Here’s our spoiler-filled review of Stranger Things 2 episode 4…
If one shot from Stranger Things sums up the wonder that is Joyce, it’s the sight of her green Ford Pinto streaking past the 20mph school sign in her dash to find Will. It’s an image that opens this episode, an instalment of the drama that is really just a showcase for everyone’s favourite damaged mum.
When, later in the drama, she holds Will and tells him that she will never let anything hurt him again, even in the midst of all the terrors around her, you believe every word. The steely look on her face as she hugs him is stone cold terrifying in its own very special way. This comes after he has confessed that he feels he is, in some way, possessed by the ‘smoke’ monster that he confronted at the end of episode 3; as the episode progresses, it becomes increasingly obvious that this is the case.
His connection with this monster, however, is also what allows him to begin creating drawings of what appears to be a tunnel system under the town, and the source of the blight that Hop has been investigating.
By the way, can we just take a moment to be equally impressed and disgusted by the sound design that underpins will Pumpkin field dig? We really should, you know – and the creepy ambient noise that bleeds over the final credits telling you that this is all bad bad bad. It’s a powerful, yet subtle moment.
A very different kind of power is displayed by El in her showdown with Hop. It’s the every teenager’s frustration made physical, and every parent’s worst nightmare of a child you desperately want to protect, but ultimately can’t outright control. The stakes and the risks escalate so quickly, but in such a familiar way, that it has a horror all of its own.
The stark beauty of her ‘finding’ ability, the black space where she observes her subjects, is used to devastating effect later in the episode as she hunts down who she believes to be her mother – she’s right, as we know. It’s a moment of almost unbearable tension, because it is so still and calm, that the writers then use it to hit home just how alone El feels, rather than for a cheap shock just amplifies the emotion.
Nancy and Jonathan’s attempt to contact Barb’s parents, as we know from last episode, didn’t go unnoticed. But yet again Dr. Owens plays against the cartoon villain role established by Dr. Brennan in the last series. In a wonderfully sinister moment, the pair are rounded up before their proposed meeting and taken to Hawkins lab, yet this is only so that Owens can make something resembling a a reasoned, valid argument as to why the goings on there need to be kept secret.
He appears, as was hinted, to be just a guy doing a shitty job. That’s not going to cut any mustard with Nancy, though, and the final scene shows that they are actually one step ahead of the spooks and have no intention of keeping quiet. One senses, though, this is now becoming another example of Stranger Things characters doing the wrong thing for the right reasons.
So, things are starting to fall into place and the plots are becoming clearer. El knows about her mother, and will presumably persue whether Hop wants that or not. Hop is exploring the tunnels, Will is battling the monster – internally if not externally – and the party has been dangerously splintered by events. It harks back to the speech in season one where its explained that things never go well when the four go their separate ways, yet here we are.
By the end we see than Dustin’s affection to Dart was as horribly misplaced as we suspected, as it appears he has been petting a new demogorgon. Poor old Mews is the first to pay the price for his mistake, so Will he know have to ‘fess up to his friends to battle his new ‘pet’? It remains unclear.
Rather than the charming Three Amigos act of the first series, Stranger Things 2 appears to have spent its time forcing wedges between the main players. We saw the first time around that they were only truly strong together, and it is almost certainly going to be the case again.
- Joyce drives a 1976 Ford Pinto, probably because it was cheap.
- The Basketball scene once again got the best music, this time it was a Paul Engemann contribution to the Scarface (1979) soundtrack called Push It To The Limit. The song was written and produced by disco legend Giorgio Moroder and his writing partner Pete Bellotte, best known for their work with Donna Summer.
- The basement of Hop’s grandad’s house – where he has El hidden away – is a potted history of his life. The boxes El surveys read: ‘Dad’, ‘Vietnam’, ‘New York’, ‘Hawkins Lab’, ‘Clothes’ and ‘Fragile’. We don’t think those last two were a coincidence. When was the last time we actually saw Hop in his civvies?