Macon Blair's debut feature as writer & director stuns, as real life revenge devolves into chaotic violence after a woman is robbed by heartless criminals & she decides on reclaiming her safety.
Netflix’s Black Mirror
Season 3, Episode 5: “Men Against Fire”
Directed by Jakob Verbruggen
Written by Charlie Brooker
* For a review of Episode 4, “San Junipero” – click here
* For a review of Episode 6, “Hated in the Nation” – click here
Stripe (Malachi Kirby) dreams of someplace better, a time before when he was happy and things were nice. When he wakes, he’s in a military barrack. The troops are rallied for a “roach hunt.” Just so happens to be Stripe’s first time out. We’ve got the typical bully, the nice girl, all those army archetypes we’re used to seeing.
Everyone is transported to a camp where people stay, speaking of encounters with the roaches. Their food and supplies have been torn up, now useless. People in the camp are scared, worried for what will happen next if the roaches come back.
The military crew are led by Medina (Sarah Snook), who takes them up to a local religious freak’s land where the roaches supposedly headed last the camp’s people saw. Armed with all sorts of gadgets, the soldiers start pressing down on the house in question. By all accounts it looks as if they’ll be able to take care of things fairly efficient and fast: “Optimal outcome – no shots fired,” Medina explains confidently before they prepare to lay siege to the man’s home. His name is Parn Heidekker (Francis Magee). He’s a little secretive, or just guarded. Either way, after a moment he lets the soldiers inside. He acts like there’s nothing going on. But is that what he wants them to think? Medina thinks that Heidekker’s religious conviction makes him even unable to turn against the “roaches.” She expresses the need to wipe them out, to stop kids from being born “like that” – are they feral, mutant people?
A great, creepy build-up leads to the upstairs where Stripe encounters some of these feral creatures. They leap from out of their hiding places. Guns are fired. Blood sprayed. Some of the creatures make it out of the house and into the woods. Stripe fights one viciously to the bitter end, stabbing it deep in the chest. And what is the strange glowing wand they carry? Like a sort of device to implant something? When Stripe picks it up, it shines into his eyes. Uh oh.
Downstairs, Raiman (Madeline Brewer), Medina and the others keep everything under control. Well, Medina does, anyways. Raiman toys with Heidekker. Meanwhile we see something is not right with Stripe after those green lights shined into his pupils. What is the purpose of that device? Does it infect people? Wait. See.
The soldiers torch Heidekker’s place to make sure no contamination makes it out of those walls. They head out, everyone congratulating Stripe on his two confirmed roach kills, especially the second knifing. Only I feel like there’s something far more sinister headed for ole Stripe. At the barrack, he slips back into that nice dream again, a beautiful woman (Loreece Harrison) speaking “I love you” to him sweetly. But the dream changes. He sees quick cuts to blood smearing everywhere.
Raiman and Stripe do a bit of training the next day. She’s pretty pissed about letting a roach get away at the house. Their interface, the technology they use, it’s not unlike a Call of Duty game. They’ve got the technological edge. Or do they? That device the roach at Heidekker’s place had with him is really fucking with Stripe’s head and his aim game. Everything is starting to feel out of whack for him, which Medina notices. She sends him out to get checked, just in case.
The soldiers are linked to an implanted vision that’s similar to virtual reality, where they can see 3D objects, such as the aiming with their weapons and so on. Doctor clears him, though Stripe tells him about the “flashlight“-like device the roach had. Nothing’s amiss and he’s sent on his way. To talk to a man named Arquette (Michael Kelly). He’s like a psychologist, of sorts. He has Stripe tell him about what happened during the raid. Arquette only talks him out of the spiral he’s been on in his head.
Stripe’s put into a nice deep sleep, to help him get over the slight shock of his mission. He sees his dream woman once more. They lay together, making love. Then the woman multiplies in his vision – two, three, four, five times. His implant glitches, causing him to wake. Something strange is absolutely going on, no matter what Arquette or the MD say.
Back over at the camp, Medina has a location from Heidekker on where the roaches may be located. Off they go on another raid. Their eye on the sky scopes out an abandoned building where it’s likely the roaches are hiding. All of a sudden, Stripe feels his implant glitching again. His vision, everything seems different. When Medina gets taken out by a bullet everything gets very serious. Stripe and Raiman are left together against a group of roaches in the nearby buildings. The roaches, using rifles, start taking down their technology.
