Mad Scientists of Stranger Things: Part I – Martin Brenner

August 26, 2019

Stranger Things logoWelcome to Mad Science Mondays, where we talk about depictions of science in movies, TV shows, books, and the media. We dissect the good, the bad, the comical and the outright irresponsible. Who says learning about science can’t be fun?

Time to get a little… strange… over here, with a series of posts about the scientists* of Stranger Things. We’re going to start with Martin Brenner, the true Big Bad of Season One, and a textbook example of one of Hollywood’s favourite scientist tropes: the Machiavellian scientist who believes that knowledge matters more than decency, ethics, or human rights… the one who will do anything to get his answer.

But first, I give you the notes I scribbled while rewatching Season One in prep for this post:

  • When dudes in lab coats are fleeing in panic, we all need to be worried….
  • When did Matthew Modine get so creepy?
  • Uh oh, biohazard suits. Never a good sign. Neither are scorched and brain-splattered walls.
  • Or barefooted girls in hospital gowns.
  • Or anytime people have tattooed numbers instead of names.

And that was just episode 1!

In case there was any doubt that these scientists are up to NO GOOD, let’s take a moment to appreciate the aesthetic of their leader, Martin Brenner:

Martin Brenner from Stranger Things

Pale, thin, stretched, well dressed. This guy is clearly a vampire, sucking the life out of small children for fun and profit (or knowledge and power). And his arrogance, his conviction that what he’s doing is justified, and that he can control the things he unleashes, is practically oozing out of his eyes.

We can all agree that tearing a hole in reality is bad enough, but for me, the thing about Brenner that’s truly unforgivable is the fact that he cultivates a paternal relationship with Eleven, combining evil scientist and abusive father* in a truly unsettling synergy. The first real sign of affection he shows El is in Episode 3, when she has just murdered in self-defence, and the affection isn’t even for her – he touches her head, the seat of her power, telling us that (much like Mother Gothel in Disney’s Tangled), he only really cares about what she can do.

And then there’s the cat.

It’s a well known truth among writers of all stripes that your character can do a lot of awful things, but as long as they commit one good act, like saving a cat from a burning building, they are empathetic and redeemable. (See the infamous screenwriting bible, Save the Cat.)

Brenner, however, not only kills the cat, he forces a child who calls him Papa to kill the cat. There’s no way back from that.

What are your thoughts on Martin Brenner, or Stranger Things in general? Next time, Dr. Owens!


*Not the science. This time, I’m more interested in the people doing the science.

**Both of which are deplorable.

2 Comments on ‘Mad Scientists of Stranger Things: Part I – Martin Brenner’

  1. One small nitpick: Eleven refuses to kill the cat! Which makes it clear (as if it weren’t already) that she’s not a Bad Kid.

    She does kill the guards who try to put her in isolation, though. And I love her for it.

    Brenner is a douchebag.

    I think Stranger Thintgs does an incredibly good job of giving Eleven baggage in the form of the torturous things she’s had to experience, AND the fact that her only parental figure is the person putting her through these horrors. Season One of this show was amazing.

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  2. Yes! Eleven has empathy and mercy towards small helpless creatures, but the strength to defend herself when necessary. Staying a Good Kid in these circumstances is even more amazing than her powers. Season One of this show really is amazing.

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