Previously: Nancy and Jonathan share information and realize something weird is definitely up.
The Flea and the Acrobat
Marines: Night time at the Hawkins National Laboratory. The shot from above makes the whole thing look larger than I realized it was. Hopper is waiting in the shadows near the door. Two scientists exit, and Hopper sneaks into the building behind them. Inside, he almost gets caught, but manages to duck out of sight and eventually make his way down to the area blocked off by plastic and biohazard signs. He gives something between a sigh for gathering courage and a shrug and unzips the plastic.
Samantha: He’s not quite at Joyce the Hero levels of brave but I’ll give him some credit.
Dani: I have played way too much Resident Evil to ever be okay with entering any area that has biohazard symbols.
Mari: Some credit for bravery, full marks for stupidity.
Hopper quickly comes up against a locked door. And worse, the Head Security Guy we met two episodes ago, who showed Hopper the fake security footage, catches him breaking in and brought a guard with him for back-up. Hopper lies and says that he’s here because Dr. Brennar asked for him specifically. Head Security Guy uses his walkie to confirm this and Sheriff Punchy gets to punching. Hopper pulls his gun on the security guard and grabs his access badge.
Byers House. Lonnie pours Joyce a drink to help calm her nerves. Joyce is rocking back and forth as she says she doesn’t know what to do. This whole time, she’s been able to feel Will. Their hands were almost touching. She knew he was alive. And now, she says as thunder rumbles in the background and as she looks at the hole she created in the wall, she can’t feel him at all. Lonnie gives her the look she’s had to deal with since this all started and then gives her the lecture multiple people have given her. Her story about Will in the wall isn’t real and she needs to get help and deal with it. (S: Why are you even here, Lonnie? Be useful to the story or go away.)
On the Murdery Lighting Floor, Hopper goes in and out of rooms, yelling for Will. He finds a room with a small bed, a stuffed animal and a picture on the wall depicting a man labelled Papa and a child labelled “11.”
Dani: And the cat she was punished for not murdering! Dear God, what kind of a life has this precious child endured?
Mari: The kind where this constitutes a family.
Wheeler Basement. Mike, Lucas and Dustin are trying to remember what Will said exactly and figure out what it means. Eleven is on the couch, recovering, but does offer them a clue: upside down. Mike gets it. He remembers how Eleven flipped the D&D board to show them where Will was. Plus, she took them to Will’s house when they all went in search for him. What if Will’s in the Upside Down? Or to bring the D&D reference all the way home, The Vale of Shadows.
Lab. Hopper is still frantically searching for Will as an alarm blares in the background. He gets to the elevator where Running is Hard Scientist died, and makes it in before the guards who round the corner can catch him.
Back in the basement, Dustin reads from an entry about the Vale of Shadows in a D&D guide. (S: Squee, so coooool and horrifying.) His voice over continues as we watch Hopper make it to the lower level, and walk through that Hallway of Blue Lighting and Bad Things Will Happen. Dustin concludes that the Vale of Shadows is there, even when you can’t even see it. Mike calls it an alternate dimension. Lucas asks how they get in there, in real life. Dustin says maybe Eleven is the key, but she indicates that she doesn’t know how to get there.
Hopper finds the tentacle alien goo portal, and HE TOUCHES IT. Like, my dude, that’s a good way to get dead and we need you alive. (S: DO AN INVESTIGATION CHECK WITH YOUR EYES, GUY.) Something runs behind him and Hopper whips around and pulls out his gun. He’s breathing heavily and clearly distraught, when a man in a biohazard suit grabs him from behind and injects him with something.
RED LETTERS. That was a jam-packed cold open.
Jonathan gets home and finds Lonnie on the couch with Joyce. He asks what’s going on and quickly notices the hole in the wall. He asks Joyce if the thing she saw before came back. Lonnie tells him that’s enough. Jonathan wants to speak to Lonnie alone.
In Jonathan’s room, he tells Lonnie to GTFO because whatever is happening with Joyce, he’ll only make it worse. Lonnie says he’s here to help. He’s going to make things better for all of them. Jonathan scoffs, but Lonnie is undeterred. He tells Jonathan to behave at the funeral the next day and to take down his poster of The Evil Dead because it’s inappropriate. Jonathan looks like he’s got a good nominee for who to feed to faceless monster next.
