Previously: We binged season 1 of Stranger Things and loved it so hard.
Chapter One: MADMAX
Marines: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. October 28, 1984. A man sits in a van, wearing a mask. We soon hear an alarm blaring inside a bank and watch as all the robbers pile into the getaway van. The police are there unreasonably fast and a high speed chase ensues. Next to the getaway driver is another girl who is very intensely giving the road EYES. Eyes that remind me of some vans that got flipped last season. Intense Girl (Kali) tells the getaway driver to take a right and go through the tunnel. As they do, Kali closes her eyes and makes a fist. “Boom,” she says and the tunnel crumbles in front of the cop car. The cop car crashes and stops, but then his partner yells and asks what the hells is wrong with the driver? Why did he stop? The driver cop gets out of the car and we see that nothing is wrong with the tunnel and the way is clear. Back in the robber van, Kali lifts her arm to wipe blood from her nose, and we see that there is a small tattoo that reads 008.
Damn, Samantha! You were talking about “what happened to the other 10” early last season. WAY 2 GO.
Dani: SO GOOD AT TV!!!! (And don’t you love how they started the numbering with three digits, as if assuming all along that they’d be doing this to at least 999 kids???)
Samantha: Thank you, thank you. All that fear made my brain work extra well! Also, EXCELLENT fake-out with her powers. Very well done.
Mari: RED LETTERS (2).
Dani: Oh, good – I hope we get to see more of the other kids’ parents in this season. The Byers and Wheelers were pretty fascinating in their own ways.
Mari: Dustin runs back to his room and radios Lucas that he’s got 4 whole quarters. Lucas responds that he mowed an old man’s lawn and got 5 times that booyah. Lucas tells Dustin to call Mike, ’cause he’s got to shower after working for his money like a real man. Dustin does indeed call Mike, who is sitting in Eleven’s abandoned fort in the basement. Dustin asks Mike what he’s even doing on this channel and he sketchily says, “nothing!” (#FindEleven) Dustin says that he and Lucas have $6.00 between them. How much does Mike have. Whoops, he hasn’t even looked yet.
Cut to Mike going through Nancy’s drawers and finding her piggy bank. He empties it on her bed but gets caught by Nancy. He grabs fistfuls of quarters, yells that he’ll pay her back, and runs out of the house. Nancy chases him, but Mike is faster, grabs his bike and pedals away. “Asshole!” Nancy calls and, yeah, that was a dick move.
Nancy’s hair is shorter and v cute, by the way.
Dani: SO cute! Probably too cute for the ’80s, but I’m going with it.
Samantha: I almost didn’t recognize her. Get it, Nancy!
Mari: Arcade. The boys all arrive just as Joyce is dropping Will off. She tells him that she’ll be back in exactly two hours and if he needs to come home, he can call her and he is NOT to walk or bike home. Honestly, I’m surprised Joyce has let him out of the house at all, so this is understandable.
Inside, Dustin plays Dragon’s Lair, a game I’m vaguely familiar with only because of Feminist Frequency videos. (Princess Daphne’s writhing always reminds me of Princess Oriana’s bubble dancing in the Felix the Cat movie…) Dustin loses and curses at the machine. Lucas ribs him a bit, but he says at least he’s still top on Centipede and Dig Dug. “You sure about that?” a nearby arcade guy asks. Dustin freaks out and runs to the corresponding machine to see that his top score on Dig Dug has been beat by MADMAX. Dustin asks Arcade Guy (Keith) if he’s Mad Max, but nope. And he won’t say who Mad Max is without something in return. Mike knows what he means and says NO WAY is he getting Keith a date with Nancy, which he calls prostituting his sister. Lucas encourages him to just do it.
Dani: Keith, my man, that is hella creepy. And if you really believe that a cute girl’s annoying little brother has the power to arrange her dates then you are nowhere near smart enough for our girl Nancy.
