Marines tried to watch this when it first came out, but it scared her in like 5 seconds, so instead she got friends to watch it with her and we’re gonna marathon it until Season 2 is released. Seems like a good plan.
Chapter One: The Vanishing of Will Byers
Marines: We start on November 6, 1983 in Hawkins, Indiana at the Hawkins National Laboratory, which is part of the U.S. Department of Energy. The first time I tried to watch this, it was because I couldn’t sleep, so I got to this hallway with the flickering murder-like lighting, and I noped my way out of the episode. The murder-lighting is illuminating a metal door and, if you’ve ever watched TV ever, your instincts are telling you to prepare for the bang.
Sure enough– BANG! A man comes running out into the hallway, and we hear an alarm is blaring. The closed captioning tells us that he’s panting so we can’t judge him too hard when he arrives at an elevator and starts pressing the button frantically instead of finding the stairs. Running is hard.
Catherine: TBH, I’d rather die in an elevator than take the stairs. Fuck that.
Samantha: I’m already too scared to provide adequate stairs commentary.
Dani: Hey, look – someone made a show of all my nightmares rolled into one scene!
Mari: We’re off to a great start.
The elevator finally dings and Running is Hard Scientist ducks inside, now waiting for the doors to close. He waits, stares down the hallway and we cut back and forth between him and the empty hallway. Except that he hears some growling over him. He looks up and gets grabbed by an off-screen something that makes slurpy alien noises.
We cut from that to a sprinkler, so we can only imagine things went badly and messily for Running is Hard Scientist. We go from the front yard to inside of a house where a young boy who the CC identifies as Mike is telling a story about getting snatched by something. One of his friends says they are screwed if it’s the demagorgon. This isn’t a scary story, but D&D. Mike goes on that it’s an army of troglodytes, which makes his friends giggle. But wait! Fake out! It is a demagorgon. The kids freak out.
Listen, I usually wait until a show tells us who people are, but recapping 4 boys in a scene without names is tough. (D: And Nerds 1-4 just seems rude.)
SO, Will, the smallest of the bunch, doesn’t know what action to take. Dustin, the one with the cute wavy hair and lisp, wants him to cast a protective spell. Lucas thinks he should fireball him. Will panics, decides for a fireball, but his roll goes clear off the table. The boys all start looking for the dice, but before they can find them, Mike’s mother interrupts and says it’s time for bed. Mike runs upstairs to argue more time, but since it’s a school night and they’ve already been playing for 10 hours… no dice.
The boys hurry and grab their things. Will finds the dice and sees that he rolled a 7. The other two tell him that if Mike didn’t see it, it doesn’t count. (D: This is how I play games, as well.) Dustin notices that there’s a slice of pizza left and gets an idea. He goes upstairs to offer the slice to Mike’s big sister, Nancy. She slams the door in his face.
Outside, Dustin complains that Nancy has a stick up her butt. She used to be cool and even dressed up as an elf for them once, but she’s a jerk now. Will stays back a second as his friends ride off to confess that he rolled a 7 and the demagorgon got him. I was gonna ask if this kid was gonna die, but the title of this episode just clicked for me. Sorry, Will. Should’ve cast a protection spell.
Samantha: I don’t know if it continues, but I loooooveall the D&D tie ins.
Mari: The boys ride home. Lucas’s house is first up, so he says goodnight and goes. Dustin challenges Will to a race home, winner gets any comic he wants. Will accepts and gets a jump on Dustin, who has to stop to catch his breath after a bit. (D: I can already tell I am Dustin in this show.) Will rides on alone and goes onto Hawkins National Laboratory. His bike light starts flickering, causing him to look down at it. When he looks back up at the road, the unidentified creature with alien sound effects is standing in front of him. Will panics and rides off the road. We get a shot of his bike wheel spinning so even if we didn’t have the episode title, we would definitely, definitely know that bad things are coming.
Will hears some “indistinct growling” and takes off running the rest of the way home. Inside, he calls for mom and Jonathan, but the house appears to be empty. Will looks outside the window and now there is “indistinct screeching” and the Unidentified Creature with Alien Sound Effects [UCASE] is walking toward the house.
