Stranger Things Season 2 Chapter Nine: The Gate Recap

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We’ve finally reached the end of season 2. This episode is the pay off for the Duffers’ series and season long promises, like #Justice for Barb, Mike and El at the Snow Ball, the reason Billy exists (haha, just kidding), closing the gate to the Upside Down, and ending Will’s demon Mind Flayer possession. Let’s see how it all goes down.

We pick up at the moment we left off, probably because there would have been a fan riot if they hadn’t. Fans are mad enough that El was kept separate from the rest of the cast for 8 out of 9 episodes.

El and Mike throw themselves into each other’s arms, just like you’d expect, and hold on for dear life. After a minute, Mike pulls back to tell El that he never gave up on her. He called her every night. Every night for… El finishes his sentence, “353 days. I heard.”

Mike asks why she didn’t respond and let him know that she was there and okay. Hopper jumps in to tell Mike that he was the one who wouldn’t let El answer. El and Hopper hug hello and ask each other where they’ve been. Neither answers. There will be some long catch up conversations, eventually.

Mike hits Hopper and is furious with him for hiding El away from everyone for a year. Hopper drags Mike to a bedroom for a semblance of privacy to argue in. Pretty sure everyone in the house is going to hear it anyway, accidentally or accidentally on purpose.

They all have a right to know.. They were all part of the team last year, except Max, and they’ve all been put in undue danger this year because Hopper kept El a secret. He needs to get over his excessive attachment to secrets and lies. It’s a crutch to avoid forming emotional bonds.

Anyway, Mike yells at Hopper about his overprotectiveness, and Hopper tells Mike to blame him, not El. Mike is an intelligent person, so he yells right back at Hopper that of course he blames Hopper, not El. After a minute, Mike’s fought and argued himself out, since he can’t change anything now.

El, Dustin and Lucas talk in the living room. El notices Dustin’s new teeth. When Max introduces herself, El snubs her and goes into the next room to talk to Joyce and check on Will.

Joyce gives El a big hug. She tells El that Will isn’t doing well. El says she knows. She saw. Joyce asks what else she saw. El looks meaningfully at Will.

Joyce remembers that it was El who opened the gate. She asks El if she could close it, if they got her to it. El looks up meaningfully. Cut to the huge chamber that the elevator descends into, filled with demodogs finishing off bodies.

Should be no problem, right?

Bring up the Emmy Award-winning title sequence one last time!

In a massive change of pace, Karen Wheeler has taken her enjoyment of the season to the next level. While her marriage clearly sucks, she’s finding other ways to amuse herself. She’s had a glass of wine in her hand as often as possible.

This time, she’s soaking in a candlelit bubble bath, with a glass of wine next to the tub. She’s reading a steamy romance novel by Johanna Lindsey and listening to Barbra Streisand sing The Way We Were, from a movie Babs starred in with Robert Redford. In other words, she has all the fantasy material. I didn’t catch sight of a vibrator on the side of the tub, but there must be one stashed away somewhere.

Remember when Mike was showing El around the house in S1, and he pointed to the recliner, then said, “This is where my Dad sleeps”? He wasn’t kidding. We’ve seen Ted sleeping there a number of times this season. This time, he’s out cold, in the dark, and doesn’t hear the doorbell or Karen yelling for him to answer the door.

Karen puts on her long, sexy robe, but stays naked underneath, and answers the door. The soap opera music starts when she opens the door to Billy, still dressed for his date, with his shirt open to his waist. It’s lust at first sight.

Billy is suddenly smooth, saying that he didn’t realize Nancy had a sister. Karen eats it up. More flirting and sexual tension ensue as Karen gives Billy the Byers’ address so that he can check there for Mike and Max. Billy drops the act as soon as he’s back in his car. That was a fun scene, but not worth putting up with the rest of his scenes. Karen can do better. Way better. He totally played her.

The team has a strategy meeting and divvies up responsibilities. El will get into the lab and close the gate. She will find a way to get past the demo dogs. Throwing them at windows seemed to work pretty well for her a little while ago, I don’t know why we’re worried now, but okay.

