This article is filled with Stranger Things 2 spoilers. Do not go further if you haven’t viewed the episodes to which each section refers. Instead, we would recommend our spoiler-free review until you’re all caught up.
To help you avoid spoilers, we’ve separated this guide by episode.
With a series like Stranger Things, which places a lot of weight behind its nostalgia for ’80s pop culture, any hidden references, allusions, and homages become key for audience enjoyment, especially for those who were the same age back then as the kids are in the show. Whether it be a song choice with particularly appropriate lyrics, a recognizable image meant to evoke an ’80s movie or TV show, or a detail harkening back to season 1, we’ve compiled a comprehensive list of all the easter eggs and references here.
Did we miss any? Let us know in the comments or send us a tweet! We’ll check up on any tidbits or mistakes you found and give you a shout out here in the article. Use the dropdown menu above to navigate to specific episodes from Stranger Things season 2 to read about the little nuggets we found for each installment. Pick up your nail-covered bat; we’re going in!
Is there an easter egg or hidden reference in Stranger Things 2 that we missed? Let us know in the comments area or tweet us at @DenofGeekUS!
Stranger Things Season 2 Episode 1: “MadMax”
– Keith, the manager of the arcade the kids frequent, is never without his bag of Cheetos Puffs, which was the first companion product added to Frito Lay’s Crunchy Cheetos. They were introduced in 1971, but the packaging shown in Stranger Things is vintage 1980’s.
– Dustin plays Dragon’s Lair, which was a popular but unique laser-disc game that came out in 1983, giving the boys just enough time to start getting good at it. An expensive prospect, since the game required two quarters instead of the standard one other arcade games charged. The game featured animation from another ’80s icon, Don Bluth, who rose to pop culture prominence with 1982’s The Secret of NIMH, which the boys certainly would have been the perfect age to be fans of.
Also note: nobody in the history of humankind was ever actually good at Dragon’s Lair, which is one of the most notoriously frustrating and difficult quarter eaters to ever darken the doorstep of your local Aladdin’s Castle or Mr. Arcade. If you can find one today, we defy you not to put your fist through the screen after a few attempts to navigate beyond the first few stages.
You can see a complete playthrough of the game here, and it’s really something incredible to watch. It’s just playing it that’s a nightmare.
– Dustin’s record on Dig Dug and Centipede was broken by “MadMax,” which gives this episode its title. Max was obviously making a reference to the Mel Gibson movie, which by 1984 had already had a sequel, but the kids are still one year away from the glorious third installment in the franchise (and it’s incredible Tina Turner theme song) Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, which came out in ’85.
– For the record, it is possible to get 750,000 points on Dig Dug. The world record score of 5,225,260 was set by Oregon resident Ken House in 2013. Dig Dug came out in 1982, though, so MadMax was just getting started…
The “girls don’t play video games” line is a joke, yet somehow it echoes in very serious form among a particular subset of regressive internet trolls to this very day.
Other plainly visible and era-appropriate arcade machines include the original Pac-Man, as well as pizza parlor perennials Galaga and Ms. Pac-Man. The pinball machines in the background are Twin Win (Bally, 1974) and OXO (Williams, 1973).
– The newspaper in Hawkins features a leading article about the crisis at Merrill’s Pumpkin Patch, which Hopper later investigates, but if you look closely, you’ll also see reference to “Baby Fae’s Baboon Heart.” Stephanie Fae Beauclair was the first infant to receive a heart transplant, and the story would have been brand new to Hawkins and the United States, since Fae was born on October 14, 1984, just weeks before the events of this episode.
– We get a glimpse of a theater marquis for a showing of James Cameron’s The Terminator. This was opening weekend for the film! It premiered on Oct. 26, 1984.
– There are several election posters up around town for Reagan or Mondale, the primary candidates for president in 1984. You can also spot a sign that says “Vote Here, Nov. 6,” since schools like Hawkins Middle School were and still are popular polling locations.
Don’t read too much into the fact that Mike’s parents are Reagan/Bush voters. Pretty much nobody voted for Walter Mondale, and Reagan won in one of the most lopsided victories in history.
