From the set design, to the costumes, to the music, Stranger Things is an unabashed love letter to the 1980s. That includes getting very meta about the decade in which it is set, with the casting choices of adult actors who blossomed in the ‘80s by starring in iconic movies that came to define the times. In the first season, the inclusion of Winona Ryder and Matthew Modine were nods to Beetlejuice, Heathers, Private School, Vision Quest, Gross Anatomy, and perhaps even Full Metal Jacket.
The second season of the Netflix series ups the ante with the inclusion of even more ‘80s-famous actors, in Sean Astin and Paul Reiser. Astin played Mikey Walsh in Richard Donner's The Goonies, which exerts a huge influence on the show, while Paul Reiser was Carter J. Burke in James Cameron’s Aliens, whose plot point of a shady organization with ulterior motives is a central pillar of Stranger Things.
Reiser predominantly made his career in comedy during the '80s (and since) with projects like Diner, Beverly Hills Cop, and Odd Jobs, but his part in Aliens, a sci-fi horror-action movie, is one of his most famous roles. In it, he plays an agent of the Weyland-Yutani Corporation sent to retrieve Xenomorph specimens from LV-426. That's probably why Reiser was cast as Doctor Sam Owens, the government scientist who has taken over control of the Hawkins laboratory with the purpose of treating Will Byers and preventing the spread of the Upside Down into the outside world.
**Spoilers abound for Stranger Things Season 2 below**
The two characters sound pretty similar, right? On the surface, maybe, but underneath, they couldn’t be more different — which, of course, was the point. Where Burke is a corporate scumbag who embodies greed (in essence, a great movie villain), Owens is a pompous, yet understanding intellectual who does what's right by the end. In fact, it’s pretty much safe to say that Reiser redeems his crummy actions in Aliens with this role, making it a triumphant return to the genre for the 60-year-old actor.
Here are a few things that prove Owens is the antithesis of Burke, but be warned:
Owens actually cares about Will's well-being
In the first few episodes, it seems like Owens is just as bad as Modine's Dr. Brenner. In the words of The Who, "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss." That is to say, the second season tricks us into thinking he's another shady doctor collecting a government paycheck who doesn't give two Eggos about the small, town of Hawkins, Indiana. We're meant to assume that he is only interested in studying the effects of the Upside Down while keeping it from expanding past Hawkins into more "important" places of the world like Washington, D.C. It's not hard to see why you'd think that. After all, his examinations of Will are constantly filmed by security cameras and watched by smoking men in dark rooms. Then there's that little spiel he gave to Nancy and Jonathan about keeping the truth from getting out where it sounded like he wasn't too sad about Barb's death.
That being said, a funny thing happens in "Chapter Six: The Spy." Owens is sitting down in a meeting with his fellow scientists and physicians to decide on the best way to stop the creeping tendrils of the Shadow Monster's rot underneath the town. Will has already bonded/been infected with the Mind Flayer's virus, so attacking any bit of the tunnels or creatures inside them would result in immense pain or even death for the boy. One doctor suggests they need to burn the encroaching Upside Down before it's too late, but Owens refuses, because it'd kill the kid.
Compare that to Carter Burke in Aliens, who was willing to allow Facehuggers to attach themselves to an emotionally scarred woman who had just lost her daughter and an innocent child who had just lost her family — just so he and his employer could make a few extra bucks. He cares about no one else's well-being, but his own. Shameful.
He stays behind to help the others
When things go belly up for the Hawkins lab and our heroes are trapped with a ravenous pack of "Demodogs," the good doctor agrees to stay behind in the security room, just so he make sure everyone is able to get out safely. He's like some kind of more responsible version of John Hammond, and while he is attacked later on, he gets to survive for his noble act... unlike someone else we know.
In Aliens, Burke runs at the first sign of trouble inside the colony base on LV-426. As soon as the Xenomorphs find a way inside, he's trying to save his own skin and ends up paying the price for it. Not cool, bro. Not cool at all.
Sharing is caring
In the final episode of the season, "The Gate," we find Owens alive and well, enjoying a sandwich in a bar with Hopper. This is after the gate has been sealed and the government ousted from Hawkins. Owens could just as easily have skipped town, forgotten all this nonsense and used his federal contacts to discredit anyone who tried to point an accusatory finger at him, but he doesn't. Why? Because he's decent and Hopper gave him a tourniquet made from his belt. Quid pro quo.
Burke, on the other hand, was never much of a sharer. He'd rather lie and keep secrets to himself in order to get what he wants, always using his power and influence to take rather than to give. He lied in order to get the colonists to investigate the Space Jockey's crashed ship filled with Xenomorph eggs, he lied to convince Ripley to travel to LV-426, and then he lied about releasing Facehuggers into the lab where Ripley and Newt were snoozing. He'd be the guy to buy an extra large popcorn and Buncha Crunch at the movies and not share with anyone.
He gave Hopper a daughter
He also pulls some strings in order to allow Hopper to become Eleven's legal guardian, thus giving him another chance at being a dad. And let's be honest, Jim's a pretty bitchin' father; their relationship was one of the highlights of this season. The Shadow Monster may still be alive and well, but at least Eleven is finally free from being hunted by the government and those who believe her to be a Russian spy. She can just be a normal kid now who slow dances to the Police, dates Mike Wheeler, and gets into normal spats with her old man over how she dresses.
The "Holeven" dynamic mirrors that of Ripley and Newt in Aliens where, by the end, the two have filled the emotional voids in each other's lives: Ripley regains a daughter and Newt a mother. Everybody wins, right? Well, guess who would want to destroy such a beautiful joining of two lost souls? You guessed it, Carter Burke! If he had successfully impregnated the pair with Xenomorph embryos, he would have been sentencing them to death before they could even begin to explore their relationship. Ugh, isn't he just the worst? Good thing Owens came along to balance things out.