Got to say, this is an impressive shark movie with some good performances and a load of tension.
Netflix’s Stranger Things
Season 1: “Chapter Eight – The Upside Down”
Directed and Teleplay Written by The Duffer Brothers
Story by Paul Ditcher
* For a recap & review of the Chapter Seven, “The Bathtub” – click here
* For a recap & review of (S02) Chapter One, “MADMAX” – click here
Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) and Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) are both detained at the U.S. Department of Energy. Joyce finds herself confronted with Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine), asking about contact with her son Will (Noah Schnapp). He knows there’s information she has about Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), which is what he wants most. But Joyce has no time for any of his bullshit, not after the faked death of her boy and all their nonsense. In another room, Jim is treated to a more Abu Ghraib-style interrogation with a cattle prod. They plan to shoot him full of drugs, make him look like a junkie.
Back at the school, Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), and Eleven are left by themselves. At the same time Eleven knows “The Demogorgon” is out there, along with the fact Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) are gone after it; alone. Those two are over at the Byers house setting up traps, loading guns, making a baseball bat full of nails. That sort of thing. Ready for a real monster hunt.
Under Brenner’s questioning Jim only resolves to tell the doctor where Eleven is if the boys and their families are left out of it. He’s giving over the girl. Essentially, it’s all a hush hush type of affair. Do what need, don’t tell about anything afterwards. So Jim and Joyce, they’re suited up to go down into the gate, which they do hesitantly. Meanwhile, Brenner is launching an almost full-scale assault to recapture Eleven.
In The Upside Down, Jim and Joyce head forward, as she struggles with a bit of slight panic. All the while he flashes back to being with his wife and his daughter. Something makes his daughter nearly hyperventilate. He comes back to Joyce and they keep moving.
At the Byers house, Nancy and Jonathan both cut their hands open to offer some blood to lure the Monster. In the school gymnasium, the boys try to figure out what they’ll do next. Everyone’s divided, separated a little too far for my liking. Jonathan and Nancy don’t see the Monster, though they stay on their guard, and in the process get closer. When Steve shows up in the middle of everything it only serves to put him in harm’s way, as the lights flicker, and the creature is poised to make an appearance. It crawls from out the ceiling towards them. They manage to get away, hoping to trick it and walk the Monster right into one of their traps. However, the thing is gone when they open the bedroom where they briefly hide.
We see more of Hopper, flashing back to him and his sick daughter, his wife. Nights crying by himself in the stairwell of the hospital. The whole thing obviously still wears on him, as it would. But he continues to push himself through The Upside Down with Joyce, searching dutifully for Will.
When the Monster turns up in the Byers house, it attacks Jonathan and nearly eats him alive. Until Nancy fires shots into it. Then Steve gives it a whack with the spiked bat. Once the creature gets caught in the bear trap, everything goes right. Jonathan lights the hallway on fire, as the thing screams in pain; a sound Joyce and Jim hear on the other side. Although it isn’t completely dead.
Once they get through more of The Upside Down, Jim and Joyce come to the other side’s version of the Byers place. As Jim and Joyce walk through, the lights turn on one by one for Jonathan. He calls out “mom” and Joyce hears him, all that way. The two worlds are connected, ever so lightly.
Eleven and Mike connect a bit further, as he hopes they’ll live together after it’s all over. He then semi confesses his feelings for her. Even asking her to a school dance with him. Probably one of their sweetest scenes together. Then when he can’t explain his feelings properly, Mike lays a kiss on the unsuspecting Eleven, who’s reaction isn’t particularly bad. But it’s all interrupted by Dr. Brenner’s men. Now the gang is on the move. Again.
When the kids are cornered, Eleven crushes the brains of everyone threatening them; their eyes bleed uncontrollably until POP. She wakes up to find her friends captured, Brenner promising better things.
In The Upside Down, Joyce and Jim move through the streets of Hawkins, looking like an apocalyptic wasteland. They track their way to where the Monster likely nests: the school.
Yet all that blood in the school hall isn’t helping anything. The Monster breaks through the wall to face the guns. And Brenner? Well, he just might not last.
Jim and Joyce find Will stuck to a wall, a strange alien tube stuck in his mouth and throat. They haul it out and try to save him. Simultaneously, the boys try carrying Eleven to safety, as the Monster – the Demogorgon – battles the men and their guns. “The bad man‘s gone,” Mike assures his possible new girlfriend. He adds a promise, too. Just not so sure if they’re all going to make it past this in one piece. The Monster bursts in on them, as they try using their basic weapons to stop it. Nothing works. Nothing save for Eleven and her powers. The weakened little girl goes against the monster she created, crushing it to death with her abilities. Watching on, the boys see her tell Mike “goodbye” before using her last ounce of strength to make the Monster vanish; they both do in a pile of black ash. Leaving Mike, Dustin, and Lucas in their wake.
