We get two of my favorite things this episode, an epic amount of Christmas lights and new information. The show is done with pleasant introductions, and ready to dive in deep, starting with wherever Barb is- possibly a metaphysical mirror image of the pool she was sitting next to, possibly the monster’s lair. Either way, she doesn’t seem to get out alive. Barb fighting for her life, as she screams for Nancy to help her, is intercut with Nancy and Douchey Steve getting to second base. It’s disturbing on several levels.
Nancy hesitates with Steve a few times, as if she might almost hear Nancy, or she could just be having second thoughts about what she’s doing with Steve. Steve continues to be a douche, and falls asleep when they’re done. Nancy is left to walk home alone in the dark through the neighborhood with the missing kid. At least she’s not a babysitter, or she’d surely never make it back to her house alive, given the horror movie tropes we’re working with. But she does make it home alive, and is met by her very worried mother.
Joyce has survived the night, and is still in Will’s room, begging him to talk to her. Jonathan wakes up and discovers her there, and, sure enough, thinks she’s going crazy when he hears her story.
The boys are gathered once again in Mike’s basement, planning their strategy for the search for Will they intend to go on after school. Lucas, the warrior, has brought the tactical gear, from ‘Nam, presumably his dad’s. Dustin, who is a hobbit at heart, has brought the snacks. Mike has 11, who is sitting on the couch continuing to fiddle with the walkie-talkie, and his own ability to think quickly in a crisis.
Dustin tries to get 11 to fly a model Millenium Falcon with her mind, but she just stares blankly at him. They all agree to meet after school under the power lines, then the boys have to leave. Mike gives 11 his watch.
As soon as the boys leave, 11 floats the Millenium Falcon with her mind. That gets boring fast, so she wanders up stairs to explore. We’re going full Poltergeist this episode, so she ends up sitting right in front of the TV, practically receiving messages from it.
A coke commercial sends her into a memory of Brenner measuring her brainwaves while she crushes a coke can with her mind at the lab. Brenner smiles at her, even though she has a nosebleed afterwards. 11 comes back to the present, turns off the TV, and explores Nancy’s bedroom instead.
Hopper and his deputies talk their way into a look around the laboratory as part of their search for Will. It’s not as uneventful as they’d hoped. The lab security team is obviously lying to them, and shows them the wrong surveillance tape of the culvert, instead of the night Will might have crawled through it.
Hopper and Officer Powell visit the public library in order to research the lab’s history, because this is a small town and these are the tortuous days before the internet and Google made research instantaneous. We discover that Hopper may have dated every single adult woman in town, and that the lab has been implicated in shady dealings with children before, including children in hospital gowns. Hopper noticed that the scrap of fabric seemed like it was from a hospital gown, too.
Meanwhile, Brenner visits the monster he keeps in the basement at the lab. He wears a hazmat suit and security is extra tight. He’s having some equipment installed. It looks like what he was using to record and measure 11’s brain waves. Will he be able to tell that she’s in contact with the monster? Will he be able to use it to track her somehow?
Once Jonathan is gone for the day, Joyce hangs up all of her Christmas lights inside the house, then adds all of the lights they have at the general store, hoping that Will will use them to communicate with her. Before Will can start working the lights, Karen and Holly ring the doorbell, having brought over a casserole to help out. The two moms chat in the kitchen, and little Holly wanders off toward the bedrooms. Suddenly, she goes from being Drew Barrymore in ET to being Carole Anne in Poltergeist. Joyce grabs Holly just before the monster in the wall does, and gets Karen and Holly out of the house.
Nancy begins to worry when Barb doesn’t show up for school, and her concern increases when she can’t find Barb anywhere over the course of the day. She eventually realizes that Barb may have disappeared like Will did. Steve and his friends couldn’t care less about Barb, and amuse themselves by mocking Nancy instead. Jonathan develops his Peeping Tom photos from the night before and is caught by another student. She tells Steve, who publicly humiliates Jonathan and breaks his camera, helped out by Tommy and Carol. Nancy watches, and grabs a photo of Barb sitting on the diving board. She figures out that Barb didn’t leave the party when Nancy went to make out with Steve.
Nancy finds Barb’s car still parked where they left it before Steve’s party. She searches Steve’s backyard and the woods behind his house, but then she’s startled by the monster and runs away. When she gets home, she breaks down with her mother, crying, and confesses that she thinks something terrible has happened to Barb.
When 11 goes to the power lines to meet the boys, she finds a cat, which sends her into another flashback. She’s in the lab again, with her brainwaves being measured and Brenner watching. It looks like they want 11 to kill the cat, but she pulls the electrode helmet off her head and refuses to continue. Brenner signals to two goons to drag 11 back to her cell. She screams, “Papa, Papa!” the whole way. I really didn’t want her to be calling Brenner “papa” when they showed her calling out in episode two, but there’s no denying it after this scene. As she’s thrown in the cell, 11 uses her powers to throw one goon into the tiled wall hard enough to kill him, and breaks the other’s neck. Brenner comes to the door of the cell, looks at the dead men, then at 11, who is exhausted and bleeding. He caresses her face and tells her she’s incredible, then gently lifts and carries her out of the cell. It’s not creepy at all.