When the pair move in Stripe’s implant malfunctions worse and worse. He’s disconnecting from the neural network, it seems. His normal, human functions are returning. Does that roach device break down the army’s implant? In the meantime, Stripe and Raiman infiltrate the abandoned building, finding more devices like the one that zapped Stripe. They stumble across a non-feral woman, who Raiman shoots down in cold blood.
Soon they encounter some roaches, and Raiman goes absolutely nuts, firing rounds wildly throughout the building, almost hitting Stripe and nearly killing more non-feral civilians. It’s become just like a game to her. So Stripe attacks her, trying to stop her from killing them. In the process, he takes a bullet and cracks her head open with the butt of his gun.
Stripe takes off with the non-ferals until he passes out at the wheel in the truck. The civilians drag him out to a safer place in the woods. To an underground lair. A woman tells him the truth: the army implant makes soldiers see civilians as roaches. Stripe can’t accept it, but she tells him firmly that “the implant made you see this.” Wow. I didn’t expect that, honestly. A nice little twist on what I thought had been happening. Still, Raiman is hunting for Stripe, and what happens when she finds him?
And what about the locals who say they’ve seen roaches? Perhaps it’s merely hatred, xenophobia, anger which drives them. One truly relevant approach to this episode, as we face a world wrought with such hate. It all started after the latest war. Policies were implemented. DNA checks required. Ah, sound familiar? At least it may sound similar to some of what certain people in certain countries have been suggesting as of late when it comes to members of particular groups. Y’know?
When Raiman locates Stripe he tries to explain the truth. That ain’t good enough. He’s been taken back to an army facility. Arquette’s come to have a chat, trying to convince him of the exact opposite of what the civilian woman had been saying. “The whole thing‘s a lie,” Stripe tells him. Arquette explains it’s all about making people more susceptible to orders, to fear. The implant allows soldiers to see something ‘other’ when looking at the enemy: “It‘s a lot easier to pull the trigger when you‘re aimin‘ at the boogeyman.” All comes down to being pure. A 21st-century vision of Nazi Germany’s eugenics. Only Stripe agreed beforehand to effectively be hypnotised, to the point he can’t remember any of what happened. One strong headtrip.
The army controls these soldiers, to the point they can literally take away sight with the implant. Arquette lays out Stripe’s options – go to jail, or have the implant reset and forget everything. But the soldier, he’s had enough. He would rather remember everything.
Or would he?
Arquette then allows Stripe to experience the raid at Heidekker’s place, to see everything as it really was, to feel the death, watch the blood flick over the walls. “You will see and smell and feel it all,” Arquette calmly explains.
In the end, he chooses to live in the army dreamworld. He sees flashes of that dream woman, their idyllic house. Yet none of it is real. Maybe it’s easier that way.
A genuinely powerful episode. Lots of questions concerning the ethics of technology, as well as military technology and strategies in the ever-changing 21st-century. So many things to think about. Did I miss anything? If so, let me know. Love to hear what others are digging and thinking of each episode. Brooker’s series continues its amazingness with a strong third season, each episode is a spectacle unto itself.
My favourite observation of this episode is how rhetoric can eventually lead to terrible things, as Arquette explains the timeline of how civilians became referred to as roaches. Remember this, America. Right now.
Netflix’s Black Mirror
Season 3, Episode 3: “Shut Up and Dance”
Directed by James Watkins
Written by William Bridges & Charlie Brooker
* For a review of Episode 2, “Playtest” – click here
* For a review of Episode 4, “San Junipero” – click here
In a parking garage a woman gets out of her car, waiting. On her phone she gets a notification. She looks scared, or apprehensive about being there. She leaves abruptly, but where’s she going, and why is she there to begin with?
At a restaurant, Kenny (Alex Lawther) works as a busboy, cleaning up various messes and sorting out the kitchen. He’s a right sweet lad, too. Not treated overly well by the other males at work, but sometimes that’s life: people (especially young dudes) are shit. Kenny’s sister has his computer all muffed up with viruses and the like, so he goes about cleaning that up, as well. Always cleaning. But that program he downloaded, to get rid of the malware, is it also spying on him? Something, or someone, peers through the webcam at him.
