Stranger Things season 4 has now fully deployed itself on Netflix, helping to re-establish the nostalgic sci-fi series as one of the closest things to a communal experience that still exists in our increasingly fractured media landscape. The show’s most recent run of episodes has generated a whole new set of touchstones for fans to perform connection over, including a shared realization that, yes, Metallica’s “Master Of Puppets” (currently enjoying a Kate Bush-esque Hawkins Bump after being featured in the season finale) is a pretty good song, and a forced contemplation of that whole “Doja Cat vs. Noah Schnapp” thing that we honestly just can’t with today.
We can also add to that list [tentacles undulating moistly], [dissonant gurgling], and all the other frankly incredible subtitles that have popped up on this season of the show, which have caught plenty of attention from fans online thanks to the, uh, intensity of their descriptions. Which is not, in any way, an accident, per an interview Vulture did this week with the show’s subtitle author, Jeff T., and its subtitle QA editor, Karli Witkowska, an interesting dive into a field that is far more intentional, and way less automatic, than first impressions might lead you to expect.
Among other things, both subtitlers discuss the role of genre in their work, and note their intent to project, not just the base content of a scene, but its feel and intensity, for those viewers who use subtitles to get something closer to the full experience of the show. (As Jeff T. points out, it’s the difference between “[two music notes for “Running Up That Hill”] and the descriptor the show actually used for a particularly tense moment, [Epic synth arrangement of “Running Up That Hill” playing”].)
Even so, Jeff T. admits to doing a a bit of “trolling” with some of his choices (which, interestingly, run independently of the show’s creators, Matt and Ross Duffer—although the subtitles do undergo an approval process from Netflix). “I will admit I was trolling a little bit with that,” he notes, referencing the famed [tentacles undulating moistly] descriptor that’s been passed around a lot online. (He also admits to adding in at least a few explicit Dungeons & Dragons references for his own amusement, and, presumably, that of the show’s nerdier fans.)
Both Jeff T. and Witkwoska make it clear, though, that adding more explicitly descriptive or evocative language to the subtitles isn’t just an exercise in Easter eggs or self-amusement: It’s a vital step in helping all viewers of the series to have something closer to the same emotional experience with the show. Witkowska: “When it comes to a show like ST where you have something so fun and upbeat like when they’re riding along in the pizza van, and then all of a sudden, something completely different happens, it’s our job that the deaf community can still understand that complete switch of atmosphere and tone. If we aren’t doing that, we aren’t doing our jobs correctly.”
You can read the full interview here.