Sick Pilgrim Chats: Jonathan and Jess Bingewatch Stranger Things

Sick Pilgrim Chats: Jonathan and Jess Bingewatch Stranger Things July 20, 2016
Taken from Stranger Things promotional material
Taken from Stranger Things promotional material


Sick Pilgrim started when we, Jess and Jonathan, two writers and editors, started chatting about theology, ghosts and everything in between through email and Facebook. We always joked about sharing our convos on the blog. Today we had a great one about our mutual obsession with Stranger Things. We thought you might enjoy it. Have you been watching Stranger Things? Tell us what you think about it in the comments section. 

Careful, Possible Mild Spoilers ahead!


Jonathan: I told you that you would like Stranger Things. Tell me why.

Jess: Where do I begin? It’s like Freaks and Geeks, but with monsters!

Jonathan: Expand on that for people who didn’t grow up wearing plaid and listening to Nirvana.

Jess: Well, like Freaks and Geeks, it recreates the feeling of growing up in the 80s without making cheap jokes about the culture. It’s heartfelt. And it’s so carefully designed I can even imagine the way the Wheelers’ house smells. And yet it never feels corny or pastiche–it feels authentic. And it seems to recreate the emotional vibe of the time. At least my emotional vibe. I was emo even as a toddler.

Jonathan: Yeah, completely agree, especially those awful haircuts. I had a few of them. I was a total dweeb except I wasn’t allowed to play Dungeons and Dragons, because, you know, I might summon a devil or something. But I would have.

Jess: Dude, if I’d had anyone to play dungeons and dragons with, I would have.

Jonathan: Did you gaze forlornly at your sippy cup?

Jess: We didn’t have sippy cups. I drank Coke out of my baby bottle til I was 4. This was Louisiana, remember?

Jonathan: That explains much.

Jess: Anyway…that’s another one of the really beautiful things about the show–I envy Will’s group of friends. I can easily see his disappearance in the Upside Down as a metaphor for a lost child, a lonely child. But this lost child has a group of friends–and a mom and a bro–who won’t let him go.

And while we’re on it, can I just say, the Upside Down is brilliant. So simple. It’s right there. It’s just the other side of the board.

It reminds me of the art critic John Berger’s quote about God being right there, so obvious we miss him. He’s just under the salt shaker.

Jonthan: Yeah, I love the other worlds right next to ours idea. And the idea that when those worlds intrude into ours, its not very pretty, the in-breaking of the Unseen

Jess: Or that if we disturb that permeable barrier, we are not going to be able to control what happens next. Hello, The Exorcist.

Jonathan: Yeah, exactly. I love how they played with the nostalgia and then messed it up and took on some different and more complex characters.

Jess: Who is your favorite?

Jonathan: I love the Sheriff. But as for performances, Millie Bobby Brown knocked me out with her performance as 11. I mean, wow, that kid is gonna be a superstar. Oh man, and her death stares. Amazing.

Jess: She is fantastic. She can do those death stares and then she makes her body so small and fragile in the scenes with “papa.”

Winona Ryder is killing me in a good way as the hysterical mom. This is another reason I love the show: the people who seem the craziest are the ones who are the most sane, honest, and trustworthy.

Jonathan: Yeah, she does a great job. And I love Hop’s struggle as a man who is trying to keep it all together on every level. Completely identified with his character.

Jess: Yes, and his gradual conversion to the side of the craziness that is the truth–

Jonathan: Completely believable.

Jess: –and all those Tolkien references–*swoon*–you had me at Radagast–

Jonathan: Mirkwood!

Jess: And the music–the soundtrack is the soundtrack of my childhood–New Order, Echo and the Bunnymen, Joy Division. How could a kid love that stuff and NOT grow into a Sick Pilgrim?

Jonathan: Exactly. The opening credits….

Jess: Totally nailed it.It reminds me of Tales from the Darkside, Night Flight, every show I watched late at night that I shouldn’t have been watching.

Jonathan: Haha, exactly. But it also reminds me of The Goonies: that soft, gooey heart.

Jess: That’s the Spielberg element.

