Will is consumed by a mysterious shadow monster, and Dart gets bigger
“Frantic” seems to be Joyce Byers’ resting state. She frantically drives to the school, where, miraculously, she hears Dustin calling for Will right away, then frantically makes her way out to the field where Will is standing in a trance-like fugue state, and then frantically shakes him to try to wake him up. Although in the real world Will is just standing still, with his eyes rolled back into his head, in the Upside Down, Will is facing off against a giant shadow monster and losing — with smoky vines twisting their way into him via every available orifice.
PREVIOUSLY: “Chapter Three: The Pollywog”
Finally, Will wakes up, and Joyce tries to take care of him as best as she can: promising that she believes him, that they won’t go to a doctor, that she won’t let anything bad happen to him again. “It’s almost more than a feeling,” Will says, trying to describe what the Shadow Thing did to him. “It got me, Mom.”
A less tender parent-child interaction is going down at Hopper’s cabin, when Eleven returns home to find Hopper smoking on the patio. She storms inside before he can confront her, but he follows her inside. “Friends don’t lie! Isn’t that your bulls–t saying?” Hopper shouts at her, trying to get Eleven to remember whether anyone other than the mother and her child behind their house might have seen her. Hopper grounds her, which seems redundant given Eleven is basically under house arrest, but the true punishment emerges — no Eggos and no TV for a week. Hopper tries to move the TV but Eleven uses her powers to keep it stationary. The struggle continues until Hopper declares there will be no TV at all and pulls the plug out. “You are like Papa!” Eleven shouts, likening him to the evil man who kept her locked up in the lab. Hopper calls her a brat, and tells her to look it up in the dictionary, which Eleven uses her powers to throw back at him before knocking over furniture and retreating into her room with a closed door. A massive cry from Eleven breaks all of the windows, and it’s painfully obvious that she is just lonely, acting like any kid would.
Meanwhile, Dustin has Dart safely back in his tank, but won’t tell his friends about it because he’s scared they’ll report Dart to Hopper, who’ll take him away. And so when Dustin sees Lucas stomping around the Dumpster with Max and Mike, he plays mum and joins in the “search.”
When Will wakes up, Joyce discovers that his body temperature is too low and tries to run him a bath, unsuccessfully. Will wants the water colder. “We gotta get your body temperature back up,” Joyce says. “NO,” Will replies with a faraway voice, like Damien from The Omen. “HE LIKES IT COLD.” Understandably, Joyce is concerned, so finally, after about a dozen calls to the police station, Hopper makes his way over to the house where he finds Will shirtless and facing an open window in the freezing cold house. Will can’t or won’t describe what he’s feeling, so Joyce gets the idea to let him draw it, which he does, immediately beginning to scribble wildly.
Also not in school: Nancy and Jonathan, who are waiting in the park for Barb’s mother but seem fully aware that the government was listening in on their conversation. (Poor Steve, being taunted about the fact that his ex-girlfriend has already run off with “the freak’s brother.”) Everyone in the park looks suspicious, and when it becomes all too obvious they’re being stalked, they make their way back to the car, which, conveniently doesn’t start. A creepy man appears at their window offering them a ride. Another creepy man appears on the other side. Trapped.
Nancy and Jonathan, as you might have guessed, are taken to Hawkins Labs, where they’re greeted by Dr. Owens, who seems to be amiable, even as he’s tacitly threatening them to keep their mouths shut. “Mistakes have been made,” Owens offers as his explanation for what happened to Will, and for Barb’s death. He shows them the source of what he calls “weeds” — the pulsing center of the Upside Down infiltrating the real world that men in Hazmat suits are going to contain “by whatever means necessary.” In this case, that means flamethrowers. Nancy and Jonathan make it out, amazingly, free and clear, and only when they’re far down the road does Nancy reveal what she bought at Radio Shack: a tape recorder. She had recovered the entire thing, including the part where Owens admitted Barb was dead. “Let’s burn that lab to the ground,” Nancy says.
Will, it should be said, has been scribbling this entire time, and Hopper and Joyce fail to make any meaning out of his random scratches, until Joyce realizes that they’re connected, meant to be linked together. She and Hopper cover her entire living room with Will’s drawings, revealing the image Will has been drawing: curling, sweeping tentacles, like a road “branching like lightning.” “Maybe it’s roots,” Joyce offers. But Hopper is less optimistic. Will said they were “killing.” They’re not roots: they’re vines. “He’s drawing vines,” Hopper declares dramatically, before leaving without saying goodbye.
While Hopper begins digging at the site of one of Hawkins’ mysterious occurrences, Eleven begins doing a little digging of her own. While cleaning up after her fight with Hopper, she notices some storage underneath the floorboards, and one box is labeled “Hawkins Lab.” Eleven opens the box and finds files related to her mother, Terry Ives, the woman who claimed the government stole her baby. Using what the boys call “truesight,” Eleven covers her eyes and tries to discover more about her mom from holding photograph close to her heart, and she makes it, to the all-black place with reflective water, where Terry is muttering and sitting in a rocking chair. Terry opens her eyes, sees Eleven and says “Jane,” but just as Eleven is reaching out to touch her hand, Terry disappears into smoke. Eleven is still in the cabin, alone.
The climax of the episode comes when Dustin goes home to Dart, and sees that it’s shed a slimy layer of skin and broken through the glass of the tank. Following a trail of dark slime and blood, he sees Dart consuming their pet cat. Dart turns, and shrieks, and its face splits open to reveal it’s basically a mini-Demogorgan.
Even scarier than a Demogorgan is the way Billy treats his step-sister, Max. When Billy, the mullet-ed teen who looks like he’s actually 45 years old, sees Max talking with Lucas, he blows up at her. It’s unclear whether he’s super racist, or whether they’re the Russian spies and she’s forbidden from interacting with other kids. But either way, Billy is not someone I’d want to be getting rides home from school with.
The episode ends back with Hopper who’s been digging, and finds his way into a deep, underground tunnel system. The camera rotates around and tells us what we already knew: he’s in the Upside Down. Aaaaaaand scene.
Most ’80s moment:
The few words we hear on the radio “….President Reagan…”
“Mistakes have been made.” – Owens.
“You act like you want me to be your friend and then you treat me like garbage.” – Max, with self-respect that every girl should have
“It’s about the shadow monster, isn’t it?” – Mike talking to Joyce Byers and getting straight to the point
NEXT: “Chapter Five: Dig Dug”
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