Will runs for the phone and dials 9-1-1 on a rotary so that we all have a moment of, “yeah, dude. The olden days were rough.” There is nothing but static on the other line and more indistinct screeching. A shadow crosses the door and Will books it out the back door to the shed. It seemed like a strange idea until he grabs a rifle, which I understand but also child with a gun! Child with a gun! His hand shake as he loads it (this child with a gun obviously knows his way around a gun) and points it at the door, waiting. But like with Running is Hard Scientist, UCASE appears behind and above Will. The light in the shed brightens and buzzes with a power surge and then goes back to normal. Will is gone and the scene fades to black and the credits.
Catherine: I love this scene so much. I was so scared for Will ’cause he’s so tiny and cute and the fact that the show got me to care for a character this quickly is awesome. Also, it’s SCARY. I’m prepared to be the only one going YAY! SCARY! through this whole thing. Sorry ahead of time.
Dani: I first saw this with my husband late at night, and if he hadn’t been there (and if I hadn’t been intent on proving that girls are just as tough as boys) I totally would’ve bailed after this opening scene. I was legit terrified.
Samantha: SO SCARY POOR WILL. I was honestly scared/emotional because he was trying to save himself and fight back even as he was terrified. I always think that I would just go useless and fetal.
Mari: RED LETTERS. (That’s all there is to these credits.)
Morning. A man is passed out on the couch while we hear the news anchor on TV in the background talk about power surges and outages happening all over Hawkins. We watch as the man wakes up, goes outside to smoke a cigarette, showers, brushes his teeth, smokes another cigarette, washes a pill down with some beer and gets dressed in his uniform, finally pinning on his police chief badge.
Dani: Having him end with the badge and uniform was a great choice, because you totally form one sort of opinion about him from the empty beer cans and pills and cigarettes. When I saw he was the chief, I was like, “THIS is who we have to rely on to keep these precious children safe? Ugh!”
Mari: The children! They need you, guy!
Byers House. Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) is running around frantic, looking for her keys, getting ready for work. Jonathan is making breakfast, which he handily points out when he admits that he hasn’t woken Will up yet. Joyce rushes off to do so, but finds an empty bed. Jonathan has to admit that he didn’t see Will come home because he took an extra work shift. He doesn’t think it’s a big deal because Will probably just stayed over at the Wheeler house.
Joyce calls the Wheeler house, but as we know, Will isn’t there. Karen Wheeler asks if Will didn’t come home and Joyce plays it like maybe Will went to school early, though she’s clearly worried. After she hangs up, Karen and Jonathan exchange a super loaded look.
Hawkins Middle School. Mike is worried about Will, but Dustin and Lucas think he’s really in class. The boys get approached by some Bullies who call them freaks. They are especially mean to Dustin for missing teeth, though he explains that he has cleidocranial dysplasia– a condition Google tells me primarily effects bones and teeth. (C: The actor really does have this condition as well.)
Over on the high school side, Nancy walks in and immediately gets approached by her friend Barbara. They are apparently not of the cool group, though we learn through their dialogue that Nancy has recently been making out with someone, though she’s trying to play it cool. She does have a note waiting in her locker from Steve, telling her to meet him in the bathroom.
We cut to them kissing, but then the bells rings and Nancy breaks it off because she has to go. Steve asks her out for that night, but she insists that she has to study for a test. Steve is pushy, though, and Nancy gives into a “study” date. (S: Immediate reaction of “back off, STEVE.” Damn.)
Police Chief Jim Hopper finally makes it into work where everyone just has a good chuckle about his drunkeness. Everyone except the secretary who promptly reports some stolen gnomes, and also Will Byers is missing. (D: Maybe the missing child should be prioritized ahead of stolen gnomes?) Hopper gets on my immediate bad side by ignoring this and yelling about mornings being about coffee and contemplation. I mean, I agree with that and will start using it all the time always, EXCEPT in the case of maybe a missing child.
Hawkins National Laboratory. Men in suits and with briefcases meet a Dr. Brenner and are escorted inside where there is a full on quarantine situation going on. Guys in quarantine suits ride the elevator down to the level with the murder-like lighting. They walk back to the metal door we saw in the opening, except now the walls are covered in snotty, web-like alien goo. And in the room behind the door, there is some kind of tentacle web nest on the wall. I hate it. One Quarantine Man asks the other if that’s where “it” came from. Obvs, yes. Quarantine Man asks about “the girl” and the other says she can’t have gone far.
Not Far. A girl has gone there. (D: A+ and LOL.) This girl is barefoot, wearing a hospital gown, and her hair is buzzed. She watches as a man throws some trash away outside of his house-like restaurant. We cut to her letting herself into the house-like restaurant and then into the kitchen. She keeps a wary eye on the owner, but then gets so into the fries she’s eating (fair) she doesn’t notice the man turn around and see her. The man gets angry and chases after the girl (who grabs the fires as she runs, which also fair) (is she already my fave?), catching her easily. His anger melts quickly, though, as he beholds the dirty child.