Mike and the boys realize that cutting off the Mind Flayer will kill everything that’s part of the hive mind, including Will. Joyce reasons that if the monster likes it cold, giving it a fever might drive it out of the body. Y’know, like any other virus.

They can take Will someplace far away, that he’s never been before, so that there’s no chance of him recognizing it, and make it too hot for the monster to handle. Hopefully that will drive the monster out of Will’s body. Hopper offers his cabin.

It’s exorcism time!!

Will is still sedated. Hopper gives Jonathan and Joyce directions, then sends them off to battle the demon alone in the woods. Steve tells Nancy to go, too. He’ll babysit everybody’s brothers and sister. He may have been a lousy boyfriend, but he’s a great babysitter.

I think we’ll all feel better with another warrior out in the woods. Who knows what or who could show up.

El and Mike say goodbye on the front porch. She promises to return to him, because he can’t lose her again. 😭 😭 😭 Hopper, WHO HAS NO SOUL, tells El to get in the car, just as the lovebirds, who he’s already kept apart for a year, are about to kiss. It doesn’t matter if his daughter is Luke Skywalker AND Han Solo, she’s still not kissing boys yet.

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Don’t get excited. Hopper didn’t let them kiss this time either.

Once they are alone in the car, Hopper asks El where she’s been. He emphasizes that he isn’t mad that she went walkabout while he left her alone for days on end, he just wants to know where she’s been, and wonders how it resulted in her looking like an “MTV punk”. El is a rock star! [All of this said in a voice that’s struggling to stay neutral, of course.]

El tells him she went to see Mama. In a truck. A man’s truck. A nice man’s big truck. [Hopper repeats every answer. Soft voice when she says mama, alarm and growing concern with the truck answer, and every one after. Let’s all pause to remember she destroyed the demogorgon singlehandedly and throws demodogs through windows. She’s physically fine on her own, though it’s still better if she’s not.]

Hopper restrains himself and summarizes her adventure with Mom and Aunt Becky. El says she shouldn’t have left. He tells her not to blame herself, and that he shouldn’t have lied to her about her Mom. He should have been at the cabin with her.

That’s some A+ character growth on his part already, but then he takes it further. Hopper says that sometimes he feels like a black hole. He mentions Sara having a picture book about outer space that had one. El asks who Sara is. Hopper looks at El, surprised that he’s never mentioned Sara to her.

Hopper says that Sara’s his girl. She’s gone now, into the black hole. He’s been scared that it would take El, too. That’s why he gets so angry. He’s sorry that he’s been so… El fills in “stupid” and Hopper agrees. Yes, he can be really stupid. They hold hands. El says she’s been stupid too. Hopper says they broke the “Don’t Be Stupid” rule.

He tells El that he doesn’t hate her new look. It’s kind of cool. She says it’s bitchin’. He agrees, bitchin’.

Meanwhile, back at the Byers Ranch, the home team is on clean up duty, and that is not where the junior high schoolers are going to stay. Why are they given this assignment, every time? At least they have Steve this time, so they won’t have to fight whatever they go up against alone.

Dustin makes Steve put the dead demodog into the Byers’ kitchen freezer. He’s sure Mrs. Byers will understand that this new species must be preserved. They didn’t even wrap its head in anything first. Did you see the slime it was drooling? I foresee a thorough freezer scrub, with bleach, in Dustin’s future. Would you eat food from that freezer after this?

Mike is obsessing about the number of demodogs in the lab and worrying that El won’t be able to stop them all. He wants to do something to help, but Steve argues that once the coach has called the play, you execute it. They are on the bench, so there’s nothing they can do.

Dustin pipes up with an idea, because of course he does. The dogs operate on a hive mind. When they left the bus, they were called away. If the kids can cause a distraction, the Mind Flayer will call the dogs and give El time to close the gate with less interference.

They can go into the tunnels through Hopper’s entrance, and set a fire in the boneyard. The Mind Flayer will call the dogs. The kids will run to escape out of Hopper’s hole again before the dogs figure out that they’re gone.

Steve has a fit and refuses to even consider the idea. He demands that the kids acknowledge that they are not doing this. They are at a stand off when they hear Billy’s car outside.

