I just finished watching season two of “Stranger Things”. Spoiler alert: it was super good, for a lot of the same reasons season one was super good. I thought I might do a post after I finished critiquing the series, but honestly, I felt like it was a solid follow-up to the incredible first season. I know there’s probably a lot of people out there who disagree, but my experience was overwhelmingly positive.
Just like season one, season two had an incredible atmostphere. Just like season one, season two had great, realistic, well-developed and likeable characters (well, save for one newcomer, Billy, but I suspect we’re going to see more depth in him in season three). Just like season one, season two had a fun, interesting plot that doesn’t explain itself too much nor too little. Just like season one, season two had a fun score full of 80s goodness… well, except for just one misstep.
Yep, my biggest problem with the new season of “Stranger Things” was one song choice in once scene in one episode. But, believe me, it was a big misstep.
So, before we move on, a quick warning. I will be spoiling some details for season two. Nothing big, but one subplot needs to be traced in order to truly understand what bothered me so much about the music choice. Also, the scene in question is the last scene in the last episode, so while it’s not a huge spoiler for the plot as a whole, it’s still an ending scene and therefore inherently spoiler-y.
So, let’s discuss Eleven and Mike.
In season one, Eleven and Mike’s relationship was a fairly major subplot. After an entire season of dancing around each other, the way kids with crushes do, Mike invited Eleven to his middle school’s “Snow Ball” and we watched them share a chaste little kiss before Eleven made her big sacrifice in the finale. At the beginning of season 2, as expected, we see a relative amount of angst on both Mike and Eleven’s parts on their sudden separation. I joked with my floormate several times about the middle school drama between them, but in all seriousness, it was quite touching. Eleven uses her psychic powers to keep an eye on him, and he continuously reaches out to her via walkie-talkie, fully aware that she probably won’t be able to reply.
So considering all the drama surrounding their separation, they reunite with a lot of fanfare. It’s all so touching, so wholesome, so pure.
It’s that wholesomeness that I want to focus on. Eleven and Mike are very young, much younger than a romantic couple would usually be on a TV show. Personally, I think that changes the game a little bit when considering how their romance should be depicted. They’re middle schoolers. True, they’re middle schoolers who have had a lot of crazy shit happen to them, but still. They’re babies! Their love is innocent and good and something to root for.
So, of course, as one might expect, the season ends with the “Snow Ball” teased in the first season. While technically Eleven is not allowed out in public, Hopper pulls a few strings and manages to allow her to go. And so, in the final scene, Eleven, done up in light makeup and a poofy blue dress, arrives and gets her dance with Mike.
And what song is picked to accompany this touching, adorable scene? Why, “Every Breath You Take” by the Police, of course.
And oh, in that moment, how I wished I had been able to watch this with my dad.
See, my dad used to DJ a lot of weddings back when “Every Breath You Take” was a popular first-dance song for newlyweds. And that makes sense. It’s a pretty, slow ballad by a popular and talented band.
And oh, did I mention it’s about a stalker?
Yeah, it’s not at all the beautiful romantic ballad it seems on the surface. I mean… look at the lyrics. “Every breath you take / Every move you make / Every bond you break / Every step you take / I’ll be watching you”? I suppose you could read it romantically, and many people do, but taken as a whole, it’s really a much more possessive than any healthy romance really should be. And even disregarding the debate over whether or not this song is truly romantic, is it really a song that should wrap up Eleven and Mike’s relationship up to this point? A relationship that, as I mentioned above, is entirely youthful and wholesome?
Okay, yes, it was a popular song at the time, and it’s not out of the question for inappropriate songs to be played at middle school dances. But the fact of the matter is that this is a conscious choice by the creators of the show to play this particular song over this particular scene. This isn’t real life. It isn’t coincidence. It’s a narrative choice.
Although, wait. Hold on. Maybe I was too blinded by my particular experience with this song. Maybe I judged too quickly. Because if this song was a conscious choice by the creators to play over Mike and Eleven’s first dance, then it must be stating something…
“Every step you take, I’ll be watching you”? Eleven has psychic powers, and thus keeps an eye on Mike throughout the season without his knowledge, making sure he’s safe?
…Alright “Stranger Things.” Clever. I’ll give you that. Perhaps a little on the nose. But I can appreciate being a little on the nose, I guess, especially when it involves such a good song used in such a good season of such a good show. So you get a pass. For now.
(Don’t get used to it.)