Stranger Things – Chapter Two: The Weirdo on Maple Street
By: Kathryn Trammell
In its first chapter, Stranger Things introduced us to the community of Hawkins where the most terrible crimes ever committed might amount to the petty theft of candy from a convenient store. So when Will Byers, a 12-year-old boy, disappears from his home the town is rattled, but not as much as they would be if they knew that Will’s abductor was a monster that looked like something Alex Olsen cooked up in his lab. Only the lab responsible for producing the monster in Stranger Things is also responsible for producing Eleven, a little girl whose telekinetic powers make her a target for recapture once she escapes alongside the monster. Unfortunately, Eleven’s first attempt to find a sanctuary ends with the death of a kind diner owner and Eleven runs into the forest to hide. It’s in the forest where three of Will’s best friends, who have all snuck out of their houses in the pouring rain to find him, find her instead and where “Chapter Two” of Stranger Things begins.
Eleven, Mike, Dustin, and Luke (and Will)
Inside Mike’s basement, all three boys hurl questions at Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) with the kind of wide-eyed curiosity that overwhelms her into silence. Her words are as limited with them as they were with Benny, the diner owner who tried to help her. Although the boys can’t understand her silence, they can understand her body language, which seeps from Eleven the way it would from any living creature who has been isolated and deprived of common sensory perceptions for most, if not all, of their life. I’m guessing this is the case because every sound, every texture, seems new to Eleven. She hears thunder and jumps. She is handed dry clothes to change into and rubs their woven cotton against her cheek. Dustin, Lucas, and Mike (Finn Wolfhard) all see this and we see it too and it makes us wonder if the ten kids/beings who came before Eleven were given the same sterile life that she was – a life that causes her to nearly lift her sodden hospital gown in front of the boys in an attempt to change her clothes because the meaning of the word “privacy” has no bearing on her unlearned concept of modesty. When Mike shows her into a bathroom where she can change, privately, Eleven slams her palm against the door to keep it from being closed all the way. So fierce is the fear behind her demand of “No!” that Mike agrees to keep the door cracked.
Later, after both Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) have left and Eleven’s sleeping arrangements for the night have been determined (Eleven will sleep and hide in the basement until Mike’s mom can help her in the morning), Mike puts Eleven to bed inside a makeshift fort of sheets and furniture. He calls her “El” when he says “good night” to her. They share a smile, but the moment of happiness is short-lived. As soon as Mike turns out the lights and walks upstairs, El stares into the darkness, her smile devolving into a chin-quivering frown as she grips the pillow under her head like it’s the only thing tethering her to this world.
The next morning Mike brings El a waffle and tells her that he needs to tell his mom about her so that his family can help her. Again, El says, “No.” She tries to warn Mike about what might happen if his parents attempt to help her the way Benny tried to help her. She says the word “bad” to Mike, which he takes to mean “bad men” are after her, but it isn’t until she forms her hand into a gun and points it at both her temple and Mike’s chest that Mike understands just how bad these men can be.
Knowing he can no longer expose her and not wanting to leave her alone at his house, Mike ditches school opting instead to spend the day giving El a tour of his home. While inside his bedroom El sees a picture of Will (Noah Schnapp) and reacts in a way that not only tells Mike she knows him, but that she’s also scared for him. Unfortunately, there’s no time for Mike to deconstruct her reaction because his mom comes home forcing Mike to hide El in his bedroom closet. Before she goes inside, he sees the same fear in her eyes that he saw when she asked that the bathroom door remain cracked open while she changes and he promises he will be back for her. Although the word “promise” means nothing to Eleven, she goes into the closet anyway, her fear and reluctance in doing so explained the minute the door shuts on her tiny frightened face.
In a flashback we see Eleven being dragged up a hallway, her legs kicking and flailing from underneath her hospital gown as she tries with all her physical strength to escape from the men at her sides. She pleads and screams “Papa,” but the man she addresses from over her shoulder makes no move to protect her. Instead Papa (Matthew Modine) simply watches as she’s pulled further and further down the hall where she’s eventually thrown and locked into a dark barren room. I’m not sure if it was the intent of the creative team behind Stranger Things to elicit such strong similarities between Eleven and the Nazi Holocaust, but I find everything from Eleven’s wrist tattoo and shaved head to her struggle as an obvious test subject to be ripped from the mind of some poor kid who spent every day of his or her life hoping Josef Mengele was just some figment of a nightmare from which they could soon wake up. The only difference between Mengele’s test subjects and Eleven is that she gets to wake up from her dream the moment Mike opens the door to the closet, thus fulfilling his promise.
After school, Dustin and Lucas meet with Mike in his room and talk about how best to handle to predicament they’ve put themselves in by bringing El into Mike’s home. Lucas wants to expose El to Mike’s parents, but Mike wants to keep her a secret explaining that it’s the best way to keep her safe and to ensure they find Will seeing as how Eleven seems to know where he may be. Lucas doesn’t buy Mike’s logic and tries to leave his room intent on telling Mike’s mom about Eleven, but the door to Mike’s bedroom slams shut in his face. He tries to open it again, but again it closes, this time locking. All three boys slowly look over at El, whose bloody nose does not detract from her resolve when she says, “No,” her telekinetic powers ensuring they take her seriously.
