Many sacrifices will be made to save Hawkins, and the world.
Nancy, Jonathan, and the kids join forces while Chief Hopper and Joyce flee the big Russian.
Dustin tries to crack the Soviet code. Nancy and Jonathan find diseased rats. Eleven makes a relationship decision.
Hawkins, Indiana is experiencing strange things once more. And it's connected to the Soviet Union.
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.