The title of Stranger Things was inspired by a classic Stephen King horror novel and that book’s bleak climax could tease the show’s eventual ending.
The Netflix hit Stranger Things is set to wrap up some time after season 4, but the show’s title has already hinted at its perfect ending. Since it debuted in 2016, Stranger Things has made no secret of the show’s creative debt to Stephen King. The legendary horror author’s work is referenced throughout the first three seasons of Stranger Things, with the show borrowing elements of everything from Christine to Firestarter.
Already, Stranger Things season 4 has referenced The Shining, and the show’s ‘80s setting means these nostalgic nods are unlikely to end any time soon. However, one of the subtlest references that Stranger Things made to King’s work could give away the show’s ideal ending. Stranger Things is not set to wrap up its ongoing story until the end of season 5 at the earliest, but its title could offer a hint of how the show will come to a close.
The series was originally entitled ‘Montauk,’ but the creators went with Stranger Things when the setting was changed from that real-life community to Hawkins, Indiana. The Duffer Brothers claim there were heated arguments over the eventual title choice, but they landed on Stranger Things because of its similarity to King’s novel Needful Things. The first novel that King wrote after kicking his drinking problem (a struggle immortalized in the underrated movie adaptation Misery), Needful Things is a brutal slice of small-town horror that culminates in a downbeat ending. As if to cement the comparison between the book and Stranger Things, the show’s now-iconic title font is also lifted from a paperback cover of the King classic. As a result, it is not unreasonable to guess that Needful Things’ ending may also influence Stranger Things’ ending, which may not be good news for Mike, Eleven, Will, and company.
How Stephen King’s Bleakest Story Inspired Stranger Things
While its plot is darker than that of the Netflix hit, it is easy to find Needful Things’ influence on Stranger Things outside the show’s title. The plot of the novel will be familiar to viewers of Rick & Morty, who referenced King’s Needful Things in a season 1 outing. The town of Castle Rock, Maine is plunged into chaos when a mysterious man sets up an antique shop that sells each local their deepest desire at the cost of committing an enigmatic prank or twisted misdeed. Stranger Things shares its small-town setting with Needful Things as well as its recurring theme of seemingly friendly figures turning out to harbor dark secrets. Specifically, Stranger Things season 1 villain Dr. Brenner has the mix of charisma and hidden menace that makes Needful Things’ antagonist Leland Gaunt so appealing to the people of Castle Rock (at first, at least). Unfortunately for the characters of Stranger Things, the King novel does not end well for many of them.
Needful Things Ending Explained
While the Stephen King-influenced Midnight Mass featured a brutal ending that killed off much of its cast, the miniseries did at least imply that the community’s sacrifice stopped the spread of the supernatural evil that plagued them. In contrast, Needful Things features almost the opposite ending, with the twist making it clear that Gaunt not only escapes but survives to move on to another town and continues messing with people’s souls. It is an ending mirrored in the close of 2020’s The Stand, wherein Randall Flagg returns to life and finds new followers for his evil cause. Similarly, Stranger Things could end with the Demogorgons and Mind Flayers at bay for now, but carrying the implication is that the Upside-Down will always find a way into the real world despite the heroes’ attempts to close the gate between dimensions.
Why Stranger Things Can’t Close The Upside-Down For Good
While some of Stranger Things season 3’s darker twists like killing off Billy immediately after his redemption was viewed as a mistake by many viewers, the series still cannot feature a wholly happy ending after its many dark episodes. The idea of the heroes simply “defeating” the entire Upside Down is something of a reductive concept, since the location is an entire alternate dimension and not just one big monster that is out to get them. It exists in tandem with the “real world” and can’t simply be forgotten about, even after closing the gate. Even if Hawkins is no longer at risk, the Upside-Down is likely to break through elsewhere, and the series could imply this in a bittersweet ending without necessarily promising to tell more stories (although Stranger Things spinoffs may become reality after the show comes to a close). By showing that the Upside-Down will never be fully defeated, Stranger Things can let its surviving cast members escape the threat for now while also implying that the fight is never fully over, much like the closing moments of Needful Things.
How Needful Things Created The Perfect Stranger Things Ending
The best ending for Stranger Things would be an open-ended coda that keeps the mystery of the series alive. The much-loved Stranger Things season 1 finale wrapped up most of the season’s story comfortably but left a few plot strands ambiguous (Will’s vision of the Upside-Down, the implication that Eleven was alive) to keep audiences invested and interested. This sense of mystery is vital to the success of Stranger Things and it is found in the ending of Needful Things, wherein the heroes may survive, but the ageless evil they are battling also makes it out unscathed.
Stranger Things has changed a lot since the show’s first episodes, but its strength still lies in keeping the grand revelations at the center of its story a mystery. The exact nature of the Upside-Down could stay an enigma much like Leland Gaunt’s origins are never thoroughly explained in Needful Things, and the ending of Stranger Things could imply that the threat still lingers despite being temporarily held at bay by the show’s heroes. This ending would allow Stranger Things to do justice to its title inspiration while also ensuring that the show never over-explains its story and kills the mystery in the process.
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