Just because Dr. Brenner was evil on Stranger Things doesn't mean that his replacement is all bad. There's a new Department of Energy head in Hawkins and he seems kind of OK. Can Dr. Owens be trusted on Stranger Things? He actually seems to care about Will's safety. Spoilers through Stranger Things Season 2 Episode 6 ahead.
Will goes to see Dr. Owens for regular check ups that track his PTSD. As far as Owens is concerned, they're just that. Memories from the Upside Down that are being triggered by anniversaries and other environmental factors. Of course, it's much more than that. Maybe Owens knew that the whole time. Maybe he was lying to Joyce and Hopper. There were cameras set up to watch and record Dr. Owens' sessions with Will. Still, as long as everyone is safe it's not a huge cause for concern.
Later in the season, Dr. Owens shows Nancy and Jonathan around Hawkins lab. He explains that he has been put in charge of this mysterious mess, and is basically just trying his best. He even admits to being responsible for Barb's death. Again, sure he kidnapped the teenagers and wanted them to keep quiet — but he did it in a nice way. Oh, and Hopper is keeping things quiet for Owens at the police department. They've all reached some kind of arrangement, and maybe that's what's best for Hawkins.
At least Dr. Owens is more transparent than Dr. Brenner. He's fairly open and honest about what Hawkins is up to with Hopper, Joyce, and even Nancy and Jonathan. He's not assassinating any diner owners either, that we know. His fellow scientists seem game to hurt Will in order to stop whatever is spreading in the Upside Down, but he's searching for an alternative solution.
It can't have been easy, inheriting all of the supernatural problems in Hawkins, Indiana. It's rare that the sterile lab coat in an '80s movie turns out to be on a good guy, but Stranger Things is not unaccustomed to subverting expectations. It's a fun twist on an old trope.
Here's the thing, however. Owens is played by actor Paul Reiser, who was a villain in the 1986 James Cameron film Aliens. According to Entertainment Weekly, the Duffer Brothers were inspired by Cameron sequels like Terminator 2 and Aliens for this season. That pop culture reference alone should be worrysome to fans. Sure, Joss Whedon casts his old heroes as villains and vice versa, but this is different. Even if Owens seems decent, that nostalgic connection is a major red flag.
In an interview with Variety, Reiser talked about the connection. "I don’t know if it’s an homage [to Aliens]," he said. "I think they might have thought of me because that film was such an classic. That role, everybody knows that guy. That baggage is something that they wanted — to whatever extent it resonated 30 years later, I think they wanted that resonance in there. It’s playing off that vibe off that — the guy you’re not sure you can trust." Even he wanted to know whether or not he was "a good guy or another government weasel," in his words, but the Duffer brothers wouldn't spill.
There are a lot of morally grey characters on Stranger Things, and at the end of the day Dr. Owens is probably just one of them. He's involved with a potentially evil organization tasked with studying and containing a definitely evil alternative dimension, but he's an alright human being. He's not interested in experimenting on children to their detriment and he'd actually prefer it if people didn't die. For now, that'll have to do.