Favorite Fictional Characters, #367: Eleven
Updated: Feb 20, 2022
I've been hearing for months and years that I need to watch Stranger Things. One of my (many) flaws is that the more I'm told to do something, the less interested I am in doing it. I should know by now that this is nonsensical Taurean stubbornness, and I should try harder to trust the recommendations of those who know me best. And so a few weeks back I started watching Stranger Things. I can understand why it's been recommended to me. The setting, especially in time, is deeply reminiscent of my own childhood. I have vivid memories of basement D&D, Ghostbusters Halloween costumes, and console Dig Dug machines. The limits of early-80s technology and social horizons is extraordinarily familiar.
Familiar too are the protagonists, the dorky cellar-dwellers with their nascent intellects and nonexistent social status. I love the brotherhood of Mike and Dustin and Lucas and Will. They're smarter than their peers, consumed by comics and movies and role playing and science. (I'm hopeful these guys make it out of the basement and don't become the founders of Reddit.) They're alternatively sympathetic and repellent, as boys their age of any vintage should be. I also enjoy central-casting weary local cop Hopper, and proto-Marion Ravenwood big sister Nancy. But it's clear from the beginning that the series revolves around the gravity of Eleven. The show crackles with energy and charisma when she is on screen, and suffers when she isn't, like watching the Wizard of Oz in black and white.
Eleven could have stepped from the pages of a Stephen King novel or an issue of the X-Men or a Twilight Zone episode. In some ways she's a trope, the orphan-as-science-experiment, the misunderstood adolescent mutant, the vector of oddity in this otherwise sleepy burg. But the Duffy Brothers gave her a depth and humanity to go with her emerging paranormal abilities, and young actress Millie Bobby Brown brought it all to life. She's a magnetic performer, and what impresses me most is how much of that performance is done non-verbally, especially with Disney-animation eyes that convey a range of emotional responses from fear to gratitude to skepticism to wrath. I'm only in the early stages of season two (no spoilers please!), and I'm already enjoying the organic evolution of the character, including her more casual exercise of her powers and the end of her patience at being restrained. I do not know where this is all headed, but there's a Carrie-meets-Ripley vibe that suggests stranger - and nastier - things are to come.