Unless you live in a toxic shadow dimension without access to Netflix, then you’re already well aware that the full second season of Stranger Things has arrived — and for the people who took the day off from work in order to consume it in its entirety, season two has already come and gone.
Of course, the number of individuals willing and able to binge through all nine episodes of season two midway through premiere day are few and far between. In the very likely event that you haven’t finished the season yet, do yourself a favor: bookmark this page, and get out of here. Go finish the season. Truck through all nine episodes, and once the final credits start to roll, come on back. We’re about to dig into the last scene of season two in full form with Matt and Ross Duffer, the twin brothers responsible for creating and maintaining Stranger Things, which means this is a place you should avoid until your latest journey through the Upside Down is complete.
Seriously, spoilers ahead. Look no further than the Dustin behind the catcher’s mask until you’re all the way through season two.
Still with us? Great! And wow, you watched that season fast. Treat yourself to an extra Three Musketeers bar, you’ve certainly earned it!
Now that we’re all on the same page, let’s talk about how Stranger Things concluded its second season … which is to say, on a happy note. Mostly, at least. Unlike the first season of the series, which set up numerous different cliffhangers — including Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) still showing symptoms from his time in the Upside Down — the second season ends in a much more straightforward manner, with only one true cliffhanger in sight.
Season two culminates in the full party converging upon Hawkins High to celebrate the Snow Ball, a holiday-themed dance. It’s easily one of the happiest moments of the series to date, as Will, Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) all hit the dance floor to sway along with a slow song — with partners including Nancy (Natalia Dyer), Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) and newcomer Max (Sadie Sink) in Dustin, Mike and Lucas’ cases, respectively. The joyful moment is well-earned, as the kids have survived another Upside Down nightmare, with Will fully free from his relationship to the Mind Flayer, the nickname the boys give to the Shadow in the Sky that temporarily turned Will into a spy …
… except the sky isn’t shadow-free for long. The very final image of the season sees the camera flipping upside down until the viewer is in the Upside Down. Here, in this phantom universe, the Mind Flayer stands strong, towering over the school, its next moves completely unknown.
Below, the Duffer Brothers explain why they wanted to end season two on an uplifting note with the lone exception of that disturbing final image, as well as why viewers should expect the full nature of the Upside Down to remain somewhat enigmatic all the way through the final episodes of the series.
What appealed to you about closing season two on a happy note, final shot notwithstanding?
Matt Duffer: We always had this ending in mind. Within less than a week of working on season two, we knew we would end at the Snow Ball. We decided Nancy was going to dance with Dustin. It gave us an endgame. It gave us something to aim toward. You can get lost in the desert of the season. We always had the Snow Ball there, and we always had it written up on the board as something we wanted to get to. Very much like season one, we wanted to give the story a sense of closure. In that sense it feels like its own thing — its own sequel with its own beginning, middle and end. Hopefully, it’s satisfying on that level. Last year, we had a lot of little cliffhangers at the end of the season. We didn’t want to do that again. We didn’t want to box ourselves in for season three. We wanted to be able to start season three on a very clean slate. It felt totally unnecessary, when we had the Snow Ball. Once we had the Snow Ball, we didn’t know [if we wanted to do] anything else as an ending.
There’s the final shot of the season: the Mind Flayer looming large over the school in the Upside Down. What did you want viewers to get from this image? Clearly it’s a sign that there’s still trouble on the horizon, but should viewers interpret it as trouble being even closer than we realize?
Ross Duffer: Yeah, we don’t end it on a totally happy note, do we? (Laughs.) There were discussions about that, but then we went, “Nah, we have to hint at what’s to come.” The hope we wanted people to get out of it is that this thing [is still out there]. They’ve shut the door on the Mind Flayer, but not only is it still there in the Upside Down, it’s very much aware of the kids, and particularly Eleven. It had not encountered her and her powers until that final episode. Now, it knows that she’s out there. We wanted to end on a little bit of an ominous note on that level.
Structurally, season two takes place a year after season one. Given that we see the Mind Flayer looming over the school at the end of season two, should we expect a similar time jump between seasons — or is this an indication that we might hop back into the action a little bit faster than usual?
Matt Duffer: Even if we wanted to hop into the action faster, we couldn’t. Our kids are aging. We can only write and produce the show so fast. They’re going to be almost a year older by the time we start shooting season three. It provides certain challenges. You can’t start right after season two ended. It forces you to do a time jump. But what I like is that it makes you evolve the show. It forces the show to evolve and change, because the kids are changing. Even if we wanted it to be static and we wanted to continually recycle the same storyline — and we don’t — we would be unable to, just because the kids are changing. It’s cool, though. The audience is going to be able to watch these kids come of age every year. The closest example is Harry Potter. Watching those kids and actors grow up in front of the camera was, to me, very powerful. I mean, I wasn’t a kid when I experienced that, and I can only imagine if you were a kid and you were their age, it would have been even more powerful. That’s what I’m excited about. It’s a long way of saying that yeah, we’re going to do a time jump.
The rules and nature of the Upside Down remain enigmatic even after season two. Yes, we know the world is expanding, and yes, we know there are now “Demodogs” in the mix. But a lot of it remains held close to the vest. Do you view the nature of the Upside Down as end-game material? Will it be a slower burn getting those answers on the show? Can you envision a scenario where we don’t ever fully understand its true nature by the end of the series?
Ross Duffer: It’s a balancing act. If you tell too much, it loses a little bit of that mystery. We obviously will shed more light on it moving forward, but we want to do it a little bit at a time. Even at the end, I don’t think we’re going to answer all of those questions, and I don’t think we even necessarily need to. We’re telling this story from the point of view of very human characters. There’s no way they can ever truly fully understand this place. We have our Upside Down document which describes its rules and its mythology in quite a bit of detail, but I think we’re just going to slowly parse that out, and maybe not even fully use all of it. Our favorite thing to do on this show is that these characters, especially the kids, are able to make these leaps about the Mind Flayer and how it operates and what it wants, but they’re just basing this off of games that they’ve played. They don’t really know for sure. There’s really no way for them to fully understand it. In real life, you wouldn’t be able to fully understand this entity from another place. You could never fully understand its motivations. That, to us, is scarier than knowing exactly what it wants.
As Mike and the others grow up, if they are our lens into the Upside Down, will our view of this universe mature accordingly?
Matt Duffer: I don’t know. That’s pretty cool, though. (Laughs.) Yeah, I like that!
Follow THR.com/StrangerThings for full season two coverage, including more conversations with the Duffer Brothers and others involved in the series.