Freelance writer and humorist turned accidental science journalist Mary Roach likes to ask the questions we all wonder about but are usually too polite to mention. What happens after we die, anyway? How fast do cadavers rot? Can a corpse have an orgasm? Writing the Health Body column for Salon. Com quickened her interest in the dead -- that, and looking at the hit count for her columns on cadavers. Her books and sprung out of research done for a proposed Salon column called the Dead Beat (sadly, it was killed). Her most recent book,, is a romp through the current landscape of gynecology, sex research and the adult novelty industry.
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In addition to her dry (and sometimes silly) wit, Roach has a penchant for funny voices, faking her way through interviews with expert scientists, and wheedling her way into strange locales, among them a dildo factory and under the business end of an ultrasound wand during coitus. [Spoiler alert: The following interview covers plot details from the entire eight-episode first season of Netflix s. Do not read until you ve finished the season. ]The world got very strange indeed over the first eight episodes of Netflix s. The 85s-set and inspired series from creators-writers-directors The (twins Matt and Ross) solved its central mystery of exactly what happened to Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) who was reunited with his mother, Joyce ( ), and brother, Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), after spending a week in a parallel dimension known as the Upside Down but raised plenty of other questions. What happened to telekinetic badass Eleven (scene stealer ) after she destroyed the Upside Down monster? Does Chief Hopper (David Harbour) know where she is, or is he leaving those Eggos in the woods in an attempt to reach her? What sent Nancy (Natalia Dyer) back into the arms of her boyfriend, Steve (Joe Keery)? Can Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) possibly have as much fun playing Dungeons Dragons now that they ve faced off with real monsters? Variety spoke with the about bringing the first season to a close, how they came up with the look of the Upside Down and its hungry inhabitant, the fate of poor Barb (Shannon Purser), and what they ve got up their sleeves for Season 7 (which Netflix has not officially greenlit yet). When you ve got eight episodes to tell your story, how do you decide to pace out a reveal like the extent of Eleven s powers? Matt: The idea was to slowly tease her powers out over the season. It was pretty extreme right away. As soon as we started mapping out the season and realized we had eight hours, we started to scale it back. A lot of the drive of the show is not just looking for Will, it s learning about her and her backstory, and how she connects to all of this. We built an entire backstory for her, and the trick was where to drop those puzzle pieces in. By the end of episode six, you know a lot about her. It was the same approach we had with the monster, that sort of Jaws approach hint at it but don t show much, so you have somewhere to go.
Ross: When you finally do reveal it, it has more impact. With Eleven, when you see her do these extreme things later on in the season it has impact. You start simply with floating a Millennium Falcon, very small things, and hopefully it builds and builds. How much do we know about Eleven s true origins at this point, and how much did you want to keep a mystery? Ross: We get the hint that her mom was involved in the experimentations back in the day resulting in her being born with these powers, but what we wanted to do with the show and this season specifically was mostly seeing the mystery and these extraordinary things through the eyes of these ordinary characters. By the end of the show they don t know or understand everything. That is purposeful. We do cut away to the government occasionally for these pops of mystery or horror, but what we didn t want was to have a scene of the scientist just sitting down to explain everything. We wanted to slowly peel back layers of this mystery for audiences through the eyes of these very ordinary people. It s not all solved by the end of the season. We wanted to resolve the main mystery of Will being gone, that was the story of this season. Do you see the government or science conspiracy angle as a long-term mystery for the show? Ross: There s a lot there we don t know or understand. Even with the Upside Down, we have a 85-page document that is pretty intricate in terms of what it all means, and where this monster actually came from, and why aren t there more monsters we have all this stuff that we just didn t have time for, or we didn t feel like we needed to get into in season one, because of the main tension of Will. We have that whole other world that we haven t fully explored in this season, and that was very purposeful. Matt: We wanted a simple drive and a somewhat simple mystery with bizarre pops of supernatural horror and then add a larger mythology behind this rift that we only know and refer to as the Upside Down because that s what the boys decide to call it.
