So last week, I mentioned that I had finally started watching season four of Stranger Things, and I also made reference to its use of the Kate Bush song “Running up that Hill”, which, at the time, I knew had surged in popularity as a result of its appearance in the show. However, when I wrote that post, I was only on episode one of the new season, in which “Running up that Hill” was used briefly in a scene where one of the characters was walking through the halls of her new school. I was pretty sure that this scene could not possibly account for the sudden popularity of the song, so I expected it to make a repeat appearance; but I’ve been doing a pretty good job of avoiding spoilers for this season, and so I didn’t know exactly when that would happen, until I got to episode four, when some major plot developments occurred, which I am of course going to mention. So you know what that means …
Now the first major plot development that caught my attention in episode four is the fact that the character Max wears an orange watch. And not just any orange; it’s pretty much my exact favorite shade of orange.
No no, I’m kidding*, that isn’t really a major plot development**. No, the major plot development is that the season’s Big Bad (probably), Vecna, makes his move on Max ― she of the orange watch! ― by bamfing her consciousness into his Upside-Down hellscape and preparing to do that really gross thing he does where he levitates his victim up in the air, snaps all their joints like twigs (including their jaws!), and then pulls their eyes into their heads leaving only empty sockets behind, before finally killing them. So that’s a nice way to go.***
Anyway, at this point in the show, and very much just in time, a couple of the other characters have gleaned a possible way to break Vecna’s victims out of the trance he puts them in just before killing them, and that is by using The Power of Music****! In this case, the music in question is Max’s favorite song, which is, you guessed it, “Running up that Hill”. Her friends get the headphones and Walkman attached to Max just before she levitates*****, and … Well, instead of telling you, I’ll just show you, at least for as long as Netflix allows this person’s YouTube video to stay up.
Now I, like the rest of the Stranger Things-watching world, was incredibly impressed by this entire scene, but most especially by Max’s epic run for the portal back to reality at the end of it, with Vecna hurling many large pieces of a house at her to try to stop her. And since I happen to know that my wife is a Kate Bush fan from back in the day, I of course had to subject her to the scene as well. Now, if you recall some of my previous posts involving music ― and keeping in mind that my wife does not watch this show, and therefore has no idea who any of these people are and has no investment in what happens to them ― then you may not be surprised to learn that her reaction was a little bit different from mine.
Wife: “What’s this? Is that Kate Bush?”
Me: “Yes, that is Kate Bush.”
Wife: “Is this a remix? This sounds like a remix.”
Me: “I don’t know if it’s a remix, but they are repeating the verses—”
Wife: “No, this is definitely a remix. The strings or whatever aren’t right. And her voice is too low in the background. You can hardly hear her.”
Me: “So if I downloaded this video and replaced the music with the original version of ‘Running up that Hill’, that would be better?”******
Wife: “Better than this.”
So there you go. The Power of Music may be the key to escaping the Upside-Down, but if person you’re trying to free from it is my wife, you’d better make sure not to use a remix or, God forbid, a cover version.
I later explained to my wife about how Vecna operates (picking someone with unresolved trauma, isolating them, making them see visions of their greatest fears/guilts, and then killing them) and how many people are saying that he is a metaphor for depression and other forms of mental illness―a thought I’d had while watching the show, and during this episode in particular, though I’m much too late to the party to add anything new to that discussion―which she found intriguing:
Wife: “Huh. That’s interesting. Maybe I’ll watch it with you.”
Me: “Well, it’s pretty gory, and this is the goriest season by far.”
Wife: “Oh. I don’t like gore.”
Me: “I know you don’t like gore.”
Wife (disappointed): “It’s a shame they make a show with some depth and then spoil it by making it gory.”
Now, some would say the goriness is not a bug, it’s a feature; but bearing in mind that my wife almost stopped watching Breaking Bad over the bathtub scene, and that was her favorite show of all time, I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t make it all the way through even a single helping of this one, where at least once per episode the word “squelching” shows up in the subtitles.
Incidentally, this is the second time I’ve encountered Kate Bush and “Running up that Hill” in the context of a ghost/horror story, the first having been in the novel Curfew (also known as Crybbe), by Phil Rickman, before he started writing mostly nothing but Merrily Watkins mysteries:
That T-Shirt and this song turn up several times after this, too, including at the climax when all hell is quite literally breaking loose. So remember, kids, if a ghost or demon has got you down, who you gonna call? Kate Bush. Important safety tip!
* No I’m not.
** Yes it is.
*** This is what I referred to in the previous post as “getting crumpled up like tinfoil”.
**** Not to mention The Power of Happy Memories
***** Good thing Stranger Things is out of the boombox and into the portable era.
****** I did in fact do this, just to find out. I didn’t think it was better, but my wife did.
******* For that matter, neither have I.