Netflix’s Stranger Things
Season 1: “Chapter One – The Vanishing of Will Byers”
Directed and Written by Matt & Ross Duffer
* For a review of the next episode, “Chapter Two – The Weirdo on Maple Street” – click here
1983 in Hawkins, Indiana. At the U.S. Department of Energy in a high tech laboratory an emergency breaks out. A scientists scrambles madly for an elevator. He doesn’t make it out.
At the same time, people in Hawkins go about their lives. A group of kids play Dungeons and Dragons, or something similar. Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), and Will (Noah Schnapp) are the kind of nerd I was growing up. They play like it’s real. For ten hours.
Already we gain an idea of who these kids are, which is great. Will especially seems honest: “The Demogorgon – it got me,” he admits to Mike, even though they all tried cheating him with their last roll. Dustin and Lucas are the more funny of the two, each with their own personality.
But when Will is on his way home something strange happens. He topples off his bike and then rushes home quick as possible after hearing an eerie noise in the road. Only that noise, whatever’s behind it, has followed him home. Props to little Will: he goes right for a gun in the shed. Although leaving the house couldn’t have been good. Still, he stands with the gun aimed, ready to fire. When the light in the shed starts burning bright, hot, vivid, it goes out.
And Will is gone.
Loved this opening eight-minute sequence. Then we get a great, simple credits sequence that also has some wonderful music. The score is solid so far, adding that ’80s feel, throwing back to Carpenter scores and all sorts of things. Dig it.
Chief Hopper (David Harbour) is a simple kind of guy. He sleeps on the couch. Smokes cigarettes while he gets ready in front of the mirror. Pops his pills with beer. Like a real American. Strange things are happening in his jurisdiction, though. Everyone experienced odd power events the night previous. An unexplained event.
At home, Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) and her son Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) can’t find young Will. Nowhere to be found. She naturally calls over to the Wheeler house, but neither Mike nor his parents know where Will is now. Everyone starts to get a little on edge at this point. And at school, none of the boys find him either.
We’ve got a great Stephen King-esque group of outsiders in the main group of kids. They get picked on at school, they’re loner-types who are warm hearted and teased because of their unwillingness to be like all the idiots. Mike’s older sister Nancy (Natalia Dyer) is a goody two shoes sort, mixed up with a douchey young guy, so they’ve all got their problems.
Hopper finds Joyce in his office worried sick about her son. He’s not exactly concerned. He plays it off with statistics, suggesting that essentially boys will be boys. She knows something is up. Will isn’t like all the other boys. He’s sensitive, sensible. But Hopper’s own disillusion with the boring job of small town chief makes him complacent.
The problems at the U.S. Dept. of Energy are now being investigated. A man named Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine) is brought in. He and a team of scientists head down into the affected area to find it in a state of horror. They come across an unsettling creature of some kind latched and growing in the corner of a lab. They mention a girl, as well.
Elsewhere, a kid in a hospital gown makes her way into a diner. She eats a load of fries before getting caught by Benny (Chris Sullivan) the owner.
Mike, Lucas, and Dustin are brought in to the principal’s office. Chief Hopper wants to know more about Will, trying to piece together what happened, where he may have gone after leaving Mike’s house. Certainly they want to go investigate on their own now despite Hopper’s warnings.
Joyce and Jonathan are out looking for Will everywhere. None of his regular haunts prove to be hiding him. Simultaneously, Benny is dealing with the kid he’s found. The girl won’t talk. She has 11 tattooed on his skin. For now, that’s her name: Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown). And creepy enough, she can do some weird mind tricks while Benny’s out of the room.
Poor Will is still missing. His bike turns up, but not a sign of him. Slowly you can see Hopper is starting to realise there may be more to this disappearance than a simple explanation.
The phones in Hawkins are tapped. Likely the government, as they’re trying to contain whatever went down in the Dept. of Energy. Over at her place, Joyce is trying to track down Will. She gives her ex Lonnie a call, getting no answer, or at least not one that she wants. Then Hopper turns up with Will’s bike. The possibility of something dangerous becomes clearer. What begins to happen is that suspicion is cast on the home life of the Byers family. Hopper finds signs of struggle, he goes to the shed and discovers the gun and the bullets out. Doesn’t bode well.
Trusty Mike is dying to get out and help find his buddy. Yet his mother wants to lock everybody down until Will is found. Everyone else seems to think it’s all no big deal. A young boy knows when his friend is in trouble, and nerds are particularly aware and susceptible to the supernatural. At least in fiction!
Everybody’s in the woods at night searching for the boy. Mike uses D&D logic to convince his friends they need to go the extra mile and find their friend on their own.
At the diner, Benny’s still doing his best to take care of Eleven. Someone from Social Services shows up. Or are they really? Sort of fast, especially back in the early ’80s. Maybe the phones being tapped around Hawkins have something to do with that. After Benny takes a bullet it becomes obvious. And now Eleven is trapped in by Dr. Brenner and a crew of his cronies. She makes it out with some of those powers of hers, luckily finding her way into the night.
The loyal buddies work their way into the woods. Albeit a bit reluctant, as one would be. But their fearlessness prevails.
Joyce and Jonathan are busy trying not to fall apart. The older brother blames himself. Surely mom does, too. Soon a strange phone call comes through – weird noises, an electrical pulse. Joyce believes it was Will trying to contact her.
In the woods, the boys stumble across Eleven. Will she be able to help them find their friend?
What an awesome opening episode. I’ve waited on Stranger Things so long it feels like unwrapping an awesome gift at Xmas. This is definitely a bingeworthy television series. Excited to see the next one “Chapter Two – The Weirdo on Maple Street” and keep diving further into this mysterious, enjoyable stew of ’80s nostalgia, good writing, and compelling acting.