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 six, “The Spy,” the Duffer Brothers discuss the magical relationship between Steve and Dustin, more details about the pollywog, and that scene inside the junkyard bus.
Matt Duffer: That’s my favorite thing this year. Or my favorite surprise, because it was never planned. When we went and pitched the season to Netflix, that was never part of it. It’s just something you discover along the way. We obviously love both of those actors. Steve was kind of getting sidelined because Nancy dropped him for Jonathan, and he didn’t have a lot to do. We wanted Steve to have something more to do. At the same time, Dustin was really abandoned by his friends, and [Steve] could help. Then we just fell in love with the idea of the pairing, because they were both dealing with heartbreak.
Obviously, Steve had just lost Nancy, and Dustin’s first crush was not going very well with Max. They’re an odd couple, but they’re bonded in that way. We thought they could each help each other get over their heartbreak.
The minute we started writing them together — at this point, we knew the voices of the actors so well, and they just seemed to work really well together. It was like two very different notes that played really nicely together.
Matt: We were looking at how you would take care of your hair at that time, how Steve might wind up with such beautiful hair, and what products were available. That [hairspray] was a real thing. We had the commercial for it. There [are] some times we try to get the rights to something and we don’t get one. And that was a heartbreaking one. We wanted Eleven to see a Farrah Fawcett hair commercial early on, when she was watching television, but we just couldn’t nail down the rights to it.
Matt: I remember at the end of season one, figuring out whether they were going to wind up together or not. It was kind of like, “Oh, if we put them together at the end of season one, we’re missing out on all the fun stuff we got to do this year,” where you see their first kiss and you see their romance. I love everything [director] Andrew [Stanton] did in this episode. I love all the stuff with them at Murray’s. There was an aspect of it that felt like a Nancy Myers rom-com, and I liked adding that new tone into the show.
Ross Duffer: Murray’s a little reckless, isn’t he?
The first time we ever pitched season one to Netflix, before they even bought the show, there was a conspiracy-theorist character. Then we ended up weeding him out of season one because we didn’t have room. He was always supposed to play a big role, and we could never find the room for him. This year, it was something that we really wanted to bring in, and again the character of Murray is someone who — once we found Brett [Gelman] — he’s a character but he’s incredibly gifted. I think that helped shape this version of Murray that you see onscreen. Yeah, he’s a bit of a mess, but he can see things that maybe other people can’t. It was entertaining to us that we’re using him mostly for the romantic subplot more than anything else. It wasn’t originally intended to be his function, but it ended up being a fun discovery as we were writing the season.
Matt: It’s not like he’s duplicating in the way that the Gremlins do. Otherwise, it’s so coincidental that Dustin happens to find one in his trash can. They’re all over the place.
I don’t think we hit this hard enough, but when Will is in the Upside Down on Halloween night, you hear sounds of Dart-like creatures everywhere. So they’re in the woods, they’re in the town. Hopper hears those sounds in the cornfield in episode one. That’s a creature scurrying around in the cornfield. And then he hears it again on Halloween night. They’re all over this town. So much of it is rural that no one’s really encountering it, but that’s where they come from.
As I was telling you this, I was like, “That would’ve been a good idea [to show other people finding pollywogs], but it’s too late now!” It might have added a whole other thing that we didn’t have room for. But I think it would’ve been fun. I guess it’s too late now. I’m pretty sure it’s too late.
Matt: That whole sequence in the junkyard is one of my favorite things this year. It’s everything I want the show to be. To me, it was firing on all cylinders. Everybody was there: Obviously you have Steve, you have Dustin. The scene between Lucas and Max — Caleb [McLaughlin] and Sadie [Sink] — on the top of the bus. That was Sadie’s best performance all year. To me, that was Caleb’s best performance all year. Everything just aligned perfectly. And then, the suspense sequence in the bus felt so Jaws–Jurassic Park to me. Very Spielberg.
When I first saw the cut of that scene, Andrew used a lot of Spielberg music. He used E.T. when they were on the top of the bus. He used Jaws when they were in the shell of the bus and you started to hear the sounds outside. It was great. And it seemed like that also was fun to not shoot, because they were in a junkyard in the middle of the night and it was freezing cold. So it’s really wonderful to just see it perfectly executed, and you didn’t have to be there freezing your ass off.
Ross: The interior bus stuff was shot onstage. I think the harder production stuff was dealing with it outside. The fog never wants to cooperate, and there’s a lot of adding in digital fog to get this stuff to match up perfectly. But anyways, we were thrilled with what [Andrew] did.
Matt: A sequence like that, what’s challenging about it from a directing point of view is getting the geography just right, so the audience understands the geography. Where’s Steve? Where are the dogs? What’s everyone’s point of view? That’s what Andrew did so effectively. Spielberg’s the master of that, laying out the geography of a suspense sequence so you know exactly where everyone is, and exactly where the bad guys are as something is going down. Unlike us, obviously, [Andrew] comes from animation so he storyboards everything methodically. We’ll do it for action sequences, but he does it for the entire show, so he has it all mapped out. That’s when I wish I could draw. I can’t even do a good stick figure, honestly.
Ross: We just know that it doesn’t want to do anything good. It’s continuing to spread and the government, at the moment, is the obstacle for it, which is why it’s using Will to help — because he’s a spy within there, he’s using Will to help take them out.
Matt: In terms of specific goals, we don’t lay it out like that. The kids theorize based on Dungeons & Dragons what it might want. Right now, you just know it’s the puppeteer controlling all these things that are putting Hawkins in great danger, and the stakes go up from there in terms of its goals, its intentions. It’s implied that it wants to take over Hawkins, and continue to spread beyond that. In that way, it’s very much like a virus that could take over the whole planet.
Ross: The very Temple of Doom–esque sequence where you have Jonathan in one room and Nancy in the other, and they meet up in the middle, and then they part, and they come back together. It’s almost screwball comedy in Temple of Doom. We always love that stuff, so we wanted to get a little bit of that in there.
Get all your Stranger Things 2 questions answered at the show’s Vulture Festival L.A. panel on November 18! Tickets are available here.