In The Upside Down, Jim and Joyce try to revive Will, as best they can. They perform CPR, hoping for any sign of life. Hopper continually flashes back to the death of his daughter. This entire sequence is beyond emotionally charged. There’s not enough tears for any of it. And when the last moment comes Will breathes again. He’s alive. They’ve conquered the darkness of that other plane of existence finally.
Young Will wakes up safe and sound in the hospital next to his mom and brother. They’re all happy to be together once again. Jonathan even brought him a new mix tape for the stay. Everybody’s there in the waiting room. Everyone with their own leftover emotions and thoughts. Of course Mike misses Eleven. But the boys are all glad to see their buddy Will. They tell him a quick bit of recap on what’s been happening, they also tell him all about Eleven and what she did to find him. The successors to the Losers’ Club are reunited!
Not long after, Hopper gets picked up by a government car, a couple guys dressed in black. Technically I guess his deal didn’t exactly go down the way it was meant to, right?
We skip to a month later.
It’s around Christmas. Mike, Dustin, Lucas, and Will are back to playing Dungeons and Dragons like before. They play differently, now that they’ve experienced an actual Demogorgon. This time, Will is able to defeat the monster. All things are right. Everything is well in Hawkins, Indiana. Except that Mike misses Eleven, longing to see her. In other news, Jonathan gets a camera for Christmas from Nancy, which is “pretty cool” even if she’s still snuggling up to Steve.
Hopper is still around, so he didn’t meet any bad end a month prior. The station is alive, a party going. He heads out with an armful of food. Out in the woods, he places some in a plastic container, along with Eggo waffles, in a small wooden box. Is this part of his life now, searching for her? Is he under the thumb of the U.S. Dept. of Energy?
The Byers house is a happy home after so long in a messy state. Joyce tries to do a nice dinner, getting her boys back to normal life. Though in the bathroom Will is still coughing up creepy slugs, flashing back to The Upside Down, as if the line between the two planes is forever open slightly.
But for the time being, Hawkins goes on like always. When will that change? We’ll have to wait for another season to find out.
What a spectacular way to finish the season. Each chapter was an improvement on the last, every one with a new bit to add, with more intrigue and mystery thrown on top. I’m sure Netflix will do a Season 2. There’s no way they won’t after the surging popularity Stranger Things has experienced. So let’s watch the episodes over and over and over until they give us more. Sound good? All right.
Netflix’s Stranger Things
Season 1: “Chapter Seven – The Bathtub”
Directed by Matt & Ross Duffer
Written by Justin Doble
* For a review of the previous episode, “Chapter Six – The Monster” – click here
* For a review of the Season 1 finale, “Chapter Eight – The Upside Down” – click here
Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard) helps clean Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) up. They have an almost romantic moment before Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) busts in to tell them Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) is on the Walkie Talkie screaming “The bad men are coming!” The boys wise up to the van outside the house. Or the load of them. Mike, Dustin, and Eleven take off out the back door to get a head start, as Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine) and his men descend. A steely moment between Eleven and Brenner sends everyone on a big chase. The whole gang gets back together before the vans fly after their bikes. Eleven keeps them safe with an awesome stunt that puts one van into the air, soaring, then it crashes hard to the ground. In the meantime, Lucas bonds with Eleven: “Friends don‘t lie. I‘m sorry, too,” she says. Prompting Mike and Lucas to shake hands and secure their group dynamic once more for the hard road ahead.
Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) and Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) get to the station, where Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer) waits with Jonathan (Charlie Heaton). The ole Chief is ready to give anything a try, so why not listen to what Jonathan’s got to say, no matter how crazy?
The Wheeler house has the government swarming all over it, Dr. Brenner and a team of scientists combing through the place. Karen and Ted Wheeler (Cara Buono/Joe Chrest) talk with the doctor, who plays head game like you’d expect. “Will you trust me?” he asks gently before prying further information out.
U.S. Department of Energy is the next stop for Mike, Dustin, Lucas, and Eleven. Although they know it’s going to be a rocky road. Already there are helicopters flying overhead: “Mental,” Dustin mutters after the group hides in a derelict bus.
At the station Hopper hears about the girl with the shaved head from Troy whose arm got broken because of the fact she can “do things.” Now there’s more strangeness leaking in to make Chief Jim believe there is definitely something to uncover. So with Jonathan and Nancy in tow the Jim-Joyce duo go back to the Byers place for a Walkie Talkie. Nancy calls for Mike. He doesn’t answer at first, but later responds to let them know where they’ve been hiding. For his part, Dustin thinks they’re going to end up like “Lando” in Star Wars.
Then the worst happens. Men in suits brandishing guns come for the boys and Eleven. The kids hide, though their bikes stashed below the bus gives them away. Until Hopper shows up with his knockout hands and hauls them all out of there. They head back to the Byers place where Nancy, Joyce, and Jonathan wait. Inside, Mike and the kids explain, as well as they can, what’s happening; to Will, Barb, about The Upside Down.
