In this episode, the OTPs all finally unite around their common goals. The villains also become aware of who their adversaries are. The fighters are separated from the slackers, and battle lines are drawn, even crossed in some cases. We are definitely gearing up for the major climax of the season, though I’m not sure if the “climax” will involve any of the OTPs even getting as far as first base.
We pick up where we left off, with Nancy and Jonathan frantically looking for and calling out to each other. They can hear each other, and eventually Jonathan notices the tree portal. He goes over to inspect, continuing to call for Nancy. That allows Nancy to pinpoint where the portal is, so that she can find it again. Just as I’m wondering if Jonathan has it in him to go in after her, Nancy’s hand pops through the gate, startling us all. He pulls her through to safety and they hold each other while the opening credits run.
Meanwhile, Douchey Steve and his Brat Pack are looking for Nancy because Steve, intuitive guy that he is, sensed that she was upset about something, and now she’s not answering her phone. Steve climbs up on her roof to be the Peeping Tom this time, and sees Nancy and Jonathan innocently sitting on the edge of her bed, with Jonathan’s arm over the top of her shoulders. It couldn’t be more friendly. But Nancy is a possession to Steve, not a person. All that he sees is another guy moving in on his territory, and the girl allowing it.
Hopper has told Joyce every detail he can remember about his investigations into Hawkins Lab and what really happened to Will. Now Joyce is having him go over the details again, looking for important clues. He’s been assuming that the kid’s room that he saw was where Will was being held, but Joyce helps him realize that the details don’t match. He starts to put together the idea that Terry Ives, the woman in the newspaper articles, might have been telling the truth. Thank goodness the characters and groups are starting to share information now.
Nancy asks Jonathan to stay overnight with her because she’s scared to be alone. She ends up asking him to sleep next to her in the bed. Unlike Steve, Jonathan is painfully respectful. In the morning, he wakes to find that she’s been doing research on the behaviors of large predators. She’s figured out that the monster hunts alone and is drawn to fresh blood. She and Jonathan decide to create a trap.
They stop by the Army surplus store for monster hunting supplies, including bullets, a bear trap, spikes, a sledge-hammer, and propane (?). Nancy marvels at how her life has changed, just as another teenage boy drives by and tells her he can’t wait to see her movie. She runs around the corner to look at the movie theater marquee. It now reads “All the Right Moves starring Nancy the Slut Wheeler.”
She can hear Steve and his friends in a nearby alley, where they are painting similar comments about Jonathan. They are all a**holes as soon as they see Nancy and Jonathan, Steve most of all. He provokes Jonathan into a fist fight, then runs away as soon as the cops arrive. Jonathan ends up arrested. He also wins the fight. A helpful lady who works at the police station tells Nancy that Jonathan must be in love with her.
Hopper and Joyce go to question Terry Ives, the mother who claimed Hawkins lab kidnapped her daughter. Sadly, according to her sister, she’s been out of touch with reality for about five years. The sister, Becky, does give them some good information. Terry “miscarried” her baby in the third trimester (usually known as a premature or stillbirth, not a miscarriage, at that point) about 12 years ago. All of the official documents and authorities said the baby died, but Terry always insisted that the baby girl, Jane, lived and had special powers like telekinesis and telepathy.
Becky tells Joyce and Hopper about the MKULTRA experiments that Terry took part in. She’d be given LSD and put in a sensory deprivation tank. Terry didn’t know that she was pregnant while she was taking part in the experiments.
Mr Clarke, who finally gets a first name, Scott, gets a visit from a bogus agency that wants to encourage kids to pursue careers in technology. Could he give them the names of some of his students that might fit their program? Of course, it’s actually Hawkins Lab, trying to figure out who the kids were that were with El when she used the radio, so that they can narrow down their search for her. Mr Clarke is happy to help.
Dustin and Mike rehash the arguments from the day before. Dustin reminds Mike what the group rules are for resolving conflicts, and says everyone was to blame (except Dustin, because he’s a lovely Hufflepuff). They need to get Lucas and make up, then find El.
El spent the night alone in the woods, having nightmares. She’s dirty, hungry and alone. She’s also hating herself. She walks to the edge of the water and looks at her reflection, with and without the ruined blonde wig. Then she throws the wig down and power screams until the water splashes away her reflection. Her brief attempt at being a “normal” pretty girl has failed and is over.
She’s hungry, so she heads to the edge of town and the closest grocery store. Everyone stares as she walks in, and wonders if they should call the police. She is disdainful of them, having had enough of their misogynist middle class gender stereotyping. Mouth breathers, all.
It reminds her of that time that Papa paraded her by a bunch of mouth breathers that he’d brought in to observe the experiment he was forcing her to perform. The one where she was put into the sensory deprivation tank and told to interact with the scary creature from the other side.
El has learned the value of always looking like you know what you’re doing. She walks to the freezer which has her beloved Eggos, grabs as many boxes as she can carry, and walks out of the store, while the manager yells “thief” and the like at her the whole time. She uses her powers at a few well-chosen points to stop his pursuit, but no one gets hurt.
