Binge Club: Stranger Things Season 1 Recaps

Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
I see your sun-drenched afternoon and Summer Friday and raise you some Chinese takeout, a steady supply of caffeine, and the ghostly glow of my laptop. Today marks the debut of Stranger Things on Netflix, and if the prospect of Winona Ryder doesn't get you fired up, the Spielbergian sci-fi premise will. And if all else fails, you've got the bitchin' '80s soundtrack.
Let's dive in!
Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
Pictured: Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and Will (Noah Schnapp).
Episode 1
Welcome to Hawkins, IN, circa November 6, 1983. Reagan is in the White House, "Islands in the Stream" is at the top of the charts, and somebody's dad is trying to watch Lethal Weapon even though it won't come out for another three and a half years.
More pressing, however, is the shit going down in the Hawkins National Laboratory, run by the Department of Energy. An alarm sounds as a man in a lab coat runs for his life in what appears to be either the worst dressing room on the planet, or an abandoned Lost set. The lights flicker as the man rushes to the elevator, which apparently doesn't have that all-important "close door" button. It doesn't matter, anyway, because the creature he's trying to escape from is actually above him. We hear a guttural snarl as the man is lifted up like a plush toy in an arcade game.
Cut to four pre-teen boys playing Dungeons & Dragons like they're generals in the Situation Room in some bad action movie. There's foul-mouthed Lucas; Dustin, who shares Judah Friedlander's taste in headwear; Mike, who looks like a 12-year-old boy version of Juliette Binoche; and sweet Will, who cannot tell a lie.
It's time to head home, so Will and Dustin race each other back on their bikes. Will pulls ahead, only to have his light cut out. He sees an alien-esque figure, causing him to steer off the road and fall. Ominous animal noises send him racing back to his house, which is empty save for a barking dog. Will tries to call 911, but only gets a staticky hissing noise that sounds like he's called up Mars. Something or someone is trying to get into the house. Will rushes to the backyard shed and grabs an air rifle. It finally dawns on him that the growling is coming from behind him. And poof! He's gone.
Guys, that was just the intro.
After a beep-bop-beep, video gamey opening sequence that makes me think of Christopher Pike and V.C. Andrews, we return to Hawkins to learn that power surges have been going on all over the place. Also, Will is missing and neither his frazzled single mom Joyce (Winona Ryder) or his older brother Jonathan know what to do about it. He's not at Mike's, he's not with his deadbeat dad, and he's not at school. Joyce enlists the help of Police Chief Hopper, but he brushes her off with a reminder that this is a town where garden gnome thievery is regarded as a major crime. He mansplains that 99 out of 100 times, the kid comes back unharmed.
"You said 99 out of 100," Joyce presses him. "What about the other one? The one?"
Hopper obliges her by going to the middle school and quizzing Will's friends about his whereabouts. All they can really offer up is some Hobbit-related intel about where he was last seen. Hopper doesn't have time for these nerds.
Meanwhile, Mike's older sister Nancy is making out with Steve Harrington, whose hair rivals Trump's in ridiculousness. She and Steve are later seen canoodling in her bedroom as "Africa" plays. It is not hot.
Back at the lab, Matthew Modine has gotten old. When did he get white hair? He plays the nefarious Dr. Brenner, who is leading a team of hazmat-suited, gun-toting men (E.T. flashback!) to follow a series of growling, slurping noises. They encounter some sort of gooey, writhing creature pasted to the wall. They're also looking for a girl who has escaped.
There she is! A young girl with a shaved head and a hospital gown emerges barefoot from the woods. She sneaks into a burger joint run by Benny, a bearded lumberjack type who is actually a pussycat. He feeds her burgers, gives her a T-shirt, and calls social services. Eleven, as the girl is known thanks to her strange tattoo, uses her mind to fix the noisy fan behind his back. Handy.
The cops have now found Will's abandoned bike. Hopper pokes around the house and shed, where the light continues to flicker on and off. He calls a search party for the boy, during which point we learn that Hopper's daughter, Sarah, died a few years ago.
Back at the burger joint, Benny welcomes a woman who introduces herself as Connie from Social Services. She shoots the big lug dead to the tune of "White Rabbit," forcing Eleven to run like the wind as Brenner and his agents swarm the building.
Joyce and Jonathan are skipping the search party to go through photos of Will. The phone rings, but all Joyce can hear is static and growling. She's certain it's Will and freaks out, but the fuse blows and she's knocked to the floor. "New phone, who dis," indeed.
