Mike/Will Season 2, Episode 1: A Shot by Shot Analysis
Ok, here it is! The first installation of my shot-by-shot analysis series!
Some things to know before reading:
- This series will go episode by episode and each post will discuss scenes that I think are relevant to understanding Mike and Will’s relationship. I’m publishing them as I write them, so I might miss things. If I do, I’ll be sure to include them later.
- This analysis focuses on what I think the Duffers’ intentions are as far as this pairing and what the Mike/Will scenes in season two could indicate about season three. It’s not always going to reflect that Byeler is endgame, because as much as I love Byeler (and I really do), I just don’t think it’s going to be canon, at least not in the way that we hope. Don’t despair, though.
- If you haven’t, read my Is Will Byers Gay? post first! It basically establishes my thoughts about Gay Will. Give it a reblog if you’re so inclined :) Note that I wrote it BEFORE I knew about the stranger things bible clipping which basically confirms it, which you can find here.
- These are just my thoughts/opinions! Feel free to disagree, and please do! Just do so respectfully :) I wrote this because I love Stranger Things, something we ultimately all have in common. If you have negative/nasty opinions about this analysis or are offended by the suggestion that Will Byers is gay, I ask politely that you keep them to yourself.
- I couldn’t find gifs for everything I wanted :/ if someone knows a better way to do this, I’d appreciate the help!
- Anyway, thanks so much for reading! I hope you enjoy! (Also: I’m tagging @packupyourthingses @leondrmccoys @we-dance-like-marionettes who (I think?) asked to be tagged, and @thebandersnatchoftheshire who expressed an interest in the post a while back.)
EPISODE 1: MAD MAX
Let’s start off with some general observations.
- In the first season, Will is missing, leaving his three best friends and Eleven to recover him. In the second season, Will is back, Eleven is gone, and Max has joined the party. Obviously, each of these changes makes a significant contribution to existing group dynamics. Mike, for example, changes significantly in the wake of Eleven’s departure, while Lucas and Dustin are overjoyed at Max’s arrival.
- In season 1, storylines are segmented by age group. i.e., the kids, teenagers, and adults all embark on separate adventures that ultimately converge. As we would expect of a second installation, narratives in season two reflect character and story arcs established earlier. As a result, the groups are not so neatly divided. Ergo, Steve hangs with Dustin/Lucas/Max, Mike/Will end up with Joyce/Hopper, etc.
- Crucially, the core group of boys is divided into pairs. Mike and Will spend most of the season together, as do Dustin and Lucas. The use of these pairs, which are established almost immediately, is an unmistakeable narrative device all throughout the season.
The arcade scene is the first in the season of all the boys together. They spend the first half of it together playing video games, arguing with Keith, etc, and the second half divided into pairs. This begins when Will is transplanted suddenly into the upside down and steps outside the arcade.
Lucas and Dustin, at that point, are preoccupied with divining MadMax’s true identity. Because of this, it’s Mike who comes out to check on Will, and likely the one who noticed he was missing in the first place. This is the first clue as to the extent of the closeness between the two. It’s deliberate: as we see here, and throughout the season, Will/Mike and Dustin/Lucas are partitioned, and their individual friendships are developed.
In the scene, Mike comes outside and finds Will. He then makes sure he’s okay, puts his arm around him, and guides him inside. This gesture, to me, reads as pretty innocuous physical affection (of course, you’re welcome to disagree). It was, however, a conscious stylistic choice, made by the duffers with the intention of communicating a number of things. In this scene, we begin to learn firstly that Mike and Will are close, and secondly, that Mike is protective of Will, concerned for his wellbeing, and (probably) an important source of emotional support. The arm gesture underscores Mike’s key character traits: his protectiveness, his characteristic warmth and compassion for others, and his ability to take charge when the situation calls for it and help those in need.
Here’s why that matters: Mike’s behavior in this particular scene is especially interesting in the context of his recent character development. Eleven’s disappearance has clearly affected him profoundly, and in the first three episodes of the season, we learn just how much. Earlier in episode one we see him stealing from Nancy, and in a later scene with his parents, we learn that he’s acted out in a number of ways over the past year, all indicating that Mike’s moral compass, distinct and venerable in season 1, has weakened somewhat. Same goes for his trademark positivity and determination. This season he’s sullen, irritable, apathetic, and in [my paraphrasing of] Finn Wolfhard’s own words, “not as much of a leader.”
And yet, Mike manages to be there for Will in that moment, to take note of his presence (or lack thereof), to guide him, to help heal him. It would appear that, in Mike’s moody “post-eleven period”, it is in his relationship with Will that he has remained his best self.
