During both years of Stranger Things, there has been an inordinate amount of love and nostalgia for one property above all others—and it isn’t necessarily the one that gets as much attention. While both seasons have a lot of longing for E.T., Firestarter, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and X-Men comic books dealing with Jean Grey’s fiery alter-ego, it has been easy to overlook how many shoutouts Steven Spielberg’s 1977 classic, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, has enjoyed. And that goes right into Stranger Things 2’s most grandiose allusion, at least this side of Ghostbusters.
In the first episode of season 2, the seemingly perennially unlucky Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) is bedeviled by an image of what comes to be known as the Mind-Flayer… although at that particular moment it resembles a giant tarantula made up of smog-infested tornados. Standing inside his family home’s doorway, Will sees the creature that would come to possess the lad (in a religious sense) later in the season. It is foreboding, it is epic, and it is oh, so very familiar.
That same moment is one of the most unforgettable images from Spielberg’s alien drama, in which a young boy is beckoned like Will by glowing lights that threaten to consume a door. And upon opening it, he faces an incomprehensible force. In that film, the child goes missing and becomes the impetus for a young woman who will team with the film’s male hero in a search for answers.
While Will is not abducted in Stranger Things 2, that is because this is the exact same basic storyline setup of the first season, with the focus being on Joyce Byers doing anything to find her son, much like Melinda Dillon in the Spielberg classic. In this scenario, Hopper is even Richard Dreyfuss. So in some ways, it can be said Stranger Things improved on the formula, no?