You can tell we’re close to the end of Volume 1 because all the chess pieces feel like they’re being moved into positions for maximum impact before Stranger Things 4 takes a hiatus until July. Not that “The Dive” is simply table setting, there’s a ton of action and essential development, but you can tell that things are being set up in this episode that will lead to a big payoff in the Volume 1 finale.
Take Hopper’s situation, for example. Our dear broken Hopper! Last we saw him, he was being a real sad boy about his entire life, which was a bummer for us because that is not the Hop we know! Our Hop doesn’t just give up. Could someone get this man a Magnum P.I. shirt so he can feel more like himself? The good news is that there’s still a little bit of old Hopper left inside this very broken man, and once he gets seated at that dinner table with the other prisoners and realizes they’re fattening them up to be fed to the Demogorgon they definitely have behind those gates, that old Hopper comes back. You thought this guy was going to just give up? After everything? Then you don’t know this guy.
After he warns his fellow prisoners about what is most definitely going to happen to them that night, he puts a plan into action. He knows the Demogorgon hates fire, so he nabs a bottle of vodka, starts a fight so that he can steal a guard’s lighter, and he lets his friend Dmitri in on it after. The odds are against them, but this is their best chance at surviving.
Little does Hopper know that Joyce and Murray have a plan, too. They’re going to make that meeting Yuri set with the prison warden to turn them over to the KGB — only now, Yuri will be tied up and gagged, and Murray will pretend to be Yuri. What happens after they waltz into the prison and meet with the warden, who is to say? Let’s just hope they do it with enough time to save Hopper from almost certain death! We are so, so close to a Hopper-Joyce reunion. Can you feel it? I teared up just seeing Hopper laugh a little with Dmitri, so I already know I’m a goner when he sees Joyce for the first time. Please don’t hurt them!!
Obviously Hopper’s reunion with El won’t be happening in Volume 1, as she is still busy out in the middle of the Nevada desert. At least she’s making some progress in the quest to get her powers back by way of reliving memories from her time at Hawkins Lab. The biggest development here is that this blond dude is surely up to no good. In these memories, he seems to take a more-than-typical interest in Eleven, who, even in a group of not-normal kids, is the one being bullied. She can’t catch a break! He tells her she reminds him of someone he used to know — Number One. Apparently, Brenner has told everyone that One “doesn’t exist,” but as this guy tells El, “sometimes Papa doesn’t tell the truth.” He also tells El that One was just like her, nothing came easy to him until one day when that all changed. One told him that it was because he used emotion to get stronger — he thought of a memory that made him “both sad and angry,” and it worked. He wants her to think of a memory like that. Maybe the one of her mother trying to find her and take her back. Okay, so this dude is definitely One, right? Remember? I said he had a vibe!
In another exercise with the group in which they face off against one another, Eleven uses this very memory to beat Two. Not just beat him, she shows more power than ever and blasts him into the wall. How embarrassing! Later, El sees the blond guy getting punished and tortured by Brenner, who has caught on to his interest in Eleven. Back in the Rainbow Room by herself, Eleven is confronted by Two and his minions. They attack and torture her until Two blasts her against the wall and threatens to kill her if she tells Brenner what they did. Before we find out what happens next, El is back in that awful memory, covered in blood, standing among the carnage. She sees her younger self, blood coming out of her eyes, using her powers with unprecedented strength. When Brenner and Owens pull her out of the memory, she is panicked. “I killed them, didn’t I, Papa? I killed them all.” So that’s not great!
Things back in Hawkins have also been kicked up a notch. Part of that is thanks to Mr. Letterman Jacket himself, Jason. After watching Patrick die that way in front of him over Lovers Lake, Jason is one hundred percent convinced that Eddie is “a vessel for Satan.” No, seriously. He says it to the cops, and when he thinks they aren’t taking him seriously enough, he says it to anyone who will listen — specifically to all the citizens of Hawkins who attend a town hall Chief Powell called so people could ask questions about Eddie Munson being a person of interest in the now three murders. When I think about Hopper leading a town hall, I just laugh and laugh and laugh. Anyway, this does not go well once Jason gets up on the mic — we’ve seen him give a rousing speech before — and goes on and on about Hellfire being a cult that needs to be stopped and that they, the citizens, need to take matters into their own hands. Jason sucks the big one and he has now gotten all of Hawkins riled up in his little satanic-panic mission — everyone is way too eager to get their pitchforks ready, you know?
