I never knew how much I enjoy watching little girls killing people until this weekend.
Season two of Stranger Things involves a whole lotta murder. Not just at the hands of the evil whatevers that live in the Upside Down. But also from the good people. We meet more characters and go deeper into some of their histories. And we get some truly satisfying violence from the women of the show.
Let’s start with the obvious: Eleven. She’s now living with Sheriff Hopper and knows words beyond “No” and “Mouth-breather.” In flashbacks to when she first escaped the Upside Down, we see her alone in the woods during winter. A lone hunter finds her cooking a squirrel over a campfire. Needing a better coat and obviously wary of anyone finding her, she psychically flings the roasted squirrel at his face, knocking him out. Not gonna lie, I hoped the man was dead. Because I live for when Eleven kills pretty much anyone. Or exacts revenge.
As Eleven grows increasingly impatient being stuck in a cabin for months, she and Hopper argue more. During one particularly virulent fight, in which Hopper rhetorically threatens to send her back to the lab with “one phone call,” the sheriff advances on Eleven and yells in her face. She hurls things at him with her mind, packing the force of a grown, strong adult. She breaks the cabin windows and walls. Sure, she then cries in the corner of her room. But that’s what is so great about this show. It’s all about innocence held and lost and the revenge exacted on those who deserve it.
We see Eleven grow into her powers, using them to survive and to show off to the punk crowd she briefly falls in with. “I’ve killed people,” she tells one of them. He’s got a mohawk practically to the ceiling and tattoos on his face but she’s killed dozens of people with her mind. And Mohawk Man rather likes it. It’s almost charming.
Eleven slams grown men into walls and moves trains with her brain. She doesn’t put up with anyone’s nonsense, even her very nice aunt’s. This season, Eleven reminds us that she’s way stronger and better than us. She even deploys the word “bitchin’” to describe her new badass style, complete with slicked-back hair and a whole lotta black.
Little girls need more than princesses and puppies. And I don’t just mean role models in STEM fields and the arts. Watching Eleven yell and cry and throw furniture around in rage, watching her kill people who want to do her harm? Little girls need that. Because they need to know they shouldn’t have to put up with anyone treating them badly. And that it’s up to them to decide what that means.
We also see a flashback to Eleven’s mother, Teresa, when Eleven was first abducted from the hospital. We know from season one that Teresa is in a catatonic state, traumatized and tortured into oblivion by the scientists who experimented on Eleven. After a seven-year search, Teresa breaks into the Hawkins lab, wielding a gun. After shooting a security guard, she finds Eleven.
We know before it happens that Teresa’s story doesn’t end in a happy reunion. But it sure is satisfying to see her shoot someone. Sure, he’s not the evil man who stole her daughter. He probably doesn’t even know what is going on. But if we can suspend disbelief enough to believe Stranger Things basically takes place on a Buffy-like Hellmouth with demons and kids with magical powers, we can suspend our morals for a minute and just cheer that Teresa got a small form of revenge. With violence. Women deserve to exact more violence onscreen. And deserve to be more than the moral compass of whatever story they’re in.
Last, let’s look at Max. As the latest addition to the Dungeons & Dragons crew, Max spends most of the season as a foil for the boys’ pubescent growth. Dustin and Lucas fight over her, Mike is jelly because she’s a girl in the group and he misses his own lady, Eleven. I’m already bored.
But then Max’s abusive and violent stepbrother, Billy, attacks her and her friends and she jams a syringe full of tranquilizer into his neck. While he’s lying on the ground, helpless, she yells that he leave them alone and slams the ground right beneath his crotch with a baseball bat covered in nails.
This scene makes up for much of Max’s uselessness throughout the season. It’s perfect because we got some of Billy’s backstory earlier in the episode. We see his dad is equally violent and abusive, no doubt triggering Billy’s abusive behavior toward his sister. But it doesn’t excuse it and the show doesn’t ask us to forgive him. He’s a shitty person and deserved to be punished.
We see too many stories of men violently wronging women. And too often their abuse is explained or absolved by their backstories. And I don’t just mean fiction. We see too many Weinsteins, too much, “I’m sorry but I went to therapy for a month and spent time with my family and now I’m better and y’all should forgive me and excuse me while I go find another woman to rape.”
Little girls need to see fellow girls and grown women executing all manner of violence against the evil men in their lives.