Kenny and his sister sort of fend for themselves, a bit. His mother’s a busy woman. He spends the evening lounging after putting locks on his door to keep out the nosy sister. Upstairs, he hops online for a wank. All the while the webcam points directly at him. After washing up he gets an e-mail stating WE SAW WHAT YOU DID, containing an attachment with the video. Fuck me. Knew that was coming. This obviously freaks poor Ken out. He covers up the camera, but finds another e-mail requiring his phone number, or else his contact list receives the video. A little hesitation, and then he sends it off. They start sending instructions via text. Ominous. He’s utterly terrified. Such an ironic and ultimate invasion of his privacy. He spent all that time putting locks on his doors to keep the family, his sister particularly, out of his private space. When somebody merely waltzed digitally right into his bedroom. Nasty, nasty stuff. Dig that.
So what are the stakes, I wonder? What is the endgame for the person(s) tormenting Kenny? YOU HAVE BEEN ACTIVATED. OBEY OR WE LEAK VIDEO. These messages come via text, along with a location for him to go to, or else. This has got him playing hooky from work, and I’m sure that’s only the beginning. He races to his first location atop a parking garage – a familiar location. We can already guess exactly what was happening to that woman in the episode’s opener.
Instructed to wait, Kenny does. Not for long. A delivery bike appears. The driver gives Kenny a box, taking his picture. He’s also being forced to do “their” bidding. Once the package is verified, another task is at hand. Kenny must go to a hotel room and deliver the box.
In the room is a man named Hector (Jerome Flynn). He refuses the package, not wanting anything to do with it. When more orders come from the people behind it all, Kenny finally gets into the room. Hector’s confused as much as him, and the young man can’t explain it well enough. Until texts start coming through to Hector. At the same time they want Kenny to take his picture: “They said I had to do that.”
Each of them are getting instructions, in tandem now, it seems. The cake must go to a new address. A car waits in the garage for them. Oh, that old familiar image of the parking garage. And the car has keys laid on the wheel, just like the ones the woman at the start left. Oh, I love the writing in this episode! So fun. What an elaborate game these hidden people play.
Kenny and Hector go on their way, they’re headed just outside of town. The two of them bond over the extortion they face respectively. Having to get gas, they run into a woman on the PTA from the school where Hector’s kids go, and end up having to give her a ride. Because that won’t cause any trouble. Soon as they’re off, the messages start. They’re watching, and the car is going the WRONG WAY. The messages continue, advising them TURN AROUND. Only 20 minutes left to get to their destination. Hector starts doing some stuntman work to get his friend out of the car. At the location, they’re instructed to “look in the cake.” Hector digs out a gun, a hat, and some sunglasses. That’s promising. Along with texts questioning who will be the driver, and who the robber. Hector calls the former, quickly. In front of the car sits a bank. The equation is simple, although terrifying.
The older of the two talks his younger companion into doing the robbery half of their task. Pretty slimy how he does, but they’re both desperate and nearly gone mad with the prospect of what’s going on around them. Kenny walks into the bank, if not very reluctantly. He points the gun and asks for money, all the while pissing himself. Jesus, that is so sad. A teller loads his bag with cash and then Kenny heads back to the car. They take off fast, only to come across a stop for construction, as sirens blare in the distance. The coppers aren’t looking for them, luckily, and the fellas are on the way once more.
Hector and Kenny get to the final instruction once at the next location – Hector must take the car alone and destroy it, Kenny has to drop the money, alone, at a separate location. The two part ways on their new tasks, amicably in fact; Hector apologises for being so harsh. When pushed, people will be nasty no matter how nice they are on a regular basis. Either way, Kenny heads out into the woods someplace to drop the cash. He stumbles upon a gated area that looks god damn spooky, like the exact place you wouldn’t go if it were a horror film. Yet on he goes, ever daring young man that he is, and continues after the point marked on his smartphone. In a remote location he sees someone waiting, a man. He has a drone. “They” require it being set into the air before anything further. Well, the money is “prize money” for a fight between Kenny and this man. The drone is watching, recording them. In any normal circumstances, a good man wouldn’t beat a kid. But these aren’t normal times.
Oh, and we start figuring out nice little Kenny boy wasn’t exactly jerking off to anything normal, either. They were likely underage girls. Same as the man before him. Kenny tries using his gun to end the fight, although no bullets remain. The drone watches from above, as the man attacks the kid.