Eleven sits with the Walkie and tries to do some communicating. “I‘m sorry,” she whimpers after a moment: “I can‘t find them.” Poor girl has far too much stress on her shoulders. In the bathroom, she spies the bathtub. The title of the episode comes out now, as Eleven is going to use that for a homemade sensory deprivation tank. Dustin calls Mr. Clarke (Randall P. Havens) to get a bit of help with that particular “curiosity door.” They all set about gathering the materials to make the tank. In a brief moment when Jonathan wonders what they’ll do about the Monster, he gets more fatherly time from Hopper than he ever got from his actual dad. At the same time, the rest of the gang find ingenious ways to pick up what they need.
Alone together Joyce shows Eleven tenderness she’s never once known locked up in the Dept. of Energy. It’s a really beautiful scene, only short but plenty to show how caring Joyce can be. Winona Ryder is just knocking this role out of the park. What a tender, emotional performance from her every step of the way.
When the deprivation tank is all setup, Eleven puts on a duct tape visor and then wades in to try finding The Upside Down again. Power starts to fluctuate and shut down. She floats in the pool while zoning out into that dark space for the time in a long while. There in the quiet Eleven discovers Barb, stuck in some type of webbing, a slick creature slithering out of her likely dead mouth. Eleven shouts “gone” into the distance, as on the other side Joyce calms her. Then she sees Castle Byers, the hideout of Will (Noah Schnapp), though slightly covered in the creature’s webbing, its slimy substance. In the fort Will lies cold, weak: “Hurry,” he speaks and his voice radiates from the Walkie to Joyce and the others. Out of nowhere everything crumbles in black smoke leaving Eleven alone before she wakes up in the pool to Joyce holding her tight.
While Jonathan and Nancy are headed to finish their quest, to kill the Monster, Joyce and Hopper get caught trespassing at the Dept. of Energy. Simultaneously, young Will is still in that shack in The Upside Down, and the Monster is hungry.
An impressive penultimate episode that got my blood pumping! Dig it, so hard. The finale is up next and titled “Chapter Eight – The Upside Down” so don’t miss it.
Netflix’s Stranger Things
Season 1: “Chapter Six – The Monster”
Directed by Matt & Ross Duffer
Written by Jessie Nickson-Lopez
* For a review of the previous episode, “Chapter Five – The Flea and the Acrobat” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Chapter Seven – The Bathtub” – click here
Now that Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer) seems to be lost in The Upside Down, Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton) is left to frantically search for her, their voices echoing across time and space. Soon, her hand emerges from the tree trunk where she gained access to The Upside Down, and he’s able to haul her back to their plane of existence.
Meanwhile, the gate to the other side closes in the tree. Does this happen each time a person goes there? Does it pack up and leave to find another hiding place?
Steve (Joe Keery) is out trying to see what Nancy’s up to. He discovers his supposed girlfriend sitting on her bed at home next to Jonathan, being comforted. Afterwards they have a sleepover, though Jonathan is a gentleman and rolls out a sleeping bag at the end of her bed. At the same time, Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) and Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) are talking about what they know so far re: the U.S. Department of Energy. She knows her son wasn’t in the room Hopper found, as Will (Noah Schnapp) draws well. Now, they’re getting closer to discovering Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown). “What if this whole time I‘ve been looking for Will I‘ve been chasing after some other kid?” Jim wonders out loud.
Everyone is left reeling at the moment. Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard) is home, Eleven gone, and he trashes her little hideout. How’s a young boy meant to grieve for a friend at that age? Especially when he’s discovered some science fiction budding underneath the mystery of it all.
And Nancy, she likewise has trouble with what she’s seen with her own two eyes. She knows the Monster in The Upside Down is terrorising both Will and Barb somewhere out there.
The same woman that went to see Benny in his diner, apparently from Social Services, goes to see Mr. Clarke (Randall P. Havens). She’s looking for children interested in AV-type stuff. Oh yeah? More to be paranoid about.
Mike feels bad for yelling at Eleven. He knows she was trying to protect them. Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) wants Mike to apologise to Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), and find Eleven. Then we get another flashback from Eleven, back when she was with her Papa, Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine): “Today, we make contact,” he tells her. After her quick memory Eleven comes to in the woods, by herself. In a nearby lake she displays more of those psychic powers, screaming at the water and sending it in a wave.
Well, the successors to the Losers’ Club are trying to get back together. If only due to Dustin insisting on Mike and Lucas making amends. Mike compares them going up against The Demogorgon without Eleven to “R2D2 going against Darth Vader.” For the time being, Lucas says he’s finding Will on his own and heading to the gate.
