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‘Stranger Things’ Watchalong: Chapter 2

Welcome back to the Stranger Things watchalong! This new sci-fi show from the creators of Wayward Pines premiered on July 15 on Netflix, and we want you to watch along with us. Over the next several weeks, we’re going to run recaps and reactions to all eight episodes in the show’s first season. If you haven’t yet started watching, read this article at your own risk. SPOILERS will occur!

strangerthings_poster

To read the recap for the previous episode, click here.

2. “The Weirdo on Maple Street”

We pick up shortly after the first episode. Eleven and the boys are in Michael’s basement. They get her some dry clothes. Michael comes up with a plan to let Eleven stay the night in the basement, and get her back to wherever she’s supposed to go in the morning. Eleven’s vocabulary is starting to expand, so she tells Michael her name. Michael affectionately shortens it to “El”.

The next morning, Chief Hopper stops by the Byers’ home to see Joyce. She tells him what happened the previous night with the bizarre phone call. She mentions his dead daughter, and he promptly leaves. In the driveway, he pops a pill. Anxiety meds, perhaps? I wonder where that’s going.

Back at Michael’s house, Eleven has decided she’s not going to let Michael reveal her to his parents. She wants to stay hidden and implies that she is in mortal danger. Michael agrees to keep her hidden (for now) and decides to skip school to hang out with her. Their scenes are cute, and not entirely unlike Elliot and E.T. hanging out. Later, Eleven sees a photo of Will, and clearly recognizes him. When Michael’s mom comes home, Eleven hides in a closet. This triggers a flashback to Eleven’s life in the lab, where she calls Dr. Brenner “papa”.

stranger things - dr. brenner
Center: Matthew Modine as Dr. Brenner.

Meanwhile, we get a bit more backstory on Will’s older brother, Jonathan. He’s got a crush on Michael’s sister, Nancy, but he’s the sensitive photography nerd who never had the guts to ask her out. They share some fleeting eye contact at school. Jonathan later has a flashback to when he introduced Will to The Clash. Jonathan drives out to his dad’s place, and — surprise, surprise — his dad, Lonnie, is a real jerk.

Joyce is fleshed out a bit more — we learn that she’s worked at the local general store for ten years, and has been a very loyal employee. Broke as hell, she asks the store owner for a new phone, a two-week advance, “and a pack of Camels.” Back at the diner from the previous episode, Benny has been found dead. The cops deem it a suicide, but we know better.

Back at Michael’s house, the boys have reconvened. They find out that Michael is hiding her from his family, and they witness her telekinetic powers for the first time. Michael brings up Will, and asks Eleven if she knows where he is. She finds the D&D board and flips it over. She places a wizard figurine on it, and says “hiding.” When the boys ask from whom, she puts a monster figurine on the board. At this point, I’m beginning to suspect that Stranger Things deals with alternate dimensions or realities, implied by the flipping of the board.

Stranger Things - Mike and Eleven
Michael (Finn Wolfhard) and Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown).

Night falls, and the search of the woods begins again. Mr. Clark, the science teacher, finds a scrap of fabric on the edge of a narrow culvert that leads into the laboratory grounds. Back at Joyce’s place, she plugs in her new phone. Just like the last episode, it rings, she hears some garbled breathing, and the phone gets fried. Naturally, Joyce loses her cool. Later, she walks into Will’s room to glimpse a monstrous form leaning out of the wall, like Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street. The show wears its horror influences on its sleeve in moments like this one, but I wish they’d chosen a moment that hadn’t been recreated in so many other films.

The episode’s last big sequence happens when Jonathan goes out looking for Will in the woods. He brings his camera. When he hears a girl scream, he discovers Nancy and her bully boyfriend having a poolside with another awful teenage couple and Nancy’s nerdy friend Barb. Jonathan hangs out in the woods, secretly snapping photos. The party scenes that follow almost have a Linklater hangout vibe, but they lack that natural magic we see in movies like Slacker and Everybody Wants Some. When the other teens head upstairs for some hanky panky, Barb is alone by the pool. She’s attacked by a monster and vanishes before Jonathan can even see what happened.

Observations

The first two “chapters” of Stranger Things, directed by The Duffer Brothers, are a beautifully shot love letter to 80’s Amblin films and creature horror. From a narrative perspective, they’re not compelling television. If you’ve seen Netflix’s Hemlock Grove, you know that putting monsters on the screen just isn’t enough to sustain a series. But like I said, there are plenty of episodes left in the season at this point for the series to improve.

It’s in her scenes with Finn Wolfhard (Michael) that Millie Bobby Brown (Eleven) is starting to show some MVP qualities in her performance. She’s very expressive and has to do a lot of acting with her eyes.

Also doing good work is Noah Schnapp, the kid who plays the missing Will Byers. It’s a shame he has such little screen time in these first few episodes. I wish his disappearance had been pushed to the end of the first episode because it might’ve allowed us to better understand the dynamics between Will, his family, and his friends. It would’ve raised the emotional stakes of the show.

The music licensing for this show was crazy expensive. There are a lot of big rock and pop hits, including Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit”, Toto’s “Africa”, The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go” and Modern English’s “I Melt With You”.


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