The Duffer Brothers Recap Stranger Things 2, ‘Chapter Eight: The Mind Flayer’

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Photo-Illustration: Vulture and Photo by Netflix

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As a supplement to our recaps of Stranger Things 2, we asked Matt and Ross Duffer — recent subjects of a New York Magazine profile and the creators of the Netflix sci-fi drama — to get nitty-gritty about the creative decisions behind each of the season’s nine episodes. We present this information in a series that could only be called one thing: the Duffer-caps of Stranger Things 2.

In this Duffer-cap of episode eight, the Duffer brothers discuss the heartbreak of shooting that scene — you know the one — involving Bob, how the Mind Flayer made its way into the show, and the way Millie Bobby Brown nailed that Eleven entrance.

Good-bye, Bob Newby

Matt Duffer: He was going to die around [episode] four. We just kept delaying it because we started to really like the character, and he started to become more important to the plot. We just kept pushing it further downfield, his death, until we got to the point where it was going to happen in episode eight. Then we wrote it, and I had a bit of a breakdown. It felt really nasty to write. It did suck. It just really hurt, and I was like, “This doesn’t feel right, I don’t want to lose this character, I don’t want to lose Sean.”

Then we paced around for a few hours and analyzed what it would look like if he made it out, and we decided it was just not a good idea. We needed to let go of the fact that we love Sean so much and that we love this character. We felt it was the right thing to do narratively. It would hurt the show too much if we kept him alive. That was a hard day to film, you know what I mean? That was tough. It was tough on Winona, because Winona also loved Sean. Somehow they knew each other [before Stranger Things]. They were bonded, they were both child actors, and then they just really got along. They were always together on set, and really good friends. Winona also, when she’s shooting a scene like that, she doesn’t turn it on and off very easily.

Ross Duffer: The most texts I’ve ever gotten from Winona Ryder was when she read the script where Bob dies. She was like, “You’re monsters!” It was all half-joking. She was not thrilled.

Matt: I thought I told her [in advance], but she was appalled. Like, I remember having a long discussion about, “Is she actually angry at us?” She’s hard to read sometimes, so I couldn’t tell if she was joking. I think she was a little angry with us, to be honest, for doing that.

Ross: One of the favorite things we did all season, is the escape from the lab sequence, that Jurassic Park–style sequence. Which really came about — it was not originally planned — because we really didn’t want to kill Bob. So we just kept drawing it out until we were like, “Alright, he’s gotta go.” Again, Sean altered the course of the season and some of my favorite stuff was the result of him.

Sean is the one who talked a lot about Quint from Jaws. He’s like, “If I’m gonna die” — and he didn’t want to die — “let’s shoot the hell out of this and let’s not shy away from it.” For Stranger Things the show, it’s a pretty brutal death, and that’s the result of Sean wanting us to not hide from it. We had to shoot Winona’s and everyone’s reactions first. Sean was there all day, on the ground, just screaming and pouring everything into this performance every take.

There was something loose about it, because we went handheld and we went slow-motion, and it was more about capturing the moment as quickly as possible. But then, there’s also something humorous about it, because we needed someone to interact with Sean as the Demodog as he’s getting eaten. We don’t have an Andy Serkis, but one of our writers was in town and she was about the right size. So we just asked Kate [Trefry] if she didn’t mind getting bloody. She was on Sean, pretending to be a Demodog for hours and hours. So there’s something silly about it too.

Matt: What was funny was that Kate flew to Atlanta to see how a set works, just to experience it. She’s our youngest writer. And suddenly, she’s covered in blood on top of Sean Astin with three cameras rolling! It was wild. But I will say it wasn’t a fun night. All these actors got into it — they don’t switch it on and off like our kids. It was very intense. It was four in the morning and it went late. Oof, it was one of the toughest scenes, emotionally, for everybody.

The Real Hawkins Lab

Matt: It’s this abandoned mental institution, which is really creepy, in Atlanta. So that’s what the building really looks like. It really is that stark and menacing-looking. The tunnels that we build, we do that on set because there are underground tunnels beneath the mental institution that look exactly like our tunnels. They didn’t want other people to be disturbed in the neighborhood, so they would take the mental patients through the tunnels to these little cottages. It was messed up. Every time you’re there, this place has a terrible energy about it, and I think it actually helps everybody. But I’m really glad we’re done shooting there for a bit.