More flashback. Eleven is taken to the sensory deprivation tank where she’ll head into The Upside Down, that deep, dark space. “I want you to find it,” Papa Brenner explains before she’s lowered inside. She keeps going from past to present, as currently she wanders through a grocery store looking for Eggo waffles. She uses her powers to walk out sans paying, but you can be sure there’ll be a police report filed.
And speaking of police, Chief Hopper goes to see Terry Ives (Aimee Mullins), whose relationship with Dr. Brenner is a mystery. Not for long, I suspect. She was part of the MK-Ultra program and its crazy drugs. “The Man with a big capital M” did a number on her, as Terry’s sister Becky (Amy Seimetz) explains. Sensory deprivation. Expanding the mind’s boundaries. All that “hippy stuff.” Becky actually even references Stephen King. So what I wonder: is Eleven really Becky’s child? There’s no paper trail, but that means nothing. The Man would see to that.
Going “monster hunting” we see Jonathan and Nancy gather up a bunch of equipment, such as a gas can, .38 shells, a bear trap, other supplies. Not long later, Nancy finds someone spray painted graffiti about her being a slut on the local movie theatre. She actually catches Steve out back with his buddies, surveying the whole operation. Nancy doesn’t owe him anything, but they’re all more of a loser than Jonathan could ever be. It all ends up with Jonathan finally kicking the shit out of Steve, however, he also accidentally nails one of the deputies while taking a swing. Not. Good. Particularly for their monster hunt.
At least Joyce is with the Chief, so there’s no need look too far. Jonathan’s at the station for assaulting an officer, as Nancy struggles with wondering whether he’s in love with her. She doesn’t necessarily reject the idea.
Eleven eats Eggo waffles, uncooked, in the forest. Lucas continues no his search for Will coming up against the Dept. of Energy fence in the process. Simultaneously, Mike and Dustin look for her, and run into their bullies. Only the bullies have a knife this time. They catch Dustin, threatening him. They want an answer as to why Troy wet his pants. Without one, Mike has to jump into the lake in the quarry. Or else Dustin gets the rest of his baby teeth removed via blade. After Mike takes the plunge, he’s brought up by an unseen force. Nearby stands Eleven coming for her buddies.
Then Eleven flashes back to the darkness of The Upside Down, stuck in the sensory deprivation chamber. She sees the Monster from far off. It huddles, feeding on something. Eleven reaches out and touches the thing before it turns and screams at her, sending the girl into a frenzy and nearly destroying the place. Is this the moment which triggered this whole series of events? “The gate… I opened it,” Eleven confesses: “I‘m the Monster.” Yet Dustin and Mike are more happy to have there, as a friend. She is not the monster, just filled with guilt. And now their bond is even better. At that same moment, Dr. Brenner receives word from one of his minions. They’ve got the kids in their sights.
A wonderful episode bringing us closer to the end of Stranger Things Season 1. I cannot get enough of this one. I dig many shows, review/recap lots of episodes. But this is genuinely one of my favourite shows in the last few years, absolutely. Netflix has hit it big with this one, hopefully to continue with a Season 2, as well as more quality program overall for the network. The penultimate episode “Chapter Seven – The Bathtub” is up next, promising more and more mystery alongside slices of horror, science fiction, and small town drama.
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.
Netflix’s Stranger Things
Season 1: “Chapter Four – The Body”
Directed by Shawn Levy
Written by Justin Doble
* For a review of the previous episode, “Chapter Three – Holly, Jolly” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Chapter Five – The Flea and the Acrobat” – click here
Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) is with Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) explaining they’ve found the body. Although she is not convinced, whatsoever. “One blink for yes, two for no,” she tells him about their little Christmas light Ouija wall. Only Hopper and her own son Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) think she’s losing grip on reality. He has experience with his own daughter and grief. “This is different,” Joyce makes clear.
Upstairs, Jonathan retreats into the music of his headphones. But Joyce is determined to stand guard with an axe on the couch. Meanwhile the town of Hawkins is reeling, from Karen and Ted Wheeler (Cara Buono/Joe Chrest) to their poor son Mike (Finn Wolfhard) who feels betrayed by Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown). Then she tunes into a frequency on a Walkie Talkie where they hear Will (Noah Schnapp) sing some Clash lyrics.
Somewhere out there, beyond this plane of existence, Will lives. Not in body, but in spirit, in energy.
Mike makes a call to arms for his buddies. First he calls over the Walkie to Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) who’s mourning in his own way. They need to talk about Will, and Mike says “Screw his funeral.”
There’s some fishy business going on, as Hopper finds out the autopsy on Will was done by someone from the state, as opposed to their own people. As in that’s peculiar. Jonathan and Hopper talk about Joyce’s mental state, though neither of them yet realise the magnitude of what they’re dealing with here. The devastation of a dead child is one thing. The presence of something otherworldly, or supernatural, is another thing altogether. For her part, Joyce doesn’t believe the dead body in the morgue is her son. She refuses to believe he’s gone.