– Part of Mike’s punishment for slacking off in school (he’s obviously still depressed over the loss of Eleven in his life) is to give away two boxes of toys for the family garage sale. Harsh! Among the toys he keeps is the Millennium Falcon model that El moved with her powers in season 1, although he definitely gives away an original Masters of the Universe He-Man figure. The line launched in 1982 and was peaking in popularity around 1984, but you can see why Mike was just about to outgrow it.
– The conspiracy theorist/investigative reporter pestering Hopper offers a shot of paraonia that is straight out of Reagan America hype. One where the Russians invade a small American town and bring about a… Red Dawn.
Not only that, the way he ambushes Hopper, and Hopper’s reaction to him kind of recalls the way Chevy Chase as Irwin “Fletch” Fletcher treats his wife’s divorce lawyer in 1985’s Fletch.
– When Will visits Dr. Owens, he’s asked what his favorite Halloween candy is. It’s no surprise that Will answers Reese’s Pieces. The candy became popular after 1982’s Spielberg hit, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. This was one of many Spielberg references in Stranger Things seasons 1 and 2.
– And of course Dr. Owens is played by Paul Reiser, who is an icon of ’80s untrustworthiness, as he played another dishonorable authority figure in Aliens.
– Speaking of Aliens, Reiser’s not so good Doc goes to the basement where subordinates fry weird Upside-Down creatures with a flamethrower straight out of that sci-fi franchise, as well as perhaps The Thing.
– But the sequence with will Will, Joyce, and the Doctor is intentionally evocative of the grimly melancholic first act of The Exorcist, where a young child is studied under ominous, red-dotted medical equipment by ineffective medical experts… while a worried mother looks on.
– Bob is played by Sean Astin, who before being in Lord of the Rings, was in The Goonies, a clear influence on all of Stranger Things.
When we first meet Bob as he enters Joyce’s job, the camera pans across a rack of cheap plastic Halloween masks, which appear to be of the Ben Cooper variety. Ben Cooper was the company that made countless, unspeakably awful Halloween costumes throughout the ’70s and ’80s.
– Bob is glad Will, whose turn it was to pick the movie for movie night, didn’t pick something scary. Instead, they watch Mr. Mom, the 1983 comedy starring Michael Keaton, arguably launching the comic actor’s career. Who the hell watches comedies on the night beroe Halloween? Good lord, Bob is a square.
– When Will looks outside his door to see a vision of unknowable creatures, it is almost a frame-by-frame recreation of the iconic scene from Close Encounters of the Third Kind in which a young boy is kidnapped (like Will once was) after seeing bright lights bekon him to the front door and then blind the viewer.
– Maybe this is nothing, but since Morse code features prominently in Hopper’s communication with El, it’s worth noting that Hop’s secret knock at the cabin spells “ITS” in Morse.
– In true 1980s movie fashion, the product placements in Stranger Things 2 are almost out of control. But when Steve says “I love KFC” over dinner, it’s worth pointing out that Kentucky Fried Chicken didn’t officially change its name to KFC until the ’90s, and I’m not sure how often the abbreviation was used in casual conversation in 1984.
– Aside from being an apparently mediocre human being, Max’s brother Billy apparently has mediocre taste in music. You come cruising into the parking lot cranking The Scorpions’ “Rock You Like a Hurricane” dude? Seriously? If Billy had any taste, he’d be rocking something off Iron Maiden’s recently released (in fall of ’84) album, Powerslave.
– You can hear The Romantics’ brilliant and surprisingly eerie “Talking in Your Sleep” at one point in the background, too.
Keep going for future episodes!
Stranger Things on the November Sci Fi Fidelity podcast (at 36:55):
Stranger Things Season 2 Episode 2: “Trick or Treat, Freak”
– When the character, Billy, is introduced and pulls up in his vintage Camaro, “Wango Tango” by Ted Nugent is playing on the car stereo. Although this song is from 1980, we’re sure the mullet-wearing Billy is a huge fan, because both he and Ted Nugent are awful human beings.
– At Tina’s Halloween party, Motley Crue’s “Shout at the Devil” plays, and from that point on, viewers should pay attention to the music. The title or the lyrics often seem directly related to the plot going on.
