In many ways, Season 2 of Netflix’s sci-fi horror series Stranger Things follows the formal threads of the show’s pilot run. On a narrative level, much of the season deals with the enduring effects of Will Byers’ time in the Upside Down. Thematically, the show’s preoccupation with puzzle-solving, quests, and DIY projects remains strong. These two enduring features of Stranger Things come together thanks to a handcrafted map that proves the key to the season’s emotional landscape.
Episode 4, “Will the Wise,” finds a visibly ailing Will Byers, shaken into a wide-eyed quiet terror after his recent visceral encounter with the Shadow Monster. Despite his mother’s pleas, Will is too traumatized to describe the experience of being bodily invaded by the creature. It is only after Joyce offers him the option of using art instead of words that he begins frantically drawing, his visions pouring out in jumbled, angry crayon strokes. As the characters will soon realize, these seemingly chaotic creations form a map of Hawkins. In this way, Stranger Things introduces the idea of cartography as an alternative, non-verbal mode of communication and a way of working through trauma by visualizing the unutterable. Here, the map functions not only as a physical outline, but also as a blueprint for accessing a distressed child’s subconscious. Tapping into the show’s horror roots, Will’s map becomes an act of creative self-exorcism, allowing him to simultaneously seek help and equip his family and friends with an important tool against the monster.
Episode 5, “Dig Dug,” Will’s map becomes a space for negotiating family relationships. It is Bob Newby, Joyce’s new partner, who ultimately figures out the true nature of Will’s drawings and calculates Sheriff Hopper’s location. The episode treats viewers to a problem-solving montage of Joyce, Will and Mike running around the apartment with measuring tape as Bob triangulates positions with a ruler. Thus, Bob’s deciphering of Will’s drawings is presented as a familial rite of passage. This cartography collaboration marks the gradual acceptance of Bob as the new father figure of the Byers household. A largely peripheral figure until then, he is now often framed at the center of the group, with its members looking on expectantly for guidance. In Hopper’s absence, the unassuming Bob is able to finally attain patriarchal leadership through his math skills – a fitting level-up for a show so fully immersed in geek culture.