By JILLIAN KRISTINA
Telekinesis. Remote-Viewing. ESP. Telepathy. Psychometry. Levitation. Memory Reading. Biokinesis.
This is the Psychic Flex, and this isn’t even her entire resume.
If there were ever a symbol for alchemizing our greatest traumas into our greatest strengths, it’s Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), the super-charged psychokinetic powerhouse from the Duffer Brothers’ STRANGER THINGS sci-fi series. A product of the infamous and insidious MKUltra experiments, Eleven’s character is forged from the application of psychedelic drugs and sensory-deprivation experiments inflicted upon her mother, Terry Ives (Aimee Mullins), an original MKUltra participant. After becoming pregnant during the course of her participation in the program, Ives catches the attention of the presiding scientist, Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine). After going into labor during her third-trimester, Ives was rushed to the hospital, only to be told she had miscarried. Knowing this wasn’t true, Ives never gave up trying to get her baby back – a girl she had named Jane – who had been abducted by Dr. Brenner for the purpose of conducting further experiments. After failed attempts at suing Dr. Brenner, Ives decided to take matters into her own hands and stormed the Hawkins Laboratory, a desperate act which ended in tragic results; now in the hands of the very man who so ruthlessly used and manipulated her, Ives is apprehended and subjected to electroshock therapy, obliterating her cognitive abilities and rendering her mind…lost.
Thank goodness one of Eleven’s super powers is finding lost things.
But first, Eleven’s journey through hell.
Now in the hands of Dr. Brenner, AKA, ‘Papa,’ he and his team would go on to create a ruthless, torturous, barberic regimen of experimentation, reward, and punishment on test subject 011. Also subjected to sensory-deprivation experiments involving remote-viewing, Eleven exhibited other abilities, like biokinesis. From Coke cans to cats, test subject 011 was forced to flex her mental prowess to manipulate the bodily functions and organs of organic subjects, an exercise which pushed Eleven’s moral compass to the test. She would face punishment for refusing to continue inflicting harm on a living creature, but it was here that Eleven leaned into her rage to amplify her powers; it was here that she would first kill those who were harming her. This is the beginning of the role she would step into in the outside world – saving her own life, and the lives of those she would come to love.
And this is where Eleven’s hell and Terry’s hell would meet; the culmination of their shared trauma, the mutated manifestation of both of their unique abilities. This is where Eleven would begin the journey of unraveling her childhood of excruciating pain, of desperation, of wanting affection and approval from the very man responsible for creating the hell she and her mother both shared. This is where Eleven uncovers her past, through the process of not only discovering her mother was alive, but of using another one of her powers for good – the power of memory reading.
“Breathe. Sunflower. Rainbow. Three to the right. Four to the left. 450.”
Through this focused channel of intention, Eleven is able to see into Terry’s memories, to see both her and her mother’s origin stories, and to discover another crucial element in her evolution; a ‘sister’ at Hawkins Laboratory, test subject 008, otherwise known as Kali (Linnea Berthelsen).
The significance of Eleven’s and Kali’s relationship is paramount to showing Eleven’s true character; two young girls, both abducted, both experimented on and abused, both finding a way out of the lab and into the world. Two girls, two paths. We don’t know how Kali responded to the experiments while in the lab – we don’t know whether she pushed forward while performing harmful tests, we only know what Eleven chose not to do. By the time the two are reunited in season two, we see that Kali’s trajectory has led her into a life of crime. We see that she does, in fact, use her powers to sustain that life, as well as the lives of her outcast criminal cohorts.
At first, Eleven relishes in reuniting with Kali; someone who sees her and understands her in a way no one else could. Kali takes her under her wing, gives her a new style, and gives her a place amongst her crew. She also brings a crucial component to light – when coaching Eleven on how to use her anger to enhance her powers and move the train car, she’s confirming what Eleven had been doing naturally, but maybe not consciously.
“The bad men were trying to take you away again, and that made you angry. Good. So find that anger….They stole your life, Jane.”
And when she brings Eleven along to help assassinate the Hawkins Lab orderly who had administered the electroshock therapy to Terry Ives, we see exactly how the two girls differ.
We all have a choice. We choose our actions every day. We do our best to choose our thoughts. We’ve all experienced trauma, and we’ve all confronted, processed, and integrated those experiences and their lasting effects on us in different ways. Some of us choose the path of destruction, of manipulation – of revenge. Some of us choose to make it our life’s mission to never repeat the harm that was inflicted upon us. Some of us fight every day to rise above the pasts we can’t change, but instead, focus on the cycles we can break.
Over and over again, we see the psychic flex. Over and over again, we see the choices Eleven makes. We see self-sacrifice. We see strength of character; strength of heart. And healing.
Above all, healing. As Eleven moves further away from Papa and Hawkins Lab, she moves closer towards her chosen family. Closer towards mending the gaping gashes that she still bears within. Because each time we stand up for ourselves, for those we love, and for what’s right, we heal just a little bit more. It’s a never-ending process, but with each choice, each action – each positive flex – we get closer to calling those parts of ourselves back that were ripped away – that were lost. We get closer to discovering, or remembering, who we truly are. We get closer to our truth, and in that truth, our light. Eleven transmutes her rage into a lightning blaze of salvation, freeing herself from the chains of her past by using what her past has given her for not only for her own liberation, but for those who have come to rely on her strengths – her hard-earned super powers – for their own survival as well.
Elven is the epitome of alchemical healing, transforming the fires of destruction into the fires of creation. Of freedom. Of redemption. And even though we don’t yet know how the rest of her story will unfold, we do know this – she won’t be going it alone.
For anyone who feels like they are going through their traumas alone, here’s a list of resources and help lines. Please, reach out. There’s always someone there to listen.