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!
If you haven’t already, read the previous entry here!
3. “Holly, Jolly”
The third episode of Stranger Things opens with good news: Barb is still alive. She’s a little worse for wear, being chased by some terrifying monster in a dark alternative version of Steve’s backyard, but at least she’s alive. But not for long. While Barb fights for her life, her best friend Nancy is upstairs getting awfully intimate with Steve. Nancy seems conflicted about leaving her friend, maybe she senses Barb’s in danger, but that doesn’t stop her from going all the way with Steve. That decision might have cost Barbara her life. Some friend Nancy is.
The next morning, Nancy seems torn about her decision to sleep with Steve. She walks the halls of the school feeling like she’s being judged. She’s even more disturbed by the fact that Barb isn’t at school. Later, Barb’s mom says she isn’t at home either. If she isn’t at school but isn’t at home, where the hell is Barb?
Meanwhile, Mike, Lucas and Dustin are plotting ways to find Will. By using some authentic Vietnam weapons, their bikes and Lucas’s wrist rocket, the guys are going to save their best friend. Mike seems to be taking quite a shine to Eleven – and her to him – so he invites her to come along and help. Before school, Mike and Eleven have a moment when he gives her his wristwatch. There’s a bond growing between those two and Lucas makes sure to razz Mike about it later. Dustin and Lucas don’t understand Eleven the way Mike does and they certainly don’t have the compassion for her that he does.
While Mike, Eleven and the boys are coming together to find Will, his mother Joyce is falling apart. She’s convinced that she can communicate with her son via the lights in her house. Jonathan is concerned for her mom and tries to shake some sense into her. He tells her that Will is just missing the regular old way, not some supernatural way. That doesn’t stop Joyce from plunking down a bunch of cash for box after box of Christmas lights. She’s going to talk to Will, even if no one else believes her. She’s desperate, she’s losing it but she’s not wrong.
The official investigation into Will’s disappearance continues and Sheriff Hopper is finally on the trail. Where does the trail lead? Straight to Hawkins Research Lab, a.k.a. Emerald City. After finding a piece of ripped clothing in a pipe leading into the institute, he’s convinced that Will might have snuck in there. Or maybe he’s just suspicious about the place. Whatever the reason, he weasels his way on the premises but finds very little…only more questions. There’s something fishy about the institute and the people working inside. Are they really working to stay one step ahead of the Russians or is there something more sinister going on?
The answer, of course, is that something much more sinister is going on. Throughout “Holly, Jolly” we are given flashbacks into Eleven’s life and her torturous stay in Emerald City. Dr. Brenner is becoming downright terrifying as he subjects the poor young girl to experiment after experiment. The tests involve her budding mind control powers, from crushing a Coke can to much darker tasks, like killing a cat. Eleven refuses to murder the feline and is dragged away to her dark, secluded closet. But before the security guards can lock her up, Eleven shows just what she’s capable of and kills them both. And Dr. Brenner is more than impressed with her power, even if that leaves him with two less employees. It’s hard to get a read on his face but he seems to care for Eleven, even if that doesn’t change the fact that he’s treating her horribly and subjecting her to awful, cruel torture.
Hopper hasn’t figured out that much about Brenner but he’s certainly starting to think something fishy is going on with the good doctor. After reading a slew of newspaper articles, Hopper discovers that there are lawsuits filed against Brenner along with claims of kidnapping, including one from Terry Ives who says her daughter (Eleven?) was stolen by Brenner. And what’s really going on at Hawkins? Some newspaper clippings suggest the experiments involve MK Ultra. This place is starting to seem like really bad, bad news and Hopper is becoming increasingly suspicious.
As the episode concludes, Nancy becomes convinced that her friend might be dead. Making matters worse, Will is found. Dead. Mike, Lucas, Dustin, and Eleven are there as Hopper watches Will’s lifeless body get fished out of the quarry. But how is it possible? Earlier in the episode, Eleven said Will was still at his house and was just “hiding”. How is it that he’s dead? The kids don’t seem to accept it, especially Mike who blows up at Eleven. “What’s wrong with you?” he yells at her before storming home, where is embraced by his mother.
But we all know Will isn’t really dead. Why? Because Joyce has made contact with her son via those Christmas lights. Using a pretty genius method of painting letters above corresponding lights, Joyce is finally conversing with Will. She’s excited that she’s getting somewhere but then something awful happens. Using the lights, Will warns his mother to “run.” Just in time too, because seconds later the monster from episode one bursts through the wall. It’s a skinny, gnarly beast that scares Joyce out of her house. She runs down the street, away from the creature and away from the lights that keep her connected to her son. She runs into the arms of Jonathan, who holds her tight as Hopper and the authorities arrive to deliver some awful news.
Hats off to the show for making the character Karen, Nancy and Mike’s mother, a fleshed-out character. She has layers to her and is portrayed wonderfully by Cara Buono. I hope her parts becomes bigger as the series goes on.
Millie Bobby Brown turns in terrific work as Eleven, especially with such little dialogue. The work is all in her face and she nails it all. Because of her powers, you almost forget that she’s a young child. Then you’re reminded as you see Brenner put her through such Hell. We don’t know everything about Brenner and his experiments but he’s surely loathed by all viewers. This guy seems scummier than scum.
Am I the only one who thinks the bullies giving Mike and his friends a hard time are in for a rude awakening? I’m not sure if it’ll be at the hands of Eleven or a more confident Mike but those guys are in for trouble.
We are now starting to see that Nancy’s boyfriend Steve is kind of an a-hole. He’a dreamy, sure, but he’s also a jerk, especially to poor Jonathan. Was Jonathan being supremely creepy taking pictures of Nancy and her friends as they partied? Absolutely! But still, Steve’s a punk. I think Nancy will soon realize that and leave him behind. In fact, the news about Barb might be what pushes her over the edge.