A Lot Going on Upstairs – Nightmares of Stewie Griffin

I’m a huge Family Guy fanatic. I’ve seen every episode. Multiple times. The show makes me laugh… what can I say! And I particularly love the antics of Stewie and Brian.

So, you can imagine how excited I was when I watched the recent episode, lot going on Upstairs and got a glimpse into Stewie’s nightmares.

This episode invites us into Stewie’s dreams, beginning with a rather benign sequence of Stewie doing Show & Tell at daycare. Quickly, the scene turns sinister when a little girl laughs at Stewie and points out that he’s naked. Scrambling to cover himself, he looks out the window and discovers a scary monster holding his overalls.

A lot going on upstairs - Monster holding overalls

As the episode continues, we journey with Stewie through a nighttime hell and glimpse a variety of common dream themes:

  • A friendly scene that turns dark
  • He’s unprepared doesn’t know his lines
  • Drowning

In addition to these sequences being scary in themselves, Stewie is plagued by a dark, shadowy monster that haunts him throughout the night.

Brian’s Solution – Face the Monster

Brian reads that nightmares are born of subconscious fears and assumes that means Stewie has a subconscious fear of monsters. In an attempt to help his friend, Brian sets up a ridiculous situation to allow Stewie to confront a monster in his waking life.

A lot going on upstairs - Chris Griffin Frankenstein

While kind hearted, this approach to dealing with nightmares is flawed. The key point is that the fears are subconscious – meaning you are not consciously aware of the fear.

Stewie is NOT afraid of the dark, shadowy monster per se. He’s afraid of what that the monster represents symbolically.

In dreams, monsters are a visual representation of our past traumas. They represent your personal fears, failures, weaknesses, dread, and even fear of death.

So it’s futile to confront the actual Monster in your waking life because the Monster is not the real fear, it’s merely a visual representation of the fear. The real fear is what lies behind the depiction of the monster, symbolically.

Digital Dream Interface – Shared Dreaming

As expected, Brian’s setup doesn’t relieve Stewie of his nightmares. So Stewie, being the genius baby that he is, takes matters into his own hands and creates the Digital Dream Interface.

The device allows Brian to enter into Stewie’s dream, Inception style. Stewie sets a mission for Brian: to kill the monster that’s haunting him.

A lot going on upstairs - Digital Dream Interface

I love this idea. How handy would it be to have a device that allows you to enter other people’s dreams? The idea of shared dreaming was first popularized in the movie Inception. And believe it or not, shared dreaming is a real phenomenon and doesn’t require fancy equipment.

The flaw in this scene is the way shared dreaming is used. It’s not about bringing an outside party into your dream to do your work for you. This takes the power away from the dreamer. If you’re going to face your fear, YOU have to do it. No one can do it for you.

It’s a nice thought for Brian to help Stewie kill the monster, but doing so is actually a disservice to Stewie as it takes away his power and denies him the opportunity to face his own fears.

When working with nightmares its essential to do your own work. That’s the only way to truly face your fears and integrate the dream’s lesson into your life.

A lot Going on Upstairs – Journey through Subconscious Fears

When Brian enters Stewie’s dreams, we are taken on a journey through Stewie’s subconscious where the symbolism of the monster is revealed. The sequence is a brilliant portrayal of the way everyday events can become nightmares when we are overcome with fear.

Here we get a deeper look into what the monster represents for Stewie: Running from the doctor’s larger-than-life needle, a sloppy coffee kiss from Grandpa, strangers, the horrors portrayed on the daily news. Stewie’s daily life is filled with fodder for nightmares.

A lot going on upstairs - Grandpa Kiss

Slaying the Monster

When the shadowy monster appears in the shared dream, Brian seizes the opportunity and kills it. In a surprise twist, it’s revealed that the monster is actually Brian himself. And Stewie’s greatest fear is disappointing his friend.

A lot going on upstairs - Monster revealed

The episode ends with Stewie and Brian waking up from the dream, and Stewie not recalling any of the shared adventures.

The ending left me wanting more – it didn’t feel complete. Stewie may not have remembered his nightmares, but he didn’t gain any new awareness about himself either. There was no revelation, no new insight, no catharsis, and no moment of epiphany. By focusing only on stopping the nightmares, Stewie missed the gift of his dreams.

This is the consequence of asking someone else to do your work for you.

Brian as an Animal Ally

If I had written this episode, I would have written a different ending.

I love the idea of Stewie calling on Brian to help with his nightmares. Calling on Animal Allies is actually a practice I use regularly when it comes to facing difficult dreams. Animals can be great helpers in dreams, especially when we’re dealing with nightmares.

Animal Allies augment our own abilities by offering qualities we lack. Brian’s intellect and courage are attributes that could help Stewie to think of ways he would face the monster. And killing the monster isn’t the only option.

In my version of the ending, Stewie would have called on Brian as an Animal Ally for support, but Brian would act as a guide or a coach, rather than a hired hand. It is Stewie’s responsibility to confront his own monsters. Only then can his unconscious motivations come to light and be made conscious.

What if Stewie had faced the monster and discovered it was a friendly monster who wanted a hug? Or… an epic battle between Stewie and the monster could reveal Stewie’s strength and courage, which can have beneficial consequences in his waking life too.

The point is if we want to make nightmares our ally, we need to brave up, take responsibility and face our inner demons. That is where the magic lies.

As the episode stands, Brian has a new awareness about Stewie {his true feelings}, but Stewie remains unconscious.

The real power of nightmares is that they make what is UNconscious, conscious. Only in facing your nightmares and doing your own work do you get that ah-ha moment. And that moment of self-awareness is where transformation begins.

It’s Your Turn, Dreamer

I always love to hear from you.  If you could re-write the ending to this episode, what lessons would you want Stewie to learn from his nightmares? Share your lessons for Stewie in the comments below.

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3 Comments

  1. I am a big Family Guy fan as well and I absolutely loved this article. I really enjoyed the dream/nightmare piece in one of my favorite shows and you just upped the game here with this article. Loved it!

    • Woohoo… so glad you enjoyed the article! Thanks for sharing :)

  2. Whilst I agree that people must face their fears and deal with nightmares independently to really learn their lessons, I think that you are wrong in the way that Stewie is unconscious of the previous actions. He had help from Brian yes so did not solve his problem individually but after Brian killed the monster, revealing it to be him, Stewie is the one that tweaks, in his subconscious mind, that it is Brian who he was afraid of. It is Stewie that subconsciously allowed Brian into his dreams furthermore facing and confronting his own fear. When awakened, Stewie is blunt and immediately rude to Brian, proving that now he has faced and solved the mystery of his nightmares and subconsciously learned from it. He is now no longer afraid of “disappointing” Brian.

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