Finally, Mike, Lucas, and Dustin decide to ride off on their bikes to join the search party. A thunderstorm rolls in, and it's all very creepy. It's even creepier when their flashlights settle on a soaking wet Eleven in the woods. A girl! Cooties! Arghhh!
Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
Pictured: Winona Ryder as Joyce.
Episode 2
It's a dark and stormy night, and three little boys are puzzling over what to do with the drenched, bloody girl in the basement. Is she deaf? Does she have cancer? Is she going to take her clothes off right in front of them?
The boys have their doubts, but in the end Mike decides to let her stay the night. He also shortens her name to Elle, feeds her waffles, and, come next morning, backs off when she nixes his plan to tell his mother. Bad guys with guns are after her, so the new plan is to skip school and dazzle Elle with La-Z-Boy recliners.
One development: She recognises Will in a photo. Unfortunately, Mike's mom comes home and Elle has to hide in the closet (another E.T. flashback!). The incident triggers a flashback in which she's being dragged into a dark cell at the lab, all the while screaming for "Papa," a.k.a. Dr. Brenner. That guy's not getting a Father's Day card.
Will is still missing, but Hopper's dubious about the mysterious phone call Joyce swears she received from her son. That's too bad, because Dr. Brenner and his agents know all about it thanks to their wiretaps. They're also snooping around the shed like Ghostbusters looking for scary activity.
Meanwhile, Joyce is leaning in at the grocery store where she works, negotiating a free phone and a two-week advance. Jonathan puts up missing posters at the high school, where he chats with the nicer-than-her-friends Nancy. He then reminisces in the car about Will's love for The Clash. His destination: Dad's house. Spoiler: His dad Lonnie is a waste of space.
Lucas and Dustin have returned from school. They're not down with Elle's presence, and Lucas is about to rat her out to Mike's mom when Elle busts out her telekinetic mind mojo. She slams the door closed with her mind, freaking everyone out. The action causes her nose to bleed.
Hop gets the call about Benny, whose death is made to look like a suicide. His investigation turns up a reference to Elle, who is identified as a little boy because of her buzz cut. Could it be Will with a haircut? No, Hop. No.
Night falls, and Nancy is being a shitty friend. Her pal Barb is the stereotypical unfortunate best friend with glasses and dorky clothes: She's Betty Finn meets Janis Ian, and a million times better than Steve Harrington and his merry band of airheads. Barb has no interest in coming to Steve's "low-key" party, but Nancy won't hear it. She needs a plus-one.
After dinner, Elle uses the Dungeons & Dragons board to show that Will is hiding in the dark from some sort of monster. Hop also has a new lead: a sewer pipe leading to the lab's restricted property. Jonathan resorts to photographing the woods, which happen to back onto Steve's property. He spies on Steve and Nancy partying with their horny classmates while Barb squirms in agony.
The poor thing slices her hand while trying to shotgun a beer, and is banished to the diving board while everyone else, including Steve and Nancy, have sex. Her wound seeps blood into the pool, the lights flicker, and that creepy monster thing goes in for the kill. Oh, Barb, you deserved so much better.
Is Barb dead? Who cranked up The Clash for Joyce? Is Jonathan a stalker? Stay tuned.
Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
Pictured: Caleb McLaughlin, Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown, and Gaten Matarazzo.
Episode 3
Welcome back to The Fifth Wheel, where square pegs are terrorised by slimy alien creatures while their oblivious friends make out to Foreigner. Barb is screaming and clawing her way out of an empty swimming pool covered in gooey webbing. She makes it up the ladder but gets yanked back. It doesn’t look good.
Nancy, newly devirginised and feeling herself, shrugs off her friend’s absence and heads home, where she gets the third degree from her mom. It’s not until the next day at school that she realises Barb might actually be missing, and that it’s all her fault.
Joyce is either having a breakdown or a breakthrough. She’s convinced that Will is trying to speak to her through the lights. She sets up a lamp Stonehenge in his bedroom and strings up Christmas lights everywhere. Jonathan thinks she’s losing it, but Mike’s little sister Holly knows what’s up. She toddles off to Will’s room when her mother comes over to bring Joyce a casserole. The lights go berserk, and Holly is about to be swallowed by the wall when Joyce grabs her. Holly saw something, but Joyce still can’t figure out what’s going on.
