Netflix’s Stranger Things
Season 1: “Chapter Three – Holly, Jolly”
Directed by Shawn Levy
Written by Jessica Mecklenburg
* For a review of the previous episode, “Chapter Two – The Weirdo on Maple Street” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Chapter Four – The Body” – click here
Poor Barb is off in some strange place, as an alien-monster stalks her. It’s the pool outside, but as if on another planet. All the while, Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer) hooks up with Steve (Joe Keery) inside. And the nerdy friend is not long for this world, it seems.
When Nancy wakes up in the early morning, everything has changed. She’s passed through that unwritten hurdle of high school, losing her virginity to somebody. At home, Nancy catches shit from her mom, though it isn’t as bad as it could have been.
The Byers house is still a war zone. Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) finds his mother Joyce (Winona Ryder) in Will’s (Noah Schnapp) room. She believes her son is connecting with her via the lights, after what she experienced in the previous episode. Of course that looks fucking insane. But there’s truth on the edge of coming out. It’s going to take something big for that to be palatable for others.
Meanwhile, Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) is still in the care of Mike Wheeler (Finn Woflhard), Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo), and Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin) are trying to figure out how to go about tackling whatever monster lies ahead of them. They’re at odds over what’s most important: weapons, food, or the powers harboured within Eleven. At least they’re doing a good job hiding her. For the time being.
Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) is digging into the mystery surrounding everything going on re: Will’s disappearance. He’s getting closer to the military and whatever madness lies behind the gates of the U.S. Department of Energy.
We briefly see Eleven on her own in the Wheeler home. She flicks through the television’s channels, half amazed and, after a Coke commercial, half flashing back to being in a lab, as Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine) monitors her on the opposite side of a window, waiting for her to use those telekinetic powers to crush a Coke can. A really great, brief scene that exemplifies the quality writing of the series.
At home, Joyce is stringing up Christmas lights, tons of them. She’s planning to try communicating further with Will. Or whoever/whatever is on the other side of the electricity.
Hopper tracks the tunnel they came across last episode to the other side of the gates at the Dept. of Energy. When he’s let inside briefly, Chief Jim quickly sees the operation that’s underway, cleaning up after… whatever happened there. He gets a brief look at some video, but there’s a clear idea that something is being hidden; Jim knows they’re lying.
The normal life of a teenager is seen through Eleven’s eyes. She looks over the Wheeler home, seeing Nancy’s pictures on the wall, the cute bed, the regular everyday girl stuff placed around the room. This is totally foreign to her; a little girl, but an extraordinary, tortured little one at that.
Nancy’s worried constantly about Barb. Although nobody else is too concerned, she knows there is something not right. A casual glance suggests she may see if Jonathan Byers has anything to say. At the same time he almost gets caught with the pictures he took outside of Steve’s place.
Our group of boys are wondering about where Eleven got her powers. They’ve also got to contend with the bullies at school. They do a good enough job, even if they’re picked on a nice deal, and badly. I can’t help wonder if maybe Eleven may help them get a bit of revenge eventually.
Hopper’s all over town trying to do more investigating, as well as contending with the one night stands left in his wake. Hilarious couple moments between him and a librarian he recently bedded. On microfiche, Hopper pours through anything he can find, for anything at all relevant.
Joyce gets a visit from Karen Wheeler (Cara Buono). While the two talk, Karen’s littlest daughter follows the lights that are turning on and off by themselves. Right into Will’s room where the lamps alternate on and off in a beautiful show for the tiny girl. Until they all go out. And she stands in front of the wall where Joyce had previously watched some eerie entity push its face through. A hand reaches out before Joyce interrupts.
There’s a lot of strange things happening, of course. Nancy still can’t locate Barb, even her mom doesn’t know. The vanishings are picking up.
Then we’ve got Jonathan, whose pictures from Steve’s place are found out by Steve and his gang. Naturally there’s a creep factor. Yet breaking the camera, treating the guy like a sex offender; not so sure he deserves that. Most of all Nancy finds a scrap of a picture with Barb in it and that peaks her curiosity.
Just after 3 PM, Eleven waits to meet Mike after school. She sees a cat near a fence that brings her to another flashback. In that room again, as Dr. Brenner watches on, she’s faced with a cat in a cage that we can assume she is meant to kill. When she refuses, Brenner – or “Papa” as Eleven screams to him – has her thrown in isolation. They’re trying to create a monster. And they do, to some extent. She kills the two men taking her to the locked room before Brenner confronts her gently. Almost as a father might: “Incredible,” he says to her in the quiet and carries her away in his arms. What a scene, what a moment! God. Damn. One of my favourite scenes yet. Because we’re getting a look into Brenner, but more importantly Eleven becomes more than some experiment, or whatever, she has a deeply painful backstory.
Mike and the boys show up for Eleven, then they’re off – to find adventure, to hopefully find Will. She asks why Mike has the cut on his chin, so he explains that some “mouth breathers” at school did it. They have a short moment of friendship that’s truly awesome. Their bond will be strong.
The lights are finally flickering for Joyce. When she slips into a crawl space in the living room with more of them in her hands, it appears as if Will is speaking to her through them, lighting them up. He tells her he’s alive. That he isn’t safe. Only their communication is stuck to one word answers, either yes or no. That prompts Joyce to paint the alphabet on her wall and use the lights as a massive Ouija board.
Nancy tells her mother about her worries re: Barb. Now there’s more hysteria about to strike Hawkins.
In the library, Hopper discovers a piece on Dr. Brenner, the MK-Ultra program. He starts to wonder if maybe Will was “in the wrong place at the wrong time” and witnessed a cover-up-worthy accident, or who knows.
Eleven leads the boys to Will’s place. She says “hiding” but none of them believe it. Then the rush of police lights, an ambulance rushes by, and they head off to follow.
After Joyce has Will spell out where he is, he lights up RIGHT HERE. This distresses her, as he further spells out RUN, and the monster within the wall starts crawling out, literally, to face Joyce.
Hopper and the sirens head out to a body of water in the canyon. Everyone assumes it’s the body of Will. And it is. Mike and his buddies watch on, completely devastated. When Eleven can’t give him any answers Mike runs from them, home to his mother’s arms. Simultaneously, Joyce runs from her own home to find Jonathan in the road. Everyone is in need. Everybody’s hurting.
What a beautiful, amazing episode. A great chapter in an already perfect series that I’m loving. Next up is “Chapter Four – The Body” and I love that the Stephen Spielberg/Stephen King element is kicking in full force; sort of great that the next episode’s title links up to King slightly.