Up until this episode, I’d argue that Stranger Things was largely successful based on how charming, or not, you find Spielberg Golden Era nostalgia. But with “Chapter Three: The Pollywog,” Stranger Things 2 is picking up speed, with more plot and fewer atmospheric self-aware ’80s references than ever before.
PREVIOUSLY: “Chapter Two: Trick or Treat, Freak”
After last episode’s cliffhanger, Dustin comes home with something in his Ghostbusters chamber. He’s detained by his mom in one of the show’s funniest scenes to date, both of them giggling maniacally while the contents of Dustin’s box rattle. When he finally makes it upstairs, Dustin temporarily evicts his turtle, Yurtle, and replaces it with a strange lizard slug creature that is obviously from the Upside Down.
“You’re pretty cute, you know that?” Dustin coos at the creature that is very much not cute at all. The slug seems to prefer the cold, cowering in the shade away from the tank’s heat lamps. Dustin offers it pieces of nougat from his 3 Musketeers bar, which inspires him to give the creature the name D’Artagnan — which seems like the least obvious choice (remember: Athos, Porthos, and Aramis are the actual three musketeers) but it does allow a cute nickname: Dart.
Dustin tries to find answers about the mysterious pollywog at school, pulling a Hermione Granger by turning to the library. And when he’s not allowed to check out any more books, he pulls the classic, “What the hell is that?” to the librarian and just runs out with the books he needs while she’s turned around.
At the cabin in the woods, Hopper manages to bring Eleven out of her melancholy by offering her a triple-decker Eggo breakfast, but her mood sours again when Hopper offhandedly says she’s going to see her friends again “soon.” Eleven wants to know when “soon” is — which day? Day 500? Day 800? She reveals she’s been there, cooped up in the cabin, for nearly a year — 326 days — and that she’s been counting the days like a prisoner. “FRIENDS DON’T LIE,” Eleven shouts and, in a moment of rage, uses her powers to sweep the breakfast into Hopper’s lap.
Will is having a slightly better morning with a paternal figure: Bob is driving him to school and trying to impart whatever wisdom he can as the dorky middle-aged guy dating Will’s mom. “Did I ever tell you about Mr. Baldo?” Bob offers when he brings up Will’s nightmare. Bob tells the story about a terrifying clown he met at a fair once; Baldo haunted his dreams for months, until Bob was able to stand up to the clown (in his dreams) by saying, “Go away, go away.” The advice serves two purposes: to help Will get rid of his nightmares, but also to help him deal with the real-life bullies who tormented him on Halloween — which Bob saw on the video camera he lent Will.
Max, who knows the bullies have been calling Will “Zombie Boy,” gets a partial explanation from Lucas: Everyone thought Will was dead when they found the decomposed “body” in the water last season, and they held a funeral for him. And then Will, like a zombie, came back from the dead.
When Dustin finally shows up to class, late, Mr. Clarke is talking about Phineas Gage, the man whose personality changed after a metal rod was driven through his head. Since all school lessons are thematically relevant in the television universe, a good guess is that Will is our de facto Phineas Gage, dealing with a personality change and not feeling like himself.
While the boys are trapped at school, Eleven is still trapped in her new home, Hopper’s cabin in the woods. We’re offered our longest flashback yet as to how she got there: Hopper brought her in from the woods — it’s his grandfather’s old place; Hopper had been using it for storage — and, one cleaning montage later, made it a place she would be relatively safe, complete with booby trap security and Eggo waffles in the freezer. (Recap continues on page 2)