Stranger Things

I gave up on The Walking Dead a while ago, but I confess to still keeping up a bit via YouTube clips and recaps from various internet sources.

I was curious to see how they would handle the Negan thing. He is the kind of villain who sucks the oxygen out of a story-line because he’s so over the top evil, and it makes almost no sense at all that someone hasn’t killed him long before Rick and company ran afoul of him.

In a post-apocalyptic world with no rules, and virtually limitless places to retreat to, a guy like this would have met his end long ago.  You have to perform some serious disbelief suspending to believe in a world where this guy wasn’t bludgeoned to death as he slept, but in the lucrative world of serial television (and comic books because he’s still alive there too), he gets to overstay his welcome because lazy tale telling and profits overlap more than they should.

The reason I gave up on The Walking Dead though was once again starkly portrayed in it’s mid-season 8 finale.

Good seldom ever wins nor is it rewarded. The show’s main message is, and continues to be, that only the extremely violent use force will save people. Community is coerced. Decent people are subjugated. And acts of kindness and caring about humanity for its own sake will get you or your loved ones killed.

Great lessons that remarkably predate the era of Trump and the resurgence of Nazis.

Last night Carl, the teenage son of the main protagonist, Rick Grimes,  revealed at the end of episode that he’d been bitten by a walker (zombie) in the previous episode as he tried to help a stranger. The stranger in question, it turns out, is a member of the group led by the evil Negan, reinforcing the show’s main theme – being a good person means eventually being a dead one.

The young man joins other characters, whose kindness and general interest in rebuilding on the ashes of society, has earned them similar death sentences.

But it is hope that is the eternal victim in the land of The Walking Dead. Nothing and nobody is allowed to nurture ideas of a better life for long.

This isn’t the best message in the best of times, and North America is not enjoying the best of times right now, but violence and the idea that might and brutality are the only answer to every question is recycled in every conceivable way by this show, and last night’s snuffing of Carl is just one more example.

I saw a tweet today that summed up what should’ve happened. It said “Eugene should have died. Eugene should have fucking died.”

And it was right.

Eugene is a weaselly, self-serving cunt of a man. But his continued existence validates his loathsome choices, which have been largely selfish and treacherous despite the fleeting moments of self-awareness and contrition that were ultimately self-interested too.

Eugene surviving while Carl doesn’t reminds the viewer that being a good person has no reward while being a rat-bastard earns you material comforts.

And that, in a nutshell, is why The Walking Dead isn’t worth serious attention anymore. Even it’s heroes, Rick, Daryl and Maggie are relativists, who take life with as little thought as their big bad rival, Negan, does.

I haven’t watched Fear the Walking Dead since it’s first season but have seen a few clips here and there. Same thing. Good equals dead. Morally challenged or vacuous equals … hero or villain because they are interchangeable.

Having just finished bingeing on Stranger Things, I am struck by the difference in world views in two shows that both deal on the edges of societal failure but approach the human component quite differently.

And they approach outcomes differently too. The Walking Dead has given up. There is no hope. There is no tomorrow. Nothing to fight because the fight is all there is. That’s just depressing. And it’s a tedious tale.

So R.I.P, Carl. You were always a goner. Like Beth. Like Glenn and Sasha and Tyrone and Herschel. Like hope.

A recent bout of flu confined the teen and I to the comfy couches in our seldom used living room and while sofa-ridden, we decided to binge on Netflix.

Being a teenager, she is well-versed in binge watching. Me, on the other hand, I only watch television when I am ill. So she had seen pretty much everything, and some things twice, but not Stranger Things.

She admitted that her friends’ descriptions of the plot line were a bit too grisly and scary for her tastes, so she’d avoided it. Never the less, she was game and we were pretty much out of options for hours worth of viewing after our Harry Potter marathon and still had a lot of flu left to go.

She was hooked quickly. A Goonies fan, there was much for her to latch her imagination to but the first season only periodically pulled my attention away from social media. The early 80’s are my heading into young adult years. I remember most of that time period through those lenses, but season two has been pretty good. Particularly, the soundtrack.

The teen grimaces. Her eyes roll. And she is of the firm opinion that the term “good” cannot be applied to any music before the 21st Century – except for possibly the theme from Ghostbusters – but as the episodes rolled on, I was reminded of that not everything from the 80’s needs to be killed with fire.

Most everything about the 80’s perplexes my kid though. Rightly, when I stop to consider it. Even a fictionalized fantasy version of it seems fairly far-fetched from the vantage of 2017.

The Soviet Union and the American obsession with it, for example, is difficult to explain.

There are a couple of brief references to the 1984 POTUS election that brought back memories as it was the first national election I was old enough to vote in but for her the idea that a woman on the presidential ticket wasn’t normal is hard to fathom.

Rotary phones. How did we manage without phones in our pockets and purses?

And the hair. God the hair. Christ, we had no concept of fashion. The 70’s really left us without any sense of style. I blame polyester and blow dryers.

Beneath the tropes, caricatures and nostalgia, however, is a well-told  and crafted story-line. Better than anything Spielberg ever came up with to part children from their cash. Reminds me, again, that we are truly living in a golden age of television again.

And I have to admit, it’s changed my perception of Winona Ryder. I am loving her turn as a mom. I can’t remember a single mom of that era with that much gumption but she has convinced me the could have existed.

Dustin is my favourite character and I am totally #teamSteve since his redemption arc.

I’ve never been much for nostalgia. I’ve mentioned this before. I leave places and times behind me without longing looks back. Any fantasies I may entertain about long gone days are rooted in “what would I change?” because I would rewrite my life if given the opportunity. Not because I dislike where and who I am but because I know there are forks in the road where I should’ve gone another direction and fear or social conditioning prevented me from doing it.

The 80’s though wouldn’t make my list of decades to waste effort traveling through. So little came out of that span of time given that it followed a decade plus of some significant upheaval. It’s like people got to 1980 and ran out of gas. Settled. Tremendous waste of resources can sum it up nicely.

It’s fascinating that the series creators choose to highlight it via a quasi sci-fi horror lens. And it also feels just about right.