Dani: GTFO of here, Lonnie. You don’t get to show up out of the blue and tell them how to live their lives!
Mari: We Segue Magic to the next day and Mike telling his own dad that he’s chocking him. Ted is in fact helping Mike with his tie, while Karen helps Nancy zip up her dress. Karen is being extra nice to Nancy, who looks dejected. In the woods, the Byers’ dog goes into Will’s fort and whimpers. At the house, Jonathan struggles with his tie alone. Lonnie finds Joyce in Will’s room and tells her it’s time to go.
We cut to the funeral in progress. Joyce looks kind of appalled at even having to be here. Jonathan and Lonnie are stoic. We see Lucas and Dustin’s parents in passing, I think for the first time. Dustin points to a girl near them, crying. He tells the boys to imagine what Will will say when they tell him that Jennifer Hayes was crying at his funeral.Karen shushes him and he looks properly chastised. There is a good mix of reactions here from the people who think this funeral is real and from those who know that it’s fake. Later, we watch as people give condolences to Lonnie as Joyce stands nearby, just completely detached from what’s happening.
Samantha: Did Wynona Ryder win anything for this role? Because she probably could have.
Dani: I can’t stop thinking about how much this whole sham-funeral cost. Joyce needed a two-week advance to buy a phone; how the hell did Jonathan pay for this?
Mari: Hopefully, it was community funded.
Next, we head into a flashback. Joyce is at the sink, and Will is at the kitchen table, drawing. She looks back and says she sees Will the Wise is back. She asks what the green circles are, though. Will says they are fireballs, but he doesn’t have a red crayon. Joyce asks why someone as wise as Will the Wise would need fireballs, and Will thoughtfully says that sometimes the bad guys are smart, too. Joyce tells him that she’ll buy him a new pack of crayons.
I truly started wondering if she ever did buy him the new crayons. So much so, that I went back for screengrabs of the pictures Mike is going through in “The Body.” Of course, these could’ve been borrowed crayons, but I’d like to think Joyce made good on her offer:
The sad news is that it’s a picture of a dragon eating a person so.
Hopper jolts out of sleep. He’s on his couch, sweaty and jittery. There is a beer can on the table and pills strewn across it. This is MESSED UP. I mean, murdering Hopper would be more messed up, but just putting him back and messing with his head? Evil. (S: So uncomfortable.)
Hopper grabs his gun and runs outside to see if anyone is around. Back inside his trailer, he stares at himself in the mirror and tries to make out a puncture mark on his neck. He starts tearing the place apart, looking for something. Even though we the viewer know what happened, there is still this moment as you watch him go wild, where it feels out of control. The last thing he takes apart is the light above his head and, sure enough, there’s a bug in there.
We cut to Hawkins National Laboratory. Dr. Brennar is listening to a recording of the boys calling to Will on the Heathkit. Dr. Brennar says “she” was definitely there.
Jonathan and Nancy sit outside, away from everyone else at the funeral. He shares a makeshift map with her where he’s marked all the places the UCASE has been with a red x. It’s all very near to each other, which makes Jonathan think they could just go back to this area and find the thing. Nancy asks what happens if they do find it. Jonathan says they’ll kill it. We cut to him breaking into Lonnie’s glove compartment and taking the gun and bullets out. (D: Sorry: not sorry, Lonnie!) Nancy asks if he’s serious right now. Jonathan totally is. They aren’t going to find the UCASE just to take another picture of it. Nancy thinks this is a terrible idea, but Jonathan thinks it’s the only one they have, especially since no one they tell is going to believe them. Nancy suggests talking to Joyce, but Jonathan thinks she’s been through enough. He’ll talk to Joyce once the UCASE is dead.
I appreciate Jonathan’s instinct to protect his mom but OMG. VALIDATE JOYCE. USE YOUR WORDS!
Samantha: Screaming at my screen for him to tell her. TELL HER. But I think the show wants to keep these 3 sets of groups separate for now. We’ll see if it’s a worthwhile decision.
