The main characters finally pool their information and briefly work together in this episode, but, no one ever told Hopper that it’s safer to stick together. He ditches everyone but Joyce as quickly as possible, and we’re back to the original rogue age-based groupings by the end of the episode.
But first, there’s the most awesome evil van vs kids on bikes chase scene ever. El sends a van flying over their heads, rather than letting it catch them. It’s a mirror to the scene in ET when he makes Elliott’s bike fly. But El isn’t ET, and those aren’t benign scientists who are trying to save her life.
El and Mike had been in Mike’s basement cleaning up after the quarry adventure, and just about to kiss, when Dustin interrupted them to say that Lucas was radioing in with a warning. The evil scientists had located them and were on their way to Mike’s house, thanks to Mr Clarke’s enthusiastic sharing.
Karen is too busy on the phone to notice that the kids in her house are in the middle of a life and death crisis. She needs to find out if Nancy had sex with a boy again, this time in Karen’s own house. She is determined to remain oblivious to the more mysterious goings on.
The kids drop everything and take off on their bikes, meeting up with Lucas again on the way. They all make it back to the scene of their big argument the day before, where they exchange information and try to come up with a new plan. They realize that they are in a serious movie like Firestarter, with government agencies that can’t be trusted and very real danger.
Lucas apologizes to El and Mike, and they apologize to him. The crucial ceremonial handshake is finally accomplished, and the team is back, stronger than ever. Before they get very far into their plans, a military helicopter flies over them. They hide their bikes underneath an old school bus and climb inside to get out of sight.
The Hawkins Lab team shows up at Mike’s house to question his parents, who cling to the belief that they’re still in ET and everything is warm and fuzzy, despite all evidence to the contrary. We don’t get to see what story Brenner concocts to explain why El was at the lab and then escaped, and why she’s so dangerous, but it somehow convinces them. They desperately want to continue believing that the scientists are acting for the greater good and can be trusted. That’s probably why they focus more on the fact that El is a GIRL than anything else about her. What might this dangerous 12 year old femme fatale have done to their innocent son?
When Karen becomes emotional, the questioning is passed from Hawkins’ usual blonde female interrogator to Brenner himself. He speaks calmly, and with authority, but he also stares deeply into Karen’s eyes and seems to be using some code phrases. Does he have some psychic abilities of his own? He also always made sure he looked right into El’s eyes when he told her what to do. In Firestarter, the parents were experimental test subjects, and have psychic abilities of their own. Becky told us that the project that Terry was involved in took place over decades. Maybe Brenner was one of the early subjects.
Hopper and Joyce arrive at the police station to deal with Jonathan’s arrest. Callahan and Powell have become pretty good comic relief. Their stuff is only so funny though, because they’re ignoring or worsening such serious situations.
They show Joyce and Hopper the box of monster hunting supplies that they found in Jonathan’s car. I can’t imagine that any of it was illegal, since the guy sold it to them in a public place, without even checking IDs. Maybe Callahan just assumed that Jonathan and Nancy are now terrorists. Except, as we all know, white people can’t be terrorists. Maybe he was concerned that they were hunting without a license. Small towns take that sort of thing very seriously. Gotta make sure there’s enough wildlife for everyone to kill. 😱
Nancy and Jonathan tell Joyce and Hopper everything they know about the monster. Joyce tells Jonathan not to get dead, too. Troy the bully shows up at the police station to report El’s assault. Hopper gets the truth about what happened at the quarry from him, which tells him that El/Jane is with Mike.
They try to look for Mike at home, but the Hawkins lab goons are still all over the neighborhood, so Hopper won’t let anyone go near. They go back to Joyce’s house instead, and have Nancy contact Mike using Will’s walkie-talkie. The kids are suspicious of the contact and worried they’ll be betrayed, but decide to trust Nancy and answer.