In other news, Nancy (Natalia Dyer) feels strange about her visit to Steve’s (Joe Keery) place the other day looking for Barb. She saw a creep. With no face? Yikes. But Steve is worried about getting busted for a party, showing his true colours to Nancy after all.
Jonathan: “While you‘re talking to the lights, the rest of us are having a funeral for Will.”
Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas, and Mike are together in the Wheeler basement, Eleven, too. The charge for Will still being alive is led by young Mike, whose experience with the Walkie earlier makes him a believer. Will the boys and Eleven soon come to put their heads together with Joyce? I hope the writing leads us there. For the time being, Mike and the guys plan to get Eleven to their ham radio at school, so that she might use a stronger frequency to (hopefully) contact Will. Wherever he may be.
Up at the U.S. Department of Energy, someone named Shepard heads in to where the odd creature is attached to the wall. He reaches into it and grabs something. All the while, Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine) watches carefully. And then Shepard disappears inside the creature.
The local officers are interviewing Nancy, alongside her mother Karen, about Barb and her whereabouts, the party, her supposedly seeing something – or a man, with no face. The strange thing is that her car is suddenly missing, even though Nancy saw it the other day. Above all else Mrs. Wheeler isn’t happy to hear about her daughter and Steve falling into bed together. And on the opposite side Nancy is deadly worried for her friend Barb. A missing girl is getting wrapped up in typical family-teenager drama.
Hopper’s still worried about the autopsy situation, the strangeness up around the Dept. of Energy. He’s nearing closer and closer to finding out big things, I can feel it.
At the school, Mr. Clarke (Randall P. Havens) runs into Eleven – a.k.a Eleanor – and the boys. They explain her away as a Swedish second-cousin. Luckily, they also get the keys for the Audio Visual Room. Score.
When Nancy pieces together Jonathan’s torn photograph of Barb, she sees something else other than her friend. She sees a strange entity of some kind behind her.
At the Dept. of Energy, Dr. Brenner and the team finally reach Shepard inside the creature. He talks about being near a “rift” and that he can’t see much. “There‘s something else in here,” the voice over the speaker screams to Brenner, begging to be pulled out. When they do, only the bloody harness that once held Shepard remains.
In school, one of the bullies – Troy (Peyton Wich) – gets what’s coming to him after laughing during the assembly in Will’s honour. Eleven stops him from punching Mike, and then makes Troy wet himself. True justice.
Nancy talks to Jonathan, asking if he saw anything over at Steve’s place that night. She mentions a “weird man” there after going back. The little, strange pieces start adding together, as Jonathan combines Nancy’s story with that of his mother Joyce. Now there’s a bit of a connection, gradually.
Across a bar Hopper cosies up to a patron, buying drinks and reeling off fake stories about his daughter. It’s the State Trooper who found Will’s corpse. Hopper begins to crack at the guy, hoping to figure out what happened with the handover of the body to the government. He gets a bit of information. The Trooper reveals he wasn’t supposed to let anyone near the body. Why? Infectious? Definitely dangerous.
At home, Joyce blasts The Clash and hopes her son will talk to her again via the lights. At school, the boys get Eleven in to the AV room, though she starts having more flashes back to Brenner, the little room, electrodes on her head. We see more of the MK-Ultra element, a bit of astral projection of sorts, as Eleven is tasked with finding a man, listening to him. In the AV room, the boys hear strange noises over the ham radio, as Joyce hears similar ones in her house, through the wall. They each hear the same sounds, but there’s no telling where Will is trapped. He calls for his mother. When she tears through the wallpaper, it’s as if Will is stuck in a creepy space that’s “like home but it‘s dark” and looks similar to the belly of some great beast. “I will find you, but you have to run now,” Joyce assures her boy. Yet when she breaks through the wall, there is nothing.
When Jonathan helps Nancy with the picture of Barb, they also bond a little. He’s a people watcher because he would much rather look than interact, as people can be so cruel. Then they see a clearer image of the unsettling entity hovering above Barb, the monster. They become further convinced Will, and Barb, just might be living after all.
In the morgue, Hopper takes things to the next level. He punches his way in to where Will’s corpse lies in a freezer. He cuts into the boy only to discover the body cavity is filled with stuffing. OH. SHIT! WILL IS ALIVE. I REPEAT, WILL IS ACTUALLY ALIVE. FOR REAL.
In the middle of the night, Lonnie (Ross Partridge) shows up to find his wife distraught, not knowing where to turn. And Hopper, well, he’s got his eyes set on the U.S. Dept. of Energy, wire cutter in hand and ready to break in.
