Stranger Things 2 episode 8 review: The Mind Flayer

Following the divisive detour into Eleven-land in episode seven, The Mind Flayer brings us back to the matter at hand. Trouble is, though it’s an entertaining hour, it’s one that’s trying to cram in too many ideas at once.

The first is most likely the best, with the gang all collected at Hawkins Lab as the demodogs circle them. Forgetting for a moment that this is a Netflix show while watching, I assumed that this would be the ‘heroes stuck in an enclosed space’ episode, but instead we finish early and bloodily and then quickly move on to less interesting, but I guess more essential things.

Before that, though, the episode serves up a great little horror film homage, signposting all those things we expect to happen and then doing them anyway. Which, let’s be honest, is Stranger Things in a nutshell.

There’s a lot of power outages, people outside trying to get in and people inside trying to get out. Running through corridors and slamming flimsy looking doors shut so that the monsters don’t eat your face. It’s all great fun, with some little touches here and there that make it more so. After episodes and episodes of keeping everyone fairly separate, it’s also just nice to see (almost) everyone in the same space.

That almost refers to a very particular person, who waits until – you guessed it – the very last moment to make her heroic appearance. Before we get to that painfully inevitable conclusion, though, there’s a lot of listening to Joyce, Mike and Jonathan tell Will how much they love him.

Joyce and Jonathan I can buy, but teenage boys don’t talk to each other like that, even when their friend is possessed by an evil being from another dimension.

Bob wasn’t evil, which was my theory, but he was designated cannon fodder for season two. Last one in, first one out. It’s probable that Sean Astin didn’t want to sign on for more than a season, and it’s also possible that the show is working towards that Joyce/Hopper endgame we all want in our hearts. Whatever the reason, it’s a really well-done sequence.

The most fun to be had in the second half is Hopper’s confusion at the boys’ insistence that Dungeons and Dragons is a useful tool for understanding the motives of the demogorgons. In short, they’re like the Nazis (not the Germans) and deem all races inferior to their own. Good to know.

That sets us up for a real showdown in the final episode, which goes some way to explaining why the rest of the pre-Eleven episode feels like it’s biding time. These characters are charming enough to carry us through a lot of catching up and exposition, but not enough to justify an extra episode in the running order. Season two has already felt flabby and aimless compared the first, and this just serves to point that out right when we should be getting the adrenaline boost.

Related – the point of Billy existing remains elusive and, even if he’s suddenly the most important character on the show in the final hour, it’s not worth him just existing without purpose for eight episodes. Seeing his dad be abusive as some sort of excuse for him being a psycho is so cliched and superfluous, and takes time away from the actual story.

So we’ve one hour left, and now Eleven has rejoined the show everyone else is on. Despite my reservations about certain elements of this season, that’s exciting, and we’re almost certainly set for another exciting finale and set-up for Stranger Things 3.