Previously: Eleven saw Will. Hopper and Joyce got caught.
The Upside Down
Marines: Hawkins National Laboratory. Joyce is handcuffed and in an interrogation room. She’s yelling for someone to let her out of here. Dr. Brennar enters the room like the creepy jerk that he is. He tells Joyce that he knows she’s been in contact with her son, and he wants to know how. Joyce looks up at him confusedly, either not fully understanding or pretending like she doesn’t. Brennar takes off his jacket and braces himself on the chair across from Joyce as he tells her that six people have been taken that week. The monster is predictable so they know that it will take more people– more sons, more daughters. Brennar says he wants to save them, but he needs Joyce’s help. It’s the same line that he gave Karen. It doesn’t feel right to pit those women against each other, because we’ve seen them both be good moms and not so good moms. But Joyce has been through a lot, and she has never been one to be fooled. She tells Brennar to stop. She knows who he is and what he’s done. She knows that he left her son in that place to die and faked his death. And now he’s asking for her help? She tells him to go to hell. (S: Proud of you, girl.)
Jump cut to Hopper getting tazed. Suspicious AF and two other men are there. She asks Hopper what he knows and he asks if he stuttered. “Everything.” He gets tazed again and Suspicious asks again, so Hopper elaborates: he knows that these are experiment-conducting child abusers who messed up real bad and are now desperately trying to cover their tracks. The non-tazing man asks who Hopper is working with and he says nobody. But he did give all this information over to his friend at the Times, who is going to blow the story wide open. Hopper gets tazed for that one and pulled up to sit at the table. Tazer man tells him he’s just a junkie cop who took one too many, and we see he prepares a syringe. Suspicious AF tells him he made a mistake coming back here, but Hopper says he didn’t. They are going to let him and Joyce go, they are going to give them what they need to find Will, and they are going to pretend this never happened. Suspicious AF is like o rly? and Hopper, murder in his eyes says YES. (S: Proud of you too, bro.)
Hawkins Middle Gym. The kids are still sitting on the bleachers, huddled together.
Jonathan and Nancy drive back to the Byers house. Inside, they restring all the lights, set a bunch of traps, load the gun, cover the house in gasoline, and hammer exposed nails to the business end of a bat.
Samantha: The grown up version of Home Alone!
Mari: YES. Very much.
Brennar comes to see Hopper and hands him a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. Brennar asks where the girl is. Hopper says he wants Brennar’s word first that all of this will be forgotten and the other kids will be left alone. That first, and then Hopper will tell Brennar where his “little science experiment is.” I don’t know if it’s because I’m naive or because they’ve done such a good job with his character development, or both, but I don’t buy this for a second. (S: Agreed. Also, though, I will be gutted if he did just flip flop.)
Hopper is let into Joyce’s room with a few soldiers. They release her and in the hallway, she asks what’s going on. Hopper tells her that the deal is that this place had nothing to do with Will’s disappearance. They get led to a room with the hazmat suits they’ll need because of the toxic air in the Upside Down. We head downstairs in the elevator to the floor with the murdery lighting, which we now know is the sensory deprivation room.
We see Brennar and Suspicious AF walking out of the building, mobilizing his troops again. Suspicious AF thinks this was a bad plan, but Brennar says they are gone. Isn’t that what she wanted? Suspicious asks what happens if they find the boy, but Brennar says it won’t happen. I see that he’s banking on having gotten some maybe reliable, maybe not information out of Hopper, but it not mattering in the end if Hopper and Joyce die. That makes this agreement make more sense, from Brennar’s POV.
Hopper and Joyce exchange looks and then enter the gooey alien portal into the Upside Down.
Upside Down. The shot is literally upside down and slowly rights itself. Joyce is taking really shallow breaths. Hopper tells her she needs to calm down and breath slowly. He coaches her through her breathing, and it sends us to a flashback of Hopper chasing his young, adorable daughter. She seems to be enjoying the game, but then her breathing goes shallow as well. Hopper puts her down and coaches her through taking deep breaths, and then we’re back in the Upside Down. Joyce is breathing better and on they walk.
Samantha: Random ish, but the Upside Down is such a clever name for this place. It’s very atmospheric and creepy and STRANGE but also simple and IDK. I just really appreciate good names.