Mari: Hawkins Middle. The principal shows a totally fake technician into the AV Closet and tells him that they have no idea what caused the fire, but Mr. Clarke reported it. The fake technician looks at the crispy radio and then we watch him walk out of the school and get into his sketchy white bad guy van. (D: *side-eyes principal for letting obviously sketchy dudes around children*)
Wake. Joyce sits alone. The Stranger Boys (they needed a collective name) corner Mr. Clarke, badly fake being in mourning for a hot second, and then move on to business: they need to ask him loads of questions, namely about other dimensions. Mr. Clarke is game to answer… theoretically. They are all like, “yeah-huh. Theoretically.” Theoretically, how would they travel to another dimension? Mr. Clarke thinks they are thinking along the lines of Hugh Everett’s Many Worlds Theory, in which infinite variations of our world exist. In some of those worlds, this tragedy never happened. It’s sweet that Mr. Clarke thinks this is all stemming from a place of grief, but Lucas is like, “nah man.” That isn’t what they had in mind. Dustin says they were thinking more along the lines of the Vale of Shadows, which of course Mr. Clarke is familiar with. How would they travel there? Theoretically. (S: You know. For a friend who wants to know.)
Mr. Clarke grabs a paper plate and crudely draws a stick figure on a line, calling it an acrobat on a tightrope. The tightrope represents our dimension, and it has rules. The acrobat can walk forward and backward, but that’s it. Now imagine there is a flea on the tightrope. The flea can travel differently. It can travel along the side of the tightrope and even underneath it. The boys all say, “upside down” at the same time. Unfortunately, in this metaphor, the boys are the acrobat and not the flea. Mr. Clarke says it would take a massive amount of energy to travel to the upside down and uses the paper plate to demonstrate that they would essentially have to punch a hole through space and time, creating a gate of sorts. Mike asks what if there is already a door. Mr. Clarke says they would know about it, because it would disrupt gravity and the magnetic field. It could even swallow them all whole. “Science is neat, but I’m afraid it’s not very forgiving.”
Dani: I like him because he says “neat.” That’s a neat mustache you got there, Mr. Live-Action Ned Flanders.
Mari: Deputies Callahan and Powell come to visit Hopper. He answers the door with the gun in his hand, looking jittery as heck. Hopper asks what they are doing there. Callahan explains that they tried calling, but the phone was dead. Aka, we saw Hopper beat it to crap while looking for the wire. They’re here because someone named Bev Mooney came in that morning to report Dale and Henry missing after they went on a hunting trip the day before, out by Mirkwood. Hopper tells them to go back to the station and he’ll look into it. Callahan has one more thing to report: State Troopers found Barbara’s car abandoned at a bus station. Callahan says it’s funny that they keep doing their job for them. Hopper fakes a laugh.
Callahan and Powell go back to the police car wondering WTF is up with Hopper. Powell thinks he’s been spending too much time with Joyce Byers.
Samantha: Pretty over your shit, Powell.
Dani: I hope Hopper does some major LOLPD housecleaning once he sorts out all this supernatural/otherworldly shit.
Mari: Hawkins deserves better deputies.
Lonnie is covering up the hole in the wall with planks of wood. He’s also taken down a bunch of Joyce’s lights, which she told him not to do. She starts stringing them back up. As he hammers, Lonnie casually mentions that it’s terrible what the Sattler Company has done to this family. Lonnie went to the quarry and there are no warning signs or fences out there. He thinks the Sattler Company should be held accountable. We get a tight shot of him hammering a nail and that transitions us to Mike punching through a paper with a pencil, showing Eleven the same thing Mr. Clarke showed them. Lucas asks Eleven if she knows where the gate is, but she shakes her head no, upsetting Lucas. (D: Pretty over your shit, too, Lucas.)
Their attention is redirected, though, because Dustin is walking around in circles. He says that he needs to see all of their compasses right now. And apparently there are like 7 compasses in this house. (S: I don’t think I even have one? Unless there’s an app on my phone I don’t know about. #Millennial) (D: We have three, because GIRL SCOUTS. #OldSchool) Dustin has to explain to all of them that the compasses aren’t pointing to true north. At first, he couldn’t figure out why, but then he remembered that you can change the direction of a compass with a magnet. And Mr. Clarke said that the gate would disrupt the electromagnetic field. If they follow the compasses, they should get led straight to the gate. Eleven looks super freaked out.
