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!

Stranger Things Poster

5. “The Flea and the Acrobat”

The ominous red light atop the Faraday cage of the Hawkins National Laboratory is no warning to an infiltrating Hopper, who sneaks through the hallways of the bio-containment unit oblivious to the cameras. Once discovered, he commandeers a security passcard to go deeper into the facility. Hopper’s search for Will leads him to Eleven‘s cell, then down the elevator to the dimensional gateway. Distracted by the oddity of what stands before him, he is attacked by a HAZMAT clad worker. I’d think he should bring backup, but then I think about his deputy’s capabilities. Maybe Flo (the station’s secretary) would have been a better choice.

Joyce relays her story to Lonnie, who unsurprisingly thinks she’s delusional. Jonathan arrives home, convinced of the creature’s presence. Speaking privately, he and his father argue about Lonnie’s meddling and sudden return. We all know this deadbeat dad has an ulterior motive, and we’re just waiting for the proverbial shoe to drop.

"Eleven"

The boys try to recall Mike’s distorted transmission and decipher what it meant, while a despondent Eleven (in wig and dress) lays on the couch. Mike concludes that her description of “Upside Down” (or as they call it, Dungeons and Dragon’s Vale of Shadows), a “dark dimension or echo of [their] world” is a parallel universe.

The next morning, the Wheelers and the Byers dress for Will’s funeral. Joyce is distracted, trying to reconcile what she knows. She recalls Will sketching his D & D character, a wizard who (typically) outsmarts his enemies but occasionally must resort to force. How do we know this is a flashback? Joyce looks like she’s slept in the last week.

Hopper awakes in his trailer and sets about tearing apart his home looking for the inevitable listening device, and locates it in a light fixture.

Hopper in Stranger Things
Hopper finds a bug

Jonathan and Nancy compare notes about sightings of the creature and make a plan for combat, and he pilfers a gun and ammunition from Lonnie’s glove compartment. At least Lonnie proved useful. A broken clock is right twice a day.

A tech from the lab, under the guise of a local power worker, investigates the AV Club’s radio meltdown. Meanwhile, the boys question Mr. Clarke (the radio’s primary operator) about parallel dimensional theory. He uses an analogy about the perspectives of an acrobat and a flea to describe alternate realities; he posits that if a gateway were theoretically created with a lot of energy, that there would be resulting gravity and electromagnetic anomalies. Clarke also rips off the demonstration of such from the film Event Horizon, punching through a paper plate. I’d call plagiarism, except this is 1983 and Mr. Clarke is no Sam Neill. Then again, it can be argued that the whole plot of Stranger Things is a ripoff of Event Horizon if it were interpreted by Steven Spielberg instead of John Carpenter.

Hopper’s deputies arrive at his trailer with the news that two local hunters have gone missing near Mirkwood. They also say the State Police located Barb‘s car at a bus station. Of course they did.

Lonnie repairs where Joyce went axe crazy on the front wall. (Would it have killed them to have Lonnie stick his head through and say “Here’s Johnny” first?) Speaking of deadbeat dads, his dastardly plan seems to unfold here as he starts hinting to Joyce about how unsafe that quarry must be. The quarry may not have warning signs, but Joyce should be seeing some.

The boys question Eleven about the gateway, and she stays mum. Dustin brilliantly realizes that all of their compasses are pointing somewhere other than north, pointing them to the gateway.  Eleven is justifiably terrified.

Nancy practices her baseball bat-fu in her driveway when Steve arrives. He apologizes for being a dick. I’d let that sink in, but he follows up with an offer of movie night (All The Right Moves) and a self-comparison to Tom Cruise. He starts singing, which is enough to push him away for the night. She can’t very well tell him she’s monster hunting with Jonathan.

Joyce digs through Lonnie’s things while he’s in the shower. Normally, this should be frowned upon, but the effort bears fruit: he wants to claim insurance or settlement money from the quarry for Will’s death. Lonnie makes a half-hearted attempt to say it’s to pay for Jonathan’s college, but Joyce notes that he has no idea where Jonathan wants to attend. This is enough for her to throw him out. She may be crazy, but even she’s not buying it.

Jonathan and Nancy meet up for target practice and end up comparing backstory notes. She proves to be a much better shot than he. On the trip back, Jonathan outright questions why she’s with Steve. She comes to her boyfriend’s defense with the classic “He’s not really like that.” He counters with a reading of why she’s every suburban teenage girl cliche. On the nose? Maybe. Effective? Definitely.

Hopper calls his ex-wife to reflect on the time they spent together, but her new husband and baby crying in the background are enough to make him realize what a bad idea it was to reconnect his phone.

The boys and Eleven follow the needles towards the gateway, and she tries to figure out Plan B to stop them from getting to the gateway. She recalls Brenner putting her into a sensory deprivation tank to boost her remote viewing skills. That scene in The Empire Strikes Back when Luke’s in a vertical water tube? It’s like that. Let’s hear it for 1980 movie references. She begs Mike to turn back but doesn’t say why.

Hopper and Joyce of Stranger Things
Hopper, Joyce, and a hammer

Hopper bangs on Joyce’s door, and shushes her to go bug hunting. When she lets him in, he’s daunted by the sheer number of light bulbs he’s going to have to unscrew inside a house that looks like Christmas in Rockefeller Center. How many police chiefs does it take to dismantle about a bazillion light bulbs? Just one. Eventually, all bulbs removed, he tells her that his own place was bugged and that he found out Will’s body was a stuffed shell. In one move, he vindicates her conspiracy theory. Of course, they could have saved a few hours of him seeming crazy himself by just stepping outside to tell her that. Since she raged at Lonnie just a few hours before for taking down the lights, you would think she would be hitting him with a hammer, but she’s remarkably calm about him rearranging her living room.

 in Stranger Things
Dustin, Mike, and Lucas

The boys discover their compasses are no longer pointing the expected direction. Lucas realizes (in loud, Lucas fashion) that Eleven has whammied their needles. As usual, he thinks she is leading them astray. This time, though, he’s right. She admits it’s not safe. Lucas goes ballistic and breaks the bro code, eventually escalating to the point where he calls her the monster. Mike attacks his friend (over Dustin’s interventions) but Eleven reacts by throwing Lucas across the yard into rubble. This spurs her memory of when she first encountered a creature on the other side, and her dream-running away from it. When Lucas awakes, he storms off and the remaining boys realize El is missing.

Nancy and Jonathan find each other after their spat, and locate a deer that’s been hit by a car. They are about to administer a mercy killing when the deer disappears. An aperture has appeared inside a nearby tree, and Nancy crawls into it, emerging through a tunnel into the dark dimension. As she runs from the pursuing creature, Jonathan does not see the aperture close behind her.

Observations

  • David Harbour does not get nearly enough time to shine. His facial expressions, even dialogue free, out-act the majority of the remaining cast.
  • The rules of the dark dimension seem internally inconsistent depending on the plot.
  • I really want to like most of the characters, but Brenner is more sympathetic than Lucas (who comes off as a one-dimensional rage monster).
  • Steve… needs to convincingly redeem himself soon.
  • Is there chemistry to be had with Joyce and Jim? You bet.
  • Jonathan may not be a good shot with a gun, but he nailed that takedown of Nancy. Oh, wait, are they supposed to end up together? Awkward.