As the final third of the second season’s first act comes rolling along, finishing its settling of the chess pieces into position, it’s entirely understandable why the Duffer Brothers decided they actually needed another episode this season of Stranger Things to help wind things up before they actually start spinning.
Much of the third episode falls to Gaten Matarazzo’s fan favourite Dustin, a goofy, sweet kid who forms the heart of the core four (or is that now core five?). He opens the episode with his discovery of an interdimensional slug he promptly names D’Artagnan (after the Three Musketeers bar he feeds his new pet) and charting his journey from curious scientist to strident defender of his new friend by episode’s end.
Dustin and the crew, Max now included (which is a genuinely lovely moment), help try and pin down the genus of the slug, only to come up short. Later, Will confesses to Mike that he’s seen and heard similar creatures during his uncontrollable sojourns to the Upside Down, instantly sending Mike to kill the creature. Without El, Mike is a dour, miserable, angry mess, and the sooner the two are able to reunite the better.
As is, they come damn close in this episode. Eleven, on a journey to uncover her past and escape Hopper’s protective care for a while, tracks Mike down to the high school but finds him reconciling his differences with a determined Max; Eleven, unused to such situations and a bundle of raw, untamed emotion, jealously pushes Max from her skateboard telekinetically and then escapes before Mike can see her.
This is solidly interconnected with further flashbacks of Eleven and Hopper’s relationship immediately following the first season finale and of how they renovated Hopper’s old family cabin to be a safe house for the young girl, both Millie Bobby Brown and David Harbour striking an immediately watchable dynamic.
Meanwhile the other plots continue to line up nicely enough; following Nancy’s drunken confession of ‘not love’ to Steve, he promptly breaks up with her when she can’t tell him that she loves him. Nancy then reunites with Jonathan, the pair offering support to the other, particularly when Nancy decides to bite the bullet and inform Barb’s mother of the suspicious nature of her daughter’s disappearance, arranging a woodlands rendezvous that seems to spell trouble.
At the same time, the charming Bob continues to integrate himself into the Byers family, despite Joyce’s obvious misgivings. His loan of a video camera on Halloween night proves eventful as Joyce, in an attempt to find the boys who bullied Will before his Upside Down visitation, discovers the same images of the spider smoke monster inlaid on the video that Will has been obsessively drawing since he saw the beast. This leads her to immediately suspect the truth and jump into action – this new action-driven Joyce Byers is a great evolution of Winona Ryder’s character this season.
The episode is solid enough and moves several story beats along, although it’s rescued from being a stodgy middle episode with the fantastically horrifying final sequence: with the gang searching for Dart (secreted in Dustin’s hat to protect him) and his mother racing to the school, Will experiences another horrifying vision of the Upside Down that has him fleeing school. He’s then pinned down by the shadow monster (can we get a name for this beastie soon please?); recalling a conversation with Bob about standing up to bullies, Will challenges the beast who then mercilessly plunges its tentacles into him, seemingly possessing him as the episode cuts to menacing black.
Chills. Roll on Act Two…
Stranger Things Season 2 is now streaming on Netflix. Let us know what you think of the season.