The question is, WHY? In the first episode of Beyond Stranger Things, Finn Wolfhard remarks (and the Duffers agree) that in Eleven’s absence, Mike needs “someone to impress” and therefore “tries to impress Will”. I also agree with this interpretation. Romance aside, Mike and El’s relationship is (among other things) characterized by a deep mutual admiration. Will, who’s obviously vulnerable, is an opportunity for Mike to be important to someone again, to be needed. Because of this, Will in particular has assumed a new level of importance in Mike’s life post-eleven, because in a way, Will helps Mike cope with the trauma of his loss. And, of course, Mike is very important for Will, who needs someone compassionate, sweet and understanding to help him cope with his trauma. They’re bonded by shared horrifying experiences from season 1: Will going missing; Mike losing El. They are, for all intents and purposes, “crazy together”.
I can’t say with certainty that their relationship has a new dimension/purpose/function in the wake of all that’s happened, because Will was missing for the entirety of last season and we saw basically nothing of their friendship, so it’s impossible to make a comparison. But, I predict that in the aftermath of season one, Mike and Will’s (already close) friendship matured and deepened, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the change in their friendship had an effect on Will and how he sees their relationship.
What are the implications of this? It’s worth it to consider:
- The effects of this close relationship on Will. How does he feel about his closeness with Mike, new or not? How does he feel about the reemergence of Eleven? I predict angst. Lots of it.
- The potential of a love triangle. There are a bunch of amazing posts about this, find some here and here. I’m not convinced we’ll get one, but it’s interesting to consider in the context of this analysis. Remember that Will and Eleven have never interacted (which I think is also deliberate). How will Mike balance his emotional responsibilities to both Will and Eleven? How will Will and Eleven adjust to each other, when each of them is emotionally significant to and in some form, emotionally reliant on, Mike Wheeler? (Not suggesting Eleven needs Mike, she obviously doesn’t need a man, but it would be silly to deny how much he means to her, and vice versa.) Consider also, that there are SO MANY parallels between Will and Eleven. SO MANY. There are a lot of posts already analyzing this, I’ll link one here.
That being said, I do think Mike and Will have always been close. There are hints to this even in season 1. Exhibits A and B.
2. Mr. Clarke’s room
The next shot we see of the boys is in Mr. Clarke’s classroom, just before Max is first introduced. They sit in two rows of two: Dustin and Lucas in front; Will and Mike in back. This, if just visually, emphasizes the “pairs” theory I discussed earlier. Dustin and Lucas look at and whisper to only each other.
3. Will gets in Joyce’s car while Dustin, Lucas and Mike watch from a distance
The physical set up of this scene again is deliberate. Mike is in front, with Lucas and Dustin behind him. (If you think this is grasping at straws, try picturing the scene with Dustin up front - it changes the mood). All the boys are concerned; Mike especially so. The exchange is as follows: Lucas asks, “Do you guys think he’s okay?”, to which Mike says, “I don’t know, he’s quiet today”. Lucas responds, “He’s always quiet.”
Then, the camera zooms in on Mike’s particularly troubled expression. We, the audience, KNOW that all is not well. We KNOW Will had an episode the night before, which explains why “he’s quiet today”. Lucas dismisses Mike’s uncertainty, but WE know that Mike is right. This is supposed to tell us that out of the group, Mike is the most intuitive/perceptive when it comes to Will, and that Lucas and Dustin obviously care very deeply for Will, but don’t know him like Mike does.
4. Lucas and Dustin at the arcade.
In this scene, Lucas and Dustin are at the arcade, trying to figure out if Max is MadMax. Will isn’t there because he’s at Hawkins lab, but where is Mike? Mike is uninterested in Max from the beginning (and so is Will, for that matter, beyond wanting to figure out if she’s MadMax. I don’t think we ever see them interact directly).
Mike is unessential to the scene, so there’s no real reason to have him there, but I thought it was interesting that they weren’t all hanging out. This scene demonstrates that Lucas and Dustin are a pair. They have shared jokes, a witty banter, and now a shared goal, which is to befriend Max. That goal bonds them and frames their eventual storyline of setting a trap for Dart.
5. Will drawing in his room
(Sorry guys - I couldn’t find a screencap of the line I wanted; if you find one where Will says Mom, Dustin, Lucas, Everyone” PLEASE let me know!)
When Will takes Jonathan to task for treating him like a baby, he implicates “Mom, Dustin, Lucas, everyone”. The only person he doesn’t mention is Mike, which is interesting, because so far, Mike is the only one of the friend group we’ve seen express concern for Will in any capacity. This is ABSOLUTELY on purpose. Again, it emphasizes their close relationship and alludes to a symbiosis: later in the exchange, Will says “It doesn’t help. It just makes me feel like more of a freak.” Perhaps he doesn’t feel alienated by Mike’s help because Mike has been through something similar, which makes him also a freak.
It’s worth it to mention that Will has no screen time alone with any of the other characters. I think it’s probably because the writers felt the only relationship of Will’s they needed to emphasize was with Mike.
That’s it for episode 1! Let me know if there’s anything I missed!