Lonnie is taking a shower, so Joyce takes the chance to go through his stuff. She finds a flyer for an accidental death attorney. Joyce sighs and rolls her eyes.
Dani: Lonnie, you are a slimy piece of shit, and I hope the UCASE eats you. We know (or hope) Will is alive, but Lonnie doesn’t. What kind of a soulless douchebag do you have to be to capitalize on your son’s death?
Mari: Wheeler garage. Nancy grabs a bat and takes a few practice swings. She’s so into it, she doesn’t notice Steve when he walks in and almost whacks him. WHACK HIM GOOD, NANCY. Even though he’s here to apologize for the whole Barb thing. He did get in trouble with his parents but “screw ’em.” He asks Nancy out to a movie, something to pretend everything is normal for a few hours, but she tells him she can’t because she’s real busy
shaving her hands being there for her brother after the funeral. Steve looks bummed but leaves. Bye Steve! Nancy keeps swinging her bat.
Dani: Steve! No! Movie for you!
Joyce is confronting Lonnie about only being here for the money. He says they could use it for good, like sending Jonathan to school. Joyce won’t fall for that because Lonnie doesn’t even know what school Jonathan wants to go to, even though he’s wanted to go to NYU since he was 6. Joyce tells him to get out, but Lonnie says she needs him. Joyce begs to differ, but he throws the fact that Will is gone and the house is covered in Christmas lights in her face. Joyce says maybe she’s crazy, but she’ll keep the damn Christmas lights up forever if she thinks there is a chance that Will is still out there. She grabs Lonnie’s stuff, throws it at him, and tells him to get out of her house. (S:WOOOOOO!) (D: BOY BYE.)
Their yelling cuts to Jonathan shooting a gun. He’s got a line of cans set up, but misses them all. Nancy arrives and snarks that he’s supposed to hit the cans, right? He snarks back that he was aiming for the spaces between the cans. The last time he shot a gun was when he was 10 and Lonnie took him on a hunting trip. Lonnie made him kill a rabbit, and Jonathan cried for a week. Jonathan says that his parents loved each other at some point, but he wasn’t around to see that part. Nancy gestures for the gun and says that her parents never loved each other. Karen was young and Ted was older, had a cushy job and bought her a nice house. So, they settled down and started their nuclear family. “Screw that,” Jonathan says. “Screw that,” Nancy agrees and shoots down the beer can on her first try.
Samantha: Liking Nancy more and more.
Dani: She’s slowly chipping away at the Barb-sized grudge I’m holding against her.
Hopper is sitting on the floor in his trailer. He calls a woman (one the phone he’s duct taped back together) who tells him that he can’t call her here. He says he knows, but he just wanted to hear her voice. And to say that even with everything that happened, he doesn’t regret the seven years they spent together. She asks if he’s been drinking, but he says he hasn’t. Hopper hears a baby crying in the background and this seems to sober him, for lack of a better term. He says that actually he is drunk and he shouldn’t have called. He sends his regards to Bill and hangs up. (D: #HopperFeels for days…) Hopper grabs his gun and all the articles strewn on the table. His phones starts ringing and he pulls it off the hook.
The Stranger Boys + Eleven walk along railroad tracks in a very Stand By Me-esque way. I’ve not been consistent about talking about all the references, but since that last episode was titled “The Body” and we talked about the connection to Stephen King in the comments, this seemed even more pronounced:
Mari: Dustin and Lucas are out in front. Lucas asks how much father they have to walk, but Dustin doesn’t know, as compasses tell direction not distance. He thinks it’ll be pretty obviously when they come across a portal, though. Lucas looks back and asks if Eleven is acting weird. Like weirder than normal. Dustin uncharacteristically says he doesn’t care. Back with Eleven, she is breathing heavily and we get thrown into a flashback. (S: Oh nooo.)
Eleven is on her cot and she asks “Papa” how far. Dr. Brennar says farther than they’ve ever gone before. He shows her a grainy photo. “The bath?” she asks and he confirms and asks if that’s okay. “Okay,” she says, looking like it’s anything but. A few orderlies lead Eleven, wearing a cross between an x-ray vest a battery pack and a jumpsuit, up onto a platform where they put her headpiece with the wires on. She’s lowered into a sensory deprivation tank with an old school diver’s helmet. These trauma-backs are too much. I feel like I’m saying that every time they happen now, BUT IT’S TRUE.
