The Duffer Brothers Recap Stranger Things 2, ‘Chapter Three: The Pollywog’

Illustration: Vulture and Photo by Netflix

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 three, the Duffer brothers talk about the influence of Gremlins and Stephen King on this episode, as well as the sexual tension between Hopper and Joyce.

The Pollywog

Matt Duffer: I love Gremlins. I also love Gremlins 2. I think it’s just a really great series. Aside from Will being possessed, that story line was always baked into our first idea: a boy and his monster, Dustin finding a creature that will grow. That was our first idea for season two. I just thought it would be fun. We knew we wanted to find more for Gaten [Matarazzo] to do, since he was so great in season one, so that was one of our earliest ideas. It’s also scary because that was forcing us down the CG route, but that was also exciting for us, too. That’s the whole thing about trying new stuff — even if we fail, we’re going to come out of it knowing a lot more about visual effects, which is something we wanted.

Ross Duffer: We were going to do almost entirely practical effects, except for a few things, for season one. But then we couldn’t get the monster — the guy in the suit — to come out of the wall. It looked so stupid. We couldn’t do it practically, no matter how hard we tried. I remember we were shooting the final episode and they sent us just a test of a CG monster pushing out of the wall, and that was really the first time we decided, “Okay, that’s much better in CG. We have to be careful, but we can start using it as a tool.” That’s what led to us wanting to do the Pollywog.

Matt: None of [the Pollywog] is [a] practical [effect]. They did a 3-D-printed model of it that was the right size that the kids could pass around and get a sense of the shape of it. Then they would have to do it, of course, with nothing at all. We had never worked with CG before, and our kids had never worked with it. But the good thing is that, actually, starting in episode three, that was [directed by] Shawn Levy — Shawn has a ton of experience with computer graphics and Andrew Stanton [who directed episodes five and six], that’s all he works with, really. So they were really knowledgeable. This year, we had a big VFX team. That was probably the biggest difference between this year and the year before, that we had a pretty big army of VFX people helping us out.

When it’s tiny, to me, some of that stuff looks photo-real. When the little Pollywog is in the terrarium, that looked amazing to me. I was really happy with the visual effects. I thought it all turned out really well.

Bob’s Connection to Stephen King

Matt: Well, we both have a problem with clowns. I’ve had it my entire life. I had it when I was really little, so when there were clowns at a party, it was a real problem for me. Then in 1990, we saw the It mini-series and Tim Curry’s performance as Pennywise really messed me up. Like, it scarred me in a major way. It was one of the first true horror things I had seen, and I had not experienced Stephen King before. That was my first experience with Stephen King, so that was a really huge point in my life. It was two weeks, at least, of no sleep because of that. So yeah, I think [Bob’s clown story] was really me describing something that just freaked me out. I didn’t have that experience myself. I just had nightmares like that.

I’m sure we were just like, “It would be cute if [Bob] suggests moving to Maine, right next to Stephen King.” Stephen King exists in this world. Some of the characters have read Stephen King. But Bob definitely does not read Stephen King. He’s not interested at all in Stephen King because he hates that kind of story.

Joyce and Hopper’s Sexual Tension

Ross: There’s definitely something there. Part of it is that they’re comfortable with each other and they’ve known each other for a long time. The other part is, despite the tension, they’re both very much broken people. Because he’s still growing, there are parts of him that remind her too much of both her ex and of herself. So I think that’s why, at least in our minds, she ends up with Bob, who is great, but he’s definitely the safer choice. He’s the type of man Joyce hasn’t been with her whole life, which is not the fuck-up. She’s with the good guy for once. She thinks that’ll be a safer environment for her children.

In my mind, Hopper still has some growing to do before that can happen. But [the chemistry] is definitely there. I don’t think we really directed them there — they know each other very well at this point and they’re very familiar in real life. I think that it comes across, even in simple scenes of just sharing a cigarette. Like in episode two, I think you can just feel the tension, and you don’t have to write or direct them.

Matt: David [Harbour] is really into the idea of a Joyce-Hopper relationship.

Why Joyce Can See the Shadow Monster on the Halloween Video Tape

Matt: There was interference. This creature and this other world, it affects the electromagnetic field. That’s what caused all the Christmas lights to flicker last year. So it’s taking that idea and expanding on it. We like the idea that this video camera was able to, in a way, capture a burn-in or a photograph of this thing that had affected this camera.

The Mythology of the Upside Down

Ross: Obviously, we know a lot more than we are putting into the shows. We have a lot of ideas that expand on the mythology that we just end up not having time for. Our thing is, if it doesn’t feel to the audience like we’re cheating or breaking the rules, they don’t have to understand it completely, as long as they understand that it fits in our world and how it moves the plot forward. We’re believers that you can get so caught up on the logic of all this stuff that you end up going nowhere. Sometimes it’s as simple as, “Well, that’s cool,” and you just keep pushing forward. A lot of the way that we build these seasons is to just do stuff that we’re excited about. It’s easy to become logic police. Certainly there are holes that haven’t been filled in, but it’s not our No. 1 concern.

Favorite ’80s Reference in This Episode

Matt: Besides Gremlins? That may be the one. That’s our Gremlins episode.

Ross: I think the way Shawn shot all that super-wide-angle stuff of Will running down the [school] corridors — it’s very Shining-esque. It’s almost a bummer because before we added visual effects of spores and vines, you had these blue lights on the floor and on the ceilings in the hallways. It was some of the most incredible visuals. We kept going, “Can’t we just keep the lights?” It looked so good and even more Shining-esque without the visual effects in there.

Matt: It looked a little Tron-like. It almost had a neon vibe. The whole thing was, “How do you light a hallway in the Upside Down?” The idea is, they were trying to get even light across all the walls, floors, and ceilings. But then we ended up having to remove all the lights, and it actually lost something when we did that.

Get all your Stranger Things 2 questions answered at the show’s Vulture Festival L.A. panel on November 18! Tickets are available here.

The Duffer Brothers Recap Stranger Things 2, Episode Three