WARNING: Spoilers for Stranger Things season two ahead.
Stranger Things is back on Netflix and bigger in every way. A bigger cast. Bigger stakes. Bigger geography. And of course, a bigger monster. If you thought the Demogorgon from season one was bad news, wait til you meet the massive unnamed monster known by various monikers: the Thessalhydra, the Mind Flayer, or simply as the Shadow Monster.
This post contains major spoilers for Stranger Things 2. If you haven’t seen the entire series yet, we’d recommend you turn back now!
‘Shadow Monster’ is definitely the most apt description for season 2’s big baddie. When Will first starts witnessing the creature, it appears as a giant spider-like creature hundreds of feet tall that is often surrounded by cloud or fog. Whereas the majority of the Upside Down is washed out and devoid of color, the Shadow Monster is often accompanied by an ominous red lighting. The creature itself appears to be made of a smoke like particulate, but it also has some sort of mysterious connection to all the other living matter in the Upside Down.
Consider this: while the giant smoke snake Will saw in the Upside Down never managed to fully corporealize over the town of Hawkins, all signs point to the tunnels spreading out from the Hawkins National Laboratory as literal extensions of the Shadow Monster’s body. After being possessed by the creature, Will could feel the tunnels expanding through the ground. The monster itself felt pain when the tunnels were burnt with fire, and the passages had more in common with the inside of a living creature than mere holes in dirt.
Dr. Owens referred to the Shadow Monster as a super-organism, and that may not be too far from the truth. But is all the biological matter we saw in the tunnels from the tentacles to the spore pustules to the Demodogs a part of the Shadow Monster, or is the Shadow Monster merely controlling them in the same way it was able to control Will?
This is where the kids may have been right to compare the creature to the Mind Flayer, a magical monster from Dungeons and Dragons that uses its immense psychic power to enslave all living things around it. It filled Will’s body with smoke, creating a connection between the two that gave it control but also allowed Will access to some of its own faculties. The things Will revealed from this mind meld were interesting. Beyond recognizing what would defeat the Shadow Monster, Will also perceived it as a ‘he’ (making us wonder if there’s a bigger, meaner ‘she’ out there) and picked up on the monster’s core desire, which was a urge to kill everything.
The Shadow Monster certainly seemed intelligent in some ways beyond the predatory nature assigned to the Demogorgon and Demodogs. It was quick to react to pain and threats both immediate and abstract, but the biggest sign that it had advanced smarts was when it used Will to lure Department of Energy soldiers into a trap. It’s clear from this that it has a larger understanding of what it’s doing, but the extents of its motives are unclear. Do they go past feeding and reproducing to world domination? Are humans merely food or does it desire us as vessels?
As usual, Stranger Things leaves us with more questions than answers. But the second season left the Shadow Monster very much intact and alive, if trapped once again in the Upside Down with the portal between dimensions sealed shut. That act seemed to kill all the Demodogs left on our side of the rift, but did it do the same to all the gross stuff inhabiting the tunnels for miles underneath Hawkins?
Considering show creators the Duffer Brothers have teased four if not five seasons of Stranger Things, we imagine we may not have seen the last of the Shadow Monster. It certainly didn’t seem done with Hawkins, as the final shot of it hovering malevolently above Hawkins Middle School implied. We’d pretend to hope that there’s not more creatures still out there in the Upside Down, but let’s admit it. We love this stuff, and can’t wait to see what new evils appear from the outer reaches of our reality for Stranger Things 3.