May 21, 2019

Dispatches from the Third Trimester

“In the second season of Stranger Things a tentacled smoke monster forces its way into poor Will Byers’ mouth, taking up residence inside his body. When his mother draws him a warm bath, he refuses. “He likes it cold,” Will intones creepily. The demon inside is invisible to others but exerts its will on Will, who is himself but also something else. As I watch the story unfold, the human being growing inside my body moves frenetically, as if it is popping and locking to a beat I cannot hear. This flurry of activity makes my stomach look like a potato sack with several distressed squirrels stuck inside; this is likely due to the cookie-dough ice cream I have recently eaten. I, too, have something inside of me; it also likes it cold.

“Pregnancy has every element of an alien invasion,” I read on the NPR website. “The human placenta is one of the most invasive placentas.”

We often turn to the extraterrestrial when we describe the phenomenon of growing a new person inside of an existing one. Early ultrasound images recall the classic imagining of alien form: a giant head attached to a smaller, translucent body set against a black abyss. It’s not just the optics. As pop icon and formerly-pregnant person JLo once remarked, “Pregnancy and giving birth are weird, strange. The growing life inside you — it’s like an invasion of the body snatchers.” I assume this creepy description reflects the way in which the growing fetus influences, commandeers even, so many of the bodily processes of its host. Google “alien” and “pregnancy,” and the least-frightening video that comes up will confirm: “Clearly, the fetus has no qualms about doing whatever it needs to do to get things for itself.”

The monster that invades Will’s body is from the Upside Down, a dark, bizarro version of the human world. The first season saw Will kidnapped to that parallel dimension; this time, the Upside Down comes to him. The infiltrator arrives not from beyond the stars but from beneath the soil. It makes its host do things he would never dream of doing of his own volition. Will’s body hasn’t been snatched by an alien, it’s been possessed by a demon. This is an important distinction: the Duffer Brothers have gifted us one of the few portrayals of male possession in film, television, or literature.”

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