Wow. What a whopping episode. Intense, emotional at times, always full of intrigue. The next episode is “Chapter Five – The Flea and the Acrobat” and I’m sure you’re all as excited as I am. Personally, I want to binge. But I’m savouring the episodes, hard as that is to do.
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.
Netflix’s Stranger Things
Season 1: “Chapter Two – The Weirdo on Maple Street”
Directed and Written by Matt & Ross Duffer
* For a review of the premiere, “Chapter One – The Vanishing of Will Byers” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Chapter Three – Holly, Jolly” – click here
Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) have brought Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) back to the Wheeler basement. She’s obviously frightened, but they seem friendly to her. Each of them try to do their part, even if the only sensible one is Mike. They’re able to make her feel safe. At least for the time being. What we can clearly see is that Eleven is scared of closed spaces, she’d almost rather get changed with the boys standing nearby than be shut inside a room. So she leaves the bathroom door open slightly and gets out of her wet clothes. The boys try figuring things out. Lucas and Dustin are convinced she’s a mental asylum escapee. Hoping to keep it all under wraps, Mike lays out a plan. Later, Eleven shows off her tattoo, and Mike gives her his own nickname: “El, short for Eleven.” She warms a bit. Although when alone it’s clear something dark hovers over her. I’m assuming she was an experiment of sorts at the U.S. Department of Energy. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) is still reeling after the disappearance of her son Will. Her oldest boy Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) holds her together like glue. After an all night search, Chief Hopper (David Harbour) lets the Byers’ know nothing came up. They show him the charred telephone receiver. He chalks it up to the storm, admitting it’s a bit “weird.” Yeah, weird. Fucking creepy, that’s what it is. Joyce continually tries to tell Hopper that Will called her last night. He won’t accept that. She makes mention of his daughter, a sore spot obviously.
With Eleven stashed away downstairs, Mike brings her Eggo waffles for breakfast and tries keeping the whole deal secret. He wants her to go outside, pretend to be a lost kid. But the girl isn’t into that plan. She knows what’ll happen if someone finds her. And Mike’s smart enough to know there is a story behind that. A couple gestures later, Eleven makes clear whoever’s coming for her will also take care of him. That’s an unnerving moment.
Listening to the various taps the U.S. Government has placed around Hawkins – whether before or after the incident at the Dept. of Energy, we’re not sure – Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine) hears Joyce on the line talking about her boy to the chief’s office. I’m loving the mysteriousness of Brenner so far. Love Modine, can’t wait to see more of him and the character development.
Mike’s older sister Nancy (Natalia Dyer) hangs around with assholes at school, but she isn’t one herself. She’s a good student, and despite most her clique she has kind words for Jonathan when she seems him putting up a HAVE YOU SEEN ME? poster for his little brother. People around the school seem to have an idea about who Jonathan is, and he isn’t left out of any teasing, no matter his age.
In class, Dustin and Lucas wonder about Mike, as he hasn’t shown up. He’s busy skipping off and taking care of Eleven, or at least trying to make her feel normal a while.
The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go” comes on the radio while Jonathan drives. He flashes back to sitting in his room with Will. They take brief reprieve from a shitty home life. Well, a shitty family; their father seems like he was a deadbeat whereas Joyce does her best for them.
Meanwhile, Dr. Brenner and other scientists in white gear go looking for god knows what. They do it over at the Byers house. Inside the shed, Brenner comes across heavy readings of whatever they’re tracking down.
One of my favourite moments is when Mike shows Eleven his toys. One of which is Yoda who can “move things with his mind” just like Eleven. The unknown coincidence to Mike is excellent. When she sees a picture of Mike and his gang, she recognises Will. When Mike’s parents get home he has to hide Eleven in the closet promising to come back for her soon. Being shut in does nothing for her mental state, though, and she has flash backs to Brenner – she shouts “Papa” at him, as men haul her away and toss her in a dark, locked room. The hits just keep on coming.
The search for Will continues on. Simultaneously, Chief Hopper gets called over to Benny’s Burgers. Uh oh. There they find Benny, posed as if he killed himself with a gunshot to the head.
Doing his own thing Jonathan goes to his dad Lonnie’s (Ross Partridge) place to try finding Will. He’s not there, which we guessed. Lonnie isn’t especially helpful, nor is he that caring. The deadbeat in him is up front and centre.
When Lucas and Dustin find Mike still harbouring Eleven, he reveals that she knows Will. They ask her for more information. All Mike knows is there’s danger on the road ahead. When Lucas tries to go tell Mrs. Wheeler the powers in Eleven come out and play. “No” is all she says, slamming the door with her mind.
Hopper’s trying to unravel what went down with Benny. A man from the diner reveals a boy, he believes, tried stealing food from the kitchen. This makes the police believe it’s possible Will wandered in there. Only more to block the truth.
