Stranger Things’ Duffer Brothers on Will’s Sexuality, Eleven’s Origins
SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched “The Massacre at Hawkins Lab,” the Volume 1 finale episode of “Stranger Things” Season 4.
The second part of “Stranger Things” Season 4 will debut in less than a month. But what member of the Hellfire Club can wait that long for answers to all the questions posed by the shocking Volume 1 finale, and its major reveal that Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) created the Upside Down and the big bad Vecna, by locking One (Jamie Campbell Bower) inside the supernatural realm.
“Stranger Things” creators Matt and Ross Duffer, professionally known as the Duffer Brothers, weren’t willing to spill on everything just yet when speaking with Variety to talk about the first seven episodes of Season 4 on Thursday — but they gave us plenty to go on until Volume 2 debuts July 1.
How old is One supposed to be by the time his scenes with Eleven in the Rainbow Room occurred?
Matt Duffer: Oh, my God. That’s a great question.
Ross Duffer: We have done the math, it’s been a while.
MD: It’s been like two-and-a-half years since I did the math.
RD: I feel like he was late 20s?
MD: 29, I believe
RD: We did all the math, it does add up.
MD: We’re not good at math, but we have people in our room who are good at math and I’m fairly confident the math holds up. But if someone on Reddit is saying otherwise, they could be right.
I feel like it’s early 30s?
MD: That could be right, that’s how old Jamie is.
RD: Late 20s/early 30s, I can’t remember where we landed. But we did do the math.
At what point in the timeline does Eleven create the Upside Down in relation to when the series starts?
RD: You’re hitting us with these! Again, we’ve done the math. I think she’s a few…
MD: She’s 9, and we meet her when she’s actually 11; Eleven is 11. So what you’re seeing in these flashbacks is actually two years prior to the flashbacks that you’re seeing in Season 1. Because I remember when we were doing the Young Eleven visual effects, we did send them Season 1 stuff, but we also sent them stuff from [when Millie Bobby Brown was on] “Once Upon a Time in Wonderland.” When we did the math, that’s the age she really should be in those flashbacks. So we sent a lot of “Once Upon a Time” videos to our visual effects team.
RD: I’m very familiar with Millie’s performance in “Once Upon a Time in Wonderland.”
This is purely me trying to figure out if this is something I didn’t understand or catch — but why did time in the Upside Down freeze on the day Will was taken by the demogorgon and why hasn’t it started back up?
MD: That is a very good question. That is actually one of the few questions that we’ve raised this season that isn’t going to get answered in Volume 2. But that’s setting the stage for some big reveals in our final season. We’ve said this before, but Netflix, midway through Season 1, they went, “Can you just please explain to us what the Upside Down is, and where these monsters are coming from — all of this stuff?” So we wrote this document — we spent like a week with our writers just writing out all the mythology and that really is where we really defined what the Upside Down was and where these monsters were coming from and what it all meant. And so this season, we are giving the audience a lot of information, but there’s still mysteries about the Upside Down, and that is a big one. But we really wanted to hint at it this season because it’s going to play such a huge role moving…
RD: You do learn more in Volume 2.
MD: I’m sure someone on Reddit will figure it out based on what they see in Volume 2.
RD: It’s not explicitly stated, the answer to your question, but we do know the answer.
So, I did not miss anything?
MD: No, you’re not supposed to know. It’s a great question.
Is there a reason Eleven’s speech patterns are inconsistent and vary from the other kids in Brenner’s program?
MD: Oh, are you talking about her speech pattern in Season 1?
Yes. Why, in relation to the other kids in the program, does she seem to have a harder time speaking? And if there’s a reason we’re supposed to understand for why Eleven is kind of not socialized the same way, or speaking the same as the other kids?
