Okay, let’s do Stranger Things! I’m way late to the party with this, but, I figure, what the heck, maybe there are a few other people who want to watch in time for season 2. My first impression, as episode 1 starts, is omg, this is so 80s! Are those bikes going to take off like ET’s? The filmmakers got the look of an 80s show exactly right. Something made by Steven Spielberg, in particular, maybe The Goonies. Oops, Steven King just weighed in. Of course there’s an adorable dog and a little sister. Drew Barrymore might be able to look into copyright infringement here.
We begin on November 6th, 1983, in Hawkins, Indiana, at the Hawkins National Laboratory, run by the US Dept of Energy. This was the Reagan Era and the height of the Cold War. I’m sure a sweet old man like Ronnie wouldn’t have approved of any illegal experiments on children that could go wrong and terrorize a small midwestern town. Or maybe they were actually approved by Tricky Dick, and just continued by Ronnie.
Something is definitely going wrong, if the camera work and sound effects are anything to go by. Sure enough, one of the mad scientists runs by and gets attacked by something mysterious in the elevator.
Meanwhile, in a suburban basement, four preteen boys are playing the most exciting and intense game of Dungeons and Dragons ever, until Mike’s Mom breaks up the game because she totally doesn’t get the importance of fun and conquest. Will, Lucas and Dustin take off on their bikes toward their own houses. Lucas, the man of action, reaches his house quickly, then Dustin, the adorable mascot of the group, challenges Will, the sweet honest one, to a race. Will shows he’s not completely pure by taking off immediately, leaving Dustin in the, well, dust.
Lights have been flickering on and off around town. Will’s bike light flickers as he’s cutting through the grounds of the laboratory. He sees a figure in the shadows and falls off his bike, then runs home. He’s still spooked at home, and goes to the family’s shed to get a gun. The shed light brightens, and Will is gone.
The next morning, Will’s mom and older brother realize he didn’t sleep in his bed and start the search for him. It takes a while for her to get the police chief to take Will’s disappearance seriously, since the town is normally very safe, and Chief Hopper is used to drinking and smoking his way through his days.
The lab is taking its issues very seriously, with cars full of VIPs arriving, areas under quarantine, hazmat suits required, and a giant, gooey, tentacled monster growing on the wall. They’re also missing a girl, who’s just found “Toby from This Is Us’s” diner. The fan fiction writes itself.
Toby Benny feeds the lost girl and gives her a giant shirt to wear instead of the hospital gown she ran away in. He notices a tattoo on her arm that says 011. She refuses to talk, but when Benny withholds food, the girl says she’s called “11”. Then she turns off a fan with her mind while Benny’s busy calling social services about her and has his back turned. Nifty.
The police question Will’s friends, which causes Hop to question his life choices. When they retrace Will’s route, they find the discarded bike. Hop brings the bike back to Will’s mom, Joyce, and takes the opportunity to look around the house. He realizes something strange happened in the shed, and gathers a search party to comb the woods behind Will’s house. During the search, it’s revealed that Hop’s young daughter died a few years ago.
Mike and his sister Nancy fight with their parents at dinner because they aren’t allowed to go out until Will is found. They upset their tiny blonde sister who was cloned from Drew Barrymore in ET. Their dad stays out of it, letting the mom be the bad guy, in a move perfected by dads everywhere. Nancy has plans with her horny new boyfriend Steve. Steve makes the best of the situation by climbing in Nancy’s bedroom window to
help disrupt her studying.
Mike and Lucas talk through their exceptionally powerful walkie talkies (seriously, we could never get any to work like that consistently before cell phones) and decide that they owe Brave Sir Will their loyalty and courage, so they are duty-bound to join the search. They gather up Dustin and the necessary supplies, then head out to the spot where Will’s bike was found.
The social worker arrives at Benny’s diner that evening, but turns out to be working for the evil lab team. She shoots Benny as the lead evil scientist arrives and 11 scoots out the back door. The lab is monitoring all of the town’s communications.
Joyce and her older son Jonathan are making a missing child poster when they get a phone call. Phones were all land lines in those days. Joyce hears noises and Will breathing, then a huge electric shock travels own the phone line, and the phone is dead.
The boys are walking through the woods in the pouring rain, with Dustin, the sensible one, trying to convince them to go back because they might disappear themselves if they hang out where Will probably disappeared. Lucas and Mike absolutely won’t consider it. Will was probably often the swing vote between action and caution, with Mike, the leader, taking his opinion seriously. Dustin is likely desperately missing Will right now.
We end the episode on the most 80s teen sci-fi ending ever: a beautiful but supernatural girl who’s in need of help suddenly appears out of nowhere in front of the three boy science nerds. They all stare at each other, dripping wet and trying to decide if the others are trustworthy.
This show is full of 80s stock characters and situations, on top of the cinematography. It’s a lot of nostalgic fun so far. The actors are clearly having a blast. When was the last time Winona Ryder got to be so creative? You could see her shaking or nearly shaking in most scenes as she faced the loss of a child.
David Harbour was also amazing as Jim Hopper, the cop who’s barely coasting through his life after the loss of his own child. Once you realize he’s lost a child, it’s understandable that he wouldn’t want to admit that Will could really be missing at first, and that being around children could still be painful for him. I imagine he’ll eventually fully rise to the occasion and try to make sure that they get Will back, don’t lose any other kids, and sort out whatever is going on down at the neighborhood evil laboratory.
I always love seeing Matthew Modine show up. He makes a great villain. Millie Bobby Brown also seems fantastic, though she hasn’t gotten to do much yet. She has a very expressive face and eyes and a lot of presence. I hope we see her and Matthew face off.
The lab experiments seem pretty varied at this point. Was the tentacled wall creature once a child, or is that from a different experiment? Who gets fed to who, or who gets fed what? Are the power outages and dimming lights the result of 11 and her cohorts feeding, or some kind of lab equipment that requires a lot of power? Or is it almost literal gaslighting to scare and distract the town?
Dustin entices Will into a bike race by offering the choice of any comic in their respective collections to the winner. As Will is riding out of Dustin’s sight, he yells back to Dustin that he wants the X-men 135 comic. That’s an infamous issue which has been reprinted many times. In #135 Dr Jean Grey goes from being a benign mutant to the Dark Phoenix, who has nearly unlimited, cosmic-level, planet-destroying powers and is capable of ultimate evil. She consumes the energy of an entire star and wipes out the population of an entire planet. Foreshadowing? Hopefully the lab experiments aren’t quite that powerful, or that bent on destruction. I’m all for the suggestion of powerful female characters, though. 😉
Benny kind of deserved this slightly creepy smile for coercing her into smiling when she didn’t want to. Females are not here to look happy and pleasant for you. Let the kid feel her own feelings.