And finally, the search in the woods comes in contact with the U.S. Department of Energy after it looks like Will may have gotten near the facility. Hopper starts thinking he’s “cursed” as the last missing person in Hawkins was in 1923, the last suicide in 1961. Pretty unlucky, that’s for sure.
Eleven reveals to the boys that Will is hiding. From who? She explains it using Dungeons & Dragons pieces: The Demogorgon. Ahhhhhhhh shit.
In the forest, Jonathan takes pictures with his camera and looks for his little brother: “Where are you?” he mumbles to himself. Then a scream comes out of the trees. It’s only a party nearby, the one where Nancy ended up trying to be cool and popular. She shotguns beer and hangs best she can. In the trees Jonathan snaps shots of them in secret.
Joyce gets another call of just breathing, assuming it’s Will. Then “Mom” comes over the line. The electricity flickers, the noises again, and another telephone receiver gets burned. She can sense there’s something else at work. “Should I Stay or Should I Go” comes out blaring from radio speakers all of a sudden. A strange entity nearly bursts through the wall and this finally sends Joyce fleeing only to head back inside a short time later.
In Hawkins, there be monsters.
At the pool party, Nancy’s friend Barb sits alone by the pool. Then a darkness behind takes her away. Jonathan doesn’t know exactly what he’s seen, as if the lights went out and that’s it. But you can be sure this is going to lead into further interesting pathways for the various plots. I love the intricate nature of the story with so many things happening.
A great follow-up to the premiere. I’m already in love with Stranger Things. Solid all around, from acting to writing. To the beautifully filmed locations and scenes overall. Can’t wait for “Chapter Three – Holly, Jolly” to give us more mystery, suspense, and supernatural thrills reminiscent of everything from H.P. Lovecraft to Stephen King to Neil Gaiman. An eclectic mix of influences makes for wild television.
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.
Full Metal Jacket. 1987. Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Screenplay by Kubrick, Michael Herr, & Gustav Hasford; based on the novel The Short-Timers by Hasford.
Starring Matthew Modine, Adam Baldwin, Vincent D’Onofrio, R. Lee Ermey, Dorian Harewood, Arliss Howard, Keyn Major Howard, & Ed O’Ross. Warner Bros/Natant/Stanley Kubrick Productions.
Rated R. 117 minutes.
I forever will love Stanley Kubrick. I don’t care how many hacks come out of the woodwork trying to say he’s not as good as everyone makes him seem, that keeping his genius alive is supposedly trying to be artsy and yadda yadda yadda. Can’t believe the way many supposed film fans talk about film online. Then again, the ones clamouring all over the message boards aren’t the best representation of objectivity.
Full Metal Jacket is simply another instance of the brilliance that was Kubrick. Every bit of his impeccable style is on display – lots of perfectly composed frames, sweeping and gorgeous tracking shots, among much more. Having already taken a look into war, Kubrick opts to turn his attention to the viciousness of the Vietnam War. Of course it’s based on the novel The Short-Timers by Gustav Hasford, so one of these days I’ll have to read it. Because among all the humorous moments weaved through the screenplay, the disturbing scenes, the unsettling visions of war and its affects, there’s deep things happening. Maybe some see it as a typical anti-war film. I see it as an in-depth examination of war, its effects and consequences. Mainly, Full Metal Jacket seeks to point out the damage war does to those who fight it, those against whom it’s fought, as well as everything and everyone it touches. There are other great war movies that try and get to the heart of these issues. This is one of the greatest.
Certainly there are disturbing moments. The first one, obviously, is when the other Marines-in-training throw a Blanket Party for Private Pyle (Vincent D’Onofrio). His wails alone are enough to sicken you emotionally. Perhaps the deepest cut is the fact Private Joker (Matthew Modine) joins in right at the end, despite his reservations. Creepier still is the vacant look in the eye of Pyle afterwards, as the others chant along with their Gunnery Sergeant. This all extends until that fateful moment in the bathroom where Pyle finally takes action. Albeit dangerous, ill-advised action. All the scenes leading up to this after the Blanket Party are unsettling, constantly catching the disaffected look now on Pyle’s face. Finally realizing he is alone in the struggle, no longer even with the helpful hand and watching eye of Joker. This is the entire emotional crux of the film’s plot, despite all the other elements of Vietnam and the action going on there. Pyle’s actions taint everything in the movie, everything for Joker, after what he does, and you can never forget it. Neither can Joker. For him, and the viewer, the atrocities of war begin long before they ever set foot on the battlefield against the enemy.
