Review: Stranger Things Season 1, Episode 5

Producer(s): Karl Gajdusek, Cindy Holland, Brian Wright, Matt Thunell, Shawn Levy, Dan Cohen, Matt Duffer, Ross Duffer, Iain Paterson, Shannon Tsang
Director(s): The Duffer Brothers
Writer(s): Alison Tatlock
Starring: Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Natalia Dyer, Charlie Heaton, Noah Schnapp, Joe Keery, Matthew Modine
Distributor: Netflix
Genre: Science Fiction, Horror, Supernatural
Rating: TV14+

After having pitched their show to most of the major cable networks and being rejected by all of them, the Duffer brothers started to doubt their future in television. It wasn’t until executive producer Shawn Levy came across the pitch script of the first episode in early 2015 that things started moving, and quickly. After purchasing the rights to the show, yet still keeping the Duffer Brothers in charge of writing, the team met with Netflix, who had just come off of a wave of hit original series (House of Cards, Orange is the New Black). It didn’t take long for Netflix to order the first season and production began with a 2016 target. The show is now heading into its third season and has become a cultural phenomenon.

Content Guide

Spiritual Content: Scripture is quoted at a funeral.
Violence: A man is knocked unconscious with a punch. A man is tranquilized in the neck. A short fight between two kids ends in one being “force pushed,” which leads to him hitting his head and being knocked unconscious for a short time. A doe is killed and eaten by a monster, not graphic, some blood.
Language/Crude humor: Bulls*** and D*mn are used.
Sexual Content: None.
Drug/alcohol use: Beer cans and pills are placed around a room in an attempt to trick a tranquilized person into believing they had a drug-induced dream.
Other negative themes: A parental figure is shown to not care much for their children, looking to profit off of their child’s death.
Positive Content: One of the episode’s themes is the battle to discover the truth.

Recap

Continuing the countdown to season three in July, we start off this episode with Hopper’s impromptu self-guided tour of the government lab, which has suddenly become rather accommodating to uninvited guests. After dodging a few scientists and punching the greeters, Hopper stumbles upon the lab’s upside-down goop portal. The staff doesn’t like this, and decides it’s finally time to send Hopper home, but not before his complimentary surprise neck injection.

Back at the Byers residence, Lonnie (Will’s father) pretends to be helping, and for a time his act is enough to at least calm Joyce temporarily. Jonathan is not buying it, and this leads to a short confrontation, one Jonathan appears to have desired to end less than peacefully.

After hearing the panicked conversation between Joyce and Will over the radio, the remaining DnD troupe attempt to work out where exactly Will is, coming to the conclusion the upside-down is an alternate dimension while using the DnD world to aid their understanding of what is happening. As the boys begin their plans to discover the path to the upside-down, Eleven becomes visibly anxious.

The next day, seemingly the entire town prepares for the funeral of Will Byers. Joyce is understandably despondent throughout the montage of the event, which gives us an opportunity for a sweet flashback scene between her and her son. Though the funeral receives a rather short amount of attention, it is there Nancy and Johnathan set up the next step in their plan to take down the monster: Determining where the creature has been operating. They set up their meet-up, but not before Jonathan steals a gun from his father’s car.

Meanwhile, Sheriff Hopper jumps awake to find himself back home, surrounded by empty beer cans and pills. The lab’s poor attempt to make the Sheriff believe he had a bad overdose trip fails miserably, and Hopper frantically tears his house apart looking for anything the lab could be monitoring him with. Once Hopper’s suspicions are confirmed, it is shown the Sheriff is not the only one under surveillance. The conversation between Joyce and Will that Eleven caught on the radio had more listeners than we were first aware. The lab now has its first lead as to where Eleven is, prompting an undercover visit to the middle school. Before Hopper can really gather himself, his deputies show up to let him know about more missing people, as well as the discovery of Barb’s car at a train station by the feds. Hopper doesn’t take any of this very well.

At the funeral reception, the DnD troupe seek out Mr. Clark in an attempt to covertly learn about the possibility of traveling between dimensions in order to get to Will. It is explained it would take a massive amount of energy to create a pathway to another dimension, though this could result in some undesired side effects. Theoretically. One bit of information of note, though, was the massive magnetic pull this door would create, which leads Dustin to test compasses. In doing so, Dustin discovers every compass is pointing the wrong direction, and it is decided by the troupe to quest in the direction of this new magnetic pull. Eleven’s panic rises.

Back at the Byers residence, Lonnie has made himself at home; taking down the lights, boarding up the hole in the wall, and planning to sue the company who owns the quarry where Will’s fake body was found in an attempt to get wealthy. Busy day for him. It was this last item on his list, and a little bit of the lights too, Joyce takes issue with. After an incredibly well performed screaming match, Joyce forces Lonnie to leave for good.

The adventures of Nancy and Jonathan continue to heat up as Nancy practices her baseball swing in the garage…an event Steve walks in on. After having a date night turned down, a dejected Steve heads home as Nancy prepares to meet up with Jonathan in the woods for some target practice. It’s clear Nancy is a better shot despite never shooting before. Though to be fair, Jonathan himself said he was aiming between the bottles. After some bonding over parental issues, the two focus their attention on their prep-work.