Jonathan: Yeah, Its why I never understood people paint Gen Xers as being cynics.

Jess: We’re not. We are soft hearted and idealistic. And we can’t believe we didn’t save the world. And all the emo probably got to us in the end.

Jonathan: Yeah, that’s exactly right. We’re disappointed idealists, not cynics. Thus, Sick Pilgrim. We want to beat the monster, find the treasure, help the mysterious girl, get our first kiss, etc.

Jess: And do it all on a banana seat bike. Oh, and we have this hunch there’s something more to this world than what most of us can see.

Jonathan: Yes, exactly. Hey, that should be in a book or something. (Coming from Loyola Press in Fall 2017. -ed)

Jess: But there’s also this David Lynch quality of the sinister flipside of suburbia, which reminds me of our obsession with the wildness of America, which we have paved over and pretend is tame.

But there be monsters here!

Jonathan: It’s not tame. Ever. Just go bit further and there is the wild.
Poke through the thin veil all around you. But be careful, you may not like what comes through.

Jess: If we really look, really listen, we might see it, hear it. I was thinking about this while pulling weeds the other day. I suddenly had this deep desire for the tree next to me to say something.

I promise I took my meds that day.

For a second I thought, I’m insane.

But the trees ARE saying something, just not to me.

Jonathan: Who doesn’t want to hear the trees? And yes, they are saying something. The Bible says so.

Jess: And Pope Francis. Haha. Did we mention we are Catholic?

Jonathan: Haha, wait…whaaaa. Twist!

Jess: But this idea that the universe is talking, creation is talking, but we’re not listening. Oh, and that we’re not the center of the universe but are called to communion. This is all in Laudato Si.

Jonathan: And the Medieval Great Chain of Being idea…not so far fetched, actually.
There is a great article in First Things this month about that, how we are living in the new weird Middle Ages. It talks about how weird the Middle Ages were and how we need to recover some of that way of thinking.

Jess: I see this too in Stranger Things--that nature is distorted in a truly horrific way by our desire for control and domination.

Jonathan: Well, it goes back to Treebeard, doesn’t it? “No one is altogether on my side.” But, if you piss off nature, it’s going to crush and stomp on you. It will rise up against the Steward, us, as God’s image. When we fail to govern wisely, nature revolts against us. I think we’re seeing that now with climate change. It’s a very Biblical idea, really. Nothing liberal or commie about it.

Jess: Hmm….yeah. And we have no idea what we’re messing with. The characters in Stranger Things don’t imagine that there are other…things?…living in the Upside Down. That there are such terrible consequences. Instead, the kids suffer the consequences of all that adult recklessness.

Jonathan: Yeah, exactly. Faith of a Child and all that

Jess: Also, where do I go to get in a sensory deprivation tank?

Jonathan: Get out the bags of salt, chica, and your kids’ swimming pool.

Jess: Here’s a great quote from the Duffer Brothers:

“We were in the last generation to grow up without a cell phone being a part of our lives at all, without tech things and having any of that. For us, we like going back to a time — and I’m sure nostalgia is feeding into that — where cell phones and the internet weren’t around. If you went off with friends, it felt like you really could get lost on a grand adventure. There is some nostalgia to it. For us, it was specifically missing that.”

Hey, we’re on a grand adventure with Sick Pilgrim too.

Jonathan: That’s where I think Catholics (and Christians) can really start speaking into people’s lives with some credibility again. Christianity is the Great Adventure full of danger, sadness, sorrow, fun, craziness, friends, laughter, food, and good ole fashioned awe. Oh, and loads of mystery.

Jess: Yes, that longing we see in millennials for more traditional worship and something otherworldly or ancient speaks to this too. That’s why this show isn’t just an inside joke for Gen Xers. It doesn’t exploit its time period as a gag. It has a kind of awe for it, that it was the last time, the last breath, before we became digital. Before information was available at a keystroke. Before kids stopped riding around in gangs on bikes. It’s about that last moment when you were still naive. When you thought the monsters were just in stories.

Jonathan: And maybe that world is threatening to burst in on us again.

Jess: Yeah, maybe we can find it again, on the other side of the board.

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