If Hop could see his daughter now. I know the man is very busy, what with having someone break the bones in his feet so that he can slip off his chains and be ready when it is time to escape his Soviet prison, but come on, dude, hurry up — Eleven is in some big trouble and only has an unlikely and possibly not-so-altruistic blast from the past able to help her.
No one has much to say when the group in Lenora Hills returns home from the roller rink. Well, Jonathan and Argyle have a lot to say, but they’re pretty high, so none of it is helpful. Obviously Joyce is distracted with her impending rescue mission, but maybe she should, I don’t know, ask just a few more questions about the weird tension at the dinner table. She asked so many questions about magnets last season; all I’m asking for is one follow-up about the vague mention of a roller skate attack. Or why Eleven storms off from the table when Mike comments on it. One question, Joyce!
Alas, she does not ask anything about it before heading out to the airport. El won’t leave her room the next day (not even for waffles!), and when Mike finally goes to talk to her, it escalates into an argument that’s less about Eleven slamming a girl in the head with a roller skate and more about something she has been grappling with since the day we met her. She thinks she’s a monster. Mike could never understand how she feels even though, yes, as he reminds her, he’s been bullied his whole life — but the difference, she responds, is that she actually is different. Mike’s attempts to tell her that she’s incredible, that she’s a superhero, fail. She saw the way he looked at her at the rink. He was scared of her. And it certainly doesn’t help that he’s been signing all of his letters to her “from, Mike” instead of “love, Mike.” Has a valediction ever been so heart-wrenching?
Eleven has always had it in the back of her mind that she’s a monster just like the ones she’s saved Hawkins from — that she is linked to the Upside Down on more than one level. Maybe she thought that without her powers, that feeling would go away, too. But adolescence — and that flashback she keeps having to a very monstrous deed — is much more complicated than that.
Not like El and Mike have time to talk it out anyway: The cops arrive and they’re arresting El for assault. Without Joyce around, she’s on her own, and her questioning goes about as well as you’d expect.
But wait! There’s hope! The van taking El to a juvenile detention center gets stopped by three unmarked cars. There’s just enough time for you to wonder if it’s actually Lieutenant Colonel Sullivan, who blames El for everything that’s gone on in Hawkins’s past and present, but that’s just for drama, baby. It’s Dr. Owens! There’s just something about the way Paul Reiser says “hey, kiddo” that makes me trust him immediately. Is that naïve? I’m well aware that if I were in the world of Stranger Things, I would be killed off within the first episode. It’s fine. I’m fine.
Dr. Owens has been hanging out with his family in Ruth, Nevada, since getting fired from his Hawkins post, but when he gets a visit from Sullivan — who makes it clear that he’s going to do whatever he can to find and stop El — Owens springs into action. At a roadside diner, Owens tells Eleven that Hawkins and her friends are in trouble. And after looking at the photos Sullivan showed him, he believes that only Eleven can stop the evil, which is getting smarter and stronger, that’s plaguing Hawkins. She hears him but has one small concern: Her powers are gone.
Owens has that covered. He’s built a program that he believes is a way to get Eleven’s powers back and a way to make her stronger than she was before. Of course, there’s a catch: She has to leave with him now. She can’t go back to Mike and Will. She can’t head out to Hawkins to help them first. It’s now or never. And, of course, there is the added bonus that if this program doesn’t work, she might never see those people again. No pressure or anything, you poor child who has been through enough trauma for a lifetime!! She can’t help herself but ask him the question she’s been mulling over: What if he’s wrong? What if she isn’t one of the good guys? He tells her about people like Sullivan who think she is the curse, but he is sure, “willing to bet the fate of the planet” sure, that she is the cure. Eleven and Owens are gone before the waitress can bring them their waffles and club sandwich.
Whatever Owens has planned, let’s hope it doesn’t take too long because it’s not just that Hawkins, in general, is in trouble — but more alarming for us (and for El, if she knew), it’s Max, specifically, who is in immediate need of assistance.
Don’t you love it when characters start to come together? After dropping off some groceries to Eddie at the boathouse and informing him that they heard over the police scanner that he is most definitely the only suspect the Hawkins police are pursuing, Dustin, Steve, Max, and Robin follow a bunch of police sirens right to the Fred Benson crime scene. And who should they find there answering the cops’ questions? Nancy Wheeler.
