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!
8. “The Upside-Down”
Here we are at the end of the journey, and what a long strange trip it’s been. We open with Dr. Brenner and co. interrogating Hopper and Joyce. Joyce is rightfully defiant, telling off Brenner that he’s responsible for not only Will being taken but for being left on the other side. Hopper’s questioning gets a little more…physical. Hop has one last card to play, though.
Before that, we see the boys and El in the gym, realizing they’re alone. After looking for Nancy and Jonathan, El tells them they went off to finish the fight. Cut to Jonathan and Nancy turning the Byers’ house into a series of traps for the monster with resolute looks in their eyes. Back at Hawkins, Hopper does, in fact, pull a “Lando”. He promises silence about Hawkins’ activities and gives them El’s location; the tradeoff is that the boys be left alone, and he and Joyce are to be released in order to save Will. It’s a necessary compromise, especially when they discover the atmosphere on the other side is toxic. Time is ticking…
When Hopper and Joyce cross over via the gate, we finally get a full look at the Upside-Down: a mirror universe of our own but twisted and dangerous. Black goo and tendrils cover everything, and what looks like ash constantly falls from the sky. It’s also here that we start seeing flashbacks of Hopper’s life before coming to the town. He was happy once, with his wife and daughter. But his daughter’s breathing becomes labored at the slightest effort, and Hopper and his wife know something’s wrong.
Laying The Trap
Back in the present, Jonathan and Nancy go over the plan to draw and kill the beast. Without hesitation, they cut their hands and lay out a blood trail to lure it out. While they wait and share a tender moment, they’re interrupted by none other than Steve. He’s there to apologize to Jonathan but rightfully starts freaking out when he sees the traps, smells gasoline, and finally, has a gun pointed at his head by Nancy. Yep, that’d do it for me. That’s when the lights start flickering, and the quarry takes the bait. The creature breaks out from the ceiling and the three of them make it to Will’s room to draw it into the trap. But the beast has some intelligence because it makes it near but then disappears.
After they check the house, Nancy sends Steve away for his own safety. The lights start flickering again, and there’s a brief period of darkness before the monster appears behind them. Before it can kill Jonathan, Steve(!!!) rushes in and saves them. After knocking it into their trap, they light it on fire to finish it off but it disappears before the final blow can be made.
In the Upside-Down, Hopper and Joyce have made it to the equivalent of the Byers’ house. Here, we now get to see the flip-side from earlier episodes. As they walk around, we see the lights slowly track their movements in our universe. We also see another flashback to Hopper’s daughter, in the hospital and undergoing chemotherapy. He’s trying to hold it together for her but just barely.
A Brief Reprieve
Back at the school, we see the boys scrounge for food in order to help El (specifically chocolate pudding, which I am in 100% agreement with Dustin about). It’s here we see another sweet scene between Mike and El. He offers to have her stay with him once this is all over: she can have a home and a real family.
When she asks if he’ll be like her brother, he stammers and tries to avoid the rest of the conversation. After some prompting (“friends don’t lie.”) he asks El to go to the upcoming school dance, and in trying to explain what “like” means, goes for broke and gives her a brief kiss. The look on both of their faces is PRECIOUS. It’s short-lived, though. As we see lights outside, Brenner and the other agents have arrived.
After a brief chase, the soldiers have the kids cornered. But El’s not having any of it: she goes full Tetsuo and kills all the surrounding soldiers and agents at once. It drains her too quickly, though, as she passes out immediately. Brenner and his team quickly capture them again, but this is also short lived as the lights start flickering. The boys and Brenner quickly realize there’s now a LOT of blood around. The monster breaks through the wall and makes short work of Brenner and all the soldiers as the boys pick up El and run.
Hello and Goodbye
Back in the Upside-Down, Hopper and Joyce make it to their version of the school: a foreboding building straight out of Silent Hill. It’s here that they find other victims cocooned (a la Aliens), as well as Will. After removing some kind of living tentacle from his throat, they break him out and attempt to resuscitate him.
The boys duck into the science lab, with Mike reassuring El about his promise to give her a home and take her to the dance. She grips his hand: “Promise?”. Just then the shots end, and the monster breaks into the room. The kids make their final stand, with Lucas shooting the monster with his wrist rocket to no effect. With their last rock, they aim dead at its head and fire.
It flies back to the front of the room like it was hit by a truck. While the boys are seemingly shocked thinking that it worked, we see that it was El. She knocks Mike away when he tries to stop her, and walks calmly up to it with a driven look on her face. She turns and sadly says goodbye to Mike, and then with a scream disintegrates both the monster and herself. The monster is dead, at too great a cost.
Hopper and Joyce are giving CPR to Will, fighting to bring him back. Hopper sees his daughter dying, and is not going to let another child die in front of him. With a gasp, Will takes a breath and comes back to life. Everyone is reunited in the hospital while Will recovers, with his friends staying by his side to recount everything that’s happened while he was gone.
A month later, it’s Christmas time and life has gone back to normal. The boys are back at another D&D campaign, with some critiques of Mike’s story elements. Nancy and Steve are still together and give Jonathan a new camera as an apology. Hopper is back to his usual curmudgeonly self but once out of sight of everyone, he leaves waffles and food in a specific place in the woods. Will is back with his family, but he knows something is off. He excuses himself to the bathroom and coughs up what looks to be a slug, and flashes back to the Upside-Down. Life is moving on, but something is still lying underneath the surface in Stranger Things.
So with Hopper leaving the food, do you think he knows El is still out there or is he just hopeful? He’s kind of in the pocket with Hawkins now, so he may be privy to a lot more now at the cost of keeping the peace.
So a very big question from the end: did Will have a traumatic flashback in the bathroom, or did he actually teleport to the Upside-Down?
How does Dustin always know what monster is coming up in D&D?! Mike, you need to mix it up.
Again, one of the things I loved about the series was the upending of tropes. When they were fighting the monster, I would have put money down that Steve was going to die. But not only did he survive, he came back and saved them!
Netflix has formally announced there will be a Season 2! The Duffer Brothers have promised it will keep the story going and in a supposedly much darker direction. We here at Fandom can’t wait, and will be here recapping it for you again. Thanks for reading, everybody!