Netflix’s Stranger Things
Season 1: “Chapter Five – The Flea and the Acrobat”
Directed by Matt & Ross Duffer
Written by Alison Tatlock
* For a review of the previous episode, “Chapter Four – The Body” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Chapter Six – The Monster” – click here
Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) has found his way to the U.S. Department of Energy, and he’s sneaked inside. He gets himself caught, though claims he’s been summoned by Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine). then he strong arms his way in further past the security doors.
At her place Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) drinks with her estranged husband Lonnie (Ross Partridge). She talks with him about what she believes has happened. Lonnie thinks it’s all in her head. He’s level headed, but just doesn’t know what she does, hasn’t yet experienced what she has, right in her own home.
In a creepy room, Hopper finds a stuffed lion, a bed, and a picture of Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) with her Papa drawn in stick figures. Meanwhile, Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) are discovering more through Eleven, that Will (Noah Schnapp) may be stuck in somewhere called “the Upside Down.” Similar to a place they’ve come to know through Dungeons and Dragons: “It is right next to you and you don‘t even see it,” explains Dustin. Right at that very moment Hopper is coming up right against the portal to that place, that living, breathing creature in the Dept. of Energy, growing on its wall. Before he can find anything more two people in the white decontamination suits grab him and plunge a needle into his neck.
When Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) comes home he isn’t happy to see his dad there. He’s also curious about the thing his mother saw come through the wall. He has a confrontation with Lonnie, he doesn’t want that deadbeat around. More so for the fact he knows there are strange things happening while Lonnie is trying to rush in like some drunk white knight. The next day everybody’s getting prepared for Will’s funeral, or a funeral for a stuffed dummy. Not that anyone else knows that. Although some are leaning more towards the truth than others. It’s just going to take another push for them to believe.
Joyce flashes back to watching Will draw a picture, asking about “Will the Wise” and his trusty fireballs. Sucked right into the world of magic we cut to Hopper. He’s home, passed out on the couch. He searches for a bug, somewhere, anywhere. Now, the paranoia is more than that: it’s real. Simultaneously, Dr. Brenner and his team monitor the calls, everything within Hawkins. They hear Will semi contacting his friends through the Walkie. Down at the school, some men go to check on the AV room and the boys’ ham radio.
Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Jonathan are trying to piece together mysteries themselves, so he goes ahead and lifts a gun from Lonnie’s glove compartment. He’s ready for anything.
During the funeral reception, Mr. Clarke (Randall P. Havens) fields questions on “Carl Sagan” and infinite parallel universes, et cetera. He starts to explain dimensions using the idea of an acrobat and a flea – there’s our episode title – and how the flea can travel different ways than the acrobat. Nice metaphor, I dig. He goes on to explain the idea of tearing a hole in time, a process needing massive amounts of energy. Ahh, we’ve got lots of connections.
Chief Jim gets a visit from his deputies. There are some possible missing people who were hunting out near Mirkwood. Everything’s getting stranger, more connected at the same time. Oh, and Barb’s car? It was found parked somewhere else than where Nancy Wheeler found it. So who moved it? I think we know the answer to that one.
At the Wheeler house, Dustin becomes aware there’s a magnetic disruption, as all the compasses are pointing directions other than True North. If they follow where the compasses are pointing North, then in theory they ought to find the “gate” into the Upside Down.
Mr. Clarke: “Science is neat. But I‘m afraid it‘s not very forgiving.”
Joyce discovers Lonnie’s only there to try and get a settlement over the death of their boy. Essentially, he blames Will dying on her. Piece of shit. “You‘re a mess,” he yells at her. But she does not back down. She will not lose faith in her son being alive, out there somewhere. Out in the woods, Jonathan and Nancy are practising their gun play, as well as bonding over their families, so on.
Worried for his safety, for whatever is happening, Jim calls his ex Diane. They talk a moment, and we can see how caring a man he is, despite what his past may hold.
Along the train tracks Mike and the boys head for wherever the compass points, leaning toward a magnet of massive power. Eleven flashes back to another experiment with Dr. Brenner, a.k.a Papa. She’s strapped to the electrodes once more and wearing some special type of body suit. They put her in a water tank. She’s submerged in a helmet, then closed inside. Out with her new friends, Eleven tells Mike to “turn back” with an anxious fear in her voice. She worries what lies ahead.
Nancy and Jonathan are also headed for wherever the gate or the monster may be. They argue a little over Steve, though Jonathan makes it obvious he does not like the vast majority of people. Furthermore, he doesn’t like the whole small town attitude so many, including Nancy, seem to have.
Hopper goes to Joyce’s place. She opens the door and notices he holds a sign: DON’T SAY ANYTHING. Inside, he wonders where the bug could be in the heap of lights she’s put up. He eventually clears the place, mostly. He tells her about the possible conspiracy, revealing that Will’s body is not actually his body; a fake. All her suspicions are now truths.
Out on their trek, Mike and the boys find they’ve looped in a circle. Then Eleven admits she messed up the compasses. She doesn’t want them to go back there: “It‘s not safe,” she tells them reluctantly. The gang are falling apart slightly. Lucas isn’t happy with Eleven and her meddling. When Mike and Lucas fight it sends Eleven into a frenzy, tossing him and knocking him out. She has more flash backs to the sensory deprivation tank where Brenner had her underwater. She finds herself in a black, dark space, as a Russian talks away. The words transmit back to Dr. Brenner and his associates. Then the man disappears, and something in the darkness begins to creep, making strange noises and sending Eleven running. Back with the boys, Lucas wakes up safe, a bit dazed. Though he leaves on his own. And Eleven, she’s gone, leaving Mike and Dustin on their own.
Amongst the quiet of the forest Nancy hears a noise. She and Jonathan head for it. There they find a dying deer. Before Jonathan can put the thing out of its misery, the carcass is hauled away into the trees by some unseen force. They follow a trail of blood to a hollowed out tree; a nice Pan’s Labyrinth homage, as Nancy crawls inside. She finds a terrifying space inhabited by the Monster we’ve seen before at Joyce’s house, the one that stalked Barb.
And at least for the time being Nancy is stuck in that other realm, as Jonathan’s left wondering where she’s gone.
What a great episode! Love them all, but the intrigue and mystery and suspense are pretty amazing through the course of this episode. The next chapter is called “Chapter Six – The Monster” and I’m anticipating a bit more horror.