Stranger Things 2 episode 5 review: Dig Dug (spoilers)

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Here’s our spoiler-filled review of Stranger Things 2, episode 5 – Dig Dug.

With Hopper in a hole (well, technically, a tunnel), Joyce is left to begin episode five trying to decode Will’s drawings all on her own. Noah Schnapp’s portrayal of a half-possessed Will continues to be uber-creepy, especially in the early moments with Mike here. There’a a real desperation to his delivery that sells the whole conceit totally.

As the chief continues to explore the tunnels beneath Hawkins, it’s once again the great sound design that imparts the tension, but its the ever moving vines that really bring the scares. It’s classic horror stuff, very Evil Dead, but David Harbour’s horrified submission to them is perhaps the most strikingly bleak image of the series so far.

Meanwhile, back at Hawkins Lab, Doctor Owens has discovered an interesting property of the soil taken from the pumpkin patch Hop has just excavated. Specifically, that it’s reaction to being heated is to turn into something like the ‘smoke monster’ we saw attacking Will. When the same effect is seen in all the soil, whether it is over the burner or not, it provides another another creepy little interlude. It also chimes with the vines’ reaction to Hopp’s lighter in the tunnels.

Nancy and Jonathan’s journey – both literally and emotionally – continues, with the implication that Nancy perhaps thought the two would pair up after the events of season 1. More striking, though, is Jonathan’s reaction – which implies he felt Nancy ran back to Steve too soon. It’s a petulant response that you wouldn’t perhaps expect from Jonathan, and Nancy shuts him down pronto – or is that a bit of guilt on her part? We’ll see, I guess.

Their meeting with investigative journalist Murray ends up with a plan – hatched over vodka-tonics – to expose the death of Barbara as a chemical accident, rather than the almost-supernatural nightmare that it really was. Whether or not their actions are a good thing, though, is still up in the air.

Lucas is having his own confessional moment with Max, as he lays out the whole story so far, only to be greeted with disbelief and disdain. Dustin, across town, has recruited Steve in his attempts to contain and potentially kill his pet demogorgon, Dart.

The emotional core of the episode, however, is El’s reunion with her mother and Aunt. With the key image of being El’s opening of the door; a girl fed up of being told what to do, and when she can do it. Among everything, it’s possibly her most frightening show of her powers, because it’s a sign that she simply won’t be resisted any more.

Her reunion afford her a pretty traumatic insight into the life she could have had – as a loved child with a room ready for her to return home to – and some painful remembrances, as Terry effectively tells the story of her birth and beyond. Her decoding of her mother’s ‘dream state’ s a brutal extended montage. It forces El to relive her mother’s trauma as it that unfolds its explanation slowly – giving us a brief sight of Matthew Modine’s Doctor Brennan taking El away at birth, Terry’s later efforts to get her back, and the electric shock treatment inflicted on her and leaving her in her current state. Heavy stuff.

The sequence also, possibly, offers insight into Kali – number 8 – who we met briefly in the very first episode, but who has since been ignored. Presumably, she is the other girl in the rainbow room with El, whom Terry sees as she storms the Hawkins lab in pursuit of her young daughter. She is also, presumably, who El goes off in pursuit of at the end of the episode.

With Will’s ‘now memories’ telling him that Hopper is in mortal danger, the Byers gang turn to solving the mystery of Will’s drawings. Joyce turning to Bob, and letting him into the upside down part of her life, is lovely. Bob’s reaction to it – beautifully played by Sean Astin – is a moment of pure joy, though.

It’s exactly the kind of pure reaction that you’d expect from a child, and has now convinced me that Bob is exactly what he appears to be: a good guy. Joyce deserves Bob, they’re actually a lovely pair. He’s also great of pushing the plot along, and his puzzle solving skills quickly propel the group in pursuit of an ailing Hopper.

Their arrival at the pumpkin field is quickly followed by Doctor Owens and the Hawkins Power guys, who appear to have put two-and-two together and worked out that the field needs a good sweep with their flame-throwers. Bob, again, shines when they find Hopper’s car and attempt to effect a rescue – he is, like I hoped previously – stepping-up to aid Joyce. Oh, and the sharing of pleasantries with man he just saved is pure gold.

It’s Will’s reaction to the ‘weeding’ that is the big cliffhanger at the end. The seed for it has already been planted perhaps, with the whole ‘he likes it cold’ thing, but it implies a connection between the vines, the earth and the smoke monster that is inhabiting Will (this has also been foreshadowed in the lab with the soil). His screaming fit is another stark moment of horror, though, closing out an episode that’s traumatic from start to finish.

As befits the hump episode of the series, ‘Dig Dug’ has started providing answers to the mysteries this second series has set up. El now has a picture of her past, Hopper now knows the source of the blight, Max knows what’s weird about The Party, Dustin knows that keeping Dart – and keeping him secret from his friends – was a sensationally bad idea.

This instalment, essentially, is a very well handled splurge of exposition for a show that needed just that. There’s still plenty to be explained, though. What’s the deal with the reaction to heat? Has the smoke monster already crossed over from the Upside Down? When will the gang reunite? Will they? It’s all set up beautifully for the homeward leg.

Strange Things

  • Seriously, does Mike and Nancy’s mom have a glass of wine in every shot she’s in? Yes, yes she does.

  • The show playing on Terry’s TV when El first enters the house is Family Feud. The US version of Family Fortunes, or is it the other way around, it was hosted by Richard Dawson. He was married to ‘the British Marilyn Monroe’, Diana Dors, for seven years from 1959, was a regular cast member of Hogan’s Heroes in the 60s before appearing on game show The Match Game and hosting Feud between ’76-’85. He passed away, aged 79, in 2012.
  • Murray’s thinking music is Billie Holliday’s No More, recorded in by the artist for Decca in 1944. Murray is playing it from his vinyl version of her 1956 Decca compilation LP The Lady Sings. By that time, however, Holliday had signed for the now-legendary jazz label Verve, which was originally created to provide a home for the Ella Fitzgerald by her manager Norman Granz.