They’re back! Something wicked this way comes, into the town of Hawkins, and it’s come to stay. This first episode serves as a check in with all of the residents that we got to know last year, and an introduction to a few new arrivals.
10/28/1984 Pittsburgh, PA
The season 2 cold open takes us to a nighttime robbery in Pittsburgh. A gang of robbers made up of men and women of diverse races spills out of a city building, and into their getaway van. After a chaotic chase with several police cars pursuing them, they go through a tunnel. A woman named Kali appears to use her mind to collapse the tunnel entrance before the police can go through, causing the police cars to pile up in a multi-car accident.
It turns out that the collapse was an illusion that could only be seen by the driver of the first car. As Kali wipes away the trickle of blood dripping from her nose, we see the number 008 tattooed onto her wrist. We’ve just met one of El’s fellow test subjects.
Cue the opening credits and theme, which are just as exciting as they were in season 1. Now let’s get back to Hawkins, already.
It’s one year after the events of season 1, and a few days before Halloween. Dustin now has front teeth!! He’s very excited about it too!! He shows them off whenever possible, along with a little a cat purr-growl!!
The boys are searching for change so that they can go to the local arcade. Dustin scrounges under couch cushions, Lucas mows a neighbor’s lawn (like a man!), and Mike steals change from Nancy’s piggy bank, which is shaped like an actual pig. He races out of the house before Nancy can stop him or get to their mom.
Will gets dropped off by Joyce, with strict orders not to walk or bike home, while the other three boys are still on their bikes. Dustin is the king of the arcade, with top scores on two of the games. Except…he’s been usurped. The older kid who works at the arcade will tell them who the usurper is, whose video game handle is “MadMax”, if Mike will get him a date with Nancy. Mike is a decent brother, and refuses to pimp out his sister.
While the discussion is going on, Will hears a loud boom, and is drawn outside, only outside turns into the Upside Down. It looks as creepy and cool as ever, now with added giant, tentacled Shadow Monster in the distance. A storm’s abrewin’ in Hawkins, and it won’t bring anything good.
The next morning, police chief Jim Hopper is met at the station by Murray Bauman, former respected journalist, current conspiracy theorist and free lancer, who is investigating the strange events and rumors surrounding Hawkins. Bauman wants Hopper to investigate the rumors of Russian spying and a young Russian psychic girl that he’s uncovered. Formerly he’d attributed the strange stories about Hawkins to an alien invasion.
Bauman is ostensibly in Hawkins investigating Barb’s disappearance. He theorizes that Barb may have encountered the Russian spy girl and been killed by her. Hawkins is now in danger of A FULL SCALE RUSSIAN INVASION, OMG! THE COLD WAR WAS SERIOUS BUSINESS, KIDS!!!
Hopper is saved by his secretary, Florence, who seems to be getting a few more lines this season. There’s an emergency pumpkin poisoning case to be solved, so the Russian invasion will have to be put on hold.
Over at the high school, Steve is having a tough senior year and college application season. Plus, there’s a new bad boy in town who has it in for him. And Nancy doesn’t seem as wildly enthusiastic about their relationship. That’s what happens when you pressure a girl every step of the way, hon. Once she has time to think, she might realize that she’s not as into you as you wanted her to be.
At the junior high, Will is being bullied and called Zombie Boy, because the funeral meant he was dead for real, right? Not that the body was misidentified. Mouthbreathers.
My husband Mr Clark, the science teacher, is enthusiastically expounding on the wonders of the human brain to bored 12 year olds. The class gets a new student from California, a redheaded girl named Max. Obviously MadMax.
Joyce gets a customer at the store, who just happens to be her new boyfriend, Bob the Brain, played by Sean Astin/Samwise Gamgee. He has the hots for her and they have a make out session in the back room.
Bob is an adorable, well-meaning nerd who works at Radio Shack and is thrilled that he gets to date a cool girl like Joyce, who wouldn’t have even looked at him in high school. He likes her kids, and can’t wait for movie night, but asks her to ask Jonathan not to pick a scary movie. He doesn’t like scary movies.
His time on Stranger Things isn’t going to end well, unless he finds some reserve of strength that he didn’t know he had, and rises to the occasion. No, this isn’t going to end well.
Hopper gets to Merrill’s Pick Your Own Pumpkins Farm (2 for $3) and finds that the fields are filled with blackened, half rotted pumpkins, swarming with maggots and flies. Farmer Merrill insists that it was done by his competition, Farmer Eugene, in retaliation for Farmer Merrill stealing Eugene’s “pick your own pumpkins” idea. Hopper is skeptical.
Hopper hears something moving around and making eating noises in the corn field nearby, but only finds a crow when he checks it out. The crow startles him and us, because birds are evil in horror shows, everyone knows that.
The four boys watch Max skateboard and debate whether she’s really the arcade’s MadMax. Dustin and Lucas are smitten, and convinced it’s her. Will says girls don’t play video games. Mike thinks that it’s too convenient of a coincidence. Max stops skateboarding and goes inside, throwing out a piece of paper as she goes in. Without hesitation, the boys run over to look at it. The paper says Stop spying on me, creeps! Busted.
Will has to leave for one of his regular examinations by Paul Reiser at Hawkins Lab. He walks to the car like he’s going to his execution. Mike and the others worry about him. Hopper meets Joyce and Will at the lab.
Will gets his vitals checked, then has electrodes attached to measure his brainwaves. Evil
Paul Reiser Dr Owens questions Will about his episode at the arcade. Dr Owens reports to Joyce and Hopper after, suggesting that Will is having post traumatic stress, which is currently being exacerbated by the anniversary of the original trauma.
He reassures them that they can trust him, and that all of the people who worked at the lab a year ago are dead and gone. Yeah, sure. Next you’ll say there’s no monsters inside Will, and that you aren’t being paid to weaponize them.