The Evolution of the Mind Flayer

Matt: We came up with the creature and it was always called the Shadow Monster. Then we were like, “We need to come up with a proper name for this thing.” When we were going through the Dungeons & Dragons manual, I found this creature I’d forgotten about called the Mind Flayer. It was so close to the idea of our Shadow Monster. It was eerily the same. We were like, “Well, we’ve got our name.” It’s a weird-ass name, but the Mind Flayer it is.

Ross: It has nothing to do with the shape, or the way it looks, or the particles. But the fact that it moves from dimension to dimension, infecting the minds of others in order to control them and spread itself. I can’t remember everything else, but it’s everything that we were talking about with our Shadow Monster. I don’t think anyone will believe us. They’re going to think we just, day one, looked through the Dungeons & Dragons manual. I don’t know why we didn’t. But we did not.

We were all a bit stunned in the room when we found it, because we we’re like, “That would’ve saved us time if we’d just seen this two months ago.”

Matt: The Nazi stuff [where Dustin and Steve compare the Mind Flayer to Nazis], none of that was intentional. But when all that was happening, it was like, “Oh, weird. Now Dustin’s speech about the Mind Flayer sounds topical.” The Mind Flayer seems like a topical bad guy. Who knew?

A lot of this was written and figured out before Trump was even elected. It takes so long to produce this show. Even Bob’s speech to Joyce, about bullies, felt like it had more resonance than it did when we initially wrote it.

Mike’s Big Scene With Joyce, Jonathan, and Will

Matt: My favorite scene from Finn this year is when he’s talking about his memory of meeting Will for the first time. I thought Winona was incredible. It was emotional, but it was nice to film because we don’t have a lot of scenes like that, where people are just sitting and talking to one another. It was an unusually quiet scene for the show. We played it without any music, which is weird for us. So it had a different feel from anything else we had shot. And I think our actors — because we had just done a big action scene in the lab — they were relieved to have this quiet, emotional scene where they just get to act and they don’t have to worry about CG monsters on the other end of the hallway.

Eleven’s Heroic Return to Hawkins

Ross: By the time we actually got around to shooting [that scene], we had run out of Finn time. This happens, you run out of kid time — but we still had Millie time. We were like, “It’s all right, Millie, we’ll shoot this tomorrow.” And she said, “No, I don’t need Finn there. I got this.”

Matt: You have a stand and you put green strips of tape on it like an X. You’re like, “That’s Finn.” Then she steps in. I think we were like, “You want some music?” and she was like, “Yeah, sure.” Millie will listen to music, and since we weren’t recording any sound, it was fine. We just played the Beasts of No Nation soundtrack, because it’s such an emotional score. I just blasted that. She walked in.

Ross: That whole reaction of seeing Mike for the first time — that girl is something special. She was just looking into space. She’s a very professional little actor.

Matt: We wanted her entrance to be in slow-motion. I don’t know why I was thinking of it, but The Matrix popped into my head — you know, when Neo walks into the building in slow-motion, you see his two shoes hit the ground and the camera cranes up. I thought of that shot when we had Millie coming through the doorway.

When you shoot at slow-motion, or a high frame rate, it makes it really difficult to rack focus. We were in a low-light situation, with a big dolly move in slow-motion, so that’s as hard as you can get. I kept worrying that Millie was going to lose it, but we barely got it. That was nerve-racking.

It was just Millie and two strips of green tape, and the crew. And the Beasts of No Nation soundtrack. I guess that’s all you need.

Favorite ’80s Reference From This Episode

Matt: The whole escape from the lab with Paul Reiser guiding Sean Astin through the bowels of the lab — that was very much Jurassic Park, which is not ’80s. But we’re going to have to branch outside the ’80s a little bit! Can’t I do Jurassic Park? It’s still Spielberg, so it still counts.

Duffer Brothers Recap Stranger Things 2, ‘The Mind Flayer’