked by her conviction to save the world from the same pain that she endured, in her youth.

In Season One, Steve Harrington idolizes Tom Cruise’s character in Risky Business for the same reason a stereotypical frat-boy might worship Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort from The Wolf of Wall Street. This version of Steve wasn’t necessarily a bad guy. His compassionate nature set him apart from the archetypal 80s jock-villain, who would go out of their way to bully or humiliate those on a lower social-strata. In fact, Steve makes reparations for most of his wrongdoings in Season One, exemplified in his replacement of a broken-camera to Jonathan and his immediate remorse and attempt to erase his public humiliation of Nancy on a movie-theater marquee. However, Season Two turns the charismatic and sometimes overly confident Steve on its head. Steve is dumped by Nancy, bullied out of his role as the king of Hawkins High by Billy, and is anticipating rejection from college. By the time Season Two kicks off, Steve looks like a lost a puppy wandering around Hawkins with a bouquet of roses and an apology-card. For the first time in Steve’s life, he is an outcast. Like Eleven, Steve is desperately looking for purpose in his newfound isolation. Later, Steve’s chance encounter with Dustin allows for Steve to meditate on and gain a greater understanding of his own identity. Dustin and Steve form a symbiotic relationship, in that Steve finds a sense of purpose in the mentorship and brotherly-bond that he gives and shares with Dustin. And Dustin- well Dustin gets to feel like Steve. Like Eleven chooses Hopper and Mike as her natural allies, Steve chooses Dustin.

Both Eleven and Steve characters defy social structures and act on their own intuition by the end of the season. They find happiness in as much comfort that they can bring to the people that are most important to them. Ultimately, for Steve it’s not about being named Most Valuable Player, it’s about his entire team winning the championship- Dustin being one of the team-mates. And for Eleven it’s not about obeying the orders of Papa or her sister, Kali, it’s about working to help those who have meant the most to her. Eleven and Steve’s journey to adulthood in a city roaming with flesh-eating monsters is emblematic of what ultimately makes Stranger Things worthwhile.