MD: Well, she is being socialized the same way with the other children and then she goes into — and she does not remember any of this — she goes into, you learn a little bit more about this in Volume 2, I guess I’m revealing a little bit, but she goes into a coma, reawakens, has no memory of these events and then is raised in total isolation by Brenner, who doesn’t dare bring in another number, for fear of this happening again. So he chooses to focus solely on her. She lives in alone, in an isolated room. This is the Eleven that we meet in Season 1. Two years in isolation and really limited memories of what had happened to her. And so that’s one reason for the speech.
That makes a lot of sense and I understand it now! So fans have noticed that in Episode 2 of Season 4, a rolling camera has the date of March 22, which is supposed to be Will’s birthday. Did everyone forget Will’s birthday in universe or was this unintentional?
RD: How do you want to respond to this?
MD: The honest response is, clearly like the characters in the show, we also forgot about Will’s birthday. So the debate now is whether we adjust Will’s birthday or we just let it be really sad.
RD: Oh, my God, Jenny, I almost don’t want you to write this, because you’re going to get us in trouble with the fans for forgetting his birthday. It was six years ago that I wrote that date!
MD: You know how George R.R. Martin has somebody — I mean, his story is more vast — and Stephen King has someone who just keeps track of this stuff? We need that. We don’t have that. So Ross and I, and my memory’s not great, but we love Will, and I don’t want people to think we don’t love Will because we forgot — we do! But now we mentioned Dustin’s birthday this season, so we’re being very careful for people not to forget, in case the timelines…
RD: Here’s what I think. I think what we’re going to do is we’ll go and George Lucas it.
MD: We’re thinking his new birthday, Jenny, is going to be May 22nd, because “May” can fit in Winona’s mouth [in the Season 2 scene where Joyce says the date of Will’s birthday]. So that would be us George Lucas-ing the situation.
RD: Of course that would mean his mom forgot his birthday! It’s too mean. It was obviously a mistake, and we’re sorry. We apologize to the fans.
MD: And especially to Will! It’s unfair.
Millie has said that you need to kill more characters. Can we expect more deaths in the back half of the season, or are you giving us a reprieve at this point?
RD: I don’t really want to say, but I would be concerned about the characters going into Volume 2, for sure. I hope that that is sort of the sense, because it is a darker season and the kids are no longer kids. So everybody is in danger. And there’s sort of an ominous feeling that things might not go well. Now, whether they do or not, you’ll have to watch.
With having everyone so split up this season — I know that’s been a hallmark of what you guys do for seasons, everyone goes off in their little pods, and they get rearranged and we have these fun outings — but what were you doing by putting the group in California this season, and why were they so distant? Is there a key reason why they need to be so far away from everyone else at this time?
MD: Well, what we like about it is, to me, it’s because of what you’re describing. I guess if there is a formula to “Stranger Things,” the idea of everyone kind of solving one piece of the puzzle and then joining forces together, that is not possible in the same way that it was before. So we love the idea of throwing that challenge at our characters, the idea that Eleven is so far away from Hawkins that she can’t swoop in like Superman in the same way she has before and save the day, on top of her not having her powers.
RD: And Hopper can’t come in and just blow up the machine.
MD: I think that’s one reason the season — so many people, I’m so glad, are saying it is scarier. And I think one of the reasons is because Eleven is not there. Because it’s so often that she’s able to come in and kind of rescue our characters and she isn’t there. And so they feel particularly vulnerable. And I’m hoping you feel that way, and you should, that they are exposed and vulnerable in a way that they haven’t been before as they move into this final fight with Vecna.
So I have one more, which is Millie and Noah Schnapp have also said that Will’s sexuality is left up to interpretation by the viewers. But Finn Wolfhard said that we’ll find out who Will “likes” in the back half of the season. Are you guys going to address Will’s sexuality directly?
The full arc of the story hasn’t come to pass yet because we really are in Episode 7, it’s what we call the end of our second act. So there’s a lot more resolution in the story; we’re trying to do the same with the characters’ arcs. And I would say that applies to Will’s arc. So it’s going to be much easier to talk about for everyone — the actors and us — once those final two episodes have played. But certainly, his journey and arc is far from finished.
This interview has been edited and condensed.