Aaaaand we’re back to our regularly scheduled programming, folks! We won’t talk about episode seven anymore, lest this recap become contaminated with its awfulness, but phew am I glad that’s over.
Things pick up where they left off at the end of episode six, with Hopper gazing through the glass of the Hawkins Lab control room and a demogorgon clambering up out of the abyss. The monster is followed by a slew of his buddies, who hurl themselves against the glass in a positively Jurassic Park–ian fashion. Despite some famous last words — “They can’t get through!” — the demogorgons quickly break into the control room and are soon freely roaming the halls, stopping for a small bite out of someone’s neck or abdomen. Of course, the fools who try to take the elevator are promptly killed for their idiocy.
Back in Will’s room, where they hear the commotion, Mike recognizes that as long as Will is conscious, he can communicate with the shadow monster — which means he’s informing on them. It’s a risky move to just grab a bottle of a sedative and administer, oh, a totally random dose to a deathly ill child. But kudos to Joyce for doing what she’s gotta do and jamming that needle so deep into Will’s arm it most likely popped out the other side. That’s motherhood for you.
In their attempt to get out of Hawkins Lab, Hopper, Joyce, Bob, Will, and Dr. Owens head down the hall, locking themselves in a surveillance room. The power goes off, which also means the building has locked itself down (surely not a fire-marshall-approved protocol) and needs a manual reboot from the basement. Luckily, Dr. Owens carries building blueprints with him at all times, so he can show everyone exactly where they are, where the basement is, and how they need to escape.
Hopper volunteers to lead the mission to the breakers in the basement, but there’s one small problem: It’s 1984 and there’s a computer involved, which means that only approximately one percent of the population has any idea how to even turn one on. Luckily, Bob the Brain knows BASIC (Beginner’s All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code) and can manually override the system’s locks and power. After a brief shooting lesson from Hopper — “Point and squeeze, easy peasy” — Bob heads down to the basement where he works a little bit of that finger magic and has the whole system operational in minutes. He’s also sweating like he’s lost in the Amazon, but Bob, nobody blames you.
With the doors unlocked, Hopper leads Joyce and the boys out toward the front doors, while Dr. Owens valiantly stays behind to guide Bob via the surveillance screens. (It’s really the least he can do.) In some of the season’s most intense moments, Owens narrates directions to Bob, who tiptoes down hallways, ducking into a closet when Owens spots a demogorgon up around the bend. Pressed against the wall, barely holding it together, our unlikely hero stands shivering and shaking. Sliding out after the monster has moved on, a broom nearly does Bob in as it clatters to the floor, alerting the demogorgon to his presence.
Bob runs for it, smashing through a set of doors and then yanking open another. He’s saved the lives of Joyce, the kids, and Hopper, and now he’s made it to freedom!
[Bob stops to catch his breath.]
One last monster leaps out onto Bob, just as he’s made his way to Joyce’s line of sight. A hail of bullets fired by Hopper isn’t enough, and Bob’s intestines are officially demogorgon chow. I teared up a little, just thinking about how he got Frodo over the mountain and then went through all this, and now he’s dead. R.I.P., Bob the Brain.
Meanwhile, Steve, Lucas, Max, and Dustin are Stand by Me–ing their way back down the train tracks, fighting as usual, when they hear the demogorgons off in the distance. They head toward the lab, where they meet up with Nancy and Jonathan, who have been searching in vain for Will, Mike, and Joyce. Once that trio emerges from Hawkins Lab, they all pile into cars and speed away back to the Byers’ place.
The team is finally back together, although there’s definite disagreement about how to move forward. Hopper holds out hope that the military will arrive, but the kids want to act — especially Mike, who is justifiably untrusting of the adults who promised to keep him safe and then allowed not one but two monster attacks on his small town. Clearly, they have to do something: The demogorgons are about to molt and get bigger, the tunnels have reached Hawkins, and the military isn’t necessarily on the way. If there is one thing Stranger Things has taught us, it’s that middle-schoolers are ten times as smart as adults. “Maybe if we stop him,” Will says, meaning the shadow monster, “we can stop his army, too.”
Metaphorically speaking, the monster is just like D&D’s mind flayer, Dustin explains. It’s a monster “so ancient that it doesn’t even know it’s true home.” It invades and conquers minds because “it believes it’s the master race.” But it isn’t as simple as one big baddy. “We are talking about the destruction of our world as we know it,” Lucas says. Once the shadow monster gets going, there’s no stopping it, and it wants the entire dimension for itself.
The only way to understand this shadow monster is to get inside its mind. And the only way inside its mind is Will, but he can’t know anything about where he is or what’s happening around him, or else he’ll betray their location to the shadow monster. To that end, Hopper hosts a very cathartic clean-out of Joyce’s garage. They cover everything in newspaper and tinfoil so Will won’t know where he is, tie the boy to a chair so he can’t escape, and then wake him up with some ammonia like he’s a Victorian lady who passed out from excitement over an exposed ankle.
Will is still alive in there, buried deep behind the shadow monster, but he needs to be lured out and made safe. Joyce and Jonathan and Mike work him over, sharing the most intimate stories they can recall — including Mike’s tearjerker of a first-day-of-school tale — hoping it will be enough to get Will to betray the monster. He can’t say it, but he can express it. Hopper, who if you remember has been using Morse code to check in with Eleven at the cabin, recognizes that Will is tapping out a message. “Close gate,” he says, although at this moment nobody knows exactly what that gate is.
When the phone rings and jerks Will from his revery, the shadow monster alerts his crew of demogorgons, who head for the house. The team preps for battle: Hopper with a gun, Nancy with a shotgun, Steve with his bat, and Lucas with the wrist rocket.
There’s a struggle outside and then a demogorgon comes flying through the window, already dead.
The lock turns. The chain slides off its hook. The door opens.
ELEVEN IS BACCCCCCCK.
But, guys, has anyone bothered to check on Dr. Owens?
• Of course Dustin thinks he can push the button to the Hawkins Lab gate better than anyone else.
• Steve’s stupidity wasn’t a running joke last season, but it’s just so delightful. Nancy made a good decision switching over to Team Jonathan.
• I’ve tried to do the math on how much it cost the Byers to rehab their place after last year’s wall destruction and Christmas light hanging. At least $1,000. And now, with the amount of paper and tape they’ve gone through, Joyce is going to need a lot more hours at the store. Not to mention the fact that yet another phone has been casually destroyed. Phones don’t grow on trees, you know!
• This episode is brimming with fantastic Ghostbusters references. The gate to the Upside Down needs to be closed, just like the interdimensional gate that opens above Sigourney Weaver’s apartment building. The “demodogs” are like the hellhounds Zuul and Vinz Clortho. And, of course, the fear of a coming Judgment Day.
• Didn’t we ALL want that box of 120 crayons? Did anyone ever get one? The 64-pack was as high as my parents were willing to go.
• Where did Billy go? What if he just said he was going to look for Max, but he’s really out on that date and the end of the season is just Billy steaming up his Camaro with some hot girl?
Get all your Stranger Things 2 questions answered at the show’s Vulture Festival LA panel on November 18! Tickets available here.