Mike and the boys have a plan to find Will using Pringles and old weapons from ’Nam. They head off to school for another bullying session, arranging to meet Elle at the power lines after school. Left home alone, she gets bored and flips on the TV. A Coke commercial proves traumatising, triggering a flashback to having her brainwaves measured while mind-crushing a can of Coke under Brenner’s instructions. Once she recovers, Elle checks out Nancy’s bedroom, where a ballerina music box makes her emotional and a photo of Barb seems to register something.
A stray cat near the meeting point triggers another flashback. Elle refuses to mind-kill a cat in Brenner’s lab, so she’s dragged off by burly orderlies. They try to lock her up, but she mind-kills them. Brenner rushes in to comfort her, picking her up and carrying her limp body down the hall. Um, why doesn’t she just mind-kill him too and make tracks?
It’s finally sinking in that something has happened to Barb. But first Nancy has to deal with the fact that Jonathan has been discovered developing photos of her sexploits in the dark room. Steve rips up the photos and breaks Jonathan’s camera. Nancy notices that one picture shows Barb sitting on the diving board of death, and she picks up the pieces to take home.
Nancy goes all Nancy Drew and does some investigating. Barb’s car is still parked where they left it. She searches Steve’s pool and the neighbouring woods, where a wild creature rushes past. She wisely beelines it back home.
Hopper and his doofus deputies are actually doing police work. They try to get a tour of the lab, but are denied. Later, Hop manages to charm his way onto the property. Nothing on the lab’s security footage shows evidence of Will. But, aha! It also doesn’t show any evidence of rain, even though it was pouring on the night in question. This prompts a visit to the local library to dig up stories on creepy Dr. Brenner and his links to LSD mind-control experiments. Hopper’s soaking it all in when a call alerts him to a serious development.
The boys and Elle see emergency vehicles zooming off and decide to follow. The state troopers have made a grisly discovery: Will’s lifeless body is being pulled from the water. Mike immediately lashes out at Elle for telling him that his friend was still alive. He runs off and cries in his mother’s arms.
If Will is dead, what or who is talking to Joyce? She’s holed up in the house and using her lights to communicate to her son. They blink in response to her questions and she has the smarty-pants idea of painting an alphabet on the wall. That Ouija-style messaging reveals that Will is still alive, but “not safe.” Where is he? “Right here.” And then the wall/Will tells her to run, because a monster is poking its head in. She hightails it down the road, running right into Jonathan’s car. They embrace, then turn to see the cops coming. Because, you know, Will is dead.
Or is he?
Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
Pictured: Millie Bobby Brown as Elle/Eleven.
Episode 4
Joyce and the cops are having communication issues. They search her totally-not-destroyed-by-monsters house and find it hard to believe she was attacked. She hears them tell her that Will is dead, but isn’t buying it. She reacts by grabbing an axe from the shed and sitting on the couch, ready to attack.
Elle is still on Mike’s shit list, forcing her to bust out her special powers. She risks another bloody nose to call up Will on the walkie-talkie. Despite supposedly being dead, the boy can be heard softly singing his favourite Clash song.
Mike convinces his mom to let him stay home. The boys come over, but Elle can’t get a strong enough signal to reach Will. How will they sneak a strange girl with a buzz cut into their school to use the A/V equipment? Easy — a makeover! Just like E.T., Elle is dolled up in a blonde wig, plus one of Nancy’s old dresses and makeup applied by Mike. Cue a She’s All That-style moment when Mike realises he might have a crush.
The boys and “Mike’s Swedish second cousin Eleanor” (wink, wink) head to school, where an assembly is being held for Will. Troy the bully laughs through the whole thing and taunts everyone with homophobic jokes afterward. Mike shoves him, but before Troy can strike back he’s suddenly frozen into position and begins pissing his pants. Oh, Elle. You shouldn’t have.
The plot thickens when Hop heads to the morgue. The state troopers have taken over, handling the autopsy and claiming jurisdiction. They’re also the ones who found Will’s body, which is not suspicious at all. Joyce and Jonathan go to identify the body, but end up fighting. He wants to plan the funeral, and she still refuses to believe that Will is dead.