The boys find Elle, and they wander through the woods toward where Elle says Will is hiding. Elle and Mike talk about him being bullied, which she somehow knows about. Elle speaks in complete sentences. They reach Will’s house and the boys don’t believe 11 that Will could be hiding in his own house unseen.
Hopper gets a call that a body was found at the local quarry. He and Powell speed out to the site, driving by Will’s house as they go. The boys and 11 see the police drive by and follow. They are all there when Will’s body is pulled from the water. Hopper and the kids are devastated. Mike turns on 11, assuming she has been lying about Will being alive for her own purposes.
Mike rides home alone in tears. He and his mother share a big hug when he gets home. We can see Nancy sitting with Barb’s parents in the background, probably telling them what she knows about Barb’s disappearance.
Meanwhile, Will and Joyce have figured out how to communicate through the Christmas lights, first using yes-or-no questions, then using a life-size ouji board that Joyce paints on the wall. Will says that he is alive, but not safe. He is there, in the house. Then he tells her to run, as the lights all flash and the monster breaks through the wall. She runs.
She runs down the road and almost straight into Jonathan’s car. He gets out to see what’s the matter, and they hug in the street as the police cars can be seen in the distance coming to tell them that Will’s body has been found.
Is Will a being of light and energy now? Did he leave his body behind in order to escape the monster? Did 11 help him?
It always looks like it’s snowing around the monster. I shudder to think what those flakes will actually turn out to be.
I’m having traumatic flashbacks just watching Hopper and Powell use microfiche. Thank God the internet has saved us from that pain.
The headlines from the articles on microfiche: “Hawkins Lab Blocks Inquiry” “Alleged Experiments, Abuse” “MKULTRA Exposed” “Dr Martin Brenner Named in Lawsuit” “Terry Ives Suing: They Took My Daughter”. The articles document an investigation and lawsuit surrounding experiments at the lab. Terry Ives claimed that the lab kidnapped her newborn daughter and abused both Terry and her baby, but the case was thrown out due to lack of evidence, if I’m understanding the bits of the articles that we can see. Brenner was implicated, but was able to shut down the investigation based on his reputation and influence. There’s no mention of what happened to the baby that I could see. The articles are undated, but we’re obviously supposed to guess that it’s 11. Powell mentions that the mother said the daughter was taken for LSD mind control experiments, but Terry Ives was discredited. It’s never hard for a man with credentials to discredit the word of a young woman, even if she’s telling the truth and he’s lying.
Eleven bleeds when she uses her powers under duress. She was fine and happy when she was making the spaceship model float, but if she’s upset in any way, she’ll get a nosebleed, and might even bleed from her ears. That can’t be good, medically speaking. We don’t know if she has any other powers yet, like healing powers.
There is the question of whether or not Brenner is 11’s biological father, if that happened through rape, coercion, or insemination, and how much knowledge and consent could have possibly been involved on the part of the young test subject/mother(s). She is number 011, which suggests that there were many more attempts to create a psychic child weapon, and there were several young women in hospital gowns with Brenner in at least one of the newspaper photos. Brenner seems like the type of sociopath who could have a God complex and want all of the experiments to use his genetic material, since they are more evolved humans, but it could also just be expedient to have them think of him as their father.
The thing about Steve and his friends is how much they enjoy punishing Jonathan and destroying his camera. They would have taken the same pictures as he did, maybe more, if they’d been in his position. They aren’t actually offended by the photos, since they themselves aren’t in them. They are taking advantage of an opportunity to exercise their dominance over someone they perceive as lower than them on the social scale, rather than truly defending Nancy’s right to privacy or her honor.
Maybe Nancy is finally poised to become someone more interesting, now that she’s woken up to what’s going on around her, and has lost her best friend. I’m desperate for her to ditch Douchey Steve.
Winona Ryder and Joyce continue to be amazing. She made me completely forget that her scene partner was actually inanimate fairy lights instead of her son really speaking through them. David Harbour also continues to be incredible. I could watch the two of them emote at each other all day. The entire cast deserves every acting award they’ve been nominated for and/or won. Shannon Purser (Barb) is nominated for an Emmy for her heartbreaking, chilling performance in this episode. The first and last shots of Barb’s scene are disturbingly real, but also straight out of a horror movie.
The lighting and cinematography for this episode were spectacular and gorgeous. At some point I’ll need to analyze the metaphorical uses of light and dark in this show. I’m sure many others have already gone through frame by frame to point out the correlations to similar scenes in 80s Spielberg movies.
Eleven does not approve of your bourgeois capitalistic product placement in her prestige television show. Now hand over another Eggo.