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Every episode of Stranger Things 4 is packed to the brim with action, suspense, humor and a healthy dose of horror. Somehow, despite pretty much every episode running over an hour (and sometimes well over an hour) it still feels like just the right amount of time to tell this story.
In episode one, we were reintroduced to the Hawkins gang six months after the ‘mall fire’ that killed so many Hawkins residents (quite the cover-up but I guess people will believe anything).
Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) is on the varsity basketball team now. Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) are part of the Hellfire Club with its charismatic leader/DM Eddie Munson (Joseph Quinn).
In California, meanwhile, Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) is bullied relentlessly by a group of high schoolers who seem hellbent on hating her for no good reason other than meanness. Will (Noah Schnapp) can do little to help her, and without her powers she is toothless and socially incompetent.
Last week, things boiled over at the roller-skating rink when, after being humiliated in front of Mike by the Queen Bee, Angela (Elodie Grace Orkin), El retaliates by grabbing a roller-skate and smashing up Angela’s face with it. And frankly, while it’s clearly not a well-thought-out move, you can hardly blame her.
From here, Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) and his pal Argyle (Eduardo Franco) drive the kids back to the Byers residence in Argyle’s pizza fan, doing their best to comfort Eleven by telling her they make the skate wheels from soft plastic or rubber—on the off chance that someone gets ‘schmacked’ by one according to the jovial Argyle.
Jonathan and Argyle, I should note, are very, very stoned at this point.
Dinner Of Champions
When the gang gets back to the house they find an old friend aproned up in the kitchen cooking risotto: Murray Bauman (Brett Gelman). What comes next serves as some much-needed comic relief after the awfulness at the rink—and to poor Fred (Logan Riley Bruner), Vecna’s latest victim.
Murray is here because he and Joyce (Winona Ryder) were able to contact the number from the mysterious package she received in Episode 1 that contained the doll with the hilarious coded message, revealing that Hopper was, in fact, alive. “Proof of life,” as Murray puts it.
Their contact—a Russian guard named Dmitri who goes by the codename Enzo (played by Game Of Thrones alumni Tom Wlaschiha, aka Jaqen H’ghar)—wants $40,000 USD and has arranged a drop point in Alaska, and contact with a Russian smuggler named Yuri. Because Joyce is still so determined to protect her children even by deceiving them, she tells them that she’s going to Alaska for an overnight conference for her job. One suspects this little white lie may come back to haunt her.
All of this goes right over Jonathan’s head. He’s pretty focused on the risotto.
Jonathan is blazed—Heaton is hilariously convincing—and Joyce—poor naïve Joyce—seems totally baffled. It’s a funny gag, but ends with Eleven storming off when the roller skate incident comes up and Mike mutters “She didn’t look okay,” about Angela.
Joyce is doubly baffled as Joyce storms off.
“I feel like there’s tension,” Murray says. “Was it the risotto?”
“No!” Jonathan and Argyle both reassure him. “The risotto is great!”
So Joyce and Murray depart for Alaska leaving Jonathan in charge of Eleven, Will and Mike (who’s visiting over Spring Break from Hawkins). The timing turns out to be a problem.
At breakfast the next morning, Eleven is nowhere to be seen so Mike brings her Eggo waffles up to her room, where she’s fixing her little model diorama of Hopper’s (David Harbour) cabin.
Mike tries to get to the bottom of why she’s been lying to him but she’s not very forthcoming. He’s been bullied his entire life so surely she could confide in him and he could relate. But Eleven disagrees because unlike Mike, she truly is different. More than just a social outcast, she’s spent her formative years in a lab.
The conversation takes a turn for the worse when she confronts him about why he can’t even say “I love you” anymore. All his letters are signed “From Mike.” He argues with her, equivocating, laying the blame at the bullies and mouthbreathers trying to tear them apart—but he never once says “I love you” to prove her wrong. Curiouser and curiouser.
“You’re a superhero!” he tells her. “Not anymore,” she replies.
This is when the cops show up with a warrant for Eleven’s arrest on assault charges. With no parents present, there’s little Jonathan can do other than watch her get cuffed and led out to the police cruiser. Mike runs after her, shouting that he’ll fix this. Saying lots of things but never saying “I love you.”
El is processed at the police station and sent off in a police van (which seems a little quick but whatever) and the boys are unable to speak with her. The police van heads out into the desert where three black sedans waylay it.
The door to the van opens and Eleven makes a break for it before being caught. A man steps out of one of the sedans. It’s Dr. Owens (Paul Reiser). “Hey, kiddo,” he says. He takes her to a diner and tells her that a war is coming and that she’s the only one who can save her friends—and that he’s been working on a way to help her get her powers back. He gives her the ultimate choice over whether or not to come with him and try, or go back to her friends and roll the dice.
Naturally, she goes with him.
Colonel Sullivan, I Presume
Stranger Things is a show about supernatural monsters, but there are always a few corporeal villains as well. We’ve seen one of these take shape in Hawkins: The young Jason (Mason Dye), the charismatic basketball captain on the hunt for Eddie after the death of his girlfriend, Chrissy.
Then there are the Russians who have Hopper imprisoned and subject the poor man to torture and beatings and starvation. Other human bad guys over the years have been Dr. Brenner (Matthew Modine)—though he’s a complicated figure—or the hapless, corrupt mayor.
Now we are introduced to Lt. Colonel Sullivan (Sherman Augustus) who shows up in a chopper at Dr. Owens’ house looking for “Brenner’s little pet”—Eleven, who he blames for all the Hawkins woes and suspects has something to do with the Soviets.
