Episode 1.5 “Chapter Five: The Flea and the Acrobat,” 1.6 “Chapter Six: The Monster,” 1.7 “Chapter Seven: The Bathtub”
Written by Alison Tatlock (1.5), Jesse Nickson-Lopez (1.6), Justin Doble (1.7)
Directed by The Duffer Brothers (1.5, 1.6, 1.7)
Created by The Duffer Brothers
Starring Noah Schnapp, Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, David Harbour, Natalia Dyer, Cara Buono, Millie Bobby Brown, Winona Ryder, Charlie Heaton, Matthew Modine, Joe Keery, John Reynolds, Joe Chrest
Air date: Friday, July 15, 2016
The first half of Netflix’s new miniseries Stranger Things deals with loss – loss of loved ones, loss of sanity, loss of everything you hold true. The series, created by the Duffer Brothers (Matt & Ross), takes everything we loved about the early 80s work of Spielberg, Stephen King, and others, and puts together a wonderful and mysterious world paying homage to their many inspirations as they go along. Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) disappeared when a monstrous thing followed him home and took him. His mother (Winona Ryder) is beside herself, and mysterious electrical disturbances in her home lead her to believe Will is trying to contact her. Will’s friends, Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) are frantic to find their lost friend, but instead find a bizarre young girl, tattooed 011 on her wrist. Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) is of few words, but possesses a form of telekinesis and has mind control abilities. We see through flashbacks to her in a research facility. This facility, we know is also harboring a Lovecraftian monster with a rift or portal… to where we do not know yet.
Others are picking up on the vibe that there are “stranger things” afoot in Hawkins, Indiana. Chief Hopper (David Harbour) has gone full conspiracy mode, and his chief suspect is the guy running the facility, Dr. Brenner (Matthew Modine). Mike’s older sister Nancy (Natalya Dyer) and Will’s older brother Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) link up after her friend’s disappearance. She claims to have seen a faceless monster in the woods, which might sound crazy to him, if his mother wasn’t talking about a faceless monster attacking her while she searched for Will…
Check out my reviews for Episode 1 and Episodes 2 – 4 here.
Episode 5 – Chapter Five: “The Flea and the Acrobat”
Written by Alison Tatlock Directed by The Duffer Brothers
Hopper has had enough. That’s what happens when you cut open a dead boy and find stuffing inside. He sneaks into Hawkins, knocking out security guards and he goes. His descent into the depths towards the portal monster is juxtaposed with the boys trying to figure out where Will is. Using Eleven’s clues and a trusty D&D guidebook, they assess he is on the other side, behind the Vale of Shadows… “a dark dimension that mirrors our world, filled with decay and death.” Hopper is injected with something by the scientists and wakes up in his mobile home frazzled and searching for wire taps, which he eventually finds.
The boys go to their favorite teacher and head of the AV-Club, Mr. Clarke (Randall P. Havens) looking for a way to get to the “upside down.” He gives them a rudimentary diagram using a paper plate, that reminded me of Sam Neill describing time travel in Event Horizon, you know before he was possessed by Hell. He tells them that to open a gate to the “upside down” would take a tremendous amount of energy that science has not caught up to yet. How Dustin (my favorite of the kids) realizes that all the compasses are NOT pointing due north, which means there is some incredibly strong magnetic force out there somewhere nearby. Follow the compass, find the Vale.
Will and Jonathan’s estranged father (Ross Patridge) is in town for the funeral, but Joyce figures out quickly that he’s trying to milk the tragedy for a lawsuit settlement. Hopper shows up with a sign saying DON’T SAY ANYTHING, and after searching for hidden wiretaps, confesses that he knows Will’s “body” is a fake. Jonathan and Nancy form an unlikely bond, knowing there is something out there. Nancy is slowly morphing into her namesake from A Nightmare on Elm Street, the ultimate final girl, Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp). The similarities are striking both physically and character wise.
Oh my god the boys are walking on the train tracks… STAND BY ME… take a shot! Eleven is starting to freak out, they are getting closer to where she ran off from. She starts using her powers to manipulate the compasses and take them off course. Lucas figures it out and him and Mike starts fighting. Eleven, the memories of her time in Hawkins as a potential weapon of the Cold War coming back to her, takes off. Jonathan and Nancy dig through the woods searching for the monster, and come upon a wounded deer. Before they could end it’s suffering something grabs it, and I nearly have a heart attack. Nancy finds a hole in a tree pulsing with some type of goo, and crawls inside… to the “upside down” where a faceless monster is eating the deer. Slowly, just like in Joyce’s living room, the portal to the other side begins to close…
Oh My God, there just isn’t any break. Quick press Play Next Episode!