Samantha: Agreed. Also, Lucas, please don’t immediately make me irritated with you. Also also, I wonder if she’s still with Steve.
Mari: Dustin tells Mike not to do it, and insults Keith’s acne and low-paying job.
Dustin is very intense this season already. I was gonna ask who hurt him, but you know. SHADOW MONSTER. (S: #Hugs4Dustin)
Will gets distracted by something. He looks outside and and we see what he’s seeing: the floating particles that marked the Upside Down. He turns around to ask the guys if they see it too, but the whole arcade turns into the Upside Down. He walks outside and see that there is a huge, strange cloud forming in the sky.
Montage of day time things like newspapers and jogging and street sweeping. Terminator is playing at the theater. Hopper gets to work and finds someone waiting for him outside the station. Hopper walks the whole way into the station telling said man to get away from him. Said man is not deterred and follows closely behind as we watch Florence put out Hopper’s cigarette and replace his donut with an apple. The guy (Murray) tells Hopper that he has reason to believe that there are Russian spies in Hawkins. Callahan and Powell make fun of him, and I’m pretty bummed to see that they are still employed.
Dani: I don’t think we’re allowed to have a 100% efficient and fully functioning police force on TV. It’s a union thing.
Samantha: Also, this felt vaguely reminiscent of Hopper’s opening scene from last season, coming in to work and stuff. Interesting to feel the different tones.
Mari: Well spotted.
Anyway, Murray insists that he has had multiple reports of people seeing a Russian child in Hawkins, one with psionic abilities. This of course gets Hopper’s attention. Callahan reminds Hopper about that girl who made the kid pee himself. Hopper dismisses that as a prank, but he does tell Murray he’s got five minutes to tell his story.
In Hopper’s office, Murray tells him about the girl who shattered the grocery store doors with her mind, and reports that a girl with a shaved head was living in Ted Wheeler’s basement, etc. Hopper is mean and dismissive about all of it. He cuts Murray off by picking up his phone when Flo calls with a request for Hopper to visit someone named Merrill and check out his contaminated pumpkins. Hopper hangs up and says he has to run because he’s got an emergency. On the way out, Hopper tells Murray to stop bleeding “those people” dry and go home.
Hawkin’s High. Nancy is reviewing one of Steve’s essays, trying to pretend like it isn’t total crap. I think it’s a metaphor for this relationship. (D: Totally.) Nancy nicely says that some of the ideas in the essay aren’t connected and, um, when’s the deadline for this? It’s the next day for early admission. Steve asks Nancy to come over that night and help him with it, but she reminds him that they have a dinner to go to. Steve grabs the essay and crumples it, asking what the point is anyway. He’s just going to end up working for his dad and is that so bad? He’d have insurance and good pay and could be around for Nancy’s senior year. Nancy doesn’t say much to that, but he assures her that’s he’s serious. He says that he loves her, she returns the sentiment, and they kiss.
Samantha: Okay so I’ve seen a TON of talk about Steve on Twitter (don’t worry this isn’t spoilery). A lot of it had to do with defending him in the first season and I’m not really here for that. No, he didn’t do the spray painting but as I said in the post, he absolutely didn’t stop it and he absolutely bullied and was awful to Nancy. And as for how he “totally stepped up at the end” he accidentally walked into the attack and didn’t run away. Cool. Good. I’m open to seeing where he goes this season but I’ve been itching to say all that.
Mari: I’m with you. I worked up too much Steve-hate to let it go so easily.
A noisy car rolls into the parking lot. Nancy and Steve stare as a boy and girl get of the car. The girl is clearly Alternative because she has a skateboard and the boy is clearly Bad because he’s smoking, has an all jean ensemble, and struts away while all the Cool Girls gawk at him. (D: omg that mullet, though. How did anyone EVER think this was a good look??)
Will opens his locker and finds that someone has stuffed an article clipping about him “coming back to life” in his locker and marked it ZOMBIE BOY. His eyes are crossed out by red x’s.
