Blink and you might miss one of the most alarming scenes in the final Stranger Things season two trailer released on Friday the 13th. Around the 2:22 mark, just as the soundtrack’s creepy signature arpeggiations accelerate, we catch a glimpse of an unnamed woman’s head as two gloved hands hold black tubes to her temples. In her mouth is what appears to be a rubber stopper. After a split second, her eyes close and her head rolls back, jaws clenching in pain.
What’s happening to the woman in this haunting clip has happened to many people before — and continues to happen today, albeit in less violent forms. This is what it once looked like to receive electroshock therapy — now rebranded as electroconvulsive therapy — a controversial treatment for certain mental illnesses that involves passing small electric currents through the brain to trigger a brief seizure.
The black devices being held to her head are electrodes, housed in black rubber for insulation so the person holding them doesn’t get electrocuted. In her mouth is a rubber protective device to protect her from the occasionally horrific consequences of what could happen next: Biting down violently on the tongue as electricity passes through her brain.
This is a glimpse of what will almost certainly prove to be a horrific scene — the Duffer brothers have said this will be a scarier season — but the most frightening part is that it’s hardly even a dramatization. In the past, ECT was administered without anesthesia, which sometimes led to memory loss and fractured bones — and the obvious pain we see see in this clip. Public perception that ECT is inhumane and dangerous was cemented in the seminal 1975 film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, in which Nurse Ratched wielded it as a form of punishment rather than as a treatment.
Over the decades, ECT has shed some of its negative reputation, partially because it continues to be useful in some cases of severe mental illness and partially because it became standard to give patients general anesthesia before running electricity through their heads. Now, ECT is used to treat severe, treatment-resistant depression as well as biopolar disorder or schizophrenia. It’s also used to treat people whose mental illnesses put them in life-threatening conditions, such as people who are malnourished because of severe depression or those who become suicidal.
Scientists are not exactly sure how ECT works to relieve the symptoms of mental illness, but they know it causes a person to go into an epileptic fit. During this time, it changes patterns of blood flow and metabolism in the brain, which is thought to be linked to “rebalancing” the off-balance levels of neurotransmitters in the brain that are thought to cause mental illness in the first place.
It’s not clear who the woman in the Stranger Things trailer is, but the fact that she is receiving ECT strongly suggests she’s someone we’ve heard a lot about: Eleven’s mom.
In season one, we learned that part of the reason for Eleven’s powers is because her mother had been a test subject in MK-ULTRA, the real, deeply unethical CIA-funded program that experimented on civilians to investigate whether it was possible to control people’s minds using LSD and ECT.
In those experiments, which took place in the 1950s and 1960s, McGill University researcher D. Ewen Cameron, Ph.D. experimented with ECT to “depattern” the brain and, thereafter, used other techniques, called “psychic driving”, in an attempt to re-pattern the brain,” according to the Indiana University Center for Bioethics.
It’s possible, also, that she’s a new character named Roman (played by Linnea Berthelsen) who might have also gone through some MK-ULTRA experiments, though the clip in the trailer is so fleeting it’s hard to tell.
Whoever it is, she’s in for a rough season. We’ll find out her identity soon enough when Stranger Things season two premieres on Netflix on October 27.
If you liked this article, check out this video where the CIA illegally drugged thousands of U.S. and Canadian citizens with LSD.