What about Hector, eh? What’s he up to? He arrives home to a sleeping family. And a Trollolololo message on his phone, meme face and all. Does it mean what we assume? His wife’s crying eyes confirm as much. The woman from the beginning, she’s also been trolled; her racist e-mails are leaked to the internet in all their glory. Everyone from the game has been blackmailed, then destroyed anyways. Even Kenny, as he crawls from out of the forest, beaten and bloodied, only to get a Trollolololo face and a visit from the police, a disappointed call from mother about looking at kids online. Wow. Now that niceness of Kenny from the first scene is way fucking creepy.
What a shocker of an ending. A nice parallel to the very first episode of Black Mirror, where a hideous act of extortion lead to a different though similarly queasy twist.
Another solid episode in this Season 3 lineup! I can’t believe the writing, some of the best of the entire series yet. Great, great acting, as well. Fine stuff all around. And what a look into the things anonymous people can see and do, how they can extort you, all from behind a computer screen, anywhere; maybe near, maybe far. It’s a stunning and shocking view of how our most private moments, what we think are private moments, can now, in a day and state of extremely technology, become very public in the sound of one click.
Netflix’s Black Mirror
Season 3, Episode 2: “Playtest”
Directed by Dan Trachtenberg
Written by Charlie Brooker
* For a review of Episode 1, “Nosedive” – click here
* For a review of Episode 3, “Shut Up and Dance” – click here
American traveller Cooper (Wyatt Russell) is off on a solo adventure. He’s sneaked away under cover of the dark, early morning. He takes a plane, arriving in Australia, then Bangkok, Spain, Rome, and all sorts of other destinations. By the seat of his pants Cooper takes on the world, one place at a time. One night he meets Sonja (Hannah John-Kamen) through an online app, they have drinks at a pub and chat about his travels. She wonders if he’s “finding himself” or what the purpose of his trip may be in the end. Of course they wind up spending the night together, it being the tail end of his journey and all. Memories, yay! Aside from that we figure out Cooper took care of his dad at home with his mother – early onset Alzheimer’s – and so now, after his death, the son has gone on a trip for himself. He worries that something like that could happen to him, so seriously: memories!
But travelling, it takes money, right? All of a sudden Cooper finds his credit is lacking after somebody might’ve stolen his card. Things are not looking good. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, poor Cooper.
Well, using an Odd Jobs app he comes across a Playtest job with a huge gaming company. They make horror games and wild things; Sonja clues Cooper in on things, being in the games industry and all. The company is owned by Shou Saito (Ken Yamamura), a visionary developer. She also suggests getting a picture of Saito’s super secretive operations at the company would be worth a ton more than whatever he’ll make at the job. Hmm.
So Cooper is brought out to the massive complex where the games are developed, the lair of Saito and his latest developments. A few good jokes (the “end of level boss” and “Gryffindor” jokes made me laugh out loud). He gets into the contract signing portion of it all. A woman named Katie (Wunmi Mosaku) walks him through everything, including that there’s a medical procedure involved. All has to do with a virtual reality-type experience. Katie implants what’s called a “mushroom” into the back of his neck, protruding from the skin a little. Afterwards, they do a small test, and then he’s initiated into the virtual world which the new game – or experience – is to explore. From 8-bit, the character in front of Cooper changes to become more realistic with every upgrade, only visible to him. As Katie puts it, the experience is more like “layers on top” of reality instead of virtual reality. A totally immersive experience. We get to watch Cooper do real life whack a mole – to Katie it only looks like he’s smacking the table. Love it. Either way, Cooper’s sold on the entire job.
With all that done, Cooper is brought to meet the man himself, Shou Saito. They speak about the experience of gaming, how it makes us feel, the adrenaline involved. “You have faced your greatest fears in a safe environment,” Saito explains, going on to tell Cooper about a survival horror game which uses a gamer’s fears in order to scare the players respectively. An amplified version of what we’re already seeing today in horror games.