– When Eleven tries to convince Hopper to allow her to go Trick ‘r Treating, she appears behind him dressed in a ghostly sheet. This seems to be a knowing wink toward one of Winona Ryder’s ’80s classics, Beetlejuice, when characters “surprised” in ghost sheets. It is also, however, a clear reference to E.T., as the boys in that Steven Spielberg classic dressed the alien as a ghost for Halloween, and Eleven has already embodied several E.T. homages last season.
– Also on the note of nods to Winona Ryder movies, one of the slyer little winks is that in this episode Bob spends the hour dressed as Count Dracula and making suck puns… while standing next to Ms. Ryder. For those who don’t keep up on their vampire cinema, Ryder was the lead in one of the most iconic nosferatu films, Bram Stoker’s Dracula. While Sean Astin looks nothing like Gary Oldman here (in many ways) his old-fashioned Count shares a dance with his Mina Harker in a scene that is anything but conicidental.
– Once Lucas and Dustin get past Max’s tough girl defenses, they tease her mildly with the phrase “totally tubular.” The phrase would have been considered “valley girl” slang, a vernacular associated with California, where Max is from. Valley girl speak was popularized at the time by Frank Zappa’s “Valley Girl” single from 1982 and the Nicolas Cage movie of the same name, which came out in 1983.
– Max goes on to cement her cool girl cred by dressing as Michael Myers for Halloween, who is the ultimate slasher from the best slasher movie ever. Some lame kid who scares Will is dressed as the far less cool Jason Voorhees.
– We also see a Pac-Man costume walking behind the kids as they trick ‘r treat.
– When El is left in the cabin alone, she tries to learn more English from watching television. Appearing on the TV as she flips around are a trailer for The Terminator (again, it’s opening weekend for that film) and the soap opera, All My Children, featuring the melodramatic stylings of Susan Lucci as Erica Kane. By 1984, Lucci had already been playing the character for 14 years.
– In a wonderful display of coordinated cosplay (no such thing back then), the boys dress as the Ghostbusters, a movie which was the big hit that summer of 1984. Lucas is right, though: Venkman is way cooler than Winston.
– Speaking of Ghostbusters, Hopper ends up getting slime on his hands and shaking it off exactly as how Peter Venkman reacted to ectoplasm in the opening library scenes of that 1984 classic.
(Note: the whole “oh no, we’re the only ones in 7th grade who dressed up for Halloween” moment resonates uncomfortably with real life events for at least one Den of Geek editor.)
– For the party where Nancy and Steve are going to be “stupid teenagers,” they attend the house of Tina. The fact that Nancy is going to a Tina’s home has to be a reference to A Nightmare on Elm Street, in which Nancy and Tina are good friends until Tina dies during a sleepover. And it cannot be a coincidence when so much of Nancy’s storyline in season 1, including her name, was in homage to that Wes Craven classic.
– You can also spot one of Billy’s friends dressed in a Cobra Kai uniform from The Karate Kid. Just in case you needed any further indications of where Billy’s teenage moral compass is.
– We also can see that Steve and Nancy themselves are dressed up as Tom Cruise and Rebecca De Mornay from Risky Business. This in itself is also a meta-reference back to Stranger Things season 1, as Steve unconvincingly told Nancy that he thinks he resembles Tom Cruise, whose latest film was playing at the theater.
– There’s also someone doing the robot in a Ronald Reagan mask, too, which kind of rules.
– Other background costumes include someone dressed as Michael Jackson from the Billie Jean music video, a guy wearing Rocky Balboa’s training outfit from one of the many Rocky montages they’ve done with the character, one drunk kid living up to his costumed inspiration as a toga-adorned fratboy, a la Animal House, and a woman dressed as Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman.
– The girl Jonathan mistakes for a member of Kiss is actually dressed as Siouxsie Sioux from Siouxsie and the Banshees, proving that while Jonathan has excellent taste in music, he isn’t Hawkins’ final authority on cool.
– Hopper is late in returning to the shack on Halloween night, so El occupies herself by watching 1931’s Frankenstein. The scene that appears on the TV involves young Maria speaking to the monster with the innocence of a child. It’s a great illustration of El’s ongoing struggle to determine if she’s the innocent child or the monster herself.
– Will tells Mike that when he has visions of the Upside Down, it’s like being caught between two slides in a View-Master reel. While not specifically a toy from that era (View-Master was invented 1939, and the plastic item we know and love came around in 1962) the reference still resonates with ’80s kids.
– While flipping through channels to find static (white noise to help with remote viewing), El comes across a vintage ’80s Oreo commercial, but we couldn’t help noticing that the image of her in front of the staticky TV looked an awful lot like the iconic image from Poltergeist, a 1982 classic.
– And while using a television to go the full Poltergeist and communicate with Mike, El also needs to don a bandana across her eyes, just like Ralph Macchio in the already name-checked The Karate Kid.
Keep going for more episodes!
Stranger Things Season 2 Episode 3: “The Pollywog”
– It seems odd that Dustin doesn’t know what “presumptuous” means, but he knows that D’Artagnan, the name he gives to his supposed pollywog, is the main character in The Three Musketeers by Alexadre Dumas. The name itself doesn’t have much symbolic meaning besides being inspired by the candy bar that he feeds the creature, but since D’Artagnan is characterized as a hot-headed youth in the 19th century novel, it seems appropriate for the baby monster.
– Speaking of Three Musketeers, at least the candy version, that is indeed the 1980s wrapper design, from long before they went with the silver foil version we’re now more familiar with.
– Dustin’s room is a treasure trove of ’80s pop culture references. One thing you can see on the wall is a Ghostbusters certificate of some kind. We’re pretty sure that comes from a kids’ book called The Official Ghostbusters Training Manual: A Guide to Catching Ghosts, which was a sticker book with “lessons” in ghostbusting. Your “reward” for completing the “lessons” was a certificate of achievement, “signed” by Peter, Ray, and Egon.
– The turtle Dustin evicts to house Dart is named “Yertle.” Yertle the Turtle was a Dr. Seuss creation, from the appropriately titled Yertl the Turtle and Other Stories.
– Dustin has a lot of ’80s toys on his shelf. Among them are a large toy of E.T. from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and a D&D action figure for Odious Ogre, a toy released in 1982 befitting of Dustin’s Advanced Dungeons and Dragons skills (credit to alert reader, Steve Crotty). Later in the episode, we get each character in “the party” mapped on to a particular D&D character class, and of course, Eleven was “the mage.”
– Now, can anyone help us identify that spaceship poster on his wall?
– Dustin mentions that pollywogs, or tadpoles, usually live in water except for two terrestrial varieties in India and South America. He’s not wrong. They are Indirana semipalmata and Adenomera andreae. Presumably his science and literary skills are more developed than his vocabulary.
– Speaking of Pollywogs, the scientific name seems intentionally evocative by the showrunners of the Mogwai, the adorable but light-shy creatures in Gremlins, who if you feed after midnight or get wet will spawn devious monsters. And notably, D’Artagnan doesn’t like bright light, grows bigger after Dustin gives him chocolate and nougat, which the little critter munches on after midnight.
– During a flashback to when Hopper and El first started setting up the cabin for her to live in, Hopper mentions the place is used mostly for storage. Blink and you might miss him putting away a box labeled, “Sara,” the name of his deceased daughter. It’s a perfect metaphor for what he’s doing in nurturing El, putting away the past to welcome the present.
– As Hopper and El clean up the cabin, the chief plays Jim Croce’s “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim.” This might as well be Hop’s theme song, whether in battling other-dimensional creatures or in parenting. Follow those three rules, El! You don’t mess around with Jim!
– We finally get an answer for what deal Jim made with the government goons at the end of season 1. He keeps things quiet for the Hawkins Lab folks conducting their investigations and controlled burns of the Upside Down, and in return, they keep it out of his town. With the pumpkin fiasco, that obviously didn’t work out so well.
– Hopper made a good choice of reading material for El in Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery, a classic that many girls (and boys) read in their childhood. Maybe he should have skipped the part about her not having a mother; that was the beginning of El’s investigation into her origins.
– Nancy gets inspiration for a plan revealed in a future episode when she sees someone wearing a Walkman, a must-have item in the ’80s. Also, she’s carrying a pretty amazing Trapper Keeper.