Armed with the keys to the A/V room, the kids set up shop and try to connect Elle to Will. The process triggers yet another flashback. It seems that Dr. Brenner would use her to track down information from various men. Using her mind, she could listen and repeat back the information she heard. Now she’s using those same skills to to reach Will. Somehow Joyce, now back at home and listening to The Clash, also gets connected. Back at home, she hears a pounding noise and her son’s voice calling for her. The boys are also able to hear this. Joyce peels back the wallpaper and sees a glowing red web, with Will saying that he's in a place that's “like home, but it’s so dark.” She tells him to run, and begins chopping up the wall. Nothing is on the other side. Meanwhile, Elle snaps back and the A/V equipment bursts into flames, setting off the school fire alarm. The boys run off with a weak and bleeding Elle in tow.
Let’s not forget that Barb is also still missing, and her car has disappeared. Steve is no help to a stressed-out Nancy because he doesn’t want his parents to find out about the party. Nancy decides to ‘fess up, and gets totally busted by the cops for having sex with Steve. Her only hope is the torn-up photo that Jonathan took of Barb that fateful night. She pieces it together and tracks down Jonathan. The creature she saw in the woods, she tells him, was faceless. They redevelop Barb’s photo and can make out the creature. Now Jonathan knows that his mother has been telling the truth all along.
The situation at Brenner’s lab doesn’t look optimistic. Someone has the bright idea to send a poor guy named Shepard into the web of guck, assuming that he’ll be fine because he’s anchored by steel rope. To the surprise of everyone (but not me!), Shepard does not come back alive. When he screams for the other agents to pull him out, they reel in nothing but some bloody goo.
At least Hop is getting shit done. He tracks down the state trooper who found Will in the quarry. A few punches in, the guy admits that he was told to call the incident in and to not let anyone approach the body. A car appears, and the trooper freaks out. “You’re gonna get us both killed,” he tells Hop. The man runs off and the car peels away.
Now Hop is pissed. He knocks out the trooper standing guard at the morgue and pulls out Will’s body, slicing through the belly with a knife. What’s inside? Not guts. It’s cotton stuffing.
The episode ends with Hop breaking into the lab. This will surely end well.
Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
Pictured: Joe Keery as Steve and Natalia Dyer as Nancy.
Episode 5
It’s a balmy November evening, and various lab employees are wrapping up for the day to go home and watch Wheel of Fortune and maybe microwave some puppies. Nobody notices Hopper sneaking into the building…until he gets to the biohazard area. He’s able to fend off the lab director and a guard and steal a pass that grants him access to the building. He calls out for Will, but finds only a children’s bedroom. Oh, and a gooey carcass that he stupidly decides to touch. A faceless creature darts past, and Hop is knocked out with a tranquiliser. Considering what happened to Shepard, maybe he got off easy?
He wakes up on his couch, surrounded by beer cans and pills. He ransacks his trailer and finds a bug in an overhead light. His officers stop by to report that two hunters who were last seen near “Mirkwood” (where Will vanished) have disappeared. Also, the state troopers have found Barb’s car at the bus station, and are willing to accept that she simply ran away. Fat chance.
The Byers household has once again been graced by Lonnie’s presence. He’s pouring Joyce drinks while dismissing everything she says about trying to find Will. The boys are in a more productive state of mind. Using Dungeons & Dragons as a metaphor, they’ve reasoned that their pal is stuck in some sort of “Vale of Shadows”-style alternate dimension. They just don’t know what to do about it.
Everyone attends Will’s funeral, which surprisingly does not include a big coffin reveal with a pile of stuffing pouring out of Will’s “corpse.” Brenner’s minions use the time to listen to Will’s chat with Joyce and check out the melted A/V equipment. They’ve deduced that Elle is involved.
After the funeral, everyone breaks up to get their respective “Save Will” plans in order. For Jonathan and Nancy, that means figuring out where the creature sightings have been concentrated and then making time for shooting practice. For the boys, it means cornering their science teacher Mr. Clark at the reception and peppering him with questions about other dimensions. Fortunately, he speaks Dungeons & Dragons, and uses an acrobat and flea analogy to explain how one could theoretically tear through another dimension.
The boys explain their findings to Elle, and Dustin has a brainwave: Their compasses aren’t pointing due north, which means something is disrupting the electromagnetic field around them. In theory, following their compasses north should lead them to the gateway to this other dimension.
As they set off, Elle begins to breathe heavily and panic. Another flashback sees her being placed in a water tank while wearing a helmet and some sort of Ken doll swimsuit. The water enables her to “go further than she’s gone before,” Brenner says. She sees a Russian man barking orders, which are transmitted through her into the lab’s speaker. Suddenly the man disappears and is replaced by monstrous growling noises.