Only when Cooper gets hooked up to the game, it isn’t such a “fun” thing as he so wonderfully described the whack a mole. He’s brought to an eerie old house where the game commences, and will continue until he is too scared to go any further. Nothing can hurt the gamer. But what about when the fear is too much? Cooper wanders and his first encounter comes when he picks up a book with Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven in it – a huge spider crawls out from beneath the rug nearby. Only a relatively minor apparition, but an apparition nonetheless. The game probably has to slowly ingratiate the user so that the brain doesn’t explode with pure fright right away. Gradually the frightening things start to pile up. The painting on the wall changes, bit by bit. Licks flicker, sounds of footsteps beating around upstairs. When a 19th-century man shows up right behind Cooper, creeping him out, it shows the game is using his prior experiences and fears to scare him – the man looks like an old high school bully. So, for a moment he’s troubled. He goes on about his night after a few laughs, although he is shaken. Very clear.
A little more poking around sees Cooper terrified by an eerie, giant, human-like spider. Again, his subconscious drudging up bits of his previous experiences as a boy to be used by the game. Things start to get quite unsettling when he can’t reach Katie on the earpiece anymore. Is it the game? Yes, I’d bet on that. Plus, someone keeps banging on the door. It’s Sonja: “You‘re in danger,” she tells him. Has the game manifested her? Or is she actually there? Cooper realises she is actually in the room with him. She talks about a “computer–brain interface” that Saito has been working on for a year. Cooper doesn’t believe it, insisting she’s still a part of the whole game even being real. But Sonja goes on about missing people, all who used the Odd Jobs app to apply for the job. She then attacks him with a knife, as the spider-bully shows up once more, as well. Cooper tries to fight Sonja off, she goes mad on him. One of the single most horrific sequences of Black Mirror ensues when Sonja’s face peels off like rubber, revealing a bloody skull beneath. Cooper survives this round, creatively impaling the skull on the knife through his shoulder.
And of course it’s all fake, a figment of the game and his tortured imagination. Yet it leaves Cooper shaken worse than before. He felt the knife, he felt it all. He freaks out, wanting to tear the mushroom from the back of his neck. Although Katie tries to rally him to the access point, so she and Saito can take him out of the game.
Cooper worries about what’s behind the next door upstairs. Just beyond lies the access point. However, he’s scared that the game knows about things with mother. What things, exactly? Inside, the room is empty. And now Katie says “there is no access point.” It’s all a ruse to get the player to obey directions without question. Oh. Fucking. Shit. This is now very scary. Katie’s not so nice anymore, as well as the fact Cooper’s memories are disappearing. The game is pulling them away, replacing them. Putting him into his ultimate nightmare, ending up like his father with his memories gone and nothing left. This sends him over the edge.
Katie actually shows up now with a team of men, trying to help. But the process can’t be stopped. “I don‘t know who I am,” Cooper mutters at them. He’s stuck with the game worming its way into his brain, past his memories, leaving him a broken shell. He gets an apology from Saito, if that’s worth anything. “Put him with the others, please,” says Saito before the men drag him away.
He quickly is brought out of the game. He was in there for such a minuscule amount of time. Is his brain susceptible to an extreme length? Or is the software much too strong? Ah, the true ethics of gaming, as we step into unexplored territory and wildly uncharted waters, mixing human beings with technology in an unprecedented and likely dangerous manner.
Once Cooper goes home he sees his mother (Elizabeth Moynihan) again, in distress. She can’t remember her son, though, even as he stands right in front of her. Cut back to Cooper in that white room, first testing out the equipment with Katie. He convulses. His mother calls – like she tried to do when Cooper walked in at home. Everything loops around in a mindfuck of a sequence. Katie and Saito figure that the signal from the cell interfered with things. Still, Cooper lies motionless on the floor, a corpse, and in 4 small seconds another volunteer for the new Saito game is gone. Just like that.
What an excellent exploration of the gaming industry in a near future sci-fi sense. Wonderful writing from Charlie Brooker, as usual. He is a treasure. Love the macabre way he puts his lens over certain subjects. We’re not really that far off from the point of this game in “Playtest” when there’s already a game coming out – or maybe it’s already out, I only remember reading an article about it recently – which has the antagonist A.I. trying to thwart players by learning from how you actually play the game. These are the best sci-fi stories, in any medium: the prescient, relevant, and close to home tales. Brooker’s Black Mirror is like a Twilight Zone for the technology obsessed 21st-century. So perfectly eerie and moving in one fell swoop.
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.