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Everything they ve learned about it is kind of hypothetical. They re theorizing based on their knowledge from fantasy gaming and their science teacher, Mr. Clarke. That s as much as we get to understand it. I think part of it is us thinking in terms of horror, it s scarier when you don t fully understand what s happening. If you were to encounter something from another world or dimension, it would be beyond comprehension. We talked a lot about Clive Barker and his stories. They re very weird, and the weirder it is, the more inexplicable it is, the scarier it is. As you head into future seasons, have you thought about how much of that 85-page document you want to reveal and explore? Ross: We leave these dangling threads at the end. If people respond to this show and we get to continue this story we had those initial discussions of where we might go with it. If there was going to be a season two, we would reveal more of that 85 page document, but we d still want to keep it from the point of view of our original characters. Even though you tell a complete story within the season, you end on a couple of major cliffhangers the first being Eleven s disappearance. Did you want to hint at where she s been with the scene of Hopper leaving Eggos in the woods? Matt: Obviously something happened to her when she destroyed and killed that monster and we don t know what she went. Hopper is left with this guilt because he sold her out. We wanted to leave it sort of mysterious exactly what he knows Have there been sightings in the woods or is he hoping she s out there or has he already made contact with her? We don t answer any of that, but we like the idea of potentially putting her and Hopper together.
It also seems that the Upside Down has changed Will or maybe he s brought some of it back with him. What can you say about the flash he has in the bathroom? Ross: We love the idea that [the Upside Down] is an environment that is not a great place for a human being to be living in. Will s been there for an entire week, and it s had some kind of effect on him, both emotionally and perhaps physically. The idea is he s escaped this nightmare place, but has he really? That s a place we wanted to go and potentially explore in season two. What effect does living in there for a week have on him? And what has been done to him? It s not good, obviously. Poor Barb. I was a little surprised she actually died. How did you decide someone would have to go? Matt: I love that you said poor Barb, because that s the go-to phrase we use. With the first episode we wanted someone to die very quickly which was the Benny character [the diner cook played by Chris Sullivan] someone set up who looks like a substantial character and dies. And then Barb who looks like a substantial character. We wanted it to feel unsafe. One reason we fell in love with television is we ve seen so many movies and they tend to follow a very similar pattern. Television has been breaking narrative rules.
George R. R. Martin obviously pushed that to another level [with Game of Thrones ], you suddenly don t feel safe and it freaks you out. Every scene has a little more tension in it. It s something we want to preserve as we go into season two, where you feel everyone including the kids is unsafe and anything can happen. We pushed it this season with Barb, but I want to continue to amp up that threat. It makes it scarier, but it s also sad. Shannon Purser who played Barb, we fell in love with her. She had never acted before, this was her first role in anything, she blew us and everyone away. It was sad to lose her, but some people have to go. I also didn t expect to see Nancy reconcile with Steve at the end. He crossed a line at a certain point in the season but then you pulled him back in. Was that by design? Ross: That was not the original plan. A lot of credit goes to Joe Keery [who plays Steve] because he was much more likable and charming than we originally had envisioned. If you read the pilot, he s the biggest douchebag on the planet. It s not that he s a flawless character, he s flawed, but Joe was so good we started to fall in love with the idea that he has an arc himself. He s maybe not the perfect guy, but he s maybe in with the wrong crowd. As opposed to him turning Nancy to his side, maybe it s more Nancy turning him to her side.
We liked giving him that arc. We made that month-long jump at the end of the season, and we don t exactly know what happened in between. We feel like we hinted at it in the hospital scene where we re seeing Jonathan with his brother, and how happy he is, whereas Nancy obviously still has this tremendous guilt and anger over what happened to Barb. She s lost someone, so even though there is a victory, it s certainly bittersweet for Nancy and she needs someone in that time.