TV reviews

Stranger Things 2×09 – ‘The Gate’ – Review

It’s literally apocalypse now in Hawkins, Indiana, folks. It’s finale time for Stranger Things!

We’re thrown immediately into the aftermath of Eleven’s rather badass reintroduction into the Stranger Squad – she hugs Hopper, is tearfully reunited with Mike, and unfairly shuns Max (whom she still must consider a rival for Mike’s affections, although this deserves to get resolved ASAP) as Mike has it out with Hopper over hiding Eleven. The group then realises that Eleven can close the gate as she opened it.

A plan quickly forms: Eleven will close the lab gate with Hopper while Joyce, Jonathan, and Nancy help exorcise the Mind Flayer from Will (via heat and Hopper’s unused cabin), and the others (Steve and the other kids) decide to head into the tunnels to lead the demodogs away from the lab to buy Eleven and Hopper time. The beats where everyone is working together, bouncing off each other for the first time all season, is a real joy to see, and something we need a lot more of next season, rather than the self-enclosed arcs and groups we’ve had this time around.

Unfortunately the latter course of action is interrupted by Billy, fresh from flirting his way into the Wheeler home, forcing Steve to defend Lucas and engage in a fistfight that culminates in Max’s only but well-deserved moment of glory: stabbing her sickening stepbrother in the neck with a syringe of Will’s sedatives and threatening him with Steve’s bat. Admittedly this beat comes a little too late for poor Max who hasn’t really had a defining moment this season, but at least the Duffer Brothers have shown her propensity for badassery when defending her friends, which hopefully spells good things for Season Three.

En route to the lab, the scene between Eleven and Hopper when they catch up and open up, including Eleven’s past and Hopper’s daughter’s death, is a sparkling gem for this show as Millie Bobby Brown and David Harbour give the kind of performances that should earn them an armload of Emmys apiece. Unshed tears aplenty and a real sense of pathos and connection between these two makes you root for their parental dynamic to survive.

At the cabin, Joyce (in full Chris McNeil-slash-Ellen-Ripley mode) and the others begin their ‘Exoricst’-inspired, sweat-drenched removal of the Mind Flayer from Will, as Eleven and Hopper descend into the lab and find a still-alive Dr Owens, and as an indignant but resolute Steve takes the kids into the tunnels to locate the hub which they soak in fuel and immolate spectacularly.

This is where the show really shines, as it did in last season’s finale ‘The Upside Down’: our group of motley heroes splintering off for goals that all achieve the end goal of stopping invasion, and shuffling these dynamics around. Last year saw Joyce and Hopper delving into the Upside Down to rescue Will; this time, the former is driving a demon from her son’s soul while the latter protects his surrogate daughter as she attacks the wound she opened up before the show even began.

Will is finally exorcised as all three plans converge, sending the creatures fleeing from the lab to the fiery hub, thanks to a well-timed poker jab from Nancy that expels the Mind Flayer’s demonic presence from Will (or so we think – it wouldn’t be a total surprise to see some lingering after effects or even abilities remaining in Will from this next season…)

Inside the gate, Eleven attacks the gaping wound with her powers as demodogs attempt to both stop her and seal themselves back inside the Upside Down, sending Steve’s group fleeing back to the surface, with time for Dustin to say goodbye to Dart, his one-time demogorgon pet, on the way out. It’s a genuinely sad moment given that Dart could have been the Good Demogorgon in a different version of the show, but it could easily be seeding in something for future seasons.

The demonic spirit of the Mind Flayer attacks Eleven as Hopper defends her from attacks (sidenote: possibly the coolest video game level we’d ever play). Eleven channels Kali’s advice, the festering wound of guilt she’s been carrying around ever since she opened the Upside Down at Brenner’s behest, and in a moment of ‘Firestarter’-level power, becomes a beacon of energy, causing spikes around the town, levitating El while doing so, and seals the gate shut with the spirit safely behind it. Mission accomplished! It’s also the coolest moment we’ve seen of Eleven so far, a moment of true catharsis and redemption, and a real sight to behold.

One month on, the fallout continues: the Hawkins lab is indicted for Barb’s death, allowing her parents a funeral and closure, while Hopper meets up with Owens who provides him with a fake birth certificate, legally making Eleven (or Jane) Hopper’s legal daughter. Aww!

Then it’s off the preparation for the Snow Ball (in a scene that mirrors 2×02’s Ghostbusters costume prep) that sees Lucas preparing to ask Max to dance, Mike still hating having his pictures taken, Will being videotaped practising dancing with Joyce, and Dustin taking Steve’s hair care advice with the Farrah Fawcett spray (the resultant ‘do is glorious and almost unworthy of words). Steve drops the latter off, continuing their amazing double act, and leaving Steve Harrington the surprise MVP of Season Two. Best character development ever for one of Season One’s most divisive characters.

At the dance, once teasing is done, slow dancing means that soon Lucas and Max are confirming their relationship, Will is picked to dance, and Dustin is being cruelly rejected by popular girls. Fortunately Nancy spots him and takes him for a spin on the floor, boosting his confidence in an act of pure kindness that makes every lonely teen heart ache. Outside, Hopper and Joyce share a smoke and their respective experiences of grief. RIP Bob, we’ll always have Hawkins AV Club.

Eleven/Jane arrives, resplendent in Eighties dress, to share a dance and kiss with Mike, and everything has a happy, if not entirely resolved, ending. That is, until the screen tilts, and we find ourselves in the Upside Down, finding the Mind Flayer, still menacing and shadowy, pounced atop the school, waiting and plotting its revenge.

And that is Stranger Things 2! It’s been a hell of a ride, and one that it seems like pretty much everyone’s been waiting for for the past year. The finale summarises everything great and everything we want more of in the show, and manages to mix a fantastic blend of action and horror with both big and small character payoffs; little things that Dr Owens being an alright guy in the end, and Bob’s legacy as the AV Club founder, intermingle with the big emotional beats that reinforce Hopper and Joyce as grieving parents, and that our growing group of kids really are becoming teenagers, complete with everything joyful or painful it entails.

Any complaints? The Nancy-Jonathan-Steve love triangle seems no closer to ending, and it’s hoped that next year will see Nancy and Jonathan finally together and Steve on a new path, given his surprisingly stellar turn as babysitter in the last third of episodes, rather than dragging things on like a Freeform drama show. There are some smaller quibbles to be had – Will’s possession was solved a little too easily (turns out putting the radiator in full really helps expunge otherworldly entities!) and the fact that the gang escaped without significant loss of one kind or another is a bit of a cop out – but the show is such a glowing joy to watch that these things slide into insignificance.

Is it as perfect as the first season? Maybe not, but Season Two reaches new highs (and yes, some weak spots too), and works off the solid foundation of its parent season to build the next year of stories for the residents of this strange town in Indiana, whom we’ve come to collectively love rather a lot. Until next year, Hawkins. We’ll miss you.

What were your favourite parts of the season? Where do you think the characters will end up in Season Three? Let us know in the comments below!

 

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