The plot thickens in episode two of Stranger Things, with Hawkins becoming a dangerous town for the first time in its history, at least according to Jim Hopper. Some of the kids who’ve clearly been perpetually bullied at school might feel differently about it. It’s a bad time to be a scientist, a good Samaritan, or a best friend in Hawkins, we know that much so far.
Mike and company have brought 11 back to Mike’s basement, and all three boys are talking at her while she tries to cope with being wet, cold, and in a strange environment during a thunderstorm. Dustin adds to the fun by making a loud noise to test his theory that she’s stayed silent because she’s deaf. Mike gets her some sweats to put on. 11 rubs them against her face like she’s never felt anything so soft.
The boys reaction to 11 getting ready to strip so that she can change her clothes is worth the price of admission, possibly the whole Netflix subscription. Mike quickly leads her to the bathroom, but she won’t let him close the door. “No” is clearly a very important word to 11.
The three boys argue about what to do with 11 for the night, with Lucas and Dustin both convinced that 11 is crazy and possibly dangerous. Mike convinces them that the safest way to handle things is to get his mother involved in the morning. Lucas and Dustin head home, still muttering about mental institution escapees, while Mike gets 11 bedded down for the night in a blanket fort under a table. They finally exchange names, and he dubs her “Elle,” short for “Eleven.” The process of becoming a real girl has begun.
The next morning, Joyce continues to both fall apart and hold herself together, as does Hopper. She’s reeling from the loss of Will and the uncertainty, and he’s dealing with the memories this case is dredging up. She hits him with a low blow about his daughter and he recoils, then looks entirely hopeless and defeated, but also determined to keep soldiering on. Joyce knows she hit him below the belt, but doesn’t apologize. She needs him to wake up and take the weirdness of Will’s case seriously. Jonathan is a rock through all of it, physically holding his mother up at times.
Mike brings 11 Eggo waffles for breakfast. Please, someone has to say, “Leggo my Eggo!” over the course of the season. Elle has been playing with Mike’s Supercom walkie-talkie. Will she turn out to be able to use it to boost her own signal? Mike says its signal is pretty weak.
11 stares balefully while Mike explains his brilliant plan for getting help, then tells him, “No.” He’s a good man, and accepts her “no” immediately. Between his leading questions and guesses, and her few words and gestures, she tells him that there are dangerous people after her, so she doesn’t want adults/authorities involved. Their level of innate understanding is worthy of ET and Elliott.
Matthew Modine’s Dr Brenner is informed of the call Joyce made to the police after
the other ET Will phoned home. He listens to her telling the operator that she heard Will and some kind of animal over the phone line.
At school, Steve, who is turning out to be a complete douche, tells Nancy that his parents are out of town, so she’s expected to come over to his house for
sex a party that night. His best buddy and the buddy’s girlfriend will also be there having sex. Jonathan arrives to hang missing child posters up at the school. The kids mock him, but Nancy goes over to express sympathy.
As Jonathan drives away, Should I Stay or Should I Go comes on the radio. He flashes back to when he first introduced Will to The Clash. Their father Lonnie had skipped out on a visit with Will, so Jonathan was cheering Will up and giving him brotherly advice. Joyce argued with Lonnie on the phone in the background.
Meanwhile, Brenner and his goons have invaded Joyce’s house in their hazmat suits and found some of the lab’s wall slime growing in the shed that Will disappeared from. Brenner orders an assistant to take samples.
11 recognizes Will in one of the photos in Mike’s room just as Mike’s mom gets home. He hides 11 in his closet, promising to get her out as quickly as possible. She’s visibly upset at being locked in a small space. We flashback to the lab, where Elle is being carried down a hall kicking and screaming, “Papa” as Dr Brenner watches, unmoved. She’s thrown into a closet-sized, windowless, empty, dark room alone and locked inside.
Mike comes back to find 11 crying in a ball on the closet floor. She promises she’s okay.
Hopper is called to Benny’s Diner. Benny’s body has been discovered. Brenner left it posed as a suicide.
Jonathan visits his father in the big city to see if Will ran away to him, but Will isn’t there. Lonnie is an a**hole, as expected.
Lucas and Dustin visit Mike after school. They aren’t happy to discover 11 is still there. When Lucas tries to go tell Mike’s mom, 11 slams the bedroom door shut with her mind, and tells him “No”. Her eyes and her voice are steel.
Hopper questions Earl, one of the guys from Benny’s diner, who tells him that there was a kid hanging around the day before. They can’t rule out Will as a possibility. The search party moves to the woods around the diner. Will’s science teacher finds a scrap of cloth, probably from 11’s hospital gown, at the end of a long drainage culvert. Hopper follows the line of the culvert to see where it comes out. The other end is inside the security fencing surrounding Hawkins National Laboratory.
The boys explain to 11 that they won’t try to get help or tell the adults again, now that they know she has superpowers. They just want to find their friend. 11 needs the idea of friends explained to her.
Elle does something with her powers for a moment. Possibly checking in with other beings she’s psychically connected to? Then she uses a game board and pieces to explain to the boys that Will is hiding from a monster in the dark, or maybe in a void.
Nancy talks her awkward, redheaded friend Barb into going to the “party” with her. Because being the unwanted fifth wheel is always a barrel of laughs. Nancy is wearing a new bra, despite her insistence that she’s not going to do anything with Steve.