Billy’s here for his 5 minutes of fame. This is it. The sequence he’s been building up to for the entire season. The scenes that he’s literally been living for.

He pulls up in front of the house, and Steve goes out to meet him. They verbally spar for a few minutes. Steve denies knowing where Max is, but Billy refuses to accept that answer. He implies that Steve is up to something creepy with Max.

Then Billy sees the kids watching them from the window, and knocks Steve down, because he’s been itching to hit someone all day. Steve is just below him on the totem pole, so he’s a perfect choice. Billy admonishes Steve for not keeping his feet planted. Billy assumes that every one goes through life ready for a fight. Or maybe he’s just an *ss.

He hits Steve again, then goes inside and attacks Lucas. Lucas knees him in the balls. Billy threatens to kill Lucas, but Steve interrupts. Billy and Steve have a vicious fist fight in Joyce’s house, with Billy being sure to break every breakable item that he can.

Billy finally tackles Steve to the floor, sits on him, and pounds on his face with punch after punch. He shows no signs of stopping, even after Steve’s nose is broken and he’s unconscious. The show will play this off as no big deal, but in real life he’d have a concussion at a minimum at this point, and other broken facial bones, possibly bleeding inside his skull. It’s shocking, senseless, gratuitous violence, not the cartoony movie violence we’re used to on Stranger Things. To me, it’s the worst thing this show has shown. There is no good narrative reason for it. It slows the real story down and is lazy writing, all to indulge the Duffers’ whim of having an OTT human bully this season. Bad idea and bad execution, coach.

Max, who is a quick thinker in a crisis, grabs one of the left over syringes of knockout sedative and jams it into Billy’s neck. She pushes the plunger home. It’s a dose meant to knock a little guy like Will out, so it only disables Billy, but it’s enough.

Max takes Spike the bat and rams it into the ground next to Billy’s groin. She forces Billy to promise he’ll leave her and her friends alone. Not sure he’d even remember this part, but whatevs. Max grabs the keys to the car, and says, “Let’s go.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is that. That scene was the reason for Billy’s existence. Max now has a fast car to drive the Scooby gang to and from the tunnels, and Steve is now unconscious, so he won’t stop them, but he also won’t be irresponsible and give them permission to go. It’s out of his hands.

Personally, I can think of several better ways to spend the movie star salary spent on Dacre Montgomery. Maybe starting with paying to add a better writer to the writers room. This was a clunky, god-awful story arc. There had to be a better way to get the kids and Steve a fast car to the tunnels and have a human bully. I’m tempted to write the fan fiction myself, including a gruesome death for Billy in episode 1.

But we’re done with it, so let’s move on. We’ve got an exorcism to perform. Regan Will isn’t going to just spit that demon Mind Flayer out on his own.

Joyce, Jonathan and Nancy bring Will to Hopper’s cabin in the woods. They pull a bed over next to the wood stove, light a fire, turn on space heaters, and tie Will to the bed. Will is going to sweat the monster out.

Within minutes, Will is screaming as if in pain. Jonathan can hardly stand to hear his brother suffer like this, but Joyce, remembering what happened to Bob, turns up the heat.

Poor Steve wakes up to a nightmare. His face is a mess, Max is driving the car with a box tied to the bottom of her foot, and one of the kids is acting as navigator. Somehow they make it to the hole into the tunnels with only a few mailboxes as casualties. Max says, “Told you: Zoomer.” It’s the D&D role she created for herself.

Steve makes one more valiant attempt to stop the madness, but Dustin uses his magic:

“Steve, now I know you’re upset, but a party member requires assistance, and it is our duty to provide that assistance. Now I know you promised Nance that you would keep us safe, so keep us safe.”

He holds out Spike the bat to Steve. Steve shakes his head and grabs Spike. The most beautiful part of all is that Dustin is wearing goggles and a bandana over his face as he makes this speech. Dustin’s magic is back!

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Apocalypse Steve

Steve puta on goggles and a bandana and follows the kids into the tunnels, then insists on leading the way. [Remember when I hated him? Not any more. Complete turn around.] He tells them that, “Any of you little shits die down here, I’m getting the blame. Got it, dipshit? I’m leading the way. C’mon. Let’s go.”

