Here’s our spoiler-filled review of Stranger Things 2, episode 7 ‘The Lost Sister’.
After the Hawkins-based, Aliens-referencing, Half-Life-a-go-go, trauma-fest that was ‘The Spy’ (Bob, oh Bob… you were too beautiful for this show), ‘The Lost Sister’ is a very definite change of pace. Whether or not you found the idea of a standalone El: Psionic-In-The-City spin-off satisfying or not, it certainly provided another healthy dose of expository background information and character progression.
For my money, however, its jarring that a drama that has previously done such a good job of interweaving its action and character development appears to have felt the need to compartmentalise it’s dual efforts so distinctly in the second half of this season. What’s more, it tries to cover a lot of ground quickly – like pressing fast-forward on El’s emotional development. This is very much not what we have come to expect from a show that has let us learn about its characters pretty organically?
A miss-step, then? Well, maybe, but a minor one.
In the eyes of the creators, that tonal shift is probably a trade-off for the wider scope of the story this time around – and the fact that they have made the decision to leave Hawkins behind, even for just 40 minutes, in order to not become some sort of high-end horror/sci-fi incarnation of Midsomer Murders.
The other side of that opinion, though, is that part of the charm of Stranger Things was it’s hermetically sealed small-town vibe – a la Twin Peaks’ first run – and that widening that world is risky changing something fundamental about its charm. I guess the sense in that decision may only play out in later seasons, because it certainly doesn’t feel like Kali and the gang are going to be coming to El’s aid in Hawkins. They have a much darker agenda, which El consciously rejects – but more on that later.
Thus after replaying the events of her meeting with Terry, and having been shown a breadcrumb leaving collection possibly other ‘numbers’ – time was allowed to show a headlines saying “CLEVELAND TEEN GIRL MISSING IN INDIANA” and “Baby Boy Abducted from County Hospital” (located in Memphis), so look out for those down the line – after a bus trip to Chicago, and a spot of Bon Jovi, she tracks down the girl from the Rainbow Room, who we have met already and know as Kali.
Kali is a darker, further down the line, incarnation of El/Jane – they’re constantly framed as opposites, just to drive the point home – a child that has embraced her abilities, but uses them to take revenge. What El could become. She, and her gang on misfits on mission, are lucking to take brutal retribution on those who have wronged her – and we quickly see that was the reason for the police response in episode 1.
The interesting thing about Kali’s gang is how they are a dark mirror of The Party back in Hawkins. They are even introduced in D&D-esque terms: ‘Warrior’, ‘Protector’. Like El, Kali has drawn to her a group of people that needed her in some way – just as Mike, Dustin, Lucas and Hopper do in their own ways – but the broken lives of Kali’s gang appear to have allowed her to take a broken, revenge-filled view of the world, in contrast to the hope and inquisition of the Hawkins crew.
It’s a nice dynamic that is played on throughout the episode, allowing the ever-learning-about-life El to see that at every turn her friends have given her the chance to do the right thing, and that Kali’s route to peace, and – more importantly – finding a home it not the right one for her. The contrast of Kali’s violence, with El’s memory of kinship and saving her friends is a very easy-to-read nightside/darkside message that resonates well, and drives what we presume is El’s return to the fold. There’s little coincidence, I suspect, that the ‘Spiritual Advisor’ sign in Kali’s hideout is broken, and simply reads ‘Spiritual Sor[e]’.
El’s trip to the darkside, while essentially a non-sequitur in terms of the larger plot, reveals a few interesting things and poses some questions. Not least whether or not Doctor Brennan is really still alive, other than in their minds – was it just a tactic from their target to buy time, or his very life, or could their Papa have really dodged the demogorgon?
It’s also interesting to consider, if El is right in her assertion that her Mama wanted her to find Kali, why Terry would want that. Is her mother seeking to use her daughter to extricate her own revenge, as Kali would like El to think, or is Terry seeking to show El what she could become if she gives in to revenge? It’s an interesting debate, and when Kali and El cross paths again – as they surely must, at some point – it will be interesting to see whether any further insight into this is provided.
Her anger appears intrinsically linked to her power. Or, at least, it provides her with the ability to amplify it. Can love and compassion have a similar effect?
We see from the conclusion of ‘The Lost Sister’ that, in terms of the timeline of the wider story, El’s decision to return ‘home’ – there’s that word again – is happening at around the point where episode 5 ended. Whenever she does make it back, she’s going to return to Hawkins a very different person, physically and spiritually, to the one who left – having now realised where home really is.
- Punky Brewster, featuring George Gaynes (best known in the UK as Commandant Lassard from the Police Academy movies) plays on the TV before the gang’s home invasion. That show was the story of a little abandoned girl who was bought up by a grumpy foster father… Not subtle, but a nice touch.
- The final song of the episode is Whisper To A Scream (Birds Fly) by Liverpudlian new wavers The Icicle Works.
- Pruitt Taylor Vince, who plays Ray Carroll – the gang’s target – in this episode, is a character actor with a host of genre credits to his name. These include 1996 X-Files episode ‘Unruhe’, where he plays a psychopath who targets Scully, The Walking Dead, Justified, True Blood, Deadwood, Quantum Leap and Bones.
- Neither of the other news articles El skims – mentioned in earlier in the review – feature names. One tells the story of a 16-year old female basketball player – whose father describes her as ‘a genius’ and ’unusually strong for her age’ – who went missing after a game. The other, of a baby stolen from a hospital nursery. Thank you, freeze frame.