Though the demogorgons and their fellow inhabitants of the Upside Down pose the most immediate threat to the heroes of Stranger Things, Papa's willingness to use children as his personal lab rats, as well as the government and military powers happy to back him up, is the more chilling one.
While the actual Department of Energy released a statement following the release of the show's first season to point out that they are neither evil nor forcing telekinetic children to crush New Coke cans with their minds, series creators the Duffer brothers told Rolling Stone that they were inspired by the very real series of CIA mind control experiments known as MK-Ultra. Matt Duffer said, "We wanted the supernatural element to be grounded in science in some way."
MK-Ultra began in 1953, and its creator, chemist Sidney Gottlieb, only admitted that its end goal of human mind control was an impossibility a decade later. When he left the CIA in 1973, he attempted to destroy all evidence of his activities, but due to the efforts of whistleblowers and an incomplete job of historical erasure on Gottlieb's part, we know now more about this dark period of American history than the CIA ever intended. While the experiments themselves seem like something lifted from science fiction (or, say, a Netflix show), they were all too real, and the experimenters' disregard for the humanity of their test subjects ruined lives and destroyed minds.
Here are 13 haunting facts about MK-Ultra, the people who founded it, and the survivors of their experiments.
Warning: There are graphic descriptions of both physical and psychological abuse ahead.