Mr. Clarke From ‘Stranger Things’: Hero Or Irresponsible Lunatic?

The first season of Stranger Things was a phenomenon, a comet streaking across the sky in the summer of 2016. There were memes and tributes and thinkpieces. As we zero in on the premiere of season two of the show, it makes sense to take a look back. And when we look back, we need to ask ourselves a pretty important question: Was Mr. Clarke, the boys’ helpful and extremely useful science teacher, one of the show’s heroes or just a completely irresponsible lunatic who lucked into a positive result? Let’s do that, shall we?


The case for hero is pretty straightforward and rests upon three pillars.

Pillar One: It was his explanation of the flea and the acrobat that led the boys to the realization that the Upside Down could be reached by poking a hole between the two realities. He also hooked them up with the radio equipment that allowed them to make contact with Will using Eleven’s powers. And most importantly, it was his explanation of how to build a sensory deprivation tank that allowed the boys — with the help of Hopper and Joyce — to build a makeshift tank out of a kiddie pool and rock salt in the gymnasium so Eleven could break through to the Upside Down to find Will. Mr. Clarke didn’t technically realize this is what he was doing, but his vast knowledge of science things proved vital to the overall success of their plans, and without him Will would be dead with snakes infesting his body and the Demogorgon would probably still be snatching people today, in 2017.

Pillar Two: He is a supremely good dude who values learning and academic curiosity in a way you wish every teacher did, and he is always patient and helpful when his students have a question.Those are the kinds of qualities you hear repeated back to you when a Nobel-winning scientist is asked about a teacher that changed his or her life. Even if that was all we knew about him, even in a world before the experiments on Eleven ripped a hole between realities and unleashed a faceless bloodthirsty beast, you could make a reasonably sound argument that he’s a hero under the theory of “teachers are the real heroes.”

Pillar Three: He has a really tremendous mustache. Probably not as important as the first two pillars. But worth noting.


Let’s dig a little deeper into Pillar One from the hero category. Explaining tears in the space-time continuum? Sure, fine. That’s interesting and the type of thing that might get curious young minds hooked on science, even if they’re not secretly using the information to try to save their friend from a goo-coated parallel universe inhabited by monsters. Letting students use some cool radio equipment in their free time? I mean, probably okay. Some supervision might be in order, though, just because 12-year-old boys should not be given unsupervised access to anything more powerful than a cotton swab. But yeah, heart’s in the right place. Good on you, Mr. Clarke.

But then we get to this last thing, with the tank. As presented in the show, he just gave them important science facts that they used to move their plans along. If the show had been set in 2017, the boys would have just Googled it. Without that option, they went to the closest thing they had to Google: their friendly and accommodating science teacher. It was a little hokey plot-wise (I choose to call his part in this scheme the Deus Ex Mustachina), but it got us where we needed to go, so fine.

But also, not fine. Let’s break this down, stripped of context:

  • A 12-year-old student calls him at home at 10 p.m. on a Saturday night
  • The student says he needs to know how to build a sensory deprivation tank, right away, like it’s an emergency, and no it can’t wait till Monday
  • Mr. Clarke knows how to build a sensory deprivation tank, off the top of his head, like maybe he’s done it before
  • He tells his student how to do it, step-by-step

There is just a smorgasbord of red flags there. First, there are the boundary issues of taking the call in the middle of a Saturday night date and getting guilted into spilling the beans. Then there’s his weird apparent knowledge of building these tanks, which, I’m gonna be honest here, would make me really nervous if I were his date, Jen, sitting on the couch watching the horror movie he seems to know an awful lot about. Like, that’s bordering on a “run and don’t stop running until you feel safe” situation. This is the flip side of the mustache coin: Change the circumstances a bit and it gives off a serial killer vibe.

But most importantly, and this is a pretty decent life lesson in general, if a group of 12-year-olds calls you at 10 p.m. on a Saturday asking how to build a sensory deprivation tank, you do not tell them. Absolutely not. There is only one good reason a group of 12-year-olds could need a sensory deprivation tank at 10 p.m. on a Saturday night, and that situation is “so their telepathic new friend can mentally travel into the demon-infested hellscape where their thought-dead old friend is being held captive,” which, I mean, that’s a heck of a lucky break for Mr. Clarke, especially since he had no idea that was what they needed it for.

All I’m saying is that it’s not unreasonable to assume that someday some less-than-noble student might call him at 10 p.m. and ask him which brands of canned whipped cream can be used as cheap nitrous, and Mr. Clarke — that sweetheart of a man, that believer in scientific curiosity — might actually let them goad him into telling them. Teens will be passed out all over the Piggly Wiggly dairy aisle. It could be an epidemic.

Slippery slope here. That’s my point.


I’m gonna give him a one-time hero pass based on special circumstances. But let’s keep an eye on him.