Let’s just get this out of the way: There is absolutely no reason this episode had to be made. If you thought, 15 minutes in, that surely “The Lost Sister” would flash back to Hawkins and relieve us from this bizarre drivel, and then it didn’t, and you’re still wondering what the hell just happened to the last hour of your life, then my prayers go out to you at this hard time. This episode is a thought experiment gone wrong. It isn’t even Stranger Things, really. It’s one of the Duffer Brothers’ shower thoughts.
On the bright side, it also features Millie Bobby Brown in a perfect androgo-punk lewk that is officially my Halloween costume. Silver linings, people!
Let’s not waste too much time breaking this thing down, because enough of our lives have been burned up like a back-alley trash can in Chicago circa 1984. Eleven emerges from her mother’s memories with a mission to find the other girl she saw in the “rainbow room,” a young Indian child stolen from her home in London. But her biological Aunt Becky (Amy Seimetz), finally acting like a sensible adult, calls the authorities to explain that a strange child has shown up at her house and is now discussing the elaborate details of a corporation’s experiments on helpless kids. It’s the logical thing to do, no matter how many feats of telepathy the child just enacted in your living room. Eleven, overhearing the phone call, feels betrayed and quite afraid — also a logical reaction, given what happened to Benny the diner owner after he called child services in season one.
Cue “Runaway” by Bon Jovi: “Ohhhhh, he’s a little runaway, Daddy’s girl learned fast, all those things she couldn’t say.” (Watch the “Runaway” music video and tell me the Duffer Brothers didn’t pick up a ton of stylistic cues here.) Eleven is on the lam, yet again, and this time she heads toward Chicago to find the girl from the “rainbow room.” Using her uncanny abilities to locate people, she knows that the girl is holed up in the most terrifying alley in Chicago — nay, in any city — and so she heads in the direction of the street punks and the boozehounds, walking by drug deals, wailing psychotics, and one guy who is fairly convinced that “everybody is dead.” It’s a pretty grisly and unfair depiction of punk/goth culture in the ’80s, but again, we’re dealing with an episode that’s rife with problems so this is basically par for the course.
Eleven reaches a warehouse-cum-flat that is so startlingly cool, it’s like the ’80s equivalent of Rachel and Monica’s apartment on Friends. The “other girl” who lives inside is Kali (Linnea Berthelsen), whom we first and last saw in the season premiere, demolishing a tunnel in front of the Pittsburgh cops that were chasing the Mystery Machine driven by her fellow bandits.
As we learned in that opener, Kali is the “008” to Eleven’s “011” — which leaves the mystery open about the nine-plus potential other victims of Hawkins Lab — but her powers aren’t exactly the same as what we’ve seen from our girl. Instead of moving objects with her mind, she “can make people see things that aren’t there.” Spiders, butterflies, you name it. And her group of interestingly coiffed banditos aren’t actually bank robbers, as I first assumed. They’re a tribe she assembled herself, giving them a home and friendship in exchange for helping to murder the “bad men” who worked at Hawkins Lab.
A lot of overdramatic shlock follows, in which Kali tells Eleven that this is her true home and that they belong together. But none of you bought it for a second, so let’s not waste our breath. Eleven isn’t going to stay in Chicago and turn to a life of brutal vengeance. It’s poor storytelling to even have her feint in this direction.
Kali, of course, wants Eleven to use her powers to pursue their work, i.e. to hunt down and kill the bad guys. Somehow, in under five seconds, Kali manages to tap into Eleven’s rage, convincing her to “find that anger” and use it to … move an abandoned train car in a junkyard. Cool, I guess?
Of course, if Eleven is going to roll with this wild crew, she needs a new look. Time for a makeover montage! Those overalls and flannel were actually quite ahead of their time — maybe Eleven can foresee the rise of grunge? — but for the moment, she needs some slicked back hair, a smokey eye, that rolled-up wool flannel blazer, and a useless but nonetheless chic bandana tied about the wrist.
Once she’s dressed to literally kill, the crew heads out in the Mystery Machine to find Ray, the Hawkins Lab goon who wielded the electroshock machine that put Eleven’s mother in her vegetative state. (He also, it cannot be said enough, looks exactly like Harvey Weinstein.) First, they make a pit stop to rob a convenience store, where Eleven grabs some Eggos and throws the owner against a wall. A promising start for this band of killers! But when the crew gets inside Ray’s apartment and Eleven chokes him with her Vader grip, she can’t bring herself to push a little harder and kill the bastard. Not only because he’s pleading and because he claims her “papa” is still alive, but because she sees a photo of Ray with two happy little girls. How can she take a man away from his children, perpetuating the same tragedy that was imposed on her? Eleven can’t follow through, and she can’t let Kali do so either, so she flings Kali’s gun through the window.
Those happy little girls happen to be hiding in their bedroom, and they’re already on the phone with the police, so the crew is sent fleeing back to their warehouse. Thinking that they’ve safely eluded police capture, Kali uses her powers to conjure Eleven’s “papa,” Dr. Martin Brenner, as an illusion to fuel Eleven’s rage and sadness and hopelessness. But it’s a lost cause. Eleven can only turn back to the only friends she’s ever known — Mike and Will and Lucas and Dustin — and as the building is surrounded and the crew flees the surrounding police, Eleven heads off on her own. Back to Hawkins, back to save her friends.
Get all your Stranger Things 2 questions answered at the show’s Vulture Festival LA panel on November 18! Tickets available here.