And that’s why Elle, as Lucas soon realises, has been using her mind mojo to screw up their compasses and steer them in the wrong direction. Lucas angrily confronts Mike and Elle about sabotaging their plan. Mike pushes him, the boys tussle, and Elle reacts by flipping Lucas’ body into the air. He hits his head but eventually comes to. Horrified by Elle’s violent behaviour, Mike screams at her and she runs off. Great. Another missing kid.
Jonathan and Nancy are also sniping at each other as they kick off their armed march through the woods. Darkness falls, and they come across a dying deer that’s been hit by a car. Jonathan goes to shoot the animal, but it’s suddenly jerked back. Naturally, they decide to follow it. But oh, let’s split up first. That’s sensible.
Nancy comes across a hollowed-out tree dripping blood and ooze. She hesitates a moment, and then crawls through, where she spies the faceless monster devouring the dead deer. The monster hears her and she screams and gives chase. Jonathan can hear the screams but has no clue that she’s in the tree literally right under his nose.
Meanwhile, Joyce is at home, having wasted no time in sending the greedy Lonnie, who just wanted to cash in on Will’s death, packing. Someone bangs on the door, and when she opens it, she discovers Hop holding up a sign like he’s Andrew Lincoln in Love Actually. This sign, though, reads “Don’t say anything.” He comes inside, unscrews the light bulbs, and tells her about Will’s fake body.
“You were right,” he admits. “This whole time, you were right.”
Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
Pictured: Elle (Millie Bobby Brown) takes out Troy.
Episode 6
Here’s a tip: Should you ever get separated from someone and have a blood-thirsty monster on your ass, don’t scream “I’m right here.” Be specific. Scream, “Right in the tree under your nose, idiot!” Luckily, Jonathan finally figures out where Nancy is hiding and is able to pull her out from the goo.
The goo crew heads to Nancy’s house, where Steve — who is of course cruising around with his pals while “Sunglasses at Night” blares — spies them in the bedroom. Uh-oh. Good thing he didn’t see them sleeping in the same bed because Nancy got scared.
In the morning, Nancy floats the theory that the creature is a nocturnal predator with a shark-like taste for blood. She and Jonathan sneak out of the house to resume their monster-hunting. They’re waylaid, however, by some rude graffiti at the movie theatre. Steve and his cronies have been spray-painting slut-shaming tags all over town. They bait Jonathan into losing his shit. When he does, he really loses it. He punches the living daylights out of Steve, accidentally hitting a police officer in the process. Go directly to jail, son.
We learn a lot more about Elle. Based on Hop’s discovery of the child’s bedroom in the lab, he and Joyce consider whether or not the child spotted at Benny’s burger joint is someone else altogether. As it happens, Hop’s research at the library turned up a case in which a woman named Terry Ives had accused Dr. Brenner of stealing her daughter. Ives now lives with her sister and seems to be in a catatonic state. During Joyce and Hop’s visit, they learn that Ives was part of a medical research study involving LSD and salt-water isolation tanks (ding ding ding!). The study was intended to “expand the boundaries of the mind,” but there was a complication: Ives was pregnant. The official story is that she miscarried in the third trimester, but the woman insists that she gave birth to a daughter named Jane. There’s no birth certificate, but Ives firmly believes that her child had the ability to perform telepathy and telekinesis. Sound like anyone we know?
Speak of the devil: Elle/Eleven/Jane wakes up in the woods, and ventures dirty and wig-less to the grocery store. After having a flashback about another dip in the isolation tank to make contact with the monster, she comes to, calls a store clerk a mouth-breather, grabs some frozen Eggos, and walks out of the store Anton Chigurh-style, leaving shattered glass in her wake. Gangsta.
Meanwhile, the female agent who killed Benny has paid a visit to Mr. Clark’s home and duped him into naming the boys under the premise of starting up some Indiana A/V club. Dammit, Clark.
Still pissed at Mike, Lucas bikes off on his own to find Will, waving to the sketchy Hawkins Power and Light guy on the way out. Mike and Dustin see the commotion at the grocery store and head to the woods to look for Elle. That’s where Troy and his fellow bully find them. Troy has a knife, and he’s going to slice and dice Dustin if Mike doesn’t make the surely fatal jump into the quarry. Against his better judgment, Mike leaps…then stops. Elle has arrived to use her mind to propel him back onto the ground. While she’s at it, she breaks Troy’s arm. It’s all very Harry Potter and his Invisible Cloak vs. Draco. Elle passes out from the effort and flashes back to meeting the monster in her underwater abyss. It wasn’t pretty.