Stranger Things Season 2 Episode 4: “Will the Wise”
– As Nancy gives her mother the old “girls night out” excuse before heading off with Jonathan, “This Is Radio Clash” by the Clash plays on the radio, an appropriate song that talks about curfews being curbing. The Wheeler parents really are clueless…
– Dr. Owens quotes George Sarton to Nancy and Jonathan: “Men of science have made abundant mistakes of every kind.” George Sarton is considered the father of the field of science history. The accomplishments at Hawkins Lab would probably have made it onto Sarton’s timeline of notable moments in science.
– This episode is one of the few times this season that we see Holly Wheeler, Mike’s and Nancy’s younger sister. People always say the youngest gets away with everything, but with as much as the elder children get away with, Holly has her work cut out for her.
– Hopper and Eleven obviously regret their outbursts, and the chief clearly wants to apologize or say something conciliatory. Instead, he removes a blue bracelet from his wrist, looks at it, puts it back on, and tells El to clean the place up. That bracelet is the blue hairband Sara wore that Hop keeps as a reminder of his daughter. His hesitation takes on all kinds of new meaning in that context.
– Eleven opening the door to the basement (or is that a fruit cellar?) is so out of The Evil Dead, that we were disappointed there wasn’t even a Necronomicon in it.
– While El is searching through the boxes under the floor of the cabin, the flashlight lingers on boxes for New York and Vietnam, giving us glimpses of Hopper’s past formative experiences.
– The bag Nancy brought back from Radio Shack didn’t exactly contain a Walkman, but the fact that her plan to record Owens talking about the activities at Hawkins Lab ties into Bob Newby’s place of work was pretty cool. But why didn’t any of the lab guards search Nancy’s purse? That tape recorder wasn’t exactly miniature!
– Obviously the biggest reference of the episode carries through from one set-up way back at the end of season 1: D’Artagnan is a baby Demogorgon from season 1. And of course this is an exact (if less deadly) replica of the xenomorph’s life cycle in the original Alien. Like the eponymous alien, a creature hatched from an egg and attached to Will’s face. It led to a smaller creature that (much more slowly) has grown into a carniverous monster. It also one-ups the xenomorph by getting the one creature that eluded that monster… the cat.
Stranger Things Season 2 Episode 5: “Dig Dug”
– The episode continues the love for vintage Sam Raimi with another shout out to The Evil Dead, as the second image is of a swing aimlessly swaying outside of a lonely house.
– To continue The Evil Dead lovefest, the episode features an iconic horror of vines swarming over a human’s body, albeit the ones on Hopper are less handsy than the ones in the first Evil Dead movie.
– The episode’s most nostalgia-friendly nod is that Sean Astin, Little Mikey from The Goonies all grown up, wonders while staring at the map if X marks the spot. He even says the words “pirate treasure.” If it was anymore on the nose, you wouldn’t be able to breathe.
– Nancy and Jonathan have matching scars, as shippers everywhere had hoped. These came from when they cut their hands in season 1 episode 8, a move designed to lure the Demogorgon.
– Also those matching scars are right out of the novel It where all of the characters are forever linked by a blood oath made via cuts across their palms.
– We also received yet another nod to Poltergeist and The Karate Kid when Eleven communed with mama. This visualization of her origin story also touches again upon her Firestarter influences. Thank you, Stephen King.
– During a rare glimpse into the Sinclair household, Lucas’ dad is reading the newspaper, but wait a minute! That’s the same newspaper we saw in the first episode of Stranger Things 2! Is Mr. Sinclair only just now getting around to reading about Merrill’s Pumpkin Patch and Baby Fae’s Baboon Heart? Busy guy…
– The episode also slyly acknowledges some of the criticisms from the series’ first season where Max dings Lucas’ “story” as derivative. Echoing those who discredit the series’ embrace of nostalgia (looks around this article), Max makes a complaint that falls on deaf ears in regards to Lucas and most viewers.
– Erica Sinclair steals a He-Man action figure from Lucas’ room when she’s trying to get Dustin to heed her “Code Shut Up.” He-Man and the Masters of the Universe ran on television from 1983 until 1985, so Lucas was definitely with the toy trend.
– As Bob Newby begins to recognize Will’s scribblings as a map of Hawkins, one of the landmarks he names is Sattler’s Quarry. That’s where Will’s body was supposedly found in season 1.