Mr. Clarke’s class! It’s worthy of a !. (D: He’s nifty! And I’m so glad he wasn’t murdered by all the shady people in Season 1!) He’s giving a lecture on the human brain and only our four nerdy boys sitting up front look interested. Everyone else is either passing notes or zoned out. Class is interrupted by the principal who is escorting their new student. Mr. Clarke introduces her, all the way from California, it’s Maxine! She corrects Mr. Clarke because she goes by Max. The boys all look at each other with Big Eyes, because MAD MAX. Max takes a seat in the back and the Stranger Boys all openly stare.
IDK, new student who moved from California and is having a lot of feelings. Kinda reminds me of Sweeney.
Dani: I feel like the Stranger Boys would be equally enthralled by Sweeney.
Samantha: Definitely, because Sweeney is very enthralling. Have you seen her sociology videos?
Mari: I’m glad we all agree.
Melvald’s General Store. Joyce is back at work and she looks so bright and shiny. It makes my heart squeeze. A man comes in, picks up a Halloween basket, and asks if it comes in any colors besides orange. Joyce considers the request theatrically and says she’ll have to check in back. We cut to the storage room Joyce and the man, Bob, are now making out. Get it Joyce! She cuts the make out sesh short because she doesn’t want to get fired. Bob knows, but he just can’t stop thinking about her. He jokes about how she didn’t even know who he was in high school. Joyce sends Bob along and tells him that they’ll see each other later for movie night. It’s Jonathan’s turn to pick. Bob doesn’t want anything scary, though. Fair, Bob. I’m like you, though we’ve both seemed to have wandered to this show.
Dani: There’s something about Bob I don’t trust, but I don’t know if this show is making me paranoid, or if I’m just suspicious because Joyce has some joy in her life, which means surely they’re going to pull the rug out soon.
Mari: All of the above.
Hopper is checking out the Merrill pumpkins. They are really gross and rotted and full of flies. I know that most people don’t like rotten things, but it’s a major SQUICK for me SEND HELP.
Hopper notices something rustling nearby in the field of… dried corn stalks? (Listen, all I know is orange groves.) (D: Lucky! Cornfields are creepy af, which is why we had Children of the Corn rather than Children of the Orange Groves.) (S: I would read Children of the Orange Groves.) He goes in there to investigate, and it’s all very tense and spooky, but then a crow flies up and scares the crap out of Hopper. Nothing else is around.
Back at school, some girl named Tina is handing out invites for her Halloween Bash. “Come get sheet faced” they read. Punny, Tina. Real punny. Nancy is walking with Jonathan, and she gets an invite. She turns around and grabs one more, which she immediately gives to Jonathan. She tells him to come to the party, but he’s less than impressed with the sheet faced thing. Besides, he’s got plans to go trick-or-treating with Will. Nancy says yeah, and he’ll probably be home by 8 and start listening to The Talking Heads and reading Vonnegut. Jonathan shrugs and says that sounds like a nice night. Nancy insists. He might even meet someone he likes! Steve slides up and scares Nancy, picking her up as she shrieks. They kiss and by the time Nancy looks back, Jonathan has walked away.
Dani: You’re smarter than this, Nancy. He already has met someone he likes.
Mari: The Stranger Boys are spying on Max during recess. (D: Who knew the boys had such creeper potential?!) They argue over whether this girl could possibly be the Max that beat Dustin’s high score. Mike thinks no way. Lucas thinks it’s likely. Dustin just thinks skateboarding Max is awesome. They watch her walk back into school, and she very conspicuously throws something away. The boys race towards the garbage can to see what. It’s a note that reads “stop spying on me you creeps.” Again, fair. (S: Hahahaha best.)
The principal (any time an adult that’s not Mr. Clarke enters the scene, I call them the principal. I hope you are okay with that.) (D: approved) tells Will that his mother is here. He looks very sad about this and then walks down the hallway sadly, while people give him looks. The other boys watch as he gets in the car and talk about how weird he always acts when it’s time to go in.