To prove Mike was right to assume that Eleven knows Will, she sits down at the Dungeons and Dragons table and closes her eyes, her mental powers allowing her to identify the wizard gamepiece as Will’s avatar. She flips the game board over and places the wizard in its center. Mike says he doesn’t understand. What does the game piece have to do with Will? El responds by saying the word “hiding.” Mike asks if Will is hiding from the Bad Men and El shakes her head. If not the Bad Men, then who is Will hiding from Mike asks. El slams the Demagorgon onto the game board beside Will/ the Wizard without saying a word. The boys collectively gulp.
Joyce, Hopper, and the Men in Suits
The previous episode ended with a scene in which Joyce, Will’s mom, received a phone called filled with a strange screeching static that made the lights in her house flicker and a bolt of blue electricity fly from her phone frying it. Joyce (Winona Ryder) swears to Hopper, Hawkins’ chief of police, that she heard her son breathing on the other line. When it’s revealed that man Eleven called Papa intercepted a call Joyce made to the police station she describes what she heard as, “some kind of animal noise.” They head to her house to investigate, while Joyce goes out to buy a new phone and Hopper (David Harbour) heads back to the woods to search for Will.
Joyce brings her new phone home and falls asleep waiting for another call from her son. She is startled awake hours later when the phone rings, the same static and muffled breathing she heard last night wheezing into her ear. She calls out to Will, who she believes is listening on the other end, and begs him to talk to her. As her desperation to hear his voice reaches a fever pitch, the lights inside her house flash bright, and the sound of Will’s voice saying the word “mom” echoes into the room around her. But just as it did before, a bolt of blue electricity shoots out from the phone shocking Joyce and frying whatever connection she had to Will. He is lost again and Joyce wails as she throws the phone against the wall in frustration. As if to further taunt her, the lights in the hallway continue to flicker and she follows them down to Will’s bedroom where another light glows from under his closed door. In the same moment, the stereo in his room turns on blasting The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go” at full volume. Joyce opens the door and walks inside heading straight for the lamplight that burns brightest on his desk. It flares until it burns out signifying the presence of the beast we have to assume is waiting for her somewhere inside the room.
When finally the monster shows itself, the wall beside Joyce flexing and bending as monster tries to push free from its confinement, Joyce screams and runs outside to her car. But just as she’s about to peel out of her driveway, the stereo and lights inside Will’s room turn back on and Joyce looks up with the determination that none of Winona Ryder’s previous characters have had because none of them was a mother trying to save her son. So, Joyce she gets out of her car, walks back up to her own front door and steps into the house to confront the demon that took her son away from her.
Meanwhile, Hopper is called away from his search for Will to investigate Benny’s death at the diner. We know that Benny was killed by the Men in Suits who came looking for Eleven, but they’ve made Benny’s death look like a suicide. A patron of the diner tells Hopper that the only unusual thing preceding Benny’s death was the presence of a boy who tried to steal food from Benny’s kitchen. Believing the boy to be Will, Hopper leads the search party into the woods behind the diner where a civilian soon finds a piece of a hospital gown inside a storm drain tunnel (Eleven’s hospital gown presumably). The cops follow the tunnel above ground until they reach a fence that bars them from trespassing onto the private property of the Hawkins Laboratory.
Jonathan, Nancy, Barb, and Steve
In my last recap I left out a minor storyline involving a character named Nancy (Natalia Dyer) because writing about how Nancy was the archetypal good girl who was falling in love with the archetypal bad boy could easily summarize her story, but it didn’t seem relevant enough to include. In this episode; however, Nancy’s character becomes woven into the primary plot of Stranger Things more significantly than she was in “Chapter One”, especially when it comes to Jonathan’s thread of the story. When he shows up at her high school to hang “Have You Seen Me?” flyers on bulletin boards, Nancy is the only student who isn’t afraid to approach him and offer him her condolences, whereas the other students, including her boyfriend Steve (Joe Keery), joke that Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) could be the reason for Will’s disappearance.
It’s an odd assertion to make considering that through flashbacks we only ever see Jonathan being the best big brother Will could possibly have. Aside from protecting his little brother from the sounds of his parents arguing by blasting “Should I Stay or Should I Go” above the noise, Jonathan also teaches Will one the most profound lessons of all which is, “You shouldn’t like things because people tell you your supposed to,” a motto by which every little nerd and fan of shows like Stranger Things should live.
We have to assume this protective attitude towards Will exists because of the extreme possibility that their father, Lonnie, may have taken his role as disciplinarian to an abusive level. When Jonathan goes to Lonnie’s to search for Will. Lonnie’s (Ross Partridge) recognition of Jonathan’s increased strength after mistaking him for an intruder and shoving him against the wall is indicative of a past in which pushing his sons around was the norm and I hope for the sake of all things karmic that this man gets what’s coming to him.
Giving up on his dad, Jonathan drives back to Hawkins where he continues his search in the woods for any clue that might lead him to Will. During his search, Jonathan is drawn to the backyard of Steve Harrington, Nancy’s boyfriend. He watches from the woods as the couple play in the pool, snapping photo after smitten photo of Nancy. Once she finds her way to Steve’s bedroom window, Jonathan averts the view of his lens back to the pool where Barb (Shannon Purser), Nancy’s dejected friend, sits on the ledge of the diving board nursing a wound she received when her attempt at shotgunning a beer left her hand in dire need of stitches. Jonathan begins snapping pictures of her too, but his camera runs out of film. He looks down to rewind the film and the scene cuts away form him and onto the image Barb’s hand dripping blood into the pool below. Seconds later, the pool lights go out, and only the edge of Barb’s scream is able to reach Jonathan’s ears before he looks up to see that she is gone. The monster has taken her, too.