Let’s note here that the kids are smarter than Hopper has ever been about going into the Upside Down. Or any other dangerous situation, for that matter. Eye protection, breathing filters, weapons that aren’t guns, a map, safety in numbers, a well-thought out plan, a getaway car. These kids will be running what’s left of the town, before long.

Hopper, meanwhile, is escorting El back into the lab, and what did he bring for a weapon to support her so that she doesn’t get tired out too fast? THE SAME GUN THAT HAS NEVER WORKED AGAINST THE DEMODOGS OR THE DEMOGORGON. Some people just can’t think creatively. Seriously, grab some of Brenner’s cattle prods, they’d probably work better.

Hopper and El find Owens sitting next to the stair well with leg and shoulder wounds, but still alive. The dogs must have been mid-attack when Will called them to his house. Hopper uses his belt as a tourniquet and introduces Owens to El. He suggests that Owens might want to let El have a normal life after she closes the gate and stops the Mind Flayer.

Steve keeps the kids moving through the tunnels at a brisk pace, because he is no fool, but Dustin is still on a Curiosity Voyage, and stops to do a little sightseeing. He’s found the large orifice that sprays out spores or whatever. He stands a few feet from the orifice, and points his face straight at it, just as the orifice sprays. I think it senses when there’s a face in front of it.

He falls down screaming, but recovers more quickly than Hopper, since his face is covered and he has friends. They reach the hub right after that. It is, of course, the infamous boneyard. They drench it with gasoline, throw a lighter on top, and run. The vines are writhing and screaming as they catch fire.

Everyone in the cabin is drenched in sweat. Will is writhing and screaming in full on demon possession. He grows gray and black veins through his skin, breaks the ropes that he’s tied down with, then grabs Joyce’s neck. It’s time to call the priests.

Instead, Nancy picks up a hot poker and touches it to Will’s side. He lets go of Joyce and continues to struggle. Suddenly, the Shadow Monster smoke flows out of his ears, eyes, nose and mouth again, and flies away, looking like a wraith. Nancy follows it outside and watches it float away.

Hopper and El enter the elevator control room, which is swarming with demodogs, just as Steve lights the boneyard on fire. The demodogs all race to the hub, leaving El and Hopper free to close the gate without distraction. Score one for the Goonies.

Joyce, Jonathan, and Nancy turn off all of the heaters. After a moment Will wakes up and recognizes his mom. Jonathan radios Hopper and tells him that it’s safe to close the gate.

Hopper and El take the elevator into the huge chamber with the gate. It’s glowing red for some reason. I assume there’s a reason beyond looking amazing and like they’re in space, but we’ll probably never know.

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Are we there yet?

Hopper and El reach the correct level, hold hands for a moment, and El gets started. She holds out her hand and a trickle of blood starts from her nose. But it’s not as simple as opening or closing a regular door. This gate has been open for a year and the Shadow Monster is fighting her every step of the way. It’s shadows and shapes can be seen behind the membrane of the gate.

The Goonies gang is still racing through the tunnels. Mike trips and falls. He’s quickly grabbed by tentacles sentient vines. The rest of the gang runs back to get him. Steve uses Spike the bat on the tentacles to get them to back off.

Once Mike is free, they’re about to take off again, when Dart appears, blocking their way. Dustin shoves everyone behind him. He talks to Dart, hoping Dart remembers him and recognizes his voice. Dart knows that Dustin is pack and relaxes, but the others are still enemies. Dustin pulls out his stash of Three Musketeers and shares them with Dart. While she’s eating, he waves the others past. Dustin says goodbye to Dart for the last time and follows the gang.

The gang makes it back to the hole and climbs their rope up to the surface as fast as possible, because they can hear the demodogs coming. Steve and Dustin are still down in the tunnel when the dogs get to them, but the dogs run right by. They’re being called back to fight El.

El is working hard and not making enough progress. She remembers what Kali taught her about channeling her anger, and finds new strength. The gate starts closing quickly. It’s just in time, because the demodogs reach the chamber. Hopper tries shooting them. Some get close enough that the gun finally works on them. Or at least that’s how I’m going to explain it. Otherwise it’s a continuity error.