Hopper and Joyce are no fools, and don’t trust Owens, or the lab. Hopper insists Joyce call him first if Will gets worse.
Owens goes straight down to the main portal to the Upside Down in the lab basement. He greets a lab tech dressed in a fireproof hazmat suit, then watches as the tech takes a flame thrower through an air lock into the Upside Down. Living matter has continued to grow out of the portal. The tech burns the matter. It screams in pain as he burns it.
Nancy and Steve have dinner with Barb’s parents. The Hollands tell the kids that they’ve hired Murray Bauman to find Barb and are sure that he’ll get them the results that the Hawkins police haven’t given them for the past year. They have so much faith in Bauman that they’re selling their house to pay him.
Nancy is filled with guilt, since she knows the truth about Barb, but has been forced into secrecy by various government agencies, so she can’t give the Hollands the relief they deserve. She cries in the bathroom in the middle of dinner, and resolves to do something to help.
Karen and Ted inform Mike that he has to give up two boxes of toys for the yard sale, as punishment for stealing from Nancy’s piggy bank. He says that he only borrowed the money, but they won’t budge. He sorts through the toys in tears, remembering the important memories that go with each toy.
Mike stops part way through to sit in El’s card table blanket fort and try to raise her on the walkie-talkie. Mike let’s El know how many days it’s been since they’ve seen each other. He thinks he hears her say Mike, but then it’s Dustin’s voice he hears clearly.
Dustin and Lucas have scoped out Max at the arcade, and confirmed that she’s MadMax. They radio Mike to tell him. Mike cuts them off before they can say more. Dustin and Lucas decide to go ahead with their Max-centric plan, even without Mike’s approval. They still have the approval of the majority their party.
Will has decided to embrace being Zombie Boy and being a freak. Jonathan gives him a pep talk, convincing him that normalcy is overrated and the best things are usually accomplished by freaks (true). Bob pops into the room and is all about the über normal, über lame to 80s teens, Kenny Rogers and Mr Mom. Mission accomplished.
The phone rings during the family movie, and Joyce looks terrified. Bob convinces her to let it ring. We are all creeped out. Joyce will be glad in a few years when she can change her ring tone.
In the middle of the night, down in the lab basement, the alarm panels go crazy. At the same time, Will gets up to pee and has an episode. He’s drawn outside. The Upside Down storm has gotten more intense, and the Shadow Monster has gotten bigger, its tentacles extending further.
Hopper pulls up next to a remote cabin in the woods. He steps over a trip wire and gives a secret knock at the door. The locks unlock to let him in, but when he steps inside, no one is in the room. After a moment, El comes out, and they eat dinner together, carrying on a parent-child discussion while they eat.
As a certified old person, I enjoy the 70s-80s nostalgia of this show. They go further than almost anyone ever does to get minute period details correct. However, I do sometimes resent having old songs inserted into my head again, where they stay for days and won’t leave.
Murray Bauman seems to be at least partially based on Geraldo Rivera, who was a respectable reporter in the 70s and 80s, winning a Peabody Award and breaking important national stories. By the mid-80s he became hooked on fame and theatricality, his stories and broadcasts began to focus more on sensationalism and conspiracy theories than social justice, and he eventually went to work for the FOX News channel.
I’m afraid that Bob might be the designated Barb this year, the character that we care about, and lose, to remind us that anyone can die and the danger is real. I’d rather that it was Max’s older brother, Billy, who seems tailor-made to die some sort of heroic death, sacrificing himself to save someone, and having that be the one good thing that he’s ever done in his entire life.
Joyce’s car is giving me such flashbacks. My first car was a bright orange Ford Pinto that I drove in 1985 and ’86. I haven’t even seen a Pinto in decades.
Are we all creeped out at just the sight of the lab building exterior? I want to grab Will and run far away with him, preferably to a future with better medical techniques. Haven’t any of these people ever seen a movie sequel? Especially that one with Paul Reiser in it??
The lab has built a reinforced clear wall to separate the Upside Down portal from the lab, with a high tech air lock as the doorway between the two. They are literally and figuratively playing with fire. They’re burning living organisms, assuming that there will be no retaliation, and don’t seem to be looking for a way to close the portals.
Proving my opinion that they are evil, Karen and Ted have a Reagan/Bush ’84 sign on their lawn. They also continue to be absolutely oblivious to their children’s real emotional lives, and even hostile to Mike’s feelings. Ted does seem to be more alert than he was last season, but it’s mostly so that he can make sure to parrot and expand on whatever Karen says. Dismissing a kid’s favorite toys as hunks of plastic shows that Ted has no soul.
Karen simply wants to properly repress Mike into a normal, mainstream American level of toxic masculinity, so he’ll grow up happy and healthy like all of the parenting books and experts say he will. She’s had enough of his troublesome caring and sensitivity, which cause inconvenient emotions and acting out when they aren’t tended to properly. She doesn’t have time to devote that level of parenting to a boy. 🤦🏻♀️ 🤦🏻♀️ 🤦🏻♀️ 🤦🏻♀️ 🤦🏻♀️
In comparison, Joyce is having a hard time even letting Will out of her sight, making it hard for him to settle back into some kind of normalcy. The “episodes” don’t help.
We didn’t see Dr Brenner this episode, El’s papa. Eventually, they’ll need to at least tell us what happened to him.
Nancy, Mike, Will, and Joyce are still profoundly affected by what happened a year ago. Jonathan, Steve, Hopper, Dustin, and Lucas all appear to be holding up better. We didn’t see enough of El to get a sense of her state of mind.
They didn’t give new heartthrob bad boy Billy much to do this episode. Max either, although her purpose this episode was to cause turmoil between the boys by being NotEl, and she did that.
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