Dustin and Mike get to Lucas’ house and try to get him to shake hands and make up. Lucas is done with El and won’t shake hands unless they’re all done with her. Mike refuses. They start yelling that they’ll just do things separately, but Dustin intervenes to remind them that splitting up is the worst idea ever. THANK YOU. Always listen to the practical hobbit.
Lucas won’t forgive El or allow her to be part of the group, so he decides to go his own way to find the
ring gate. Mike and Dustin plan to stick to the original plan: find El, then the gate and Will, after talking to El to try to understand what went wrong the day before.
Lucas suits up and sets out on his solo mission. He notices a Hawkins Lab van across the street as he’s leaving his house. As expected, the compass leads him straight to the lab. Resourceful as always, he climbs up a high tree and observes the lab through binoculars. There’s sinister looking activity going on, including a line of vans like the one outside of his house. That can’t be good.
They ride by the grocery store and find the aftermath of El’s shopping trip. Figuring that El is nearby, they change the direction of their search. She is happily sitting under a tree with her pile of Eggo boxes.
Instead, the bullies, Troy and Reed, find Dustin and Mike, and chase them all the way to the top of the quarry. Troy pulls out a knife and holds it to Dustin’s throat. He tells Mike to jump off the cliff into the water below, a jump that we’ve already been told would be fatal, or he’ll cut Dustin.
Mike jumps, but is caught halfway down by El’s powers. She pulls him back up to the top. Then she knocks Reed down and breaks Troy’s arm. With her mind. She tells them to go, then faints into another flashback, this time remembering when she actually touched the monster. It turned scary and threatening. She panicked and destroyed the lab the experiment was being done in. Something about the strength of her reaction must have provided the power to open the gate.
When she comes to, El apologizes to Mike. She tells him that she opened the gate, so she is the monster. He tells her that she saved his life, so she is not the monster. Group hugging ensues.
The kids walk home. They are spotted by one of the lab’s surveillance vans. Brenner and an army are deployed to round them up. Lucas realizes where all of those vans are headed.
Karen Wheeler knows how to pick locks with her hairpins. What kind of sordid past does that hint at?😉 The Wheeler family is living two different lives at this point, with Nancy and Mike up to their ears in solving the mystery, and the parents trying to go on as if nothing has changed. Holly’s just trying to remember to swallow her food.
Dustin and Mike discuss their group friendships as they look for El. Dustin is the emotionally intuitive one who keeps the relationships on track, and he has his work cut out for him. Mike is a great leader, convinced that everyone is his best friend and willing to listen to everyone’s opinions and ideas so that no one feels left out.
Dustin didn’t join the group until later than the others, so he still feels that he’s a lower priority friend, but accepts that. Mike is willing to sacrifice his life for Dustin. Hopefully that lets Dustin feel like he’s on equal footing with Lucas.
Lucas is Mike’s original best friend, so he’s having a hard time accepting how close El and Mike have become, and is lashing out because of it. Lucas is loyal to a fault, but he’s also rigid. He doesn’t want to accept El into the group, because that would feel like some kind of defeat for him right now. He refuses to compromise while his temper is still hot, but he comes through for El and the group when things get serious.
Becky name checks Stephen King, who wrote Carrie, about a girl with telekinesis who destroys an entire small town in Maine in revenge for the abuse she suffered there, and Firestarter, about a girl with pyrokinesis whose parents were subjects in government experiments using hallucinogenic drugs. Charlie and her parents are relentlessly pursued by the government, both parents end up dead, and Charlie also goes on a destructive revenge spree.
Becky says that the lab intended to raise Jane to be a weapon. If El is in the movie I think she’s in, I wouldn’t want to be an employee of Hawkins Lab. Or a judgemental resident of a small town in Indiana. El has a Hellmouth to close. That’s going to take some rage and destruction.
The flashbacks to El using her powers, as Becky tells us what she’s been told about Terry’s baby, were unnecessarily heavy-handed and clunky. Stephen King and Spielberg are not subtle, but they aren’t clunky like that either. I felt like those flashbacks were a rare misstep for this show. Viewers weren’t going to have already forgotten that El has powers, and they could have found a better way to make sure we understood that the words Becky was using applied to El.
The monster in the final flashback does look like a flea, which is what Mr Clarke described the Upside Down creature as in his demonstration. It’s an oddly specific choice, especially since fleas hop instead of crawling, and are parasites that eat blood, which is, coincidentally, what the monster is attracted to. I’m starting to wonder who Mr Clarke really is.
How did the monster change from its roundish flea shape to a humanoid shape? Are there more than one of them? Is Mr Clarke going to turn out to be possessed by the king of the Upside Down flea monsters? That would fit in a Stephen King novel. Or is he a character from Alien and they’re breeding inside of him? Oh no, has most of the population become Upside Down flea creature pod people, and that’s why they don’t care much about what’s happening in the town??? 😜 Are they all part of the conspiracy? (This is what happens when I write at 3:00 AM. Maximum paranoia.)