After making a quick and ominous call to his (assumed) ex-wife, Hopper leaves his house on a mission as if for the final time. Making his way to Joyce’s house, Hopper searches for possible listening devices, and then confirms Joyce’s feeling about her son. The Sheriff isn’t the only one with an ongoing mission. The DnD troupe has begun their compass experiment, following whatever is pulling the needles. The situation leads Eleven to a flashback at the lab, where she learns how to locate people from long distances using her powers. Placing her in a salt bath tub, Eleven is able to use what appears to be a section of the upside-down to see and hear things she is searching for. It was this ability which led her to discover the Demogorgon, and the door to the upside-down. Not far away, Nancy and Jonathan have also started their hunt for the monster, though not before they psychoanalyze one another like a married couple. Just a tip to Jonathan though — don’t try to make your point while the girl is holding a gun.

Getting nowhere, the boys realize their compasses have changed direction again, and are now leading them back home. Lucas catches on quickly, and discovers Eleven’s interference with the search, shifting the needles as they traveled. Once this is confirmed, Lucas blows up at Eleven, which prompts Mike to defend her. When a fight breaks out between the two, Eleven panics and pushes Lucas too hard with her powers, knocking him unconscious for a short time. Upon waking, Lucas leaves the group, and Mike lashes out at Eleven, causing her to run off as well.

As night falls, Nancy and Jonathan continue their search, though it’s clear there isn’t a plan for after a discovery is made. Upon finding an injured doe and determining the only humane thing to do is to put it out of its misery, the two quickly realize they are not alone as the doe is pulled deeper into the woods before they can finish it off. For whatever reason, they decide to absentmindedly split up, and without waiting for Jonathan, Nancy climbs through a hole in a tree, taking her into the lair of the demogorgon. The episode ends with Jonathan running past the small door to the upside-down as it closes with Nancy inside.

Review

This episode, for the most part, does quite a bit right, though I do have a massive contention with one decision the writers made. First, the good. Eleven’s fear of the gateway to the upside-down, and her actions to prevent the boy from getting too close, were well done. The use and timing of her flashbacks, as well as her clear apprehensiveness towards the search,  brought some weight and much-needed depth to her character. It is curious she was so willing to talk about the upside-down before, knowing the boys were looking for Will to begin with, if she had this fear all along. Why bring it up at all? Despite this, the whole situation helped Eleven’s character along in a big way.

Another character with a big moment was Lucas. His blow up at Eleven for undermining their mission brought Lucas to the front, and gave Caleb McLaughlin a chance to show off his ability. I did find the extent of the fight slightly forced and overblown (though stress and fear can do strange things to people), as well as Lucas jumping straight to Eleven being a “traitor” and the ensuing fight too extreme, but overall it was an important scene for the group.

Winona Ryder had less to do in this episode than usual, but her scenes with Lonnie (Ross Partridge) were as intense as they were enjoyable. It seems odd to say enjoyable here since Lonnie is so misguided, but the performances of the two sucked me into the moment. They were able to capture a past love, as well as why their flaws tore them apart. What is most interesting in this short story beat is the way the show portrays Lonnie’s guilt in not being a father to his sons. His belief that bringing in a bunch of money through a lawsuit would be his path to redemption is misguided, but it shows how lost he is in trying to make things right. When confronted about this, he can’t even see the problem, which is ultimately why he can’t stay.

Speaking of Jonathan, the true highlights of the episode came from his time with Nancy. It appears the two understand one another more than they realize, and they show the makings of a good team, with all the high school awkwardness added in as a bonus. We’ll see how long this lasts now with the demogorgon playing the third wheel, and Steve the fourth.

Here is where I reach my biggest problem. Hopper’s storyline should be over. Why would the lab keep him alive? In the first episode, the writers made it clear the lab is willing to kill for much less, lest we not forget the poor burger shack owner Benny. The man knew nothing about the lab and had no way of connecting Eleven to it. So, after the largest security breach the lab has ever seen, why keep the Sheriff alive and leave him to do whatever he wants? The cover-up for Hopper was also extremely half-hearted. Hopper has seen way too much, and far too easily. It took him almost no effort to get to the gateway. Why not take him out then? He isn’t useful to them since it’s already been shown through their recording of the radio at the middle school they have access to anything they want. It makes little sense to keep Hopper around, unless the plot demands it. This is where I find my problem. It is not believable, after it is shown the lab will kill for much less, to then break this established set up in Hopper’s case because the plot demands it and nothing else. This removes the weight of the situation if the show can’t keep to its own rules. Hopper should not have gotten off clean here, especially when removing him would have taken care of a significant amount of the lab’s problems since the Sheriff is the only one investigating them. The cover-up wouldn’t be any more difficult as it was with poor Benny. This storyline came across as lazy to me, which is a shame because the show is stronger than this. At least we have a demogorgon to look forward to.

The Bottom Line

Though there are some strong character moments, it is difficult to ignore the problems within the Hopper lab visit.

 

7

Isaiah Kaufman

Leave a Reply