After Jason passes out fliers of the Hellfire Club so people know who to go after, Karen Wheeler, Mrs. Henderson, and the Sinclairs — terrified for their kids — have an emergency meeting at the Wheelers’ house. When they realize the kids left earlier and never came back, Karen calls Powell to find them and make sure they’re safe. I’m glad Stranger Things finally has the parents being like, Uh, what are our kids up to now? It’s about time.
So, uh, what are their kids up to now? After seeing Eddie’s face all over the news, they know he’s more in danger of being caught. He walkies them and tells them he’s hiding at Skull Rock in the woods. It’s a popular make-out spot that Steve says he “practically invented,” so when Dustin, who is following his map and compass, is leading them the wrong way, Steve takes over and ends up being the one to get them there. This infuriates Dustin for several reasons, but mostly because it means something is up with his compass. He realizes that the compass isn’t pointing to true north, which means there must be some stronger electromagnetic field nearby messing it up, and the last time that happened, it was because of the gate Eleven had opened. Dustin has obviously rewatched season one of Stranger Things.
Nancy remembers that whenever the Demogorgon attacked, it made a new gate — she disgustingly crawled through one in a tree to look for Barb. What if Vecna does the same thing, she wonders. They decide to follow the compass toward this electromagnetic field to see if their theory is correct. Now, you might be like, Why in the world would you walk toward the gate to the Upside Down (I know my man Steve is), but it’s the only way to stop Vecna. Thanks to that little light display in the Creel house attic, which they discover happened exactly as Patrick was killed, they now know where Vecna is when he kills his victims. If they find him in the Upside Down and kill him, they’ll free Max from the curse and prove Eddie’s innocence. They have to get into the Upside Down. It is the only way. Even Eddie, who knows that running around Hawkins looking for the gate is risky for him, says they should go. Actually, he says that Dustin is asking him to “follow him into Mordor,” and while that sounds like a terrible idea, “the shire is burning.” They have no choice!
The compass leads them right back to Lovers Lake. Nancy, Eddie, Robin, and Steve hop in the boat to paddle out, leaving the younger three behind. When they get to the spot where Patrick died and the compass starts going crazy, they know there’s only one thing left to do: Someone has to swim down there and check it out. Steve! Steve Harrington! He wastes zero time popping off that sweater and letting everyone get a look at him — both Nancy and Max take a little look-see at the town hunk — before he dives right into the water (He was a captain of the swim team and a lifeguard for three years). It’s his big hero moment! I love this journey for him!
Meanwhile, Powell and the Hawkins police have tracked the kids down. If they see Eddie, it’s game over, so Max, Dustin, and Lucas try to distract the police by making a run for it, but they don’t make it far. They’ll be getting a ride straight back to the Wheelers’. Now, that might be for the best safety-wise, but it means they miss what happens out on the lake.
Steve dives down, and yes, he peeps an opening right where we expected it. When he swims back up to tell everyone, he is immediately pulled back underwater by a vine from the Upside Down! It pulls him through the gate where he lands in a completely drained Lovers Lake and is dragged around! And then, my friends, I kid you not: Steve starts getting attacked by what seem to be Demogorgon bats! Demobats? Where’s Dustin when you need him?! They strangle him with their tails and rip into his sides with their Demogorgon teeth! Back in our dimension, Nancy dives right in after Steve, Robin follows, and Eddie doesn’t want to be the only one left on the boat, so he jumps in too. I hope they can swim fast because Steve is in mortal danger! Okay, now I hate this journey for him! Somebody save Steve Harrington!
More Strange Things!
• And there is one more locale we must visit: Salt Lake City. Mike, Will, Jonathan, and Argyle’s detour to Suzie’s house to get her to track down the computer’s location feels like exactly that: a detour. It’s fun to see the chaos in Suzie’s extremely full household, but it’s pretty clear we’re just biding time until the group reconnects with El or makes it to Hawkins.
• Very happy to see Argyle, who has been asked to take on so much just by being friends with Jonathan, find love. Argyle and Eden forever!
• I have to imagine Mike’s having some major moments in Volume 2 since he has really taken a backseat most of Volume 1, which feels weird!
• We do get a quick mention about Eight having already left Hawkins Lab, in case you were wondering about that plot hole.
• After Patrick dies, Lucas realizes that Vecna is only going after people who have something going on in their lives that’s hurting them — “haunting them,” Max adds. He’s so upset that he didn’t recognize that hurt in Max before. “I didn’t look hard enough, but I see you now. I see you,” he tells her. I’m sorry, is that Lucas Sinclair just out here being a romantic lead?? (And also a good friend!)
• Robin is totally onto Nancy having feelings for Steve, but more importantly, the girls admit to officially being friends. That’s what it’s all about, folks, isn’t it?