We join Will and Joyce during the car ride. Will looks worried, but Joyce encourages him to just tell them what he felt and saw. Joyce parks and we see that Hopper is waiting for them. They all walk in together to the HAWKINS NATIONAL LABORATORY? DID I JUST SEE THAT RIGHT?
Dani: WTF? How is this place still in existence? And why would Joyce willingly return WITH WILL???
Samantha: THIS IS VERY SUSPICIOUS AND I DON’T LIKE IT.
Mari: We watch a little montage of Will undergoing a medical check. They hook him up to a monitor while he’s on a nearly vertical examination table. A doctor comes in, tries to small talk about candy, and then asks what happened to him last night. Will tells the story of flashing back to the Upside Down and feeling frozen– frozen like you feel when you are so scared, you can’t do anything. We watch the monitors register all kinds of dips and valleys as Will continues that he sensed evil and this evil wanted to kill. Not him, but everyone else.
Cut to Will waiting alone in a hallway. Inside the doctor’s office, he’s telling Joyce that things are probably going to get worse. It’s called the Anniversary Effect, and they see it with soldiers all the time. Anniversaries bring back traumatic memories. The best Joyce can do is not pressure him to talk and kind of pretend it isn’t happening. Joyce doesn’t like the sound of that, but the doctor assures her that it’s for the best and he’s totally on her side and she should totally trust him. The old Hawkins Lab people are gone and he’s really, really trustworthy.
I don’t trust him.
Dani: I mean, I loved Paul Reiser in Mad About You, but ’90s sitcom nostalgia only gets you so far, buddy.
Samantha: Is this good psychological advice? Is this what we do with PTSD in the real world? Is this a time period thing? Sorry, but it just feels like such bad advice.
Mari: He did mention PTSD as a new kind of concept so probably… all of the above.
On the walk out, Joyce can’t believe that doctor. Hopper says he knows, but that “post-traumatic stuff” is real. He switches the subject deftly to “Bob the Brain,” which is apparently a left over name from childhood. Joyce says they are good. Hopper says he’s happy for her in a way that sounds like he’s sad for himself. (D: I ship it.) He watches her drive off, lights a cigarette, and looks up to see that Dr. Sus is watching him. A woman comes to tell Dr. Sus that “they” are ready for him.
ELEVATOR OF BAD THINGS. Down in the immersion tank room, most of the room is blocked off. We see a man suit up, go through an airlock, and into the room where that Upside Down flotsam fills the air. The alien portal is still there and it’s still open. The man uses his fire gun to light a UCASE (demagorgon, if you must) on fire.
Dani: It’s been almost a year, and THIS is the best plan they’ve come up with??
Mari: We will not be surprised when thing go sideways.
Dustin and Lucas are spying on the arcade, waiting for Max. Lucas has binoculars, probably from ‘Nam. (D: A+) Just as Dustin is saying how his mom’s going to kill him for getting home so late, the noisy car rolls up. Max gets out of the passenger side and we vaguely hear her arguing with her brother. He squeals away, Max throws him the bird, and stomps into the arcade. Dustin and Lucas move closer and see her playing Dig Dug. She’s good, and she’s definitely MADMAX.
Wheeler House. Karen asks Mike to pack two boxes of toys for the yard sale. Mike cannot believe that. Those toys have emotional value! That’s kinda the point, though, because this is a punishment. They’ve already taken away his Atari, but this is what he gets for stealing from Nancy. Seems he’s also cursed out a neighbor and graffitied a bathroom stall at school. Mike’s temper and bad behavior have been on overdrive during the break, I see. Karen says they’ve been patient, but this isn’t strike one or even three. So, it’s two boxes of toys.
