We gave it a B-
Stranger Things‘ first season debuted in the summer. It was July, hot and sunny, a time of year usually reserved for bad TV right before fall comes and brings an ever-increasing wave of new, better shows. It was surprising, then, that Stranger Things — a series that arrived on Netflix with little fanfare — ended up being the breakout hit that it was. There was something special about it on its own, for sure, but the timing worked in its favor, too. It was the kind of spooky treasure that’s usually reserved for the cooler months, when the leaves are dying and the temperatures are dropping and every other house is covered in store-bought cobwebs. It was an anomaly — a wonderful, welcome anomaly.
PREVIOUSLY: “Chapter One: MADMAX”
This season is, obviously, premiering just days before Halloween. It makes a lot of sense: What better way to feel like a kid getting excited about Halloween again than to watch a nostalgia-heavy series about the unfamiliar and the unknown, about fear and the paranormal?
As it turns out, though, Stranger Things‘ Halloween-set second episode is not the blast of Halloween delight I wanted or expected it to be. Maybe that’s the point; maybe it’s a way of saying that the people of Hawkins basically live Halloween every single day by simply existing among the Upside Down and all its mysteries, so why would the show treat the holiday itself any different? And that’s not to say it doesn’t celebrate or acknowledge Oct. 31, because it does: A sweet, silly montage at the top of the episode sees the boys’ moms taking pictures of their sons decked out in their Ghostbusters costumes. It’s the kind of scene that excels as only Stranger Things can at capturing their youthful enthusiasm for the day, so it’s disappointing when that is about the height and extent of the hour’s Halloween fun.
Eleven is also disappointed. She greets Hopper Halloween morning wearing a ghost sheet over her head, thinking this is a great way for her to go trick-or-treating without getting found out. Hopper disagrees and says it’s too risky, but he promises that instead, he’ll get home early that night and they can eat candy and watch a scary movie together. Not quite trick-or-treating, but it’s the best he can do. The only problem is Hopper is so used to living alone, without anyone to go home to, that he’s having trouble being present enough for Eleven. (He’s also starting an investigation into the dying, fly-ridden pumpkins all around town, which is going to become a major plot point given the Upside Down-style goo he and his colleagues find around the dead crops this episode.) He forgets that he’s supposed to be home with her for their candy feast; by the time he remembers and shows up, she’s dragged the TV set into her room and refuses to come out and talk to him.
Her pouting is a response to Hopper’s forgetfulness, but it’s also a response to her desire to be a kid, to be with Mike. Throughout the episode, we see flashbacks to her wandering around the woods after escaping the Upside Down through a hole that led her back to Hawkins Middle. She’s dirty and hungry and sad, and the flashbacks don’t tell us much besides the fact that she was dirty and hungry and sad, though the fact that she’s revisiting these moments shows she’s feeling stuck. At one point, she turns the TV to static, covers her eyes in a blindfold, and is transported to a realm where Mike is calling her on his walkie-talkie. She weakly whispers his name, but it’s not enough. He gives up for the night and walks away; she removes her blindfold, crying, her nose bleeding. (Recap continues on page 2)