Part of why Kubrick makes this movie disturbing is because he shows us how certain people become brainwashed by the military. Not everyone, but many do succumb to it. At least back when Vietnam was raging, anyway. Nowadays there’s a little more disillusionment with the heroic idea of military service; not any part of the soldiers, though, rather the blood is on the hands of the government. And that comes through here in how we see Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (R. Lee Ermey) drilling and drilling and drilling the rhetoric in their heads. The reason things are as disturbing as they get is due to the fact Kubrick plays things in both comedic and serious light. For instance, Ermey’s amazing performance as the loud and foul-mouthed Gunnery Sergeant is definitely funny in that he pulls out a bunch of incredible insults, yet it’s terrible at the same time. There’s a way to train soldiers physically and mentally. Not sure this is how they ought to do it. In this day and age things are apparently much different. Kubrick uses that old school military bravado, the constant emasculating jabs and the constructions of masculinity that go along with the whole lifestyle, and he turns that on its head. Funny in the one moment. Serious a little later when we see how far it drives certain soldiers, like the poor, damaged Private Pyle. Sure, the platoon jogs around Parris Island and chants Hartman’s funny sound-offs. Underneath that is a darker reality. These aren’t rhymes to keep the young soldiers interested. It’s deflection. Hartman lures them in with funny, crude rhymes and jokes when really he’s hypnotizing them and brainwashing each last willing participant. Sadly, the way Pyle chooses to get out is probably better off. In a way, he’s spared all the terror, both real and existential, of the Vietnam War experience.
Joker: “Leonard, if Hartman comes in here and catches us, we‘ll both be in a world a‘ shit.”
Pyle: “I am in a world of shit”
When Hartman asks “What is this Mickey Mouse shit?” there’s not an immediate realization of how much depth that question carries. He doesn’t live to see what it goes on to mean. However, it’s clear to the audience by the time the credits roll. Both this film and Oliver Stone’s Platoon dig deep into the world of the military we’re not often given a look at. Usually we, especially Americans, are inundated with the idea that everything about the military, the soldiers, is patriotic, as if they can do no wrong. Instead of trying to make some hero’s tale, Kubrick – along with Michael Herr and writer of the novel on which the film is based Gustav Hasford – dissects the finer points, wondering exactly how these men coped with the training, which is rough enough, only to find themselves thrown into a war they don’t understand, one they maybe shouldn’t have been fighting.
Aside from simply the military, this is obviously aimed directly at Vietnam as a whole. Even in the smallest moments it’s evident. Joker and Private Rafterman (Kevyn Major Howard) walk back to base at one point, as the latter remarks: “We‘re supposed to be helping them and they shit all over us every chance they get.” This one single line exemplifies exactly the ignorant bliss in which so many Americans (both citizen and soldier) wallow because of the stories they were fed at the time. Everybody thought they were there to do some good, save people; America, saviours of the world. Yet they did some hideous things to the people there, not just military troops. Part of Kubrick’s commentary is that many of these people become sucked into the whole rhetoric and machismo of war, particularly the young men. So the fact these guys don’t see anything wrong with their role, the American role in Vietnam during the war is part and parcel of the brainwashing. We further see this in Joker’s continual reference/impersonation of John Wayne, as the ultimate representation of the American ideal of the tough guy, the absolute hero, the one and only MAN’s MAN. Hell, a portion of the brainwashing started before they even got to training. In addition, the desensitization comes nastier later when Joker and the others joke about fucking sisters, mothers, so on; this shows how emotionally stunted these guys have become after so long. Worse still, later when the Marines are being interviewed by a camera crew Rafterman acts like a big, tough killer, holding his rifle up with some bravado bullshit and pretending to have whipped his gun out all over the place. Joker doesn’t pretend to have already killed, though makes clear he wants to kill – supposedly. It all began the first time Joker and the rest of those hypnotized soldiers saw an amped up American classic where the men weren’t allowed to show emotion, only the flare and smoke off the muzzle of their gun as they blew it away after blowing some other poor soul away, or only the fire of lust on some young woman cast specifically to look good next to the American cowboy hero.
Kubrick really does the war genre a solid. Full Metal Jacket has an amazingly strong first half. The second half isn’t any less strong, it just diverges from the brainwashing angle of the plot a little more. That doesn’t mean this aspect disappears. As we’re thrown “into the shit” alongside Joker, we slowly come to discover how one man and his principles can change over the course of time. More so if he’s subjected to the horrors of war, both deliberately and purposefully. At the same time, there’s a degree of self-realization. By the finish, Joker hasn’t exactly become totally engrained in the system. At one point he brings up “the duality of man“, all that “Jungian thing” and so on. This is the epitome of Joker. Nearing the end, he gives in and kills a sniper in mercy. This is his way of surviving that world of shit of which he and Pyle spoke. Although, coming full circle to Hartman’s words the men all sing “Mickey Mouse March” and head off in the distance, towards the next atrocity. So in a way, Joker and the others realize it’s all a bunch of Mickey Mouse shit. Yet as Joker, for him, a world of shit it may be, but being alive is better than being dead. After seeing some of what the dead endured, his mind may not have been totally warped. It may, in a mysterious way, be saved.