This article contains some spoilers for Season 3 of Stranger Things.
Burger King. Sam Goody. Ghostbusters. New Coke. Vending machines that get stuck. Sitting in the trunk of a station wagon. Stranger Things, Netflix’s mega-smash show about monsters in small-town Indiana, is so replete with the motifs of 1980s Americana that watching it can feel like an exercise in affective memory. The series is adept at pushing the right emotional buttons, to the point where an episode in the third season, Stranger Things 3, features a montage of moments from earlier episodes that precipitates nostalgia all on its own, with its Eggo waffles and its tiny, fierce, tousle-headed heroes.
But the series isn’t just about the brands. This is a show about light and dark, and as deftly as it mimics the glaring neon of Reaganite consumer culture, it tweaks the conspiracy theories blooming in the shadows. Eleven (played by Millie Bobby Brown), the telekinetic girl taken in by a troupe of childhood friends in the first season, is the product of an MKUltra-style government experiment that tried to give superpowers to babies in the womb. In Season 2, when Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) try to offer closure to the family of a friend who was murdered by an inter-dimensional monster, they visit Murray Bauman (Brett Gelman), a journalist turned professional crackpot. Bauman believes, among other things, that the Russians have somehow infiltrated Hawkins, Indiana, and that the spate of disappearances around town is connected to the government-run Hawkins National Laboratory. As a character, Murray is genially, foil-hattishly nutty. Here’s the thing, though: He’s not wrong.