Dani: Hmm, I wonder if this means we’ll get mostly dark!Mike this season…
Mari: Steve and Nancy walk up to a door with a For Sale sign. Aw, shit. It’s Barb’s parent’s house. (D: FEELS.) They have an awkward KFC dinner, and Nancy gently asks about the For Sale sign. Mrs. Holland excitedly says that they’ve hired Murray Bauman who used to be an investigative journalist for the Chicago Sun Times and who’s freelance now. Nancy cautiously asks what exactly that means, and Mr. Holland angrily says that it means that Murray is going to do what that “lazy son of bitch Jim Hopper–” Mrs. Holland stops him with a gentle clearing of her throat. Mr. Holland breaths and ends “what the Hawkins Police have been incapable of doing.” Mrs. Holland adds that it means that they are going to find their Barb. Mr. Holland says he’s worth every last penny, explaining the fact that they are selling the house. Mrs. Holland says they are fine though, because for the first time in a long time, they are hopeful. Nancy looks both uncomfortable and devastated and has to excuse herself from the table. Everyone else just keeps eating their KFC.
Samantha: They haven’t told Barb’s parents… anything? Like. If not the truth than some warped version of it so that these poor people can have closure and this teenage girl doesn’t have to go through this?
Mari: In the bathroom, where there are even more pictures of Barb, Nancy has a crying breakdown.
Dani: Ugh, this was awful, even though it was a nice callback to Season 1, when everyone was telling Joyce to accept that Will was gone. We didn’t want Joyce to listen, because we hoped Will was alive, but that scenario is flipped for the Hollands and Barb.
Mari: Mike is working on his yard sale boxes. He lifts up the model ship that Eleven was floating in season 1 and looks at it and her fort sadly. He grabs his walkie talkie and uses it to call Eleven. He calls that it’s day 352 and he’s still here. He just wants a sign that she’s okay. He hears a distorted voice call his name and is hopeful, but it turns out it’s just Dustin, asking what the heck he’s doing on that channel again. We have our answer now: calling Eleven for almost a year straight. Dustin is calling with the news about Mad Max, but Mike doesn’t want to hear it.
Dustin tells Lucas they keep on with their plan, regardless of if Mike likes it. Lucas asks what happens if Max says no, but Dustin doesn’t think she’ll be able to resist his new pearly whites. He purrs to illustrate. This is not the first time he purrs. (D: Please let it be the last, though.)
Dustin gets home and parks his bike. He hears creepy noises and calls out for his cat, but the cat doesn’t appear. Dustin goes inside and something in his garbage can goes berserk, which jump cuts us to Joyce making popcorn. Bob is recording her on his new fancy camcorder, which he calls the future. In his room, Will is drawing a picture of himself as “zombie boy.” Jonathan comes in with a selection of videos, but Will isn’t very interested. Jonathan sits and asks about the zombie boy picture, insisting that Will can talk to him. Will snaps that everyone is treating him like a baby, like he can break, and it’s making it worse. It’s making him feel like a freak. Jonathan says he isn’t, but Will thinks he is. Jonathan is like, “okay, you are a freak.” He explains that being a freak is okay. He’s a freak, and the alternative is being boring and normal. Will asks if this is why Jonathan has no friends. Jonathan does too have friends, but Will happens to be his best friend. “And I would rather be best friends with Zombie Boy than with a boring nobody.” To illustrate his point, Jonathan asks who Will would rather be friends with: Bowie or Kenny Rogers. Will makes a disgusted sound. Jonathan says exactly. Boring normal people don’t accomplish great things. (Rude.) Will thinks about it and says that some people like Kenny Rogers, though. Bob is coming into the frame now and happily says that he loves Kenny Rogers. (D: I knew we couldn’t trust Bob.) This makes the boys giggle, but not as much as they do when Bob gets super excited about Mr. Mom in the pile of videos.
Mr. Mom. Bob and Joyce laugh. Jonathan yawns. Will is eating popcorn. The phone rings and it makes Joyce jump and stress. Bob tells her to let it go, but the phone rings ominously on. (S: Ringing phones stress me out too, Joyce.)