Samantha: I was so afraid he was going to be a creep because I am ruined.
Mari: Hawkins Middle. Science class is over and the science teacher (Mr. Clarke) yells after his students about a test, but no1curr. The shot changes and we see our boys standing in front of the teacher’s desk, expectantly. It’s cute. Seems they’ve been waiting for something to be delivered.
They run off into what looks like a closet (seriously) where a new radio is set up for them. (D: First D&D and now a ham radio. These kids are the nerdiest nerds who ever needed. Bless their precious little souls.) Lucas excitedly says they could probably reach New York on this thing. Mr. Clarke tells them to think bigger. He means Austrailia, though for a second I thought Mr. Clarke was going to be on team aliens. Their fun times, which include these children doing better Australian accents than I could ever in a million years, are interrupted by the principal wanting to talk to all three of them.
In the principal’s office, the boys are all talking over each other to Hopper. Mike tries to explain what road Will usually takes home, though Lucas and Dustin argue over if the made-up name they use for the road comes from Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit. Hopper knows which road they are talking about and tells them, very sternly, to go straight home after school. No investigating and no searching for their friend.
Catherine: It’s like he doesn’t even know that they are precocious 80’s children.
Dani: No kidding! Hasn’t he seen War Games? Children of the 80’s were incorrigible! (says the child of the 80’s)
Samantha: My first thought was Stand By Me so yeah, there’s a theme.
Mari: Woods. We watch Joyce approach a little fort. From inside, Will asks for the password and Joyce struggles it out: Radagast. He lets her in. She came to show off two movie tickets to Poltergeist, which she’s letting him see if he doesn’t have nightmares for a week. She teases him about being afraid of clowns (D: that’s a legit fear, Joyce!) or witches and it melts into some tickling that ends abruptly. We’re left with an empty fort.
Joyce is at the entrance. She and Jonathan are out here looking for Will. They are both frantically calling out his name and dear god, there is so much desperation in both their voices, I start to cry. (S: Same.) And in another little jump cut, we go back inside the fort, the blanket at the entrance whipping in the wind so it temporarily drown out Joyce’s cries. Too many feelings.
Catherine: A GIRL HAS NO NAME. (S: I love you.)
Dani: I was mesmerized by this scene. Millie Bobbie Brown conveys so much with so little. *chills*
Mari: As she eats, Benny places a phone call saying he thinks he’s found a girl that may have been abused or kidnapped. Out with Eleven, she finishes her burger, but gets annoyed at a rattling fan. She stares it down until it turns off. Oooookay.
Hopper and his deputies are searching for Will. Hopper pops another pill just before he finds Will’s bike.
Byers House. Jonathan is making missing posters. Joyce is trying to reach Lonnie, but she gets hung up on by his girlfriend and then cut off by his answering machine. She’s pissed.
The police arrive, and they have Will’s bike. Hopper and the deputies start looking around the house. Hopper notices a dent in the wall where the door was slammed open. He heads to the backyard where a good dog is barking his head off, trying to alert the police to the presence of unidentified creatures. Hopper follows the clues into the shed, where he notices the box of bullets and the empty hook where the rifle was. As soon as he touches the hook, the lights cut out. Hopper grabs a flashlight and notices a hole of some kind in the corner of the shed. He investigates, but I really don’t know what I’m looking at. (S: TAKING IT SERIOUSLY YET, HOPPER?)
One of the deputies, Callahan, scares the shit out of Hooper, who stomps out of the shed and tells him to call Flo. They need to get a search party together with as many volunteers as possible.
Wheeler house. Mike is yelling at the dinner table about how they should be out there, looking for Will. Karen is like, “uh, no.” Nancy asks if she can go to Barbara’s house to study and Karen says no to that too, on account of there being an unaccounted for missing child in town. Nancy brats about the unfairness of it all, Mike outs Nancy for just wanting to hang out with her new boyfriend, and they both end up stomping away from the table.
Search party. Mr. Clarke is walking with Hopper and introduces himself as Will’s teacher. Hopper says he always did have a distaste for science, but his daughter gets it. Mr. Clarke says maybe he’ll get Hopper’s daughter in his class, but Hopper says she lives in the city with her mom. He ends the conversation and walks ahead. Another volunteer tells Clarke that Hopper’s daughter died a few years back.
