Netflix’s Stranger Things
Season 2: “Chapter One – MADMAX”
Directed & Written
by The Duffer Brothers
* For a recap & review of (S01) Chapter Eight, “The Upside Down” – click here
* For a recap & review of Chapter Two, “Trick or Treat, Freak” – click here
Open on Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in October of 1984, just a few days before Halloween. A group of masked thieves take off in a van pursued by a cop car. They manage to slip away through an alley. Soon there’s a bunch more cops on their tail.
But one of the young thieves has a secret. “Boom“— she speaks the word and a bridge collapses behind their vehicle, stopping all the police in their tracks. Except there’s nothing in their way, it only looked like it. This young woman has a number written on her – 008 – and her nose bleeds after exerting her powers, just like Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown). Whoa.
It’s Halloween season back in Hawkins. Dustin (Gate Matarazzo) is busy freaking out, searching the house for change. He calls over to Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), so they can check on their “haul.” Mike (Finn Wolfhard) is too busy on the other channel, checking for any sign of their friend, he almost forgot to look for change. He has to rob his older sister Nancy’s (Natalia Dyer) piggy bank quick before meeting the boys over at the arcade. They meet Will (Noah Schnapp) there, whose mother Joyce (Winona Ryder) worries now every time she has to watch him go out on his own.
At the arcade, they’re playing Dragon’s Lair— one of the most frustratingly tough games that’s ever existed. I remember playing it on laserdisc back in the day. Dustin isn’t able to beat it, but few are, so the lads move on. Problem is, Will remains half in the real world, half in the Upside Down. He sees visions of the place turned into the Upside Down, his friends and all the games around them disappear. Outside, in the distant sky, he sees a red sky, dark clouds brewing, and within the darkness a creature screams.
We catch up with Jim Hopper (David Harbour). He’s being hounded by Murray Bauman (Brett Gelman), who’s treated as a local conspiracy theorist. He talks about a girl who may have “psionic abilities.” He claims she’s a “Russian weapon.” This is what he says is responsible for the disappearance of Barb, too.
Lots of good music this season. Already we’ve got some classics, like “Talking In Your Sleep” by The Romantics. Things are going fairly well between Nancy and Steve Harrington (Joe Keery). She’s trying to help him with applying to colleges early. He’s losing faith, believing he’ll be stuck in Hawkins rather than leaving when he graduates. Nancy also continues a friendly relationship with Will’s older brother Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), trying to make him be social rather than stay in “listening to the Talking Heads and reading Vonnegut.” Doesn’t sound that shitty to me.
School’s changed somewhat. A new dude from California, Billy Hargrove (Dacre Montgomery), and his sister Maxine a.k.a Max (Sadie Sink) are in town to shake things up. The boys suspect Max is the MADMAX who put up a high score at the arcade on Dig Dug. Meanwhile, young Will’s being teased by ignorant kids because of his ordeal.
Then we have Joyce hooking up with a former school friend, Bob Newby (Sean Astin)— he runs RadioShack, not far from where she works in town. He hates “scary movies,” though otherwise he seems like a pretty nice dude. I bet Hopper has feelings about this relationship, not that he’d say it out loud.
In a Hawkins field, a farmer calls the cops. He thinks a crazy neighbour poisoned his pumpkin patch, and with Halloween literally on the doorstep. While Hopper checks it out, he sees movement in the nearby tall grass. It’s only crows. You can be sure there are other things lurking in town, though.
At school, the boys marvel at Ms. Max. They’re sure “girls don‘t play videos” and even if so nobody could get that high a score on Dig Dug, right? Oh, bless their silly pre-teen hearts (some grown men still believe this kind of thing). Max catches on to them spying. Dustin and Caleb later watch the arcade for when Max shows up. It’s obvious the girl and her brother have problems. The boys follow her inside to see MADMAX slay.
Afterwards, Will’s reluctantly got to go with his mother. Every so often she’s got to take him in for a checkup. They look at his blood pressure, they hook his brain to electrodes. Dr. Sam Owens (Paul Reiser) looks after him, inquiring about his “episode.” Behind a bank of monitors others watch. Will explains the storm he saw in the sky felt “evil.” A chilling scene. The doc explains because it’s around the anniversary of what occurred, this will bring on other episodes. Remember, we’re in the ’80s, when PTSD wasn’t yet fully understood, which Dr. Owens himself tells Joyce and Hopper— the latter assures the mother: “That stuff is real.”
Down below the Department of Energy, things aren’t a whole lot different. Dr. Owens assures people the corrupt officials under Brenner have been run out. Nevertheless, the new administration can’t just pick up and leave, they’ve got the Upside Down to deal with, and there’s still research to be done on the place/its creatures.
At home, Mike’s parents are pissed at him for misbehaving lately. He hasn’t been doing well. Most likely because of Eleven being gone. He fell for her hard. Now he’s robbing his sister, cursing out teachers, and all sorts of stuff— classic case of acting out. Elsewhere in the neighbourhood, Steve and Nancy go have dinner with Barb’s parents, who’ve apparently hired Murray to look into their daughter’s case. They have to sell the house to afford it. It’s hard for Nancy being surrounded by memories of her friend, not knowing what happened, and having to say goodbye to the childhood home where they grew up together. The same goes for Mike. He can’t stop thinking of Eleven, calling out on their channel over the walkie.
Joyce is terrified every time the phone rings again, as it does while she and the family are having move night. At the same time, there’s lots of ringing at the DoE, down in the basement, where a control panel is lit up with all its colours, an alarm going off. None of this is any good.
That night, Will hears sounds of the Upside Down’s storm again. He sees his front door open by itself, revealing a flashing red sky. He goes outside and in the distance he sees a tentacled monster towering over Hawkins, bigger than the skyline itself.
In the woods, Hopper goes to check on a cabin. It’s booby trapped on the perimeter to let whoever’s inside know somebody is approaching. Jim goes on inside and starts his relaxation ritual with a beer. He finds a half eaten Eggo waffle at the table. Yes, that’s right— this is where Eleven hides. The’ve gotten into a domestic lifestyle together. She gets love + care, and he gets to experience having a daughter again. Lord, this series is beautiful!
I haven’t watched Season 2 until now. Father Gore’s a busy man! But it has to be binged before Halloween this year. I’ll make sure to catch up, so Season 3 will be right on time. “Chapter Two: Trick or Treat, Freak” is next time.