Hawkins Lab. A scientist is playing with a ball and listening to music so he doesn’t immediately notice that his equipment is going haywire in the portal room.
Samantha: I just watched Poltergeist for the first time and this happens then too!!!! PAY ATTENTION TO THE SUPERNATURAL.
Mari: In the Byers House, Will goes pee in the middle of the night. He hears some rumbling and then notices some colored lightning flashing. The front door opens by itself and outside, it’s like the storm he saw in his earlier flash of the Upside Down. Will walks outside and the storm is getting bigger and it’s full of red lightning which lights up something that looks like the legs of an enormous, terrible monster.
Hopper calls out a question, and we hear Eleven faintly call back that he didn’t signal and it’s 8-1-5 and he’s late. She joins him at the table where there are TV dinners waiting. He apologizes for being late, promises to signal next time, and corrects her that it’s eight fifteen, not 8-1-5. He tells her, though, that dinner comes before dessert always and points to the Eggos. It’s a rule. “Yes,” she says and then they uncover their TV dinners and eat together at the table.
I want to believe that Hopper is a double-crossing double crosser, but I cannot hope yet. The image of those two at a table, eating dinner, Eleven’s hair grown out some, though? I cannot. It’s both lovely for what it means for both Hopper and Eleven to have each other, and heartbreaking because it’s still a run down cabin in the woods, TV dinners and scraggly hair grown out.
Samantha: So cute, so sweet, but I also couldn’t help but think about Eleven’s mother, wasted away and a mess over her lost daughter. I hope the show doesn’t forget about her.
Mari: It’s difficult for me to say how this fares as a return to Stranger Things when I finished season 1 a few days ago. It’s clear, though, that this episode does primarily work to reset, inform, introduce and get perhaps the single payoff of knowing that Eleven is alive, though there are plenty of questions there as well. Questions we obviously don’t get the answers to quite yet because, well… dinner first and then dessert. Always.
Dustin and Lucas are in a position here that Nancy was at the beginning of last season– kind of disconnected and living a more ordinary existence than everyone else. They are enthralled with games and the new girl in town, and it’s so ordinary in the middle of an episode about how things have changed… a little. Things have almost moved on out of necessity, because it’s been 352 days and they are still there and life moves on.
And yet, the Upside Down is still haunting a lot of people, Will most obviously of all. I’m worried for dear precious Will who has really suffered so very much already. I’m worried because all I can imagine is that SOMETHING IS IN HIM and I hate it. The events of last season are still haunting the Hollands, they are still haunting Joyce, who looks so much happier and put together, but jumps when the phone rings. They are haunting Mike, who won’t give up his search and who is lashing out in a lot of the ways Dr. Sus (Dr. Owens) told us Will would because of post-traumatic stress.
Dani: I agree with all of this. I don’t want to say I was disappointed, because it’s Stranger Things and I’m just happy to be immersed in this world again. But I will say it’s hard not to compare this to the first episode of Season 1, when we had the bejeesus scared out of us on multiple occasions. There was nothing frightening in this episode, at least not in any immediate sense. The things Will sees when he’s flashing back to (or slipping into?) the Upside Down are terrifying to consider, simply because Will is a precious little cinnamon bun who deserves a life of rainbows and lollipops after everything he’s been through. So while I’m scared for Will, I was kind of hoping to be scared in a cover-my-eyes, hide-in-a-blanket-fort sort of way and that just didn’t happen. Luckily, the characters are fun to watch regardless of whether or not I’m jumping out of my seat. And they’ve presented lots of questions that I want answers to, so I’m definitely looking forward to watching the next episode. Onward!
Mari: I’m excited to make my way a little more slowly through season 2!
NO SPOILERS IN THE COMMENTS, OR TO THE UPSIDE DOWN WITH YOU.
Next time on Stranger Things: Will sees something terrible on Halloween night in S02 E02 – Trick or Treat, Freak.