Yikes! Things are heating up! Or cooling off, in Will’s very eerie case. Everyone is slipping back into warrior/investigative mode.
It’s especially nice to see in Nancy and El’s cases, since they’d both been relegated to the sidelines in their own lives by well-meaning but clueless men. Being safe starts to become meaningless if you’re a prisoner or expected to be a bystander while decisions are made for you.
Joyce races into the school parking lot and jumps out of her car. She and the kids quickly find Will in one of the ball fields, still stuck in the Upside Down and engulfed by the Shadow Monster. To the outside world, he appears to be having a seizure. Joyce tries to snap him out of it, but he doesn’t respond. Finally, the monster releases him and he snaps awake.
When Joyce gets Will home, she pushes him to tell her the truth, but he insists he doesn’t remember what happened. She shows him his drawing and the image from the video, and says she believes that the episodes are happening in the real world. She needs him to talk to her so she can help him. No more secrets.
He starts talking. He doesn’t know what the Shadow Monster is. It’s almost more like a feeling. He tried to make it go away, but it got him. He can still feel it everywhere. He breaks down in tears and says he just wants it to be over.
El makes it home after dark from her long walk into town. Hopper’s waiting, and starts yelling as soon as she gets inside. He wants to know who might have seen her, and tells her how stupid she is for putting herself in danger. El says that he lied to her about getting to see Mike and going places. He says that he doesn’t lie, he protects and feeds and teaches. He just asks that she follow three simple rules, and she can’t even do that.
If they had stopped here, both would have had valid points. It’s an impossible situation, compounded by Hopper’s massive fear of losing another daughter.
But they don’t stop there. Hopper starts taking away everything that makes El’s life bearable at all- her Eggos, her TV- as a way of punishing her. You can’t use that kind of punishment on a kid who’s already been so abused. Her whole life is already punishment.
El won’t let him move the TV, and her “grounding ” quickly escalates from 1 week to 6 months. Hop’s language includes name calling and telling El that she can go back to the lab. Hopper totally f*cked this one up. By the end of it, El’s so upset that her powers go crazy and she breaks all of the glass in the house.
All he needed to do was give a little. He’s treating her like she’s a monster just as much as the lab did, even if it is for her own “protection”. He has no empathy for her, just the urge to protect her like she’s an object.
Joyce repeatedly tries to call Hopper to update him on Will’s situation, but there’s no phone at the cabin. When Will gets up in the morning his body temperature has cooled down to ~95.2. He still feels weird from the Shadow Monster, out of it, like he’s not really awake.
Joyce decides to try a warm bath to get his body temp up, since it’s unlikely that an MD would know what to do with this condition. Will thinks the water is too hot, and says in a weird voice that “he” likes it cold.
Dustin feeds Dart more Three Musketeers and leaves her at home for the day. She seems happy and a little bigger. At school, the gang is looking through the garbage dumpster for Dart. Lucas has made the brave sacrifice to jump inside.
Hopper boards up the cabin windows before work. He starts to talk warmly to El, but switches to gruffly telling her that if she has the cabin cleaned up by the time he gets home, maybe he’ll consider fixing the TV. Florence tells him over the truck radio that Joyce has called 8 times already, so he goes straight there.
Billy and Tommy harass Steve during gym class and in the showers, telling him that Nancy has already started dating Jonathan. I see it now. Billy is here to taunt Steve into showing up for the big climactic fight again.
Nancy asks her mom if she can stay overnight at a friend’s house. Stepford mom Karen thinks that sounds wonderful. Jonathan is waiting for Nancy in the cul-de-sac. They go to the park for their meeting with Barb’s mom, but Mrs. Holland doesn’t show. Several of the lab’s pet FBI agents do happen to be there, and kindly offer the kids a ride to the lab when Jonathan’s car “coincidentally” won’t start.
When Hopper gets to Joyce’s house, the door is wide open and the house is freezing. Will is in his bedroom, wearing only boxers. Hopper talks to Will about the monster. Will says that the monster isn’t talking to him. He just knows things now, like memories in the back of his head, only the memories are happening now.
While he talks about growing, spreading and killing, we see images of tunnels. Hopper looks alarmed, as he’s reminded of the dead pumpkins. Joyce suggests Will try drawing what he’s experiencing. He frantically draws abstract page after page.
At school, Mike calls a “party members only” meeting. He tells Dustin and Lucas about the Shadow Monster that Will told Mike he saw on Halloween. They figure out that Will must have seen it again the day before.
A discussion of the rules of True Sight follows. Theoretically, things on one plane shouldn’t be able to hurt things on another plane, but this is the real world, not D&D. They need to acquire more knowledge. Mike will go to Will’s after school.
Mike asks Lucas and Dustin to keep looking for Dart. Dustin asks what Dart has to do with this. Mike reminds them that Will heard Dart in the Upside Down. Dart has to be connected to all of this. Finding Dart can help them help Will. Dustin gets shifty eyed and doesn’t tell them that Dart is in his bedroom.
El works on cleaning up the cabin. As she’s sweeping the floor, she discovers a trap door that leads to a small basement used for storage. One of the boxes is labelled Hawkins Lab. It contains the records from Hopper’s investigation in season 1. El makes a bee line for it and starts reading. Jackpot.
Nancy and Jonathan are being held in one of the lab’s interrogation rooms. Nancy starts yelling at the cameras, and Owens comes in to spring them. He fake apologizes for the lack of hospitality, and quotes George Sarton out of context: “Men of science have made abundant mistakes of every kind.” Nancy says that those mistakes include killing Barb.
They go for a walk through the facility to the Upside Down portal. We see scientists working on lab samples that presumably come from the Upside Down. Owens blathers on about protection and mistakes and keeping things quiet and needing their help.
He asks if they want to see what really killed their friend, and dramatically opens the door to the portal room. Inside, the portal and surrounding growth is blackened and sickly looking. He tells Teddy, the fireman, that he has an audience today. Owens says that they can’t seem to erase this mistake, but they can stop it from spreading. It’s like pulling weeds.
He asks them to imagine for a moment if the Soviets heard about this mistake. Would they believe it was a mistake? Would they try to replicate it? The more attention that’s drawn to the lab by regular people finding out the truth, the more likely it is that the Soviets will find out about the Upside Down. He says, “You see why I have to stop the truth from spreading too, just like those weeds there. By whatever means necessary. So, we understand each other now, don’t we?” As he’s saying this, Teddy enters the portal area, and burns the living parts. The threat is clear.
Will has drawn dozens of drawings. Joyce and Hopper puzzle them out and figure out that it’s like underground vines.
At the end of the school day, Lucas tries to talk to Max, but she’s angry at being left out all the time. She asks if they left El out all the time too. Lucas says that they have to exclude Max sometimes for her own safety. He’s surprised someone even mentioned El to her. It was different with El.
It was definitely different with El. She WAS the secret. She was also frequently excluded anyway.
Max walks over to Billy’s car to leave with him. He asks her who she was talking to and why she was so upset. She says that it was just a kid from class. He warns her that Lucas is one of the kinds of people in this world that you stay away from. He grabs her arm violently, and warns her again. Then he does his trademark too fast peal out of the parking lot.
El has gone through many of the files in the box when she finds Terry Ives’ file. She reads through the file, and the descriptions of Terry’s baby, Jane, who’s been missing since birth. She also sees a picture of her papa, Brenner.
El grabs a radio, her blindfold, and a picture of Terry. She finds Terry in her head, sitting in her rocking chair and saying strings of numbers and directions out loud (“three to the right”). Terry looks up and calls El “Jane”. El says “Mama” and touches Terry’s hand. Terry’s image dissolves. El is left behind in desperate tears, having come so close to someone she’s needed for so long.
Mike knocks on the Byers’ door. He asks for Will, but Joyce says Will isn’t feeling well. Mike says, “It’s about the Shadow Monster, isn’t it?” Joyce is shocked that Will told Mike about it.
Jonathan and Nancy are escorted to their car, which is now running perfectly. Nice of the lab to do the repairs. Once they are clear of the lab’s grounds, Nancy pulls a recorder out of her purse. She plays back the incriminating parts of what Owens said, when he acknowledged the lab’s responsibility for Barb’s death and Will’s disappearance. Jonathan asks her if she’s sure she wants to go through with their plan. She says yes. “Let’s burn that lab to the ground.” I love it when she goes into warrior goddess mode.
Dustin gets home from school and checks on Dart. The side of the aquarium is broken and Dart is missing. Dustin follows a trail of blood across the room to find a much larger Dart in the middle of devouring the family cat. Dart turns towards him and hisses, her face opening in the distinctive petal formation of the Upside Down Monster. Things aren’t looking good for Yertle.
Hopper grabs a shovel and goes back to the pumpkin patch. He picks a spot, and starts digging. Hours later, he’s dug a huge hole. (Objectively, it would take 2 or 3 men to dig that hole in that time. Hop has some aggressions to work out. And he’s Hellboy.) As darkness is falling, he hits the distinctive black, mucky, goo of the Upside Down. He punches a hole through and drops into…a tunnel.
There’s the sewer-type thing I’ve been waiting for. But, really Hop? Alone and at night? What about El, all alone in a cabin in the woods at night, just waiting for monsters to find her?
Ugh, with the way Will’s going, we’re back to Stephen King, who loves to torture sweet
children boys to death. I really don’t want to watch Will die. I really want to watch Billy die. He has no other narrative purpose. Kill the waste of space, not the sweetest child on the planet. Alternatively, kill Tommy. That would help with the whole #Justice for Barb thing. Or kill them both. Even better.
Will was afraid as he was walking into the bathroom with the tub full of hot water, as Mr Clark’s narration highlighted. How much of the fear was because of the heat, and how much was because of the water? He pulled the plug on the bathtub drain rather than add more cold water, which suggests that he didn’t want to get wet.
Fear of water is a symptom of rabies. Between that and the emphasis the camera is putting on cars and pets/animals this season, I’m starting to get Cujo feelings. I don’t want to have Cujo feelings. Unless Billy dies in his car saving Max. They’ve spent so much time making sure that we know that he’s supposed to give her a ride home down that looong country road in his fast car that something’s got to come of it. Otherwise, the death of Dustin’s cat fills my quota for kids and cute animals dying, thanks.
Hopper is completely unable to look at their situation from El’s point of view. She’s been a very patient middle schooler. Mike and the boys kept her presence a secret before. Surely he could find a way to set up some kind of visitation, at least with Mike and Will, the two who are least likely to forget or get scared and talk. He could say he’s teaching them tracking or taking them fishing in the woods.
He could teach them Morse code to communicate with her. That wouldn’t raise any eyebrows, if they pretended the messages were going between the boys, but she got them, too. She could message back, when Hopper was home to disguise that it was her. She just needs some kind of contact with the outside world. Even passing letters back and forth. If it’s all in writing, on paper, Hawkins Lab can’t hear it.
But also, why doesn’t she have a stack of books that she’s reading, and a stack of videotapes with a VCR, and books on tape if she can’t read novels on her own yet?
The kid needs some hobbies and hands on learning. Why isn’t the house covered in her art supplies, or her science projects? I’m ready to jump into the TV and homeschool her myself. She’d be fun.
Dustin must still be feeling like the odd man out in the group. Last year, he felt that as the late comer to the group, he had lower standing than everyone else. Mike reassured him that the boys were all equally his friends, and leaned on him more than Lucas while Will was gone, but was closest to El.
This year, the group seems to have sorted itself into Mike/Will and Dustin/Lucas. Mike is intensely worried that he’s going to lose Will again, and Will is going through the equivalent of a serious illness. Both Dustin and Lucas were interested in Max, but Dustin seems to have backed off on the competition since he’s found Dart.
Mike is including everyone in the quest to save Will, just like last year. Lucas and Max haven’t become a couple who want to ditch Dustin. The separation is Dustin’s doing. Now he’s to the point of lying and endangering Will, possibly others, to keep Dart, who he’s had for about a day. This is not the happy, generous, level-headed peacemaker we met last year. He did sound like he was about to turn Dart in at the end of the episode, but it was too late.
Lucas, on the other hand, has mellowed out and is much more open to new people and ideas. He called El The Weirdo for almost the entire season last year and took almost the whole time to warm up to her. He hated changes of plans, or plans that didn’t involve enough action. Now he’s open to Max joining the group, he’s much less impulsive, he’s patient with long term plans, and he didn’t reject Dart right away. He’s matured over the last year.
The full George Sarton quote:
Men of science have made abundant mistakes of every kind; their knowledge has improved only because of their gradual abandonment of ancient errors, poor approximations, and premature conclusions.
It’s meant as an admonishment to do better by letting go of outdated knowledge and methods, not as an excuse for failure. Here, it pretty clearly means that Owens is a failure because he’s an idiot who’s using the same short-sighted methods as his doomed predecessor. But then, he does work for the federal government, and is likely a Trump appointee.
It’s obnoxious that the writers have Max go immediately to being jealous of the one other girl she knows the boys have been friends with, rather than asking if that’s how the boys treat every new member. As usual, these writers write stereotypes of girls, rather than people.
Max still has no narrative purpose, other than so the Duffers can say they added a girl to replace El in the gang and so that there’s a love interest for the junior high crowd. Her major personality traits are skateboarder and video gamer with rotten older brother. There’s been nothing that shows why she and the boys would be friends. She’s just sort of following them around, and angry when she can’t. Why isn’t she making friends with any girls?
In the end, Billy gets two unjustifiable reasons to live in this episode, being racist against Lucas and bullying Steve. With a side of sibling abuse toward Max. Maybe we’re going to do some Little Shop of Horrors and Dustin will have to find terrible people to feed to Dart. It’s no fun if we don’t also get at least one song. Billy can sing about being a racist instead of being a dentist before he gets eaten.