But then there’s Eleven. El, who broke up with Mike (Finn Wolfhard) on Max’s advice, who picked out her first real clothes with her, and who is now laying in a salty, cold pizza freezer in hopes of reaching her. Her best friend. When Max seems gone for good, and Lucas sobs with her in his arms, El is there in spirit. At first, she cries too, but then she seems to be overcome with a sort of resolute calm. She composes herself, then, in a whisper imbued with love and confidence, says, “No. You’re not going.” Once again, this is a deeply emotional and real moment couched in extremely high-concept storytelling. On the one hand, El is a superpowered teenager restarting her friend’s heart via astral projection. On another, she’s someone who loves her friend deeply, and who will hold on for her when she’s not able to hold on herself. I’ve been there, too.
Max is at the heart of “Stranger Things,” now. It’s hard to see the season cut to black with her fate still up in the air – to have our last impressions of the character be Sink’s traumatizingly good performance as Max, in a panic, tells Lucas that she doesn’t want to die. The show has always been about love between friends, but it’s never demonstrated what that love can look like in such a profound way before. Whether it’s Lucas reading Stephen King to her at her hospital bedside, or El clinging to her from beyond the veil, or the team in Russia heading back into their own personal hell to help her the only way they can, “Stranger Things” ends with love for the person who needed it most. Max Mayfield, a survivor and a fighter.