– Since his friends aren’t available, Dustin recruits Steve saying, “Do you still have that bat with the nails?” Steve makes good use of the bat, as he did in season 1, but technically, it was Jonathan’s bat. He put it together in the aforementioned season 1 episode 8.
– Murray, the investigative journalist, pours vodkas for Nancy and Jonathan while playing Billie Holliday’s The Lady Sings album. Not an ’80s artist, of course, but the lyrics appropriately say, “She tells her side, nothing to hide / Now the world will know just what the blues is all about.” Sing it, Murray.
– Fans were speculating wildly about the meaning of “Breathe, sunflower, rainbow,” and the rest of the mysterious words of Terry Ives that showed up in a promo. Finally, the answers come as a clever clue hidden in the destroyed mind of a mother who never gave up.
– Hopper’s continued refusal to leave his hat behind, no matter the danger, is more than a little reminiscent of Indiana Jones.
Stranger Things Season 2 Episode 6: “The Spy”
– The episode begins with a play-by-play recreation of the middle of The Exorcist with Joyce Byers all but becoming Ellen Burstyn while demanding from a room full of learned doctors just what the hell is wrong with her child. She even paraphrases the grim scene as her son goes closer and closer to Linda Blair territory.
– The episode also harkens back once more to Ridley Scott’s Alien with a gang of would-be heroes discovering the beast they chase has shed its skin and grown bigger in a matter of hours. The next time they see it, it will be near full grown in size. It also relays Aliens once more, with there being confirmation that the lone beastie from the first movie/season, is one of many.
– Also while on the hunt for the “baby” Demogorgon, Steve and Dustin walk on the Stand By Me tracks from season 1… but with the added twist of throwing chum for their dangerous prey, just as the heroes did in Jaws.
– In this episode, it is once again relayed that Bob wants to move Joyce and her boys to Maine. But that is probably not a great idea either since Stranger Things borrows heavily from Stephen King, who has a penchant for setting stories there.
– When Jonathan and Nancy spend a romantic evening in crazy conspiracy theorist’s house, they communicate their will-they-or-won’t they romance to World War II era music that scores their eventual union. This is a subtle echoing of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Thank you to Chad Pittman for pointing this one out!
– There are a couple of interesting song choices. The first is “Hammer to Fall” by Queen, which plays as Steve and Dustin prepare to lure Dart out of the cellar. The lyrics are a battle call with built in advice for the erstwhile pet: “Just surrender and it won’t hurt at all / You just got time to say your prayers / While you’re waiting for the hammer to—hammer to fall.” Also note that Steve has better taste in music than that jackass, Billy.
– The other appropriate song choice comes when Billy is lifting waits and generally looking bad ass. It’s not so much that Ratt’s “Round and Round” has symbolic lyrics; it’s just that any hair band that accompanies Billy’s mullet, a hairstyle that, like Billy himself, attempts to dethrone Steve as king of hair, provides the perfect soundtrack for this musclebound jock.
– You know who else has better taste in music than Billy? Murray Bauman, who has a clearly visible MC5 poster in his paranoid bunker/living quarters.
– When Paul Reiser as Dr. Owens watched the deaths of his soldiers on the security monitors, it was hard not to be reminded of his character Burke from Aliens, a movie the kids won’t see for a couple years, as it came out in 1986. Also worth noting is that in this episode Owens literally quotes Reiser’s Burke character by telling Joyce she “needs to trust me” in almost the exact same inflection Reiser said it to Ellen Ripley in the James Cameron sequel.
– Also the radar and the beeping is straight out of Aliens.
Stranger Things Season 2 Episode 7: “The Lost Sister”
– As El makes her way to Chicago, the appropriately titled “Runaway” by Bon Jovi plays in the background. Apparently, the Stranger Things music supervisor wanted to make sure we got the message because Runaways’ “Dead End Justice” is also part of the soundtrack. So yeah, El ran away.
Also, El’s whole “girl getting off the bus in the scary city” thing kinda mirrors Guns n’ Roses’ video for “Welcome to the Jungle.”
– As she navigates the big city, El bumps into a well-dressed man who unapologetically tells her to watch it, and El calls him a “mouth-breather.” This insult hearkens back to season 1 when the boys taught her this term when they were getting bullied by Troy and his cronies.