Now it’s Lucas’ turn to make a breakthrough. From his perch in a tree he can see that the town’s power trucks are coming from the lab. The power guy from before is watching the kids bike home, alerting the vans to pull out and swoop in.
Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
Pictured: David Harbour as Hopper.
Episode 7
Isn’t it sweet of Mike to do Elle’s makeup and wipe her face? Kid, the girl can crush Coke cans with her mind. We think she can handle using her hands for a minor manual task.
The two are about to have their first kiss when Dustin bursts in and kills the mood. Lucas is on the walkie-talkie, yelling about bad men headed their way. Indeed, vans are pulling up to Mike’s house, prompting the kids to hightail it out of there. Dr. Brenner sees Elle escaping and the vans gives chase. The boys and Elle meet up with Lucas; together, they ride like the wind. Elle even manages to mind-flip one van, which impresses even Lucas. Everyone makes up and hides in an abandoned bus as helicopters sweep over looking for them.
Brenner and his evil agents take over the Wheeler home and discover Elle’s shirt from Benny’s. He gets Mike’s parents to talk to him about where the kids might be. Is he kidding? These two couldn’t be more useless. Their two oldest children have snuck out of the house and Baby Holly is probably dangling in some gorilla enclosure. Good luck.
On the other hand, Joyce knows what’s up. She’s not pleased to find Jonathan or his arsenal of monster-killing weapons at the police station. While there, Troy and his mother come in to explain how this mysterious girl magically broke his arm. Hop puts two and two together and he and Joyce team up with Nancy and Jonathan to find Mike. It’s about time everyone started working together. Thanks to Will’s walkie-talkie, they’re able to track the boys down.
The boys agree to wait on the bus, but they’re not sure if they’re being lured into a trap. Sure enough, evil agents swarm in, only to be beaten up by Hop. He brings the kids to the Byers' home, where they explain their theory about the upside-down dimension where Will must be hiding. Elle offers to track Will and Barb down through telepathy, but it doesn’t work. Remembering her experiences in the isolation tanks, she suggests trying again in the bath.
But, you know, not just any bath. What the gang needs is a sensory-deprivation tank. And who knows how to build one of those? Mr. Clark, who is busy regaling his date with horror-movie trivia. Dustin gives him a call and gets the instructions he needs.
As luck would have it, they’ve got the gear. They set up shop in the middle school gym, filling a plastic swimming pool with water and 1,5000 pounds of de-icing salt that just happened to be laying around. Elle goes into the pool and the visions are ghastly. For starters, Barb is most definitely dead and has creepy-crawlies oozing out of her mouth. Will is weak and lying in his Castle Byers fort, begging them to hurry.
Joyce and Hop rush off and are eventually busted by armed guards as they try to break into the lab. Nancy and Jonathan grab their gear with the goal of killing the monster once and for all.
Poor Will is pale and soaked to the bone, singing “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” as the monster stalks around his tent and bursts through.
Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
Pictured: Joyce (Ryder), Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), and Nancy (Dyer) lie in wait.
Episode 8
So yeah, Joyce and Hop’s lab breakdown didn’t go too well. Joyce is cuffed and getting lectured by Dr. Brenner about how she needs to help him. According to him, six people have been attacked by the monster and it will “take more sons and daughters” to understand what is happening. Joyce chews him out for leaving her son to die. “Go to hell,” she seethes.
Hop is also in custody. The agents plan to drug him and make it look like he’s a junkie. Instead, a deal is struck: He’ll give up Elle and say nada about the monster biz if the agents let him rescue Will. He and Joyce are released and given their own Breaking Bad-style hazmat suits, so they can explore the gooey pond. As they head out, Brenner confides in his agent that they won’t find Will. Oh, yeah?
Joyce and Hop make their way through the same upside-down world where Nancy found herself trapped. Lights blink like electronic breadcrumbs, leading them to Will’s destroyed fort and an alternate version of the Byers home.
Nancy and Jonathan are in the actual Byers home. They get their Macaulay Culkin on and set up booby traps, douse the place in gasoline, