Stranger Things 2 is headed to Netflix on October 27, 2017, and so far it sounds terrifying. A year after the events of the first season, right around Halloween of 1984, the Upside Down looks to be bleeding into the town of Hawkins, Indiana. Season one of Stranger Things focused on the Amblin Entertainment aesthetics, meaning the audience was invested in the story of the kids even in scenes between the adults. Something sinister was happening in Hawkins, but between Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) and Barbara Holland (Shannon Purser) disappearing, Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) appearing, and the Demogorgon, there wasn’t much time to wonder what organization was behind all this. Project MKUltra was mentioned in passing during “Chapter Six: The Monster,” but that was it.
Now it looks like Season Two will expand on that passing mention, confirming that Hawkins, Indiana was one of the locations of the CIA’s mind-control programs. The first line of the recently released synopsis states, “1953, date unknown — MKUltra comes to Hawkins and begins experimentation.” But what is MKUltra and how might it tie to Eleven and the Upside Down?
For those that don’t know, Project MKUltra was the code name of the CIA’s attempt to weaponize mind control through a combination of hypnosis, drugs, and other methods. Yes, seriously. Officially sanctioned by the U.S. Government in 1953 (the year the organization came to Hawkins), MKUltra was a wide-ranging beast with over 150 known sub-projects. The most famous MKUltra experiment used LSD on vulnerable members of society — those in mental institutions, drug addicts, and prison inmates — without their knowledge or consent. The hope was the right combination of LSD and other drugs would lead to the subject’s mind being wiped in order to reprogram them as an agent for the CIA. But it was far from the only “are we sure this wasn’t just an agent’s science-fiction draft that somehow got mistaken for a project” pitch? Projects dealt with chemical warfare, toxicology, and acquisition of rare and exotic substances to be used for testing, which would ultimately lead to the creation of BZ and Agent 15, a.k.a., Zombie Gas.
After nearly two decades of research, the CIA pulled the plug on MKUltra in 1971 and the sub-projects were officially shuttered. In the Stranger Things timeline, 1971 would also be around the time Eleven was born. In “Chapter Six,” it is revealed that a former Project MKUltra participant was pregnant during her testing and it’s extrapolated that Eleven is that child. Of course, somewhere out there are Test Subjects 1-10 so it’s entirely possible that woman was the mother of another child subjected to Dr. Brenner’s (Matthew Modine) methods. But the most interesting aspect of Stranger Things is how it bends the results of the subjects’ hallucinations to imply they were merely seeing the Upside Down.
In the book Acid Dreams: The Complete Social History of LSD: the CIA, the Sixties, and Beyond, authors Martin A. Lee and Bruce Shlain recount stories of CIA operatives who were given LSD seeing monsters, suffering psychotic breaks, and even committing suicide. It takes little effort to layer the Upside Down over these events, resulting in the world of Stranger Things. Where as in our reality, and the subjects were hallucinating, it appears Eleven and those before her were truly witnessing a parallel world and, unfortunately, it noticed us back.