– Kali and her gang resemble Grant Morrison’s Invisibles quite a bit. Aside from the fact that the overall vibe of Stranger Things in general feels like it takes place adjacent to Morrison’s famed 1990s comic book counterculture masterwork (which, among other things, dealt with shadowy government agencies inviting Cthulu-esque extradimensional malevolent entities into our world), there are a few direct references to the concepts and characters themselves in this episode.
There’s prominent BARBELITH graffiti in the gang’s headquarters, which references one of the recurring themes of The Invisibles, a mysterious supernatural planetary body that appears to characters in important moments, almost like the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
You can also spot (more than once) “King Mob” graffiti. King Mob was the leader of The Invisibles and the stand-in for Morrison himself. He’s like if James Bond was a spiritualist magician psychic with the fashion sense of a rock n’ roll star and that only scratches the surface.
“O’Bedlam” is another piece of graffiti, referencing Tom O’Bedlam, another member of the team.
The girl with the wild hair who is part of Kali’s crew also resembles Ragged Robin from The Invisibles quite a bit.
– This entire episode genuinely plays like a variation on a subplot from the fabled “Dark Phoenix Saga” from X-Men lore (note: not the movies). This is intentional as season 1 of Stranger Things also made reference to X-Men #134, which was part of the “Dark Phoenix Saga.” And a crucial aspect of that storyline featured Jean Grey, aka the Phoenix, falling in with the wrong crowd after her boyfriend (Scott Summers) appeared to be moving on from her with another (the mutant Dazzler). She was seduced by a psychic named Emma Frost into seeing things that were not there and to give into murderous, darker impulses. Also like traditional X-Men stories, this episode is about embracing how individual differences are a gift, not a curse to be hidden in a closet.
– Similarly, Stranger Things more specifically borrows from X-Men films, particularly X-Men: First Class, where Charles Xavier uses his psychic powers to cause him and his compatriots to appear invisible to Soviet soldiers, not unlike the oblivious Chicago cops at the end of this hour.
– El tells Kali she’s been with Hopper for 327 days, and the day before, Halloween, she had yelled at the chief for saying “soon” on day 21, day 205, and now on day 326. That puts her rescue by Hopper at Dec. 10, 1983. So there’s that for what it’s worth.
– When she gets a makeover from Kali’s gang, it’s described as “bitchin’,” another valley girl slang term from the ’80s, similar to “totally tubular” mentioned in an earlier episode.
– El is seen watching an episode of Punky Brewster, which had just begun its first season in September of 1984, so she was watching an early episode. Not only is the show about a young girl being adopted by a foster family (in Chicago, no less); she’s also watching an episode in which Punky relates a bad dream about doctors. Very portentous for an episode that features a visit by Matthew Modine’s Dr. Brenner. We’ll overlook the fact that that particular episode of Punky Brewster aired on Nov. 4, 1984, 3 days later (see date reference above). Close enough!
– Pruitt Taylor Vince appears as Ray, the technician who sent 450 volts of electricity into Terry Ives brain, disabling her for life. Not really an easter egg, just cool casting.
– You can also spot graffiti that says “So Long and Thanks” in the warehouse, a reference, of course, to Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy mythos.
Stranger Things Season 2 Episode 8: “The Mind Flayer”
– The episode begins in broad “zombie apocalypse” styled strokes as the Demodogs attack the facilities. But it more specificially borrows from the 1990s Steven Spielberg classic, Jurassic Park. With the power out and the need to turn on both the power and open the locks, poor Bob is sent to his doom like a latter day Samuel L. Jackson to the breakers.
– Speaking of Demodogs, the critters get rebranded just that by Dustin. Perhaps he still has Ghostbusters on the brain, as once the word “dog” is thrown out, they suddenly start to resemble Zuul a lot more. Like the Demodogs, Zuul was a canine servant of a greater evil named Gozer in that 1984 classic. Gozer and Zuul also had emmisaries in the guise of a possessed Dana Barrett (the Gatekeeper) and Louis Tully (the Keymaster). This is not unlike Will’s current predicament.
– Will also takes a step closer to William Friedkin’s classic The Exorcist. In that film, just as a priest was losing his faith, he was both horrified and galvanized by the young Regan speaking to him through her possessed body’s flesh, spelling the desperate words, “Help me.” Will likewise communicated by tapping Morse code while a voice of pure evil lied through his own teeth.
