Stranger Things 2 may have started off slow, but now things are really kicking into gear. Plots really start to blow up in this episode, and we get a sense of where things might be going.
Having fallen into the Upside Down, Jim Hopper’s going to have a hell of a time getting out — especially after we see the vines re-forming to close the hole he came through. Luckily for him, the Byers family is hard at work trying to figure out where he went. Will is getting more and more panicked as he realizes the depth of his connection to the shadow monster, which he says is partly in the Upside Down but also here in Hawkins, and inside Will himself. Will sure has a lot to deal with this season, but at least this time he’s not alone. He has his friends around to help. He’s still scared of what’s happening to him, but now he has Mike close at hand to confidently declare how they’ll turn the tables on the shadow monster.
PREVIOUSLY: “Chapter Four: Will the Wise”
He also has Bob, who really gets a chance to shine in this episode. Having heard that Will’s feeling sick again, Bob helpfully shows up to the house with brain teasers, since those always used to help him deal with sickness as a kid. He ends up face-to-face with the biggest brain teaser of all: the Byers’ house filled with Will’s drawings strung together in an indecipherable pattern. Although Bob is worried that Will and Joyce seem mentally unwell, his love of brain teasers soon takes over. He solves the puzzle: When connected like this, the drawings form a map of Hawkins. So it’s just a matter of matching this map to real-world Hawkins in order to figure out where Hopper is. Credit to Sean Astin for making Bob seem like he’s been in Hawkins the whole time; he fits right in, while offering his own unique perspective.
Meanwhile, Jonathan and Nancy are on their way to bring their incriminating recording of the Hawkins Lab officials to Murray. But first, they have to make a stop in a motel for a night, where the receptionist becomes the latest adult to scoff at their desperate protests that they’re not in a relationship. When they hurriedly request a double-bed room instead of a single, the woman is able to convey the words “yeah, sure kids” just by slurping her drink.
It’s clear that all these shippers are starting to get in Jonathan and Nancy’s heads, however, because before bed they have a brief talk about where things stand between them. Nancy asks what happened to them and why they only hang out when there’s a supernatural crisis going on. On top of that, she admits she waited for him to approach her after the climactic events of last season — but whether because he needed to support Will or was too nervous or some combination of the two, Jonathan didn’t take her up on it, and now complains that she only waited a month — which is, um, well, not a great response, so they break off the conversation for the night.
The next day, they finally make contact with Murray. Like any good conspiracy theorist, he’s got a Carcosa wall of news clippings connected by red strings, but as Jonathan and Nancy inform him, he’s not quite on the mark. Eleven isn’t a Soviet agent, she’s an escapee from Hawkins Lab. After they play their recording of Owens, Murray takes time to process it, and then informs them that it’s too much — it reveals “the curtain behind the curtain” of American society, so to speak, and people don’t like looking behind the curtain (which we certainly see today in real life; some of the anger at President Donald Trump likely stems from the way his administration pulls back the veil on what American power actually entails). Murray’s fix for the story is the same as his fix for vodka: Water it down. They can still blame the lab for Barb’s death, but attribute it to toxins rather than an evil parallel dimension, to make it more palatable to the public. Now that sounds like a plan. (Recap continues on next page)
Jonathan and Nancy aren’t the only ones having romantic issues. Lucas, for his part, is desperate to patch up his relationship with Max, and asks his dad for advice. Without looking up from his morning newspaper, Lucas’ dad says that whenever he and Mom get in a fight, he apologizes and then gets her whatever she wants. Lucas asks if he does that even when she’s wrong. Finally looking up from his newspaper, Lucas’ dad declares, “She’s never wrong, son.” I’m glad this season finally gives us a sense of Lucas’ home life, since it seemed conspicuously absent last season compared to his other friends.
Thanks to some help from the older guy who manages the arcade, Lucas is able to secure some one-on-one time with Max, which he uses to tell her the whole story of what the party went through in season 1. Obviously, Max doesn’t believe him one bit, though she can tell how passionate he is. Unfortunately, that’s just when her evil racist brother shows up to drive her home.
With Lucas so preoccupied, Dustin is having trouble contacting any friends to help him restrain Dart. Using his hockey gear and a trail of meat, Dustin is able to corral Dart into his basement as punishment for eating his cat. Desperate for more help, he goes to Mike’s house, but only his parents are home. This gives way to a hilarious scene from one of my favorite Stranger Things side characters, Mike’s dad Ted. Luckily, Dustin does find Steve (on his way to apologize to a still-absent Nancy), so he ropes him in, creating probably my favorite two-person team of the season so far.
But the biggest stuff in this episode, of course, involves Eleven. After hitching a ride to her mom’s house, Eleven sees something in her mom that not even her aunt does. Watching the electricity flicker and the TV channels change rapidly, Eleven notices that her mom, too, is bleeding from the nose, and realizes she’s trying to communicate. So the young girl puts on her blindfold and goes back to the astral plane, where she starts reliving her mother’s memories. After falling pregnant unexpectedly, her mother was rushed to the hospital — but though she distinctly remembers seeing her living, breathing, crying daughter Jane emerge, all the doctors inform her that the baby didn’t survive. She never quite buys this, however, and after getting a gun out of a safe, broke into Hawkins Lab herself to find her baby. She found Jane in a room marked by a rainbow on the door, but before she could take her she was hauled away by security and subjected to electro-shock therapy for being insane. So now she’s barely conscious, but the words she keeps muttering (“rainbow,” “sunflower,” etc.) are all references to her journey to get her daughter back. Now her daughter’s here, but is she aware of it?
Meanwhile, the Byers finally make a breakthrough, and reach the spot where Hopper went into the Upside-Down. Joyce and Bob follow him down, and once they find him are able to extricate him from the vines trapping him. Immediately after, they run into a Hawkins Lab technician, who orders them to clear the area before he unleashes his flamethrower on the vines. This has an unexpected effect: Will, apparently bonded closer with the shadow monster than anybody thought, starts screaming in pain as the vines are burned. And so ends the most explosive episode of Stranger Things 2 so far.
Most ‘80s moment: Definitely the Reagan/Bush ’84 campaign sign in the Wheelers’ yard, though a close second goes to the arcade guy calling Max “Road Warrior” as a reference to her username.
“Our children don’t live here anymore. You didn’t know that?” I love Ted.
“It’s crazy, but I really liked it. I mean, I had a few issues. I just felt it was a little derivative in parts. I just wish it had a little more originality, that’s all.” — Max’s savage commentary on the plot of season 1
“Sorry, you ate my cat.” — Dustin after shutting his pet-turned-monster in the basement.
NEXT: “Chapter Six: The Spy”