Mari: Jump cut to a drawer open with a slide and crack. Jonathan grabs a knife. He goes over the plan with Nancy. She’s to go straight into Will’s room without stepping on the trap. She waits for the yoyo to move, and when it does– Jonathan flicks open a lighter. Jonathan and Nancy both get ready to cut their hands, and he starts counting them down. On two, Jonathan stops and tells Nancy she doesn’t have to do this. She yells 3 and they both cut. (S: Love these brave, brave kids.)
Gym. Mike is telling the others that it’s crazy to just sit here and wait. Lucas and Dustin disagree. They are still fugitives and they need to protect El, so the best plan is to stay here and wait. And by that, Dustin means go to the lunch room and find chocolate pudding. Lucas follows him, and Mike and Eleven are left to look on.
Things are eerily quiet outside the Byers house. Inside, there are fresh blood stains on the carpet. Nancy is bandaging Jonathan’s hand, but she looks up when she hears something. Jonathan tells her it’s just the wind. When the UCASE comes, Joyce said the lights started to speak– blinking like an alarm. Nancy finishes bandaging his hand and they share a tender, quiet moment.
It’s interrupted by banging on the door. Who could it be? Steve! No! Steve yells that he’s just here to talk to Jonathan. Nancy opens the door and tries to get Steve to leave. Steve is focused on making his apologies at first, but then notices Nancy’s bandaged hand and pushes his way past her, into the house. He immediately asks WTF is going on because of the blood, the lights, the smell. Jonathan yells at Steve to leave, but he won’t. Nancy picks up the gun and tries to demand he leave, but he won’t. And then, the lights start speaking. Steve draws Nancy’s attention to the lights and they jump into action, grabbing their weapons and turning around furiously trying to see where the monster is coming from. “Where is it,” Nancy yells? “WHERE IS WHAT?” Steve yells. (S: GO AWAY, STEVE.)
He soon finds out. The monster busts through the roof. Nancy fires a couple of shots at it, but Jonathan grabs her and tells her to run. The monster lands and opens his monster petals to roar. Nancy grabs Steve and yells at him to jump over the trap. They run into Will’s room and close the door. Steve asks what the hell that thing was, and Nancy and Jonathan both snap at him to shut up, Nancy holding her gun, Jonathan his bat and lighter. They wait, looking at the yoyo to see if it moves, but it doesn’t. The electricity jolts and then there is silence.
Nancy and Jonathan exit the room to investigate the silence, a sure way to get dead. We see them stand in the hallway and then cut to Upside Down, where Joyce and Hopper also continue to investigate. Joyce comes across Will’s destroyed fort and starts yelling for him. Hopper sadly touches Will’s stuffed animal, which sends Hopper into a trauma-back. He’s sitting on a hospital bed with Sarah, who has lost her hair from chemo. He reads to her cheerily, but we cut to sometime later, as he sits alone in a stairway and cries. (S: Fuuuuuuck.)
At the Byer’s house, they make it out to the living room and still see no monster. Steve kind of loses his shit and picks up the phone to call the police. Nancy grabs the phone and throws it. She yells that the monster is going to come back, so he needs to leave RIGHT. NOW.
We watch Steve stumble out of the house. He’s almost in his car, but then he pauses when he sees the lights inside start speaking again. It mirrors Joyce’s first encounter with the monster. Nancy and Jonathan spin around again trying to see where the creature is. The lights cut out completely and suddenly, the UCASE is directly behind Jonathan. Nancy tries to warn him, but it’s too late. Jonathan is knocked flat. The monster very slowly climbs over him and opens its mouth, drooling on Jonathan. It’s disgusting, but it does leave a convenient amount of time free for Nancy to fire off all her rounds, hitting the UCASE at least twice that I saw. (S: LIKE A BAMF.) She runs out of bullets and the UCASE is still moving toward her, but then Steve is there because this is his big redeeming moment or whatever. He’s grabbed Jonathan’s nail bat and starts going to town, even trying to win me over a cool bat twirl, but I won’t be won over STEVE. (S: Still a NOPE from me, STEVE.)
In the Upside Down, Joyce and Hopper can vaguely hear its screams. They move towards the noise.