El thinks about what Kali’s Brenner illusion said to her, and remembers everything that’s happened to her. The Shadow Monster sends a tendril of smoke toward her. She draws energy from the electricity around her, causing the lights to glow in the surrounding area, and pushes back against the monster so hard that she floats off the floor of the elevator and creates a shield like the one that destroyed the demogorgon. This one beats the monster back behind the gate, then seals the gate shut. The demo dogs all drop to the ground, like puppets whose strings have been cut.

El drops to the floor of the elevator, exhausted. Hopper holds her and tells her she did good.

Once month later, the lab has been shut down and sealed. Murray Bauman watches with glee as the locks and chains are put in place. The story he wrote with Nancy and Jonathan was instrumental in the shutdown. The lab and several high ranking members of the DOE staff are being held responsible for Barb’s death due to a toxic chemical asphyxiant that had leaked from the lab. She’s given a proper funeral and her parents can at least have closure.

Hopper meets Owens in the local bar. Owens offers Hopper part of his lunch, but Hop’s on a diet. Likely getting in shape for Hellboy. Owens gives Hop a new birth certificate for El, listing her name as Jane Hopper, birthplace-Hawkins, mom’s name- Terry Ives. We can’t see the father’s name, but Owens says, “Congratulations, Pops,” so it’s likely that Hopper is listed.

Owens says that El/Jane should lay low for another year. Hopper asks if one night in public would be lying low enough. El and Mike have a longstanding date.

It’s the night of the big Snow Ball, 1984!

Joyce is teaching Will to dance. Karen is taking photos of Mike. Lucas is practicing asking a girl to dance. Max and her mom are putting the finishing touches on her look. Billy skulks by and looks subdued. Dustin has taken Steve’s advice and bought some Farrah Fawcett hair spray. He somehow tames his hair up into Steve’s hairstyle.

Steve, big brother extraordinaire, gives Dustin a ride to the dance, and some last minute advice. Nancy is working the punchbowl. Jonathan is taking souvenir photos. Time after Time plays. Max drags Lucas to the dance floor when he fails at asking her. A girl asks Will to dance and Mike helps him say yes.

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We come full circle from season 1, and end in a John Hughes movie.

Dustin bravely ventures forth, looking for a girl to dance with him. He gets turned down by a few girls, and gives up, sitting sadly on the bleachers. Nancy notices, and asks him to dance. She tells him that he’s her favorite of Mike’s friends, and girls this age are dumb. They’ll figure it out eventually.

I don’t actually believe that no one would dance with Dustin. He’s too cute. And he’s a magical bard, which should equal a smooth operator.

Hopper finds Joyce hanging around outside the school, giving Will a few feet of space. He’s doing the same for El. They share a cigarette, just like they used to in high school, before Lonnie got in the way. Hopper is ready to pick up where they left off, but Joyce is going to need some time to get over Bob.

Mike is sitting at a table, looking bored as Every Breath You Take begins. El walks into the room. They see each other and light up. Mike shows El how to dance. During the dance, they finally, finally have their first kiss, after I don’t know how many interrupted ones. My husband Mr Clark does not come over and tell them they shouldn’t be kissing their cousins, even if the cousin lives on the other side of the world in Sweden.

All of the kids are happily dancing with a partner. Max and Lucas share a kiss, too. All is right in our world, and in the junior high school.

But wait. (There’s less.) (Hedwig reference. Couldn’t resist, just this once.)

The world tips Upside Down and changes color. Now we can see that there’s a pesky Mind Flayer hovering over the school in another dimension, just waiting to find a way to break through and devour this one.

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She does exist!

 

Despite having been the head of the lab when the crimes and cover up were exposed, and the voice on the incriminating tape, Owens is not in prison. In fact, he still has the power and influence to get El amnesty for her crimes (she murdered people at the lab, remember?) and a new identity (assuming Hop is listed as the bio dad). That’s useful to know, and I give credit to Hopper for that year of cooperation with the guy. Sometimes working with the corrupt system pays off.

But who is Owens, really, and who does he work for, really? I’ve always felt, but never written, that the lab had to have a corporate partner. Technology-based government operations of that size are rarely just government operations. There are always lucrative corporate contracts involved. The lab may be shut down, but the corporate backers still exist. The Stranger Things equivalent of Lockheed Martin may be who owns Owens and Ray, who developed and built the specialized lab equipment, and who was providing the majority of the funding for Brenner. They may be helping Brenner hide right now.

Stranger Lockheed Martin will still be watching El. Have the people behind the lab decided to cooperate with El rather than hunt her? She’s proved that, like Kali, she’s now too powerful for them to simply take back. But they’ll still be looking for an angle, especially since they just did a favor for her, and Hopper gives them a line of communication to get to her.

Karen is reading Heart of Thunder by Johanna Lindsey, a historical romance set in the American West of the 19th century and featuring a romance between two hotheaded, stubborn people.

Steve letting Nancy go and accepting his big brother status was sweet and poignant. He’s had a fantastic arc this season. Even though it doesn’t sound like much on paper, Joe Keery makes it special.

I will never stop being amused that the writers continue to call the writhing, grabbing arms in the tunnels “vines”. They’re tentacles. Face it. This is a tentacle fiction, with a tentacle monster. Those things are fleshy, muscular and noisy, not quiet green plant stalks. They act like strong worms, or octopus arms. They want something from the people they grab, whether it’s to eat them, have sex with them, or just to satisfy their own Curiosity Voyage, TM/Dustin. The writers should just admit it and give them some of Billy’s time and money. Way more interesting storyline.

There’s no shame in writing about tentacles. Galaxy Quest made it cool. Promise.

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But anime and manga did it first, in the 80s.

The way Billy beats on Steve is a Terminator reference. It’s still inappropriate. The Terminator was a killing machine trying to assassinate a target. Billy is a sociopathic kid on the verge of murdering or disabling another kid who’s literally done nothing to him. What was the point here? To remind us that people can be terrible? Showing the scientists in the lab who wanted to kill Will wasn’t bad enough? Showing Brenner scrambling Terry’s brain, and listening to Kali’s story wasn’t bad enough? The time given to Billy could have been spent in the lab or integrating Kali further into the narrative. Both already have deep connections to the story. Show us the bullying connected to them, the way they did last season. Or show us a schoolyard bully who makes some sense, and isn’t shoehorned in. Troy and his friends last year made sense, because they’d been bullying the kids before the season started. Tommy and Carol made sense because their friend Steve was also a jerk. Both groups only appeared when necessary, not for gratuitous scenes with characters we don’t even know.

I’m told that some people love Billy as a character. Why? Because the actor is attractive? Because you can woobify him now that you know he’s abused? Because he’s “exciting”? Because you think that a real man is hyper masculine and violent to the point of being toxic to everyone around him? Or a real man is an alpha male, who you just know will always protect you from others when he isn’t busy humiliating or beating you? Or, if you’re a guy, you want to be as much of an alpha male as that guy, win every fight, and win the woman who will submit to you the way Karen fell prey to his creepy superior masculine charms? What would be the excuse for loving a character who’s racist, threatens to kill a child because of his skin color, or to kill a child for any other reason, physically abuses little girls, and is about to kill Steve for no other reason than to take out his anger on someone weaker than himself? That’s what abusers do.

Not everyone who is abused grows up to be abusive. I am living proof of that. So are most of my siblings. He is a bad seed. Stay the f*ck away from people like him. They may reform him on the show, but it won’t happen in real life. It won’t. He might stop physically abusing, but he’ll still be a selfish, manipulative, narcissistic b*st*rd. I guarantee he’s not even that good in bed.

I love a good villain, but Billy is not a good villain. Brenner, Kali (if you work for the lab), Hopper (when he’s having a bad day), Owens (when he gets carried away), the demogorgon, demodogs, and shadow monster et al- those are interesting, complex monsters and villains.

Billy’s just an *sshole with nothing to make him interesting. Walk into any yahoo bar and you’ll find dozens of him. At least half the world has a sh*tty father. Who cares?

 

 

 

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