If George R.R. Martin has impressed anything on me with the way he freely abuses his reader’s emotions, it’s that if it doesn’t happen on the page (or on screen) then it didn’t happen. Just because you’re told a character has died or are left for dead or any type of death is alluded to, it means zero until you see that character dead for yourself. When you think about it, it’s kind of a barbaric way of thinking. “Nope, I need to see them dead before I believe it”, but it’s also become my basic rule of law when concerning character deaths. I’m the type of person who interrupts any ambiguous character death as, “maybe they’re not actually dead”. Part of this could be the rush of emotions and grief caused by the characters death or maybe because their death doesn’t fully fit the story. Of course, sometimes an off-screen death or an ambiguous death is what it is… a death. Books, movies, and television all use tricks to obscure the graphic nature of a characters death, but I think seventy percent of the time if there’s a question to whether a character is alive or not then chances are they most likely are.
Case in point, Doctor Brenner in Stranger Things.
I was always skeptical to Brenner’s death on the show. With a first season that wasn’t afraid to display grizzly character deaths (Barb, anyone who crossed Eleven), I found the decision to skip the Demogorgon feasting on Brenner an interesting one. That seemed like a payoff the audience had earned. This was a bad man. A manipulative, abusive man who deserved to be eaten by a Demogorgon and possibly even a little more than that. Yet all we got was a tackle from the Upside Down creature and a pan to the ceiling before a quick cut?! What gives?! We watched a pack of demo-dogs eat Bob the Brain, and it hurt! You mean to tell me we couldn’t watch Brenner get his, just for a second?! Just one?! Feels like a very specific choice that most certainly leaves the door open for a dramatic return for “Pappa”. Perhaps there are things more evil than the creatures lurking within the Upside Down.
The divisive season two episode, “The Lost Sister”, strongly hints at the fact that Brenner is indeed alive and hiding. Again, we don’t have any visual confirmation only the word from the man who helped turn Eleven’s mother’s brain to goo, but it doesn’t ring hollow. Say what you will about the seventh episode of season two but there’s no denying the importance to the mythology of the show. It may have been poorly placed but the ramifications from “The Lost Sister” will most likely be rippling through these remaining seasons. The main take away being, Brenner is out there. Alive. And waiting.
Waiting for what though? With Doctor Owens seemingly taken over Hawkins Lab, it would seem that the MK Ultra testing is something the government would be more than happy to sweep underneath the carpet. As far as they know all the numbered children are dead or safely contained. Brenner? A rogue agent who was trying to discover unlawful ways to win the Cold War. Easy to brush off. The chances of Brenner returning to the now evacuated Hawkins’s Lab seems slim to none. He’s a man without a home currently.
Yet, what fuels any abusive, manipulative man who has lost it all? The prospect of revenge, of course! Hopper, Joyce, and the Demogorgon took everything away from him. His work. His “daughter”. His life. Don’t think for one second that if Brenner is alive, and I believe he is, that he’s not picking his spot to make his dramatic villainous return and season three seems like the most opportune time for him to make his presence known again.
The final trailer for this third season was a juicy one offering us a whole bunch of glimpses of the tasty treats that lie ahead in this upcoming season. It would appear that Billy is about to get mind flayed. There’s going to be a war at the Starcourt Mall. And there’s a man in a jean jacket and a gun lurking in the house of mirrors, and it’s with that man that I believe we see the start of Brenner’s revenge. First off, who is he? Every shot he’s in it appears that he’s either following someone or wrestling with Hopper. If I was Brenner and I was secretly alive trying to get my revenge, wouldn’t it make a lot of sense to take out the guy who stole your “daughter” first? Your biggest threat. Clearly, Brenner is not capable of taking on Hop himself. He’s not built that way and there’s a great chance he’s got some permanent injuries after his tussle with the Demogorgon. Hiring a hitman who wears too much denim. In July. In Indiana. Seems like the next logical step.
We’ve spoken a lot about whether or not someone needs to die during this season of Stranger Things, and while I still think someone will (I have sad thoughts that I might share), I think the Empire Strikes Back ending is important to this season. The bad guys need to win. The Upside Down needs a victory and if you’re just giving wins out then Brenner should get one too. Not because I want him too but because of the importance it gives season four. Picture this, the Upside Down has infiltrated Hawkins and our gang is pushed back. Our only real hope is Eleven and her ever-growing powers. But what if there’s no Eleven? What if this man in the jean jacket somehow defeats Hopper or takes advantage of the distracting monsters in town and kidnaps our one hope for victory. Think of the stories that spin out of that. Our party has relied so heavily on Eleven to bail them out of all Upside Down related issues in the past, without her do they even stand a chance? Does Hawkins? Season four could be the quest to bring El back while the party tries to not only come up with ways to survive without her but to win. Growth for everyone.
I don’t think things will go exactly this way as it may mirror season two a little too closely, but Brenner is coming and he’s going to want Eleven. This man in the jean jacket seems like the ultimate pawn to help open the door for the return of the bad man. Until I see footage of the Demogorgon tearing into Brenner in the halls of Hawkin’s High School, I will assume he is alive and picking his moment. A moment where the town is in need of defending and our heroes distracted. A moment where he can put himself on par with the evil of the Mind Flayer. A moment where he takes back what was stolen for him despite what the ramifications of his actions do to Hawkins or the rest of the party. He’s a bad man and bad men don’t care about what happens to everyone else. And this one particular revenge plot could be catastrophic not only for Hawkins but for the rest of the world as well.
What do you think Geeklings? Is Doctor Brenner still out there waiting for his revenge? Is the guy in the jean jacket his hired gun? What could he be plotting? Be sure to sound off in the comments with any and all thoughts or theories. If you’d like to talk more Stranger Things with yours truly feel free to throw me a line over on Twitter @iamgeek32 where the Stranger Things talk will be flowing all the way to the premiere and on!