Dani: I just can’t even with this. I keep looking at all these people in the sensory deprivation tank room, waiting for one of them to show some shame or remorse or, I dunno… a nanosecond of compassion, and when they don’t I just want to murder all their faces off!!!!1!!!
Mari: In the present, Eleven asks Mike if they can turn back. She says it’s because she’s tired, so Mike tells her to hang on a little longer and on they walk. It kind of looks like her nose is bleeding, too.
Nancy and Jonathan walk together in the woods, having exchanged weapons. I love that little tidbit so much. Nancy brings up the conversation they never finished having in the darkroom the other day, about what Nancy was “saying” in the stalker pic Jonathan took of her. He seems hesitant to say, but then offers that what he saw that night was a girl trying so hard to be someone else, but for that one moment, it was like she was alone and could just be herself. Nancy calls that bullshit. She isn’t trying to be someone else just because she’s dating Steve and Jonathan doesn’t like him. (S: Valid.) (D: Sure, sure… but I totally cringed when Nancy was slamming beers and trying to fit in with the cool kids, so maybe Jonathan has a tiny point?) Jonathan wants to drop it, but Nancy keeps prodding, saying that Steve is actually a good guy and the camera thing was unlike him, but he was just being protective. He had every right to be pissed. Jonathan says that’s true, but it doesn’t mean he has to like the guy. He tells Nancy not to take it personally, because he doesn’t like many people and Steve is in the vast majority.
Nancy says she was just starting to think that Jonathan was okay and not “the pretentious creep everyone says he is.” Jonathan says he was just starting to think Nancy was okay and not “just another suburban girl who thinks she’s rebelling by doing exactly what every other suburban girl does until that phase passes and they marry some boring one-time jock who now works sales, and they live out a perfectly boring little life at the end of a cul-de-sac. Exactly like their parents, who they thought were so depressing, but now, hey, they get it.”
That was really specific.
Dani: The Jonathan doth protest too much, methinks.
Samantha: I can’t decide if I’m relieved I’m no longer a teenager or extra bummed about being a grown up.
Mari: Byers House. Someone is banging on the door. Joyce thinks it’s Lonnie, but when she gets up to answer, threatening to murder Lonnie on the way, it’s actually Hopper, holding up a sign that says, “Don’t say anything.” Joyce is kind of taken aback. Hopper steps inside and looks up and around, presumably letting out on “oh, jesus” as the prospect of finding a bug in here, a house full of string lights.
The gang is still walking on, but Dustin realizes that they’ve looped back around. He doesn’t get why, but Lucas knows why. Eleven has been acting weird this whole time and she has the power to confuse the compass. Lucas pulls on her sleeve and sure enough, it’s covered in fresh blood. She’s leading them away from the gate. Mike tries to defend Eleven, but she tells them that it isn’t safe.
Dani: And Lucas has been waiting for this moment since the first night Mike brought her home. Dammit.
Mari: Back at the Byers’, Hopper is panting as he continues to undo the bulbs one by one. After he undoes them all, he says it should be safe. He can’t guarantee it, but it should be okay. In bits and pieces, Hopper tells Joyce about the bug in his place, about how he’s onto something, about how the body at the morgue was fake. About how Joyce was right all along.
Lucas gets in Mike’s face and yells that Eleven has been leading them on and messing with them all along. She could’ve told them how to get to the gate, but she didn’t. She’s done just enough to get food and a bed, and Mike is too blind to see it because a girl isn’t grossed out by him. This whole time they’ve been looking for some monster, but did they ever stop to think that the monster is with them? (D: Ouch) Mike loses his temper again and jumps onto Lucas. Eleven yells at them to stop and gets so worked up that she screams. The force of it pushes Lucas off of Mike and into a junked car nearby, knocking him out. Now Mike yells at Eleven and asks why she would do that. What’s wrong with her?
Dani: I didn’t realize how shouty Mike was until you pointed it out, and now I can’t stop seeing it.
