I’m back with recaps of the final four episodes of season two of Netflix sensation Stranger Things. If you haven’t looked over the recaps for the first half, you can find them here. Alright, let’s dig in!
Episode 6 – “The Spy”
If things start to come together in episodes four and five, six is where Stranger Things season two really begins to deliver on its potential. Following Will (Noah Schnapp)’s seizures, Joyce (Winona Ryder), Hopper (David Harbour), and Mike (Finn Wolfhard) wind up at Hawkins Lab where Dr. Owens (Paul Reiser) and his team struggle to properly diagnose him. What is clear is that Will‘s memory is being affected by the otherworldly presence and, as the episode progresses, his amnesia is symptomatic of the fact that he can no longer be trusted.
It’s unfortunate that the titles of Stranger Things are so prominently displayed at the start of each episode, because the reveal that Will has broken bad is blatantly telegraphed. Despite this, I still found myself swept up in the action, especially when Steve (Joe Keery), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Max (Sadie Sink) wind up trapped at the abandoned car junkyard thanks to the appearance of multiple demi-dogs. Collectively the cliffhanger at the lab and Steve‘s near-death helps to ratchet up the momentum as the series heads into its final few episodes.
Odds and Ends:
- The relationship building between Steve and Dustin is easily one of the episode highlights. Plus: the scene of the group walking along the train tracks is heavily evocative of Stephen King’s Stand By Me.
- I’m no big fan of Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton)’s sojourn into conspiracy theory-ville with Murray (Brett Gelman), though his ability to diagnose their unrequited love affair is mildly amusing.
- The fatal climax, in which Will‘s deliberately leads the soldiers into a trap, is a clear homage to James Cameron’s Aliens, right down to the images appearing on the radar screen. Love it.
- This is the first episode of the series that doesn’t feature Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown).
Episode 7 – “The Lost Sister”
UGH. I wanted to give this episode the benefit of a doubt, but five minutes in I began checking my watch. Then I did some laundry. Then I began surfing YouTube for funny cat videos.
Yes, folks, this is undoubtedly THE WORST episode of Stranger Things that the series has ever produced. Yes, it pays off Eleven‘s “family” arc by reuniting her with her titular “lost sister”, Kali (Linnea Berthelsen). Outside of teaching Eleven how to hone her powers and helping her to realize that Mike and the others are her real family, however, this is 55 minutes of duds-ville.
It got so bad that I began making jokey memes about its awfulness on Twitter to pass the time. Seriously, this is one to tell friends to avoid – as Alan Sepinwall of HitFix suggests, it plays more like a bizarre backdoor pilot for a spin-off series that no one asked for.
Odds and Ends:
- This is the first episode of the series that doesn’t feature any of the rest of the regular cast.
- When Kali and her friends give Eleven an 80s punk look, I couldn’t help but think of the iconic ditty from Clone High about makeovers. MAKEOVER!
- This is your first Matthew Modine-cameo alert for S2.
- Seriously, I’d like to know who thought this episode (and its timing in the season) was a good idea? The only element that I enjoyed was that weird moment where the episode turned into a home-invasion thriller in the vein of The Purge & The Strangers.
Episode 8 – “The Mind Flayer”
With the worst creative decision that Stranger Things has ever made firmly in the rearview mirror, “The Mind Flayer” picks up right after the cliffhanger from 2×06. The escape from the Hawkins Lab is superb, particularly the cross-cutting between Bob (Sean Astin)’s solo mission to reset the power and Dr. Owens‘ guidance on the surveillance cameras (shades of Jurassic Park). And while horror fans undoubtedly knew that the writing was on the wall for Bob the moment he was told his exit path was “home free,” his death – and Joyce‘s reaction to it – are well-done.
With the season’s big death crossed off, the time comes to reconvene the disparate groups at the Byers house and prepare for the big battle. This is the calm before the storm as everyone catches up and they strategically plot their options. I’ll confess that while I appreciate the effort made to gently address the lunacy of Dustin‘s Mind Flayer/hive mind connection plan, it’s pretty unbelievable that everyone basically just goes along with it.
Once again the focus returns to Will and, in a well-executed montage, the infected boy is awoken and treated to trips down memory lane that double as opportunities to communicate how to shut down the otherworldly threat (using Morse Code, naturally). With a plan in hand and time running out, the group is seemingly beseiged by demi-dogs when Eleven returns from Duffer Brothers purgatory to finally rejoin the main group. Thank goodness – let’s get this climax on the road!
Odds and Ends:
- In an episode filled with highs, the extended scene of Billy (Dacre Montgomery)’s dad beating him up for losing track of Max just feels so unnecessary. It’s still unclear why this storyline needed to exist.
Episode 9 – “The Gate”
Here we go – the big finale. If there’s anything surprising about this episode, it is how quickly the threat is dispensed with: we’re barely half through the episode when Eleven manages to close the gate. This winds up being a smart decision because it avoids a long, drawn out battle in favour of narrative and emotional closure for nearly all of the characters, while once again teasing another season of Stranger Things.
After coming together briefly last episode, our protagonists split into three groups: 1) Hopper and Eleven head for the gate, 2) Joyce, Jonathan, and Nancy create a home sauna to steam the demon out of Will and 3) the D-Listers (eventually) head back into the tunnels to draw attention away from the gate and clear a path for Eleven and Hopper. And barring the occasional hurdle, including – UGH – Billy, as well as one last encounter with D’Art, things more or less go to plan.
Of course I’m doing the finale a complete disservice by being so nonchalant. In all honestly “The Gate” is easily one of the most satisfying hours that the series has ever produced, hitting all of the right action AND emotional beats.
Let’s talk about each of those individually:
1) The action when Eleven goes up against the gate (and begins levitating!) is a stunning achievement. Visually (those special effects!) and aurally (that score!), the scene delivers a more bombastic finish than some big budget Hollywood tentpoles. Throw in Millie Bobby Brown’s absolutely commanding screen presence, masterfully conveying the entirety of Eleven‘s two season journey in a nearly silent performance and you have an absolutely killer sequence.
2) As significant an achievement as the action is, however, it would be nothing without the quieter moments. I was particular awestruck by Eleven and Hopper‘s extended conversation in the truck. There’s a reason why the Duffer Brothers paired these two together and while I complained about how repetitive their storyline was in the first few episodes, it really pays off here.
Ditto the moments when Mike attacks Hopper for lying to him and when Eleven and Mike lock eyes at the dance. These scenes only work because of our investment in these characters, so kudos on making us give a damn about these people in between all of the action and special effects.
Odds and Ends:
- I mentioned last episode that I didn’t understand the point of Billy‘s storyline and aside from adding an additional obstacle to the team’s success, my opinions have not changed. I have nothing against Montgomery as an actor, but this was one addition too many in S2. Seeing Max finally stand up to her step-brother’s abuse (when he’s already drugged) just didn’t work for me.
- Now that the Hawkins Lab has been shut down and Barb got her damn funeral, is this a wrap on #JusticeForBarb? PLEASE?
- Nancy‘s pity dance with Dustin at the Snow Ball gave off some pretty heavy John Hughes vibes. If Stranger Things had been made in the 80s, I could easily see Molly Ringwald in the Nancy role.
- So Joyce and Hopper are totally going to hook up now, right?
- Finally, what do we think of the final teaser/twist? Personally I found it underwhelming (the Upside Down still exists? Colour me unsurprised!) but I appreciate that this is a way to hint that there’s more to come without undoing the narrative closure covered by the second half of this episode.
So that’s it for season two. What are your thoughts now that it’s all said and done? What do you expect to see in season three? Hit the comments below and sound off with your reactions and predictions.