Just when when we thought we were out, they pull us back in. Today, the shadowy government figures at Netflix officially announced a second season of Stranger Things, the streaming company's summer success story and Barb-related viral content factory. In addition to a creepy red graphic, the announcement also came with something even more exciting: potential episode titles!
It's wild speculation time. While it's likely that the second season of the show will continue to mine the real-life conspiracy theories and fictional reference points that fans love, these titles also reveal where the Duffer brothers' minds are headed as they develop Season 2. Let's take a closer look at each one and see if there are any dark secrets to uncover.
Episode 1: "MadMax"
For a show that traffics in unapologetic 1980s nostalgia, naming the first episode of your second season "MadMax" feels a bit like the TV-creator equivalent of Babe Ruth calling his shot with a baseball bat. (Was "Steven Spielberg Rulez!" already taken?) Anyway, the original Mad Max came out in 1979, its first sequel The Road Warrior arrived in 1981, and the underrated Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome rode into theaters in the summer of 1985. What does that mean for the show?
The second season will take place in the fall of 1984, a full year after the events of the first season, so it's unlikely our favorite mystery-solving teens will be attending a screening of one of George Miller's masterpieces. Could this be a reference to Eleven's Imperator Furiosa-inspired haircut? Or to Chief Jim Hopper, also a cop like Mel Gibson's title character, slowly going mad? Or maybe the Upside Down has its own version of Thunderdome? So many possibilities.
Episode 2: "The Boy Who Came Back to Life"
This feels a little bit like a troll of Barb fandom, right? I'm not hating -- it's funny. If the title had been "The Girl Who Came Back to Life," it's very possible that certain fan-art forums would have exploded in excitement. So, who could the "Boy" in the title be? The easiest explanation is that it refers to Will Byers -- a newspaper clipping from the Season 1 finale already referred to him this way -- and that maybe the show will reveal that he actually did die during some of his time in the Upside Down. However, this could just as easily be referring to a new character whom we haven't met yet.
Episode 3: "The Pumpkin Patch"
While Season 1 took place before Thanksgiving and ended with a coda set right around Christmastime, this title suggests that next season should tackle an even creepier holiday: Halloween. Who goes to a pumpkin patch any other time of the year? That would go along with the announcement that the season will take place in the fall of 1984, which would make it the perfect time for the show to riff on a whole new set of Midwestern tropes -- haunted hayrides, spooky barns, abandoned farms -- that went unexplored in the first season.
Another theory: director John Carpenter got a series of shout-outs in Season 1 of Stranger Things, from the creepy synth score to the poster for The Thing hanging in the basement, but the director's most famous film, Halloween, wasn't as explicitly referenced (unless Nancy's name is an allusion to Halloween actress Nancy Loomis). What I'm really hoping for is that we eventually find out Matthew Modine's Dr. Martin Brenner character and his whole Hawkins Laboratory crew are part of a Silver Shamrock-like toy conspiracy similar to the plot of Halloween III: Season of the Witch. If you're going to steal from '80s shit, steal from some less celebrated classics too! (Plus, you know, Charlie Brown.)
Episode 4: "The Palace"
It's possible this title refers to some sort of palace realm within the world of the Upside Down. What if the Demogorgon, which could be the flip side to Eleven, has some sort of master? And that master lives in a really scary palace? The word "palace" also ties back to Dungeons and Dragons, which published an adventure module called Palace of the Silver Princess back in 1981. If you've got an hour to spare, take a look at that PDF, and maybe you'll uncover some clues to what Season 2 might have in store.
An alternate theory: Stranger Things Season 2 will be like The Leftovers and change locations during Season 2, but instead of taking the show to Texas, our favorite clique of mystery-solving preteens will travel to England, where they discover that the Queen of England herself is the Demogorgon after spending time in her royal abode. Also, Dustin gets cast in the West End production of Les Miz, which, funny enough, had its premiere in 1985. Coincidence? I think not.
Episode 5: "The Storm"
In the books of Stephen King, storms play an important role in keeping characters trapped in terrifying situations. Of course, there's the massive snowstorm that hits Colorado's Overlook Hotel in The Shining, the lightning attack in The Dead Zone, and the snow that keeps Paul Sheldon waylaid in Misery, but King also wrote a miniseries for ABC in 1999 called The Storm of the Century. Judging from Season 1's King obsession, I'd suspect a similar natural disaster to hit Hawkins in Season 2. (Or it could just be an X-Men thing.)
Episode 6: "The Pollywog"
One of the most evocative titles of Season 1 was "The Flea and the Acrobat," in which the boys learned about interdimensional travel from their science teacher, Mr. Clarke. Pollywogs refer to the larval stage for frogs and toads, so it's possible that this episode will also contain some sort of scientific lesson, potentially about the slug creature that Will coughed up at the end of the episode. Really, the possibilities are endless: the pollywog could refer to the Demogorgon, Eleven, or any of the boys themselves.
There's also a military connotation to the term "pollywog" that could end up being important. In the US Navy and many naval organizations, "pollywog" is used as a term to describe any sailor who has yet to pass the Equator. After a "crossing the line" ceremony, the sailors are referred to as shellbacks. An article on the Navy's website says that the ceremony would include "a series of initiation rites involving harrowing and often embarrassing tasks, gags, obstacles, physical hardships, and generally good-humored mischief."
Presumably, in the world of the show, anyone who has not entered the Upside Down -- characters like Steve or Karen Wheeler -- would be pollywogs until they too cross the line into the other dimension.
Episode 7: "The Secret Cabin"
Again, like "The Pumpkin Patch," this title is clearly playing on some classic horror-movie tropes. Movies like Evil Dead (which also got a poster shout-out in Season 1), Cabin Fever, and Cabin in the Woods have all used secluded homes in the woods to terrify viewers. Here are the big questions: is the cabin in Hawkins or in the Upside Down? And who is living there? Why is it secret? Does it have central heating?
Episode 8: "The Brain"
Maybe this episode will take us into the mind of Dr. Martin Brenner? Later seasons of mythology-rich shows tend to take us further into the (often tragic) backstories of seemingly villainous characters like Matthew Modine's silver-haired bureaucrat. Think of how The X-Files slowly revealed the secrets that made the Cigarette Smoking Man tick, or how Lost eventually examined the motives behind twisted figures like Ben Linus. With his unexplained connection to Eleven and her mother, Brenner is the perfect candidate for a deep-dive flashback episode, and this could be that. Seriously, how did his hair get so white?
Episode 9: "The Lost Brother"
This is the most evocative title in the whole batch. It seems unlikely that the Duffer brothers will once again put us through another season of the boys searching for their friend Will, so who will be the new "lost" brother this season? There's the possibility that "lost" could mean missing, or it could mean -- brace yourself, Barb fans -- dead. What if the finale of Season 2 delivers a big character death?
While Mike, precocious brother to Nancy Wheeler, is of course a possibility, I think the smart money has to be on Jonathan Byers, the misfit brother to Will and Nancy's other romantic suitor. I don't think the Duffer brothers will kill off one of the younger characters on the show -- the series will want to keep its Amblin-like tone of innocence -- but I think some of the older characters could be on the chopping block for Season 2, and Jonathan seems the most likely to sacrifice himself to either save Nancy, his brother, or even Eleven, if she ever returns from her Eggo-filled sabbatical in the Upside Down.
Another theory: as Thrillist contributor Dave Gonzales points out on Twitter, this title could refer to the real-life Cameron brothers, two siblings who traveled through a time wormhole and ended up at Montauk's Camp Hero on August 12th, 1983. The question is how directly the Duffer brothers are riffing on these types of wild conspiracy stories or how much they want to burrow into the mythology they already charted out in the first season.
Either way, there's going to be some shocking developments for Winona Ryder's Joyce Byers to unravel. Get out your Christmas lights.
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