Jonathan stops to photograph the woods where Will disappeared, even though it’s after dark. He hears a girl scream and runs toward the noise. As he gets close, he sees that it’s just the kids partying at Douchey Steve’s pool, and stops. He takes some pictures, because he has a thing for Nancy.
Barb ends up inside with a deep cut on her hand, the rest of the kids end up in the pool, and Jonathan keeps photographing. When they go inside to dry off, Nancy tries to send Barb home. Barb, knowing that Nancy’s been drinking, and that Barb is her ride home, decides to wait outside by the pool instead. Nancy and Steve go to a bedroom and she takes her shirt off for him. Barb sits on the diving board.
Whew! Jonathan walks away before the action really gets going between Nancy and Steve. I was getting uncomfortable with the Peeping Tom level that was developing.
Barb lets a drop of blood fall into the pool. We hear a crunching sound and the lights flicker. The Uncool Redhead/ Fat Best Friend/ potential Disposable Woman gets disappeared by the energy monster. There doesn’t seem to be a trope on TVTropes for female best friends who die/meet an unlucky fate while the pretty girl remains safe, which irks me every time I go looking for it. At any rate, another one bites the dust. Nancy doesn’t notice.
Joyce, who has talked her boss out of a new phone and two weeks advance pay, pulls an armchair over near the phone jack and sits down to wait. Hours later, Will calls. This time, he says her name and we hear breathing, amongst other ominous monster noises, before the electric shock to the phone. Then Will’s stereo suddenly starts playing Should I Stay or Should I Go at full volume and his desk lamp comes on. As Joyce looks at the lamp, she sees the wall move as if something’s struggling to get out of it. The music abruptly stops. Joyce runs for her car, and starts to drive away, but then the music comes back as the light flickers on and off. Joyce realizes that her baby is still inside that house, and she needs to find a way to help him. She walks back toward the house.
Jonathan says Will is good at hiding. Hopper says cops are good at finding.
Lucas is disturbingly “bros before hoes” for someone who has a person in need standing in front of him. He is very loyal to Will, though.
Hopper says the last person to go missing in town was in 1923 and the last suicide was in 1961. There seems to be the usual amount of poverty, drinking, bullying, hunting, divorce, deadbeat dads, and sneaking around in Hawkins. It’s not an idyllic place. So why is the town exceptionally crime free? Have there been cover ups?
Both Will and Barb have been specifically shown to be the “good” ones in their friend groups, the ones who are self-sacrificing and above temptation. Is that a coincidence, or is the monster looking for some variation on pure souls?
Lucas is obsessed with Penhurst, the mental hospital in a nearby Curly/Carly? County. Guessing that’ll become more relevant eventually, with a connection to the lab. Evil science labs and evil asylums go together like peanut butter and jelly. If you have a strong stomach and haven’t watched American Horror Story Season 2: Asylum yet, go watch it now. It’s the best season of the series and has all of the mad science and evil mental institution tropes you could ever want.
Dustin is obsessed with 11’s attempt to take off her clothes in front of them. It’s comic relief, but also an important character moment for 11. She’s a prepubescent American girl. She should have felt the same way about taking her clothes off in front of them that they did. The experimenters have taken away her sense of privacy and possibly her sense of owning her own body.
Or, she may not be American. We don’t know yet if English isn’t her native language, which was hinted at by her yelling for her Papa in the flashback, or if she speaks so little because the experimenters punished her for talking, or if she’s too traumatized to talk. It could be some combination of all three.
How long has the Hawkins National Lab been there? Was it doing illegal human experimentation all along and no one noticed, or did that start recently? Don’t the scientists who work there live in town? How come we aren’t seeing any of them as part of the community?
Is this show a metaphor for the toxic pollution that corporations and governments produce that poisons nearby communities, causing localized increases in cancers and autoimmune diseases? That was a big deal in the 80s and 90s, before the environmental movement changed its focus to the future and the sky with the inconvenient truth of global warming and climate change. Popular focus seems to be shifting back lately, now that climate change is (mostly) an accepted reality.
We used to have whole systems of cords on our phones so that we could talk from anywhere in the house. I laughed with nostalgia when I saw Joyce wrestling with the tangled cords that wouldn’t quite reach her chair.
Is Will trapped in the walls or wiring of the house, or has Joyce gone all Yellow Wallpaper? Either way, I love Joyce so much. I’m loving all of the females that are allowed to have real personalities, so far.
Mike’s mom and Nancy haven’t been allowed to stray from their types enough to become individuals yet. So far they’re just foils for more interesting characters. Karen shows us what Joyce isn’t, and is the quintessential 80s mom to her kids. Nancy allows Mike to be a pesky younger brother, while also being an object of desire for Jonathan and Steve, the friend who got Barb disappeared, and shows us that 11 isn’t a normal girl. She’s in a lot of scenes, but it’s mostly for other people to react to her looks or archetype.
Speaking of The Yellow Wallpaper, there’s a lot of talk about both Joyce and 11 being mentally ill, or on the edge of mental illness. No one describes Hopper that way, even though he’s also very much on edge. The town’s men clearly still respect Lonnie, even after he abandoned his family, while Joyce has to remind people that she shows up for work every single day, on time, unlike the police chief. It would take very little for the town to decide that Joyce belongs in Penhurst. Probably a few words from Lonnie and the new psychiatrist in town, Dr Brenner. There’s no question that any of the adults would automatically hand over 11.
I am going to call the police chief “Hopper” from now on for reasons, unless the show settles on a single version of his name.