Episode 6 – Chapter Six: “The Monster”
Written by Jesse Nickson-Lopez Directed by The Duffer Brothers
Jonathan rescues Nancy from the gate. She’s scared to be alone, and for that matter so is he so they spend the night together (no hanky panky), and then sneak away to arm themselves in the morning. “Now I’m buying bear traps with Jonathan Byers,” she says. “What’s weirder, me or the bear traps?” he jokes back. I love these two characters. They are both suffering loss and finding what they need in the other, and not in some cliche romantic way… yet. When Steve (Joe Keery) sees them getting close he quickly assumes all stereotypes of douchebag movie jock, until Jonathan gets arrested for beating the holy hell out of him.
From his research about the Hawkins facility, Hopper and Joyce head to meet Terry Ives (Aimee Mullins). She was part of the MK-Ultra testing done at Hawkins and reported a daughter missing 12 years ago. Her sister tells them she’s catatonic from all the drugs they gave her and that she and the others were put in hyperbaric chambers to try to tap into their minds. Terry didn’t know she was pregnant at the time, but her sister insists she had a late term miscarriage. When talk of powers come up, Terry’s sister throws in the line, “Ever read Stephen King?” Of course Eleven shows traits that remind us of Firestarter and Carrie.
Dustin forces Mike to make up with Lucas but they can’t agree on whether to search for the gate (and thus Will) or look for Eleven. The dialogue between these boys is so well written and truthful. Seriously, who hasn’t had the “I’m your REAL best friend” argument with a friend. Before MySpace’s “Top 8,” Facebook friends, and “BFFs,” everyone had ONE real best friend and then lower ranked subordinate best friends. The kids, especially Dustin, feel like they were pieced from the best attributes of the best kid characters; Elliot from ET, the gangs from IT, Stand by Me, and Goonies. Just really good stuff. You identify and empathize with EVERY character. Lucas decides finding the gate is the real priority and goes off alone. Searching for Eleven, Dustin and Mike encounter their two hated bullies and when things get pushed too far, Eleven makes her presence known in a huge way.
As for the monster, we find out through Eleven’s flashbacks that she was put into sensory deprivation chambers in order to use her powers to help fight the Russians. But something was in their with her, a door opened from the powers in her mind. When Dr. Brenner coaxes her to greet the new presence the monster pounces and the resulting fright caused the gate to open, and created the Lovecraftian mess in the basement of the Hawkins institute. The bigger issue, Brenner and his government goons are on to them and on the way…
I have so many feels! I love all the characters. All the protagonists are different but equally motivated by just and good reasons. There is a thin layer of hope for those who have suffered, and a known evil worth fighting, and that evil comes in many forms, some monstrous, some human.
Episode 7 – Chapter Seven: “The Bathtub”
I need to point out how incredible to opening credits sequence is. The minimalist Carpenter-style music, the font and blocked lettering, it all instantly crafts the vibe and feel of the time period the show takes place. Normally, watching a series on Netflix, I fast forward the titles, but never with Stranger Things.
Brenner and the government bad men are after the kids, and things look bleak until Eleven pulls a Magento and flips a van over blocking traffic for their getaway. They head to the junkyard and take refuge in a dilapidated bus. While Hopper and Joyce pick Jonathan and Nancy up from the police station, the bully left injured by Eleven comes in with his mommy raving about a crazy shaved haired girl with powers… Bingo. Soon there are two parties of four, as the unlikely combo of Chief Hopper, Joyce, Jonathan, and Nancy reach out to the boys using Will’s old walkie talkie. Again, David Harbour is so good here. He definitely plays Hopper with a tad of Indiana Jones feel, but also has that Han Solo, reluctant hero thing going. Before you know it, the octet are back at Joyce’s house, and hellbent on using Eleven to find Will and Barb in the “upside down.”
Eleven has a moment of clarity in the bath. In the watery sensory deprivation tank was where she reached the upside down. In a hilarious bit, Dustin calls Mr. Clarke, at 10:00pm on Saturday while he and his date are watching… John Carpenter’s The Thing! He refuses to hang up until he tells them how to build a makeshift sensory tank. They build it in the school gym and Eleven goes under and into the Upside Down. Barb is dead, but Will is alive, barely. Hopper and Joyce decide to make a run at Hawkins to find Will, but are caught. Nancy has had enough. She and Jonathan sneak back to the police station and pick up their pick of weapons…she’s like Nancy booby-trapping the house for Freddy at the end of A Nightmare on Elm Street… we are set for a final confrontation.
Whereas the first four episodes of the series shared the theme of loss, the second half is about finding; finding hope, truth, redemption, and of course, finding Will. Please go watch every second of this show right now. The entire internet is divided on politics and the election, sports, and movies… but the universe is in agreement – Stranger Things is the best thing on television right now!
The entire series of Stranger Things is streaming on Netflix right now.