Samantha: This is sad but doesn’t completely lessen my ire.
Catherine: Hopper seems immediately suspicious of Mr. Clarke and it makes total sense because that man has quite a kidnapper mustache.
Mari: Hooper should learn not to judge by appearances, on account of himself.
Mike and Lucas are using walkie-talkies in their respective houses. They are both worried about Will. Mike’s been thinking that Will could’ve cast a protection spell, but he took a risk instead. Lucas gets the hint and tells Will to meet him in 10. Mike sneaks out of the house and sees Steve climbing up to Nancy’s room as he goes by. I have MEH feelings about Steve, but we have two tags about the worstness of window climbers so…
Steven taps on Nancy’s window. She’s all, “Steve! No!” but she lets him in.
Restaurant. Benny is washing up while Eleven eats ice cream.
Benny demonstrates a smile, though, and that gets her smiling again. It’s sweet.
Dani: I want a Benny in my life to feed me burgers and ice cream and take in lost children.
Samantha: I apologize for thinking he could be a creep, this is nice.
Mari: There’s a knock on the door, and Eleven freaks out, silently. Her hole body goes rigid. Benny calms her by saying that he’ll send whoever packing. Benny goes out to the front door and tries to do just that, but the woman there says she’s from social services. Benny is so close to being suspicious, but not close enough. After he lets the lady in, he gets shot and I was NOT expecting that. I wanted Benny to adopt Eleven and feed her burgers and ice cream forever.
Catherine: I was so sad when Benny got shot. I ALSO immediately liked Benny. WTF? Doesn’t this show know that I’m supposed to be a cold blooded millennial?
Samantha: WHAT THE HECK HE’S JUST DEAD NOW?
Mari: Super dead.
Eleven runs. Dr. Brenner and the Men in Suits from Hawkins National Laboratory are here and two of them corner Eleven at the back entrance. We don’t see how, but she uses her mind powers to escape them. When Dr. Brenner goes back there to investigate, his men appear to have been shot in the head, and Eleven is gone.
The boys arrive at the place where Will’s bike was found. Despite the rain and Dustin’s protestations, they head into the woods to investigate.
Nancy is still studying with Steve. He wants to turn it into strip-studying and Nancy’s all, “Steve! No!” so they start making out instead. Steve goes for Nancy’s blouse buttons, but Nancy’s all, “Steve! No!” (D: We should probably add a “Steve! No!” tag. I have a feeling we’re going to need it.) She asks if this was his plan all along, to get another notch in his belt. Steve says no, calls her beautiful, and backs off.
Dani: Wait, he just… stops? He doesn’t emotionally manipulate her into doing something she doesn’t want/isn’t ready for? I… I don’t know how to process this. I take back my comment about the Steve! No! tag.
Samantha: Yeah but he stopped after many No! moments so I’m not ready to give up that tag yet.
Mari: Plus Steve! No! is a great tag. It is done.
Byers House. Joyce and Jonathan are looking through photos. She apologizes to him for working so much and not being there for him. Jonathan starts crying too, feeling guilty about not being there for Will. Joyce tells him it isn’t his fault.
The phone rings and Joyce jumps up to get it. All we hear is static on the other line, then some breathing. Joyce starts calling for Will, thinking it’s him. The breathing is followed by growling and Joyce starts panicking, asking the growler what it’s done with her son. Joyce keeps crying and yelling until electricity shoots out of the phone, causing her to drop it. Jonathan picks up the phone, but by then it’s dead. Joyce tries to explain through her tears that she heard Will. She heard him breathing and knows it was his breathing. (C: Yay! Scary!) (S: This shit legit terrified me.)
Woods. The boys are still searching while Lucas and Dustin argue. Mike shushes them both because he hears something. They all hear the rustling and as they whip around, they find Eleven.
A lot of the characters felt kind of trope-y to me, from the Grizzled Police Chief to the Frantic Single Mom and The Good Girl and The Waif, but I’m hoping that’s a pilot thing and not a forever thing.
I loved the look and feel of this whole thing. I’m not sure if the homage and nostalgia of it all bothered anyone, but I’m not that anyone. It felt so mood heavy, which is generally something I appreciate.
I MADE IT! LET’S DO THIS.
Next time on Stranger Things: The boys try talking to the sudden girl in the woods in S01 E02 – Chapter Two: The Weirdo on Maple Street.