The kids watch the UCASE on fire for a few seconds and then Jonathan grabs the fire extinguisher. I get not wanting the whole house to burn down, but I’m not convinced that big scary monster was on fire for long enough. After the smoke clears some, the kids get closer to the trap, and the monster is gone.
Joyce and Hopper reach the Upside Down version of her house. They see a blood stain where the UCASE was hurt. As they walk through the house, the lights in the real Byers House turn on, one by one. Something about how the lights are moving now makes Jonathan realize this is different. “Mom?” he whispers.
Dustin has found the pudding. Mike and Eleven are sitting at a cafeteria table. She asks him what pudding is, and he tells her, but also promises that after all this is over, she won’t have to eat junk food anymore. He was thinking that maybe his parents could set her up with a real bed in the basement, and his parents could be like her parents, and Nancy would be like her sister. Eleven asks if he would be like her brother, but Mike says no! No way! It’s different. (S: Lol, awkward.) Eleven is confused. Mike tries to back out of the conversation, but Eleven very seriously tells him that friends don’t lie. He sighs and makes a of mess of asking her out to a school dance and explaining that you go to a dance with someone that you like. “Friend?” Eleven asks and Mike sighs… and goes in for a kiss. It’s awkward, sweet, and age appropriate. Eleven is surprised at first but then she smiles.
Samantha: I think my anxiety about them kissing from last episode stemmed from worry that they would do it gross and wrong, so color me relieved.
Mari: Mike hears cars and he thinks it’s Nancy. He runs outside and HOLY MOLY IT’S THE CHILD ABUSING CREW. HOPPER GAVE ELEVEN UP. HOPPER, WHY HAVE YOU PREYED UPON MY NAIVETY?
Samantha: What the FRICKITY FRACK? Why didn’t you tell them A FAKE LOCATON HOPPER???? Why would you put all these children at risk? HOW COULD YOU?
Mari: Thankfully, Dustin’s hankering for pudding means that they are in the cafeteria and the Child Abusing Crew [CAC] is in the gym. Mike runs back and tells the others that they’ve been found.
CAC find the makeshift sensory depravation pool and start methodically checking the rest of the school. The Stranger Kids are soon cornered, with Suspicious AF directly in front of them, holding a gun. Eleven stares Suspicious AF down, but then we realize this is more than that– every single adult in the hallways starts bleeding from the eyes. Suspicious AF gives a muffled groan before she falls to the ground, and a beat after, the rest of the adults do. That was… rough to watch, man. Eleven just saved her own life, I know, but she also straight murdered all those people with what I’m assuming was something like a telekinesis brain squeeze. (S: Sorta like my conflicted Arya feelings over on Game of Thrones.)
Eleven collapses. Mike tries to wake her up, but she won’t.
Hopper and Joyce are still following the blood trail in the Upside Down. I’m not entirely sure why they are following the monster, but you know. It’s a decision. The trail leads them to the Upside Down Hawkins Middle. Oh, shit.
The lights begin to flicker. Mike is the first to realize what’s going on. “Blood.” We pan across Suspicious AF’s dead body and the pool of blood it’s in, on past the bloody bodies of all dead. At the end of the hall opposite from them, the UCASE breaks free. “Demagorgon,” Dustin says. Yeah, Dustin! That too!
The adults all grab their guns and start shooting, freeing the kids. Dustin lifts Eleven and they start running. The UCASE lunges for Dr. Brennar and we don’t promote violence usually ahem ahem, but I CHEERED. (S: DIE DIE DIE.)
Upside Down. Hopper and Joyce keep following the blood trail and it leads them to a fucked up nest of some sort, comprised of alien goo and tentacles and dead bodies. Barb’s remains are there. Joyce is the first to spot Will. We can’t tell if he’s alive or dead, but there is something in his mouth. It gives Hopper a trauma-back to Sara intubated in a hospital bed. Hopper pulls the thing from Will’s mouth and I HATE IT. It turns out to be a real long tentacle, which Hopper starts shooting at as it squirms around.
Samantha: I’m legit panicked at how not okay gross freaky this was. NOOOOPE.
Mari: It was awful and also reminded me of how awful it was when Eleven saw Barb’s remains in the black place.
