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)
Eleven’s not the only one having a s—ty night. Will is out on the town, trick-or-treating with his buds, when a group of rude teens jump out at him and call him “Zombie Boy” and “freak.” It triggers one of his episodes, and this time, the spider-like monster is even bigger and more alive than before. He runs down some stairs and crouches against a wall, his eyes closed, until a concerned Mike shakes him out of it. It’s heartbreaking, and Noah Schnapp does a beautiful job of relaying Will’s terror without coming off as theatrical. The young actor shined last season despite not having as much screen time as the others, and it’s nice to see him flourish in a more present way this time around.
Mike and Will then go home and talk about what just happened. Will admits he’s been having these visions, and Mike admits he sometimes still sees Eleven. They both feel crazy, and they bond over that. Nothing like hallucinations to bring you and a pal closer together! But really, it’s heartwarming to see these two boys get candid with each other about all the weird crap they’re going through.
Back on the streets of Hawkins, Lucas and Dustin are still trick-or-treating with their new friend Max. She’s coming out of her shell, though we still don’t know much about her — except that her brother, Billy (Dacre Montgomery), who’s basically a teenage boy playing Jared Leto playing Bret Michaels, is a jerk. He gets mad at her earlier in the episode and threatens that if she’s late one more time, she’ll have to skateboard home. In the car, he complains about how the town is a s—hole and implies the only reason they’re there is because of her. Then he almost runs over Lucas, Dustin, and Mike for fun. Cool guy.
Later that night, he’s at the same Halloween party as Steve and Nancy. She’s still freaking out about the whole Barb thing and has even hinted that she wants to tell Barb’s parents about what really happened, a suggestion Steve quickly shot down. His idea was to instead go to the party that night, get drunk, and act like stupid teenagers. It’s not a bad idea. Just kidding, it’s a horrible idea: Feeling upset and lost, Nancy drinks too much, gets mad at Steve for trying to stop her from drinking more, then slurs at him about how he’s “bulls—.” He’s bulls—, their love is bulls—, everything is bulls—. Out of all the drunk scenes in the world, this might be my new favorite.
Steve does not enjoy Nancy’s bluntness the way I do, and he leaves her at the party. He’s obviously not the most thoughtful dude, but leaving your wasted girlfriend at a party seems like an extremely bad move no matter how many times she drunkenly called you on your bulls—. Thankfully, Jonathan is there, and he takes her home and tucks her into bed. Jonathan is not bulls—.
Most ’80s Moment: The boys go all in on their Ghostbusters costumes — proton packs and all.
“You are such a nerd. No wonder you only hang out with boys.” —Erica to her brother Lucas
Each version of “you’re bulls—” Drunk Nancy says to Steve
“If we’re both going crazy, then we’ll go crazy together, right?” —Mike to Will