By: Riley Farmer
Warning: The below contains spoilers from Season 2 of Stranger Things. If you haven’t finished binging, turn back now!
It took two sittings to complete my binge-watch of Stranger Things the weekend it came out. My roommate and I sat on the couch for hours, stuffing our faces and screaming during nerve-racking scenes (seriously, I’m surprised we didn’t get a noise complaint). Once the final credits rolled on episode nine, I was left feeling perfectly content. Although the story is extremely predictable at times, to the point where I spoke lines of dialogue moments before the characters, it was a beautiful story that explores the complexities of the characters we already love. The season is exactly what I needed it to be. It’s comfortable, while still stepping outside of expectations and exploring new problems.
In short, I loved Season 2 of Stranger Things. Imagine my surprise when I logged back on to the internet, now free from lurking spoilers, to find out that fans hated “Chapter Seven,” one of the most pivotal moments in Eleven’s story.
“Chapter Seven: The Lost Sister” sees Eleven traveling to Chicago, where she finds her “sister” Kali, who also has psychic powers as a result of the MK-Ultra experiments at Hawkins Lab. Many viewers had complaints about “Chapter Seven” being too boring and deemed it an unnecessary deviation from the show’s main plot. However, it was an entirely necessary page in Eleven’s narrative. While there’s a focus on the story of Kali and her gang tracking down Hawkins Lab scientists, which is not uninteresting, some people saw it as a distraction from characters the audience connects with. But the purpose of “Chapter Seven” was to give Eleven agency.
Throughout Season 1 and six episodes of Season 2, Eleven was presented as a very physically powerful girl with no power over herself. Although she has abilities beyond what most could imagine, she was never taught to act on her own accord and therefore had no agency. At Hawkins Lab, she was abused, experimented on, and only shown affection for the sake of manipulation. During her time at the lab, she had no free will to explore herself, care for herself, or make decisions for herself, and because she didn’t know any different, she didn’t realize she could have more. For 12 years, Eleven had been so confined that she was unable to recognize her lack of agency. It isn’t until she’s scared that she takes one of the first steps to securing her own freedom and escapes from the lab via anger-driven violence.
In “Chapter Five” of Season 2, viewers see Eleven run to her mother’s house: the first female-dominated household that she’s resided in. She empowers herself by learning more about her own history and then runs away again to find her sister. It is here that viewers experience not a standalone story about a lost sister, but rather Eleven’s journey to gain her own agency. Kali teaches Eleven to control her powers through anger, and for the first time, Eleven appears to fight against the male-dominated world in which she’s lived her life. By learning to control her powers through channeled anger, she frees herself from the irrational emotions that often drive her actions. However, she does not allow the anger to control her—she shows sympathy and acts out of love by saving the scientist’s life.
Eleven becomes a more complex character because she’s able to experience both love and hate simultaneously. Due to her newfound multiplicity, she has a sense of agency. Rather than being a girl of single syllable answers, who nods when men ask her things to do and reacts with power when she angers, Eleven has chosen to channel her hate into acts of love. Therefore, she is no longer controlled by the negative reactions sparked by male dominance—she finally has authority over herself.
I couldn’t understand the negative reaction so many fans had to this beautifully constructed quest for agency. The mildly interesting Kali-centered story was extremely important in order for Eleven to go on a journey of self-discovery. Hawkins will always be her home, but had she stayed there, she would’ve always been an angry girl stuck without a means for self-expression or identity formation. Her small exploration into her past gave Eleven the agency she needs to escape her constraints and become the driven, loving and powerful woman she needs to be in order to continue her narrative. Eleven can now move forward as an independent entity rather than a reliant and vulnerable plot device.