Tommy and Steve get into a fight over their treatment of Nancy. Steve feels bad about what happened. He didn’t know that Tommy was going to spray paint the message about Nancy. Steve ditches Tommy and drives away. I’m not sure that I can handle Steve suddenly developing a conscience. It’s like the world turning Upside Down. He even helps clean up the spray paint.
Hopper finds the bus just as several Hawkins goons do, too. He takes them out like the antihero that he is, then herds the kids into his car and drives them back to Joyce’s house. Nancy hugs Mike, then notices that El is wearing her old dress.
A giant info exchange follows. Hopper says the gate to the Upside Down is underground and next to a large water tank. El confirms. Is that the sensory deprivation tank? Joyce asks if El can communicate with Will and Barb in the Upside Down. El agrees to try. She can’t reach them through the walkie-talkie, possibly because she’s exhausted from the stress of the last few days and the use of her powers. She thinks she could reach them using a sensory deprivation tank if they can get her access somehow.
The science nerds in the room are up for the challenge. Dustin calls Mr Clarke and interrupts his Saturday night date to get instructions on how to make a homemade sensory deprivation tank. Apparently Mr Clarke keeps instructions on hand, because, after a bit of persuasion, he reads them to Dustin over the phone. We’re back in Weird Science/ Real Genius territory again for a few minutes.
Mike and Nancy talk and reconnect. He’s surprised at how physically confident and useful she’s become. They both protest a little too loudly that they aren’t romantically interested in Jonathan or El.
Joyce sits with El and prepares her for her mission. She gives El probably the first caring mother-daughter talk of her life, and you can see how moved El is. Joyce may not be a great housekeeper, but she has the caring, protective mom thing down. The government isn’t going to take her babies while she sits at home waiting.
Into the kiddie pool filled with rock salt turned sensory deprivation tank El goes. It doesn’t take her long to find Barb’s rotting, putrified body. She starts screaming, “Gone, gone, gone!” after saying Barb’s name. The others figure out what’s happened. They sooth El and she continues on in the Upside Down. Next she finds a very chilled, sickly Will in Castle Byers. She repeats “Castle Byers” over and over in our world. Joyce tells El to tell Will that they will come for him soon. He says to hurry. Will and the castle dissolve into thin air. El comes back to our reality, and Joyce holds and comforts her.
Hopper wants to leave, alone, immediately, to find Will. Joyce insists on going with him.
Nancy and Jonathan sit together in the hall of the junior high school where they set up the tank, under a mural of a tiger. The question is, who is the apex predator? Them, or the monster?
Nancy insists that they go back to the station, get their monster hunting supplies, and complete their mission. They are the only ones with direct experience of the monster, Nancy especially. She doesn’t want to let Hopper and Joyce go in alone and underestimating what they’re up against. She wants to kill the monster. And we thought that El was Buffy.
Hopper’s big idea is to break into the grounds of the lab by cutting the fence, then sneak into the building, exactly the way he did the last time, when he got caught. The lab is waiting for him this time, and they’re caught outside the entrance to the building. They are surrounded by guards with guns.
Will is back in Castle Byers, freezing and singing Should I Stay or Should I Go. We hear the monster outside the Castle. Then it busts in, just as the ending credits start.
Not okay show. I have to write this entire well thought out and researched recap before I can go on to episode 8. How will I survive this cliffhanger??? 🙀 😰 🙈 💩
Different characters are playing out different old movies, and I don’t watch much hard-core horror, so I know I’m missing those references.
It’s really cool to see everyone explaining what they know to everyone else, and have the others listen respectfully and believe them. The whole gang has amazing chemistry together, and it’s fun to see characters interact that we don’t normally get to see together. I want more of Joyce and El together, and Hopper with the boys. Jonathan and El alone in a room together being forced to verbally communicate for some reason could be fun and exciting. And Joyce needs to mentor Nancy in how to be an independent-thinking woman, because Nancy isn’t getting that from her mother. Nancy and El being girls on the monster hunt together might be everything I want from this show. And for Nancy to find a way to get El something else to wear. That d*mn dress is now not just ugly and filthy, but encrusted in salt. Let Millie Bobby and El wear something else, PLEASE!
