Stranger Things Recap: Bob the Brain

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Photo: Jackson Lee Davis/Netflix
Stranger Things

Stranger Things

Dig Dug Season 2 Episode 5
Editor's Rating 3 stars

Hopper really should have known better than to dig a hole in a field filled with contaminated ecto-soil, and then to climb down — all alone — into an underground tunnel that’s filled with floating Upside Down particles. He may have two goofy cop sidekicks back at the station to provide laughs, but Hopper isn’t proving himself to be much brighter. You’re basically living on the Hellmouth of the Midwest, so what in the world are you thinking?

Then, like some sort of demented resident of Little Shop of Horrors, the tentacles writhing through this underground network start spitting toxic goo onto Hopper’s face, rendering him weakened. (If you didn’t think of this Jurassic Park moment, then I don’t know what to tell you.) Even his Indiana Jones–style torch doesn’t keep the slithering creepies at bay — although it does send them screeching and skittering out of flame’s reach. The tentacles wrap around his body, encasing all but his face. And of course, because no good deed goes unpunished in Hawkins, the hole Hopper came through closes. He’s trapped underground, maybe dying, and he won’t ever get a chance to tell Joyce that he is totally into her. Luckily for him, Will’s “Truesight” comes with a potential perk: He can reach inside the mind of the monster, and in this case, he realizes that he saw Hopper in a dream.

Harry Potter fans will easily recognize all the ways Will Byers resembles The Boy Who Lived in this moment. Like Harry, Will emerged from an experience that would have killed most other kids. He now has a bit of the demon he battled inside of himself (Horcrux much?), which provides him with brief glimpses of what the monster is thinking and plotting. But also like Harry, he worries that the mindmeld goes both ways. Can the monster see into Will’s brain? It’s an inexact science, to say the least.

This is where Bob really gets to shine. Bob the Brain! A nerd in high school, Bob has obviously shrugged off any youthful bullying with the knowledge that he is way smarter than the average Hawkins resident. In a small town in the ’80s that meant a job at RadioShack; today, he’d probably be a tech mogul bent on exacting revenge on the town that mocked him. Bob doesn’t know the real story of Will’s disappearance the year before, since Joyce has been forced to keep him in the dark at the request of Hawkins Lab. But obliging and sunny, “This Wine Is Making Me Crazy” Bob is always down to help, so while he wonders what in the everloving hell is going on at the Byers house, he doesn’t push too hard.

And Bob saves the day! Will can only explain in vague terms where Hopper is, but as a native Hawkinsite, Bob can see that Will’s drawings of wild “vines” are actually a map of sorts — a map of the tunnels under Hawkins, although they don’t exactly realize they are tunnels yet. With a little good old-fashioned cartographical maneuvering, Bob manages to scale down the drawings and find the spot where Will saw Hopper in his dream. He even escorts Joyce down into the hole and cuts Hopper free from the killer vines. All while looking good in that beige Members Only jacket. What a guy.

While Bob and Joyce play mapmaker, Nancy and Jonathan are still together on their romantic getaway. Just kidding! Nancy’s grand plan is to take their recording of Dr. Owens to Murray, the unhinged journalist who’s been rattling around Hawkins and bugging Hopper about aliens and “a little Russian girl” who can move things with her mind. I suppose even the National Enquirer gets real scoops sometimes, so maybe Nancy is onto something, but this idea seems pretty risky.

Especially since Murray is a devoted conspiracy nut whose “apartment” has one of those giant pinboards with string strewn across it. Murray spends his life trying “to look behind the curtain,” he explains, and the reality of what’s going on at Hawkins Lab “would open the curtain, and open the curtain behind that curtains.” So he and Nancy hatch a plan: They can sell this story to the media, but only if they leave out the craziest bits. By watering down what happened at Hawkins Lab, maybe they can actually convince the wider public to believe them.

Meanwhile, Eleven has fled in search of her mother, following the paper trail she discovered underneath Hopper’s cabin. When she turns up on Terry Ives’s doorstep, she’s headed only for misery. In season one, we learned that after causing a media headache for Hawkins Lab by insisting that Dr. Brenner had stolen her baby, Terry suffered a massive stroke and has been incapacitated ever since. But it turns out that Terry is living a waking nightmare. Electroshocked into a near-vegetative state, she sits and rocks all day long, recounting the same series of events in a never-ending loop: “Breathe. Sunflower. Three to the right. Four to the left. Rainbow. 450.”

First, Terry went into labor and was rushed to the hospital. Breathe. Then, after her baby wiggled into the world and was snatched away by Dr. Brenner, she awoke from a haze to find a vase sitting by her bedside. Sunflower. After being told that baby Jane had been stillborn and battling for years to prove otherwise, Terry opens a safe and grabs the gun hidden inside. Three to the right. Four to the left. Flash to Hawkins Lab, where she shoots a security guard and races from room to room, calling out for her daughter, only to be torn away once she finally finds her. Rainbow. Dr. Brenner straps her to a table, connect her to an electroshock device, and cranks up the voltage, essentially zapping her brain away. 450.

For a show that can rely on campy schticks and hokey silliness, Eleven’s desperate grief over her mother’s condition and Terry’s longing to simply hold her daughter again feel awfully real. Too real. It’s almost painful to watch.

Side Quests

• It’s incredibly creepy how Lucas barters a date with Nancy to the arcade manager in exchange for his use of a backroom. This, my friends, is how misogyny is passed down from one generation to the next.

• If this were really the ’80s, Dustin would get a spinoff called Dustin! (Imagine him with the sheepish grin of a mischievous young boy, hands up as if to say “What’d I get myself into this time?”) His antics in the goalkeepers’ outfit, with the trail of bologna left to lure Dart into the tornado cellar, and his final placid reminder of “Sorry but you ate my cat!” are all #ClassicDustin. Plus, the role-reversal as his mother searches for Mews and Dustin comforts her is such quality stuff. Please cast Catherine Curtin more often, folks.

• Lucas’s sister Erica is the Lyanna Mormont of Stranger Things. She’s glorious.

• Bob brought brain-teasers to a sick eighth-grader. Bob is so Bob.

• There is nothing better than two men trying to gruffly say hello to one another when they meet under exceedingly awkward conditions. “Hey Bob.” “Hi Jim.”

• If the What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? comparison pans out, we’re about to discover that Terry’s sister has been holding her captive — and perhaps aiding and abetting Hawkins Lab — this whole time.

• Okay, it’s time for Max to get interesting.

• Nancy and Jonathan almost started dating after Will was saved last year, but then … they just didn’t? I need more details, please!

Get all your Stranger Things 2 questions answered at the show’s Vulture Festival LA panel on November 18! Tickets available here.

Stranger Things Recap: Bob the Brain