That gunfire sends us back to the gunfire in our dimension. The Stranger Kids run on and lock themselves in a classroom. They put Eleven on a table. Mike grabs her hand and tells her to hold on longer. She’ll get her own bed in the basement and she can eat as many Eggos as she wants and they can go to the Snow Ball together. “Promise?” Eleven asks. Mike promises.
The monster fight moves to right outside the classroom door. It goes silent for a moment, but then the UCASE busts through. The boys scramble to fish out the wrist rocket and rocks. Bless him, Lucas starts taking serious shots at the monster with his rocks and slingshot. He pulls back super far on the last one and releases. The monster goes flying all the way to the opposite wall. There is this great moment where they look stunned, thinking the slingshot worked, but then they realizes and we realize… Eleven walks past them and stares down the monster she’s pinning to the wall with her power. Mike tries to stop her, but she flings him away with a backward movement of her hand.
Eleven gets close to the monster and looks back at the boys. The lights are still flickering and understanding dawns on them all. “Goodbye Mike,” she says softly, and then she turns to face the monster she wasn’t but was responsible for. “No more,” she tells it, then extends her hand, concentrating all of her power to pulling it apart piece by piece. The noise the UCASE makes forces the boys to cover their ears. Eleven shrieks as we watch pieces of the monster envelop her and then it all disappears. Mike shouts for her, but she’s gone. (S: Oh noooooo oh noooooooooooooooo.)
Will isn’t breathing. Hopper and Joyce have taken off their hazmat helmets to perform CPR. Hopper is doing the chest compressions and this sends him into a trauma-back of Sara coding in the hospital. His compressions become more and more desperate, until he’s pounding on Will’s chest.
Will gasps awake. Joyce cries all over him. Hopper holds her.
Police, ambulance and firemen are all over the school. Body bags are lined out front. The Wheeler parents arrive and Karen yells for her son. When she sees him, she pulls him into a hug and cries all over him too.
Will is in the hospital. He wakes up to Jonathan and Joyce next to his bed. He asks where he is, and Jonathan tearfully tells him that he’s home. Will asks if Jonathan’s hand is okay, and Jonathan laughs a bit over his little brother being worried about him at a time like this. Jonathan brings out a box full of stuff they’ve brought him to keep him company in the hospital, including a new mix tape.
Samanta: Ohhhh okay, I’m just gonna cry all over the rest of this episode.
Ted, Karen, Steve, Nancy, Dustin, Lucas and Mike all wait somberly in the waiting room. Jonathan comes in and gives a little nod. Mike jumps up, wakes Dustin and Lucas up, and they run to Will’s room. Despite Joyce’s pleas for them to be careful, they all layer hugs on him. They start to tell him what happened while he was gone, quickly explaining their new friend Eleven with the superpowers.
Nancy watches for a bit, but then her face falls and she leaves. Her friend is really gone.
Hopper exits the hospital and when he does, a black car pulls up next to him. The guy in the front seat gets out and opens the back door for him. Hopper gets in the car.
A title screen says we join the story one month later. The Stranger Boys are in the basement, playing D&D. Mike tells them that a Thessalhydra attacks. He asks for Will’s move and Lucas tells him to fireball the thing. Will looks at Dustin. “Fireball the son of a bitch.” ‘Cause they’ve seen things now.
Will rolls a 14 for a direct hit and the Thessalhydra dies. Mike wraps up the story but the rest of the boys are unsatisfied with the “short” 10-hour campaign.
Jonathan comes downstairs and makes a joke about the stinky smell. Lucas starts singing a little “Dustin farted” ditty, and it’s so carefree I’m in shock right now? Like there were monsters 10 minutes ago.
Upstairs, Karen wishes the Byers boys a Merry Christmas. Nancy stops Jonathan on the way down and gives him a gift. He says he feels bad because he didn’t get her anything, but she says it’s not really a present. He’ll see. She gives him a kiss on the cheek. He smiles and wishes her a Merry Christmas.
In the car, Will asks if he can open Jonathan’s gift. He says yes and Will does. It’s a new camera.
Inside, Nancy sits back down on the couch with Steve. He asks if she gave the gift to Jonathan. She says yeah, but a real gift would’ve been if she had said Steve! No! (S: Booooooooo Steve, still.)
