Directors: Matt and Ross Duffer (as “The Duffer Brothers”)
Producers: Matt and Ross Duffer, Dan Cohen, Karl Gajdusek, Cindy Holland, Shawn Levy, Matt Thunell, Brian Wright
Writers: Matt and Ross Duffer
Stars: Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown, Winona Ryder
SPOILER ALERT: THE FOLLOWING REVIEW INCLUDES SPOILERS FOR THIS EPISODE OF STRANGER THINGS.
STRANGER THINGS hits its stride in Chapter 2. (To catch up, catch up on our review of Chapter 1.) Will’s (Noah Schnapp) disappearance has stirred Hawkins into a frenzy—Joyce and Jonathan’s grief begins to set in, full force, and most of the town is in lockdown until Will’s abductor is caught. Joyce (Winona Ryder) starts receiving terrifying phone calls which consist only of Will breathing heavily, followed by the snarls of the monster on the other side. After each call, her telephone fries in a spontaneous electrocution. These phone calls leave her in tears, but by the end of the episode, things have already gotten much, much worse: the monster has made an appearance, however shrouded.
Meanwhile, the boys are acquainting themselves with Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), who is staying hidden in Mike’s basement. Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) is stunned by her strangeness, Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) is disgusted with her, and Mike (Finn Wolfhard) is, for the most part, just curious. To viewers—who, most likely, have the benefit of past their prepubescent phase—Eleven is achingly sweet. Every little gesture is heartbreaking: When Mike gives her some of his clothes to wear, she instinctively rubs the soft fabric against her cheek, closing her eyes; she flinches visibly at a thunderclap; and, lest we forget how frightened she must be, she shakes and cries as she falls asleep at night.
Mike is protective of Eleven, if in a slightly possessive manner. (Feminists will note that when Eleven shares her name with Mike, he immediately renames her “El(le)” to normalize her.) He brings her Eggo waffles each morning which, adorably, she immediately takes a liking to. In some ways, Mike may see Eleven more as a tool with which to find Will—or worse, a weapon against the evil forces that have taken him—but, for the most part, he accepts her for who she is. Lucas, on the other hand, only refers to her as “the weirdo” or “the freak” … hence the title of Chapter 2. We can only hope that Eleven, whose vocabulary is strictly limited due to her upbringing in a government facility, misses the implications of his words.
Chapter 2—and so many episodes to come—is breathtaking. The cinematography is sharp, high-quality, and distinctly skillful. Wide shots of the search parties combing Hawkins for Will (or Will’s body) are striking in their portrayal of a small town that has come together, the frame packed with tall, thin men in flannel, ready to do whatever must be done. They also showcase the understated beauty of Hawkins—the show is actually filmed in central Georgia—all pale, imposing trees and sprawling sky.
Chapter 2 is particularly impressive in its visuals because, in this episode, Jonathan’s (Charlie Heaton) photography is interspersed with narrative footage. He takes to the woods to look for Will himself. Having intuited that whatever has taken Will—and he’s pretty sure it’s not human—doesn’t come out in the daytime, he prowls by night, using flash photography in hopes of capturing something that he can spot later, when he develops the shots. At first, Jonathan takes captivating stills of bits and pieces of the forest—a tangled pile of twigs, an abandoned tire, gorgeous to behold. Later, his photography will come into play in solving Barb’s disappearance.
And speaking of which: poor, poor Barb (Shannon Purser). Barb has somehow gotten involved in a mess she never wanted to be a part of, and I don’t just mean a bunch of unpleasant teenagers shotgunning beers. Guess who dragged her into the circumstances of her eventual disappearance?
Aaaand we’re back to Nancy (Natalia Dyer). This is far from Nancy’s worst behavior in the series, but she still manages to do substantial damage (specifically, to Barb). One bright spot is when she makes a show of halfheartedly being nice to Jonathan. Given his little brother’s disappearance. You know.
Here is a sample of the shitty things that Nancy did in this episode:
- In order to sneak out to Steve’s party, Nancy lies to her mother and tells her that she’s going to the assembly held in honor of Will—once again using a child’s tragic disappearance to serve her current agenda.
- When Barb expresses that she does not want to attend Steve’s party—and kindly offers instead to just drop Nancy off—Nancy still cannot seem to stop thinking about herself, telling Barb: “You can be my guardian!” What a thrill.
- Once Nancy (and poor Barb) arrive at Steve’s, in short order, Barb is dismissed and ignored. This apparently does not bother Nancy in the slightest; she only acknowledges Barb to pressure her to shotgun a beer which, to be fair, was probably an attempt at making the party more fun for Barb. Still, Barb goes unnoticed for the brunt of the scenes at Steve’s.
- Everyone at the party goes inside to dry off—after the boys shove everyone but Barb into Steve’s pool—and Steve (Joe Keery) invites Nancy upstairs. Nancy, without literally a second thought about Barb, heads up, leaving Barb alone in a strange house. (Remember Barb? You know, Nancy’s best friend, who drove her here and then stayed to be a good friend? Nancy does not remember.)
- When Barb manages to capture Nancy’s attention for a few seconds before she makes it all the way upstairs, Nancy remembers Barb and then realizes that Barb is No Longer of Use to Her. “Go home,” she tells Barb.
And there you have it. Bye-bye, Barb. And, lastly, some good ‘ol …
- HALLOWEEN (1978) (I was delighted by the allusion; however, I wish it hadn’t been in the context of Dustin comparing Eleven to Michael Myers.)
- A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984)
- David Bowie
- Joy Division
- The Smiths
- STAR WARS (1977) (Mike, far more kindly, compares Eleven to Yoda because they both possess the power of the Force.)
- JAWS (1975)
I fear that, at this point, your attention span is waning—these STRANGER THINGS reviews always run long, for some reason!—so I’ll stop there, though I could list many more moments that make this episode noteworthy: the scene of Eleven testing Mike’s dad’s recliner, a heartrending flashback of Jonathan and Will bonding over the music they blast to drown out Joyce yelling at Lonnie over the phone, Joyce’s wall protruding as the monster emerges … but, instead, I urge you to watch the series.