It’s time to compare notes with Nancy. They’re looking for a way to connect Chrissy and Fred. Why did Vecna choose them? They need more info, and it occurs to Max, who saw Chrissy coming out of the guidance counselor’s office, that if Chrissy was having hallucinations or seeing Vecna before he killed her, there’s a possibility she mentioned it to Ms. Kelly. Nancy, meanwhile, wants to follow this Victor Creel lead. Steve, dear Steve, doesn’t want Nancy going alone and he makes a public display about the whole thing, which confirms what we were inferring — Steve still has it bad for Nance. Listen, I know, I KNOW there are monsters and baddie government guys and people trapped in the Soviet Union, but adding a pining Steve Harrington to the mix is truly a balm for my weary soul.
As is tradition, nothing works out for Steve: He heads to Ms. Kelly’s with Max and Dustin, while Robin tags along with Nancy as she heads to the library. Both teams make some game-changing discoveries. Nancy and Robin, who have a nice push-and-pull — honestly, is there any combination of characters that doesn’t work on this show? — spend some time with the microfiche, and when Robin finally gets the idea to check the tabloid that publishes stories about UFOs and Bigfoot, they get a useful hit on Creel. It turns out that Creel’s story back in 1959 was that his house was haunted by a demon, and that’s who killed his wife and kids. No one believed him, of course, and he took a plea bargain and ended up being sent to Pennhurst Asylum. Creel’s story may not have made sense to people back then, but it checks out with what our crew is dealing with today. Well, it checks out except for that whole “happened in 1959” thing. That detail creates more questions than answers.
As for the Babysitter Steve contingent, obviously, Ms. Kelly, who seems very good at her job, isn’t going to talk to Max about another patient — but Max nabs Ms. Kelly’s office key and gets out of there without her noticing. They head to the high school for some light breaking and entering and discover Fred was also seeing Ms. Kelly and that Fred and Chrissy had similar symptoms: nosebleeds, headaches, nightmares … hmm those kind of sound like all the things going on with Max, don’t they? DON’T THEY? Max is putting this all together just as she hears that sinister voice call her name. And then she hears the tick-tocking of the clock, which she follows all the way out into the hallway only to come face-to-face with that familiar grandfather clock. She knows it and we know it: Max is next on Vecna’s list.
More Strange Things!
• Oh, Joyce! Good at so many things, but cover stories? Not so much. Unless Joan and Brian Brittanica are real people, and they do hail from Alaska and I don’t know it. Otherwise, her lie about an encyclopedia sales conference to explain her absence to her kids needs a little workshopping.
• But Joyce and Murray do land in Alaska, so it looks like Hop’s big rescue is in motion. His guard accomplice gives him the heads up that if all goes according to plan with Yuri (who is a smuggler, by the way, so there is like a 50/50 chance he betrays everyone), Hopper’s plane will be here tomorrow, so however the guy plans to get out the prison (again, it involves breaking his feet), he should start prepping. Be on alert, though — it looks like there’s another guard suspicious of what the American is up to. Not stressful at all!!
• Well, Lucas has quickly learned that hanging with the popular kids isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. He heads out with Jason and his crew to look for Eddie and watches in panic as the guys beat up Eddie’s metal band friends, who, in turn, can’t believe Lucas is selling them out like this. Then, when one of them mentions Dustin Henderson was calling around for Eddie and might have info, Lucas is really at a point where he has to make a choice. He leads them away from Dustin and instead takes them to Hopper’s cabin, and then when no one is looking, makes a run for it. Lucas is a good boy!
• Oh, so Robin has a hunch that the tension between her and Nancy isn’t just due to Robin’s inability to filter herself but that it has something to do with Steve. Robin makes it clear that they are “capital-P Platonic” friends, and I think she might be on to something. Were Steve and Nancy endgame all along?
• Max isn’t the only Hawkins High student we should be concerned about: We get a good look at Vecna “plugged in” to the Upside Down vines and watch as he searches for his victims — he lands on Patrick, another basketball player, who immediately gets a headache and nosebleed. Seems like things have been kicked up a notch, doesn’t it?
• We get another look inside the Munson trailer and find a curious crack up in the ceiling where Chrissy died and it looks like it might be the start of a small gate into the Upside Down. That is an interesting development!!
• Murray is just always out here sensing the tension, isn’t he?
• I’m sorry, but it warms my little heart to hear the Byers boys call themselves El’s brothers. I’m a softie, get used to it.