At the station, we zoom away from a bunch of article clippings about Will, the boy who came back to life. You can also see that there is now an ongoing massive investigation into Hawkins National Laboratory, including a string of firings from local law enforcement. There’s a holiday party going on, but Hopper is just grabbing food and leaving. Hopper pulls his car over to the side of the road and goes into the woods. There’s a box out there. He lifts the lid and leaves some food, including some Eggo Waffles. ELEVEN.
Samantha: You kind of owe her, Hopper. I’m just saying.
Mari: At the Byers’, Jonathan is taking pictures of Will and his mom. Everything is happy and loving for a moment, but shortly after Will sits down to dinner, he excuses himself to go wash his hands. In the bathroom, we watch him cough up a slug. Will looks at himself in the mirror and he suddenly sees everything like he’s back in the Upside Down. He flashes back to reality, but this does not bode well.
Back at the table, Joyce asks if he’s okay. Will says everything is fine and they eat.
Okay, so HOPPER: The fact that the newspapers have the story spun against Brennar and the experiments, and he’s still got his job after the body count and inexplicability of everything that happened, makes me think he struck another deal with the government dudes in the black cars again. We know he’s not beyond a deal, because at the end of the day, he really was a Lando, giving up Eleven’s location for the sake of saving Joyce’s son. I don’t know how I feel about this, especially because I think it was heavily implied that Hopper always expected it to shake out this way, from the moment he badly broke into the facility. He knew the cameras were there. He knew they would be watching. He knew that he had something they wanted. Of all the things left open at the end of this season, I think Hopper’s story is one of the big ones. I thought pieces of his flashbacks were a little bit too on the nose, but this is a story we were getting in pieces all along, so it worked out okay. The other part of it is that he seems to have a deal with Eleven now, too. At least enough of one that he’s secretly leaving her food…
Samantha: Come home, Eleven!
Mari: I love Nancy Wheeler. What fantastic development in just 8 episodes. And as much as I kind of hate Steve, I thought there was something authentic about her ending up back in his arms. All season, we talked about her being who she was and the choices between Barb and academic achievement, the Cool Kids and dating Steve. And maybe all along, Nancy has been telling us that she’s both. She cares about her chemistry exams, but she also wants to date Steve. She can shotgun a beer and face off against a MF monster, but she’ll turn Steve down for movies if that’s not what she wants to do right now. I think it was in line with who she is to forgive Steve because he’s A Good Guy Who Didn’t Mean It– whether it’s destroying a camera (he bought a new one!) or slut shaming (he said sorry and fought a monster!).
Samantha: Yes! This is what I think she meant too, back in that conversation with Jonathan when he accused her of pretending. I adored her development as well and think she’s fantastic. Defy those tropes, Nancy! And her pain over her best friend was so authentic and true. At the end of the day she was propelled forward because of her own story and her own motivations, not anything to do with a boy.
Mari: Is Steve not allowed character development? Who cares, fuck Steve. (S: Lol, cosign.)
Mike, Dustin, Lucas and Will are all great, but Dustin was hands down my favorite. It’s an easy favorite, because he’s written to be the peacemaker and the observant one, playing directly against Lucas’s skepticism and Mike’s knee-jerk belief. Dustin balances them out and he’s perceptive and he’s right more often than not, whether it’s about what’s attacking them next in a D&D campaign or why Lucas and Mike are really fighting or where the pudding is hoarded in the school. I love Dustin.
And my final favorite has to of course be Joyce. We’ve spoken a lot already about how her frayed at the edges convictions keep the story moving and dynamic. If Dustin is always right, Joyce was right from the start about her son. She knew he was alive and she knew what she was seeing. She sat across the real monster of this season and told him to go to hell.
Samantha: Joyce is amazing. The image of her going back into that house because damned if she’s going to let fear stop her is POWERFUL.
Mari: Overall, what an adventure. I really enjoyed the story, the characters, the pace, the look and feel of each episode, and quickly getting up to speed with you all. We’ll slow down for season 2, but hope to see you in the comments as we make our way through the next 8 episodes! See you then!
Next time on Stranger Things: Halloween, arcades and rotting pumpkins in S02 E01 – Chapter One: MADMAX.