– When the Mind Flayer’s vision began sweeping across the land toward Will Byers, it more than a little resembled the “Force” effect from Sam Raimi’s oft-cited The Evil Dead.
– Yet while the zombie-like death of Bob could be attributed to the influence of any George A. Romero movie (or its knockoffs), the scene of all the characters trapped inside the house with monsters threatening to come through the windows or walls is straight out of the one that started it all… Night of the Living Dead (1968).
– The sound of the alarm in the Hawkins Lab is also very similar to the one used by Weyland-Yutani ships, beginning in Ridley Scott’s Alien.
– As mentioned before, hard rock suits scenes with Billy in them, and as he primps in the mirror to go out, Metallica’s “The Four Horsemen” from their incredible debut album Kill ‘Em All (which you can see a poster of on the wall) plays as his soundtrack. Besides the hair connection, though, the song’s title and its lyrics speak of an apocalypse that seems nigh elsewhere in this episode. It’s also the first good song we ever see Billy listening to, perhaps foreshadowing that he isn’t completely irredeemable.
– Bob has to reboot the security system at Hawkins Lab using a manual override written in BASIC. The concept might be Hollywood techno-mumbo-jumbo, but the BASIC programming language definitely would have been part of most microcomputers, which were beginning to become widespread at this time, especially in government facilities.
– As with the Demogorgon in season 1, the humongous shadow beast gets a name from D&D in this episode: the Mind Flayer. The boys (especially Dustin) are great at coming up with names. The Mind Flayer was known for enslaving intelligent beings with their psionic powers. Sounds about right.
– Among the reminiscences Will’s friends and family pepper him with to distract the presence that occupies his mind, Jonathan talks about the day their father left, which was the same day they began construction of Castle Byers. The “castle,” of course, was the structure in which Will took shelter during most of season 1.
– Morse code returns as Will, who’s trapped in his own body, communicates a message to his friends and family: “Close gate!” In the background, “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” by The Clash plays, the anthem he and his brother, Jonathan, share in season 1.
Stranger Things Season 2 Episode 9: “The Gate”
– The Exorcist comparisons were taken to their most extreme with Will having a demonic entity-like creature expelled from his body while tied to a bed. But even before his flesh began to change colors to blackness, there are subtler nods here too, like Joyce coming into Will’s bedroom and noticing the window open and feeling a chill, much like Regan’s mother on the night that her possessed daughter took a life.
– The Alien comparisons were also heightened with the “brain” of the Mind Flayer hive mind looking an awful lot like the shape of the xenomorph’s head, which was of course designed by H.R. Giger.
– Eleven being able to shut the barrier between our world and the Upside-Down, right down to the choice of fiery red to highlight the superheroic act, again underscores similarities between the character and the X-Men‘s Jean Grey / Phoenix anti-heroine. She even flies.
– Mrs. Wheeler was definitely primed for Billy’s seductive visit by reading one of Johanna Lindsey’s romance novels in her Southern Series while in the tub. Lindsey cranked out a bunch of these books, some with Fabio, a famous male model from the ’80s (with Billy-esque fabulous blond hair and muscles), on the cover.
– The Snow Ball dance is of course an overdue nod to a setup from the end of season 1 where Mike invited Eleven to accompany him to this dance as his date. Alas, she could not make it due to getting sucked into the Upside-Down and whatnot. But 1984 proved to be a very good year for the pair, indeed.
– The blue bracelet El is wearing as she dances with Mike may look familiar. It’s the one Hopper has been wearing since his daughter Sara died. It was her hairband that he started wearing when she lost her golden tresses to chemotherapy. The fact that El is now wearing the keepsake means Hopper has fully embraced the idea of starting a new family with El without replacing the one he lost. A very touching visual!
– The Hawkins Middle School Snow Ball had a lot of great ’80s hits, including Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” from 1983’s She’s So Unusual and the Police’s “Every Breath You Take” from 1983’s Synchronicity. Before the slow dances, though, you may have heard the lesser known Olivia Newton John song, “Twist of Fate,” also from 1983. You’d be hard pressed to find an anachronism in Stranger Things.