Mari: It’s a consistent characterization and the kind of thing that makes these kids 3D. I love it.
Truama-back. Eleven is in the tank and we see her enter some place where she has isolated the man she was supposed to find, but everything around them is black, including the low pool of water she’s wading through. The words the man is saying are being played on the intercom inside of the laboratory. El listens for a while, but then the man mists away and all we hear are the alien sound effects of the UCASE. Eleven runs and in the water tank, she bangs on the plexiglass and begs to be let out. (D: LET HER OUT LET HER OUT LET HER OUT!!!!!)
In the present, Eleven cries and bleeds while Dustin and Mike try to wake Lucas up. He does come to, but he is NOT happy. He tells them to get off of him and leave him alone. And during that time, Eleven has also disappeared. The boys yell for her, but don’t immediately find her.
Jonathan and Nancy are still sulking through the woods. Nancy stops because she hears something. They follow the whimpering noises and find a hurt deer. Nancy doesn’t want to just leave it and she looks down at the gun unsteadily. Jonathan offers to do it. He stands, cocks the gun, but his discomfort is written all over his face. There’s this pregnant moment and then something grabs the deer from inside of the bushes scaring the bejeesus out of me.
Samantha: *aWaY MeSsAgE* I’ll be back as soon as I recover from that jump scare!
Dani: A think a little pee came out.
Mari: These children, bless their death-wish-having hearts, decide to follow the blood trail. Nancy doesn’t see where it keeps on, but does see a tree with a large hole in the trunk, dripping water and filled with alien goo. She kneels to get a better look at it, calling for Jonathan to join her, but he isn’t around her. She steadies herself, takes off her bookbag, and crawls into the tree.
Samantha: Intense bravery.
Dani: So glad I’m not petite enough to fit in weird, goo-filled openings in trees. It’s not cowardice … it’s geometry.
Mari: Thanks geometry and probably this ice cream I’m eating right now helps!
Nancy comes out on the other side into the Upside Down. Her flashlight immediately goes on the fritz, but her attention is caught BY THE MONSTER RIGHT THERE EATING A DEAD THING. The monster hasn’t seen her yet, so she tries to back away slowly, but OF COURSE steps on this noisiest god damn twig in the world. (D: LOL.) The monster turns toward her and roars, opening his flower petal face. I hate it.
Nancy screams and runs. Outside, Jonathan hears her screams. He finds her bookbag, but doesn’t notice the tree portal. He yells for her and takes off in the wrong direction. The bark of the tree starts closing over the portal.
NO, NOT NANCY!! I WAS NOT EXPECTING THIS. SAVE NANCY!
Samantha: AAAUUUGGGHHHH NOOOOOOO.
Dani: Holy crap, I am so glad this is on Netflix so I can immediately watch the next episode. BYEEEE!!!!
Mari: We talked a lot about how satisfying the pace of this show is, with people sharing information and investigating and doing things that appeal to the viewer. I think this episode was good about saying, “but not so fast!” Not because any of those things aren’t true, but because people are people, and they are flawed, and if they are on TV, they will probably do the stupidest shit you can think of. Like walking around a super secret compound with no plan, just yelling. Or accepting the jerk ex-husband and letting him quiet your convictions, even though you are THE ONE with the convictions. Or hunting for a monster in the woods in the dark AND SEPARATING FROM EACH OTHER. Or not waiting a damn minute before crawling into the gooey tree.
For every bit of honesty about the impossible things they are seeing, there is a bit of withholding information for more emotional reasons. Eleven won’t say what’s going on, so instead she misleads her new friends– even though they told her all about the importance of honesty and trust. Jonathan won’t loop his mother in, cowered by Lonnie who seems to have that effect on the whole family. Nancy won’t loop Steve in, even though she defends him so vehemently as A Good Guy.
What I’m saying is that for as much as people seem to be heading in the same general direction, they don’t really seem to be getting there together. There is very little effective collaboration, but it’s an effective way to get us invested and measure the pace.
Samantha: Yes! You said my half formed thoughts from earlier perfectly. Thanks, fearless leader.
Mari: SAVE NANCY!
Next time on Stranger Things: Jonathan looks for Nancy and Mike looks for Eleven in S01 E06 – The Monster.