It’s this visit from Sullivan that spooks Brenner into action, forcing his hand and pushing him to go get Eleven before this rival faction can. We’re seeing power plays within the U.S. government at this point, though it’s unclear exactly what kind of authority Sullivan has other than the ability to use force to get what he wants.
He certainly has a fair point, though, regardless of his tactics. Eleven was trained to carry out the exact kind of violence that Vecna is using to kill the Hawkins kids. It makes you wonder who exactly Vecna is, and whether perhaps he wasn’t always a denizen of the Upside Down. Could he have come from our world originally?
Curiouser and curiouser.
Meanwhile, In Mother Russia
In Soviet Russia, guards free you. Or at least, that’s the plan. Enzo (Tom Wlaschiha) and Hopper are in cahoots, which we see play out in Episode 3.
Hopper gives Enzo some lip and the guard drags him off to be punished, but it’s all a ruse to give them a moment to discuss their plans. Enzo informs him that Joyce will arrive in Alaska the next day and that it’s up to Hopper to figure out how to get to the plane that will take him to reunite with her.
Hopper is worried that the smuggler can’t be trusted, but there aren’t exactly any other options. The trick now is figuring out how to escape the prison and make it all the way to the church where the pilot, Yuri, will meet him.
In order to do this, Hop gives another prisoner his soup and bread in exchange to have him sledgehammer his ankles just enough to slip the chain-bracelet off. Dear god in heaven. Poor Hopper and poor Hopper’s feet.
Maaaaax . . . .
Meanwhile, back in Hawkins the gang continues to investigate what the heck is going on. They’ve found Eddie and filled him in on the stranger things of their small Indiana town. Now, leaving Eddie in Reefer Rick’s abode, they follow the sirens and find Nancy (Natalie Dyer) talking to the cops at the scene of Fred’s gruesome death.
They discuss strategy, bringing Nancy up to speed, and Max (Sadie Sink) recalls that both of Vecna’s victims had visited the school counselor, Ms. Kelly (Regina Ting Chen) before they died. She decides to go and talk with her at her home to see if she can glean any clues. Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Steve (Joe Keery) tag along.
Nancy and Robin (Maya Hawke) head to the library to track down Nancy’s only lead at this point—the mystery of Victor Creel. Nancy seems jealous of Robin despite Robin reassuring her that she and Steve have only a platonic (with a capital ‘P’) relationship. It appears old feelings about Steve are rumbling and Nancy and Jonathan’s days may be numbered.
Lucas, meanwhile, is riding around with the basketball team when we see Vecna hone in on one of his next victims: teammate Patrick (Myles Truitt) who suddenly clutches at his head.
The basketball team finds Eddie’s bandmates and beats them up until one of them spills the beans: Dustin has been calling around looking for Eddie. So they head to Dustin’s and Lucas manages to radio his friends, learning the truth about Eddie’s location and giving them a quick warning before he has to go. He lies to Jason about where Eddie’s holed up, bringing them out to Hopper’s cabin and then making a run for it.
Natalie and Robin discover old news reports about Victor Creel who claimed that he did not, in fact, kill his family back in the 50s’. Victor claimed his house was haunted by an ancient demon and that he angered the demon who killed his family in retaliation. Crazy talk, obviously. But they hatch a plan: Why not go talk to the man himself, if only they can find a way into the asylum? The demon sure sounds like Vecna, after all. Perhaps it would provide some clues.
Max isn’t able to get the school counselor to talk but she is able to swipe her school keys, and she Dustin and Steve head to the school and break into her files. Max starts to notice a pattern in the victims: Headaches, nosebleeds, nightmares and eventually strange visions.
These are all symptoms that Max, herself, has been suffering from. And just as she realizes this, we hear the sound of a clock chiming. Vecna’s voice calls out, “Maaaxxx…” and she walks slowly out into the hallway. The clock chimes, the music rises, and dread fills us. “Max…” Vecna taunts her as she sees a grandfather clock buried in the wall at the end of the hallway.
We see Vecna then and the camera zooms in to just his eyes. The screen goes dark. The credits roll.
For all the crazy stuff in this episode, it was a little less eventful than the first two. I see it as a sort of bridge episode. While the first two in this season really set the stage, establishing the new monster and the kids’ various circumstances, this one raised the stakes and pushed everyone out of their comfort zone.
Eleven has been taken away from the rest of the group. Max is Vecna’s next victim. The kid sleuths have some leads, finally. Victor Creel could prove to be crucial in understanding what happens to Vecna’s victims, and we now have an established pattern of symptoms to help determine who will die next—though no way to stop that from happening.
Hopper is poised to escape and Joyce and Murray are on the way to the rendesvous. Everything is in motion and everything hangs by a thread: Hop’s freedom, El’s powers, Max’s life. It’s all very dire and suspenseful and a huge step forward in terms of storytelling from the last two seasons. This wasn’t my favorite episode of the season, but it sets up what may be the best of the bunch so far: Chapter 4, Dear Billy.
That one’s a real tour de force—Stranger Things at its very best.
This season is just so damn good so far I’m watching each episode twice. I’m just a bit bummed out that the final two episodes don’t air until July!
I’ll have my recap/review of that episode live tomorrow here on this blog, so please do follow me here for updates.
You can also check out my recap of Seasons 1 – 3 if you’re a bit foggy on the details.
And here are links to all my Stranger Things 4 recaps:
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