Which group will get to Will and the monster first? This is like some role play game with different teams racing against each other to complete the quest, with obstacles thrown in their way and help sent to them periodically. My money’s on the kids. They have El, they’re seasoned warriors who’re used to working together, and they’ve already been working on this quest the longest. I’m not counting out Nancy as the dragon slayer though. She owes it one.
Does Brenner have a Push capability like Charlie’s father in Firestarter, allowing him to psychically push people into following his orders?? That would explain why everyone in town is so blasé about the strange happenings. Perhaps he tells them not to pursue any investigation.
Is El Brenner’s biological daughter? What is Terry’s power, if she also has one? Might she be a psychic who can see what’s been going on in El’s life? Is that what she’s been doing for the last five years? Watching El TV?
Steve becomes a real person against all odds. He and his friends are in a John Hughes teen movie. Nancy doesn’t have time for this. Neither do I, if this means that Nancy is playing the role of Molly Ringwald, who always ends up with the boring redeemed rich boy, as Jonathan predicted in the woods a couple of episodes ago. Maybe, since El got to throw away the blonde wig, Nancy won’t have to be Molly Ringwald and El won’t have to destroy a small town.
Mr Clarke points out that all of the special effects in The Thing are fake, they’ve come a long way, and you can accomplish amazing things with things you already have in your house. But why does he know how to build a sensory deprivation tank? I still think there’s something unusual about him. Another message of the special effects is that things aren’t always what they seem. He’s had or known exactly the materials and knowledge that they needed to deal with the Upside Down all season long, starting in the pilot, when he got the extra strong radio that El eventually used to contact Will. Maybe he’s from the Upside Down himself, and is trying to phone home. Maybe not everything that comes through is faceless and sinister, or maybe his face is made of plastic and microwaved chewing gum. 😉 Maybe his character is a mirror of Will. Maybe he’s the real ET. Or where the monster goes when it’s not eating. But he seems so nice.
Ted Wheeler, upon being informed of a child used as a lab experiment since birth who has escaped and is now being hunted: “What happened to her hair?” In the immortal words of the must-see 1998 film Pleasantville, “Thank God we’re in a bowling alley.” Ted will not be taken out of his normal life no matter what happens. “Honey, we have to trust them. This is the government. They’re on our side.” He will offer up human sacrifices if necessary, in the form of Will, Barb, El, and the missing Moony men. Apparently he won’t even go look for his own kids if men with badges tell him not to. Karen has been clinging hard to normalcy as well, but I thought sure she’d protect her kids rather than going along with Ted. They want the image of a perfect, normal suburban family life, and will ignore anything necessary to keep up the facade. But, Karen says it herself. It’s turned them into prisoners who can’t think or act independently to save themselves or their children.
Contrast that with Joyce and Hopper, the outsiders who were our examples of people who couldn’t cope with normal life at the beginning of the season. They’ve both done everything necessary to protect everyone’s children, risking their own lives and reputations at every turn. They don’t care if people think they’re crazy, they don’t care who or what they have to fight, and they aren’t picky about who their allies are. They will get the job done no matter what.
Brenner is so proud of El for what she did with the van. I hope his employees have excellent life insurance, because their lives mean nothing to him. What’s important is improving El’s powers until she’s at the peak of her potential. Then he’ll probably sell her to the highest bidder, and start on an improved model.
I originally thought this season would end with Hawkins Lab going the way of Buffy Summers’ high school, being poetically sucked into the closing Hellmouth. Now I wonder if they’ll just resolve Will’s story one way or the other, and kill the monster that’s stalking the town, but leave the rest for future seasons.
I also don’t like the sacrificial look of El on a watery cross in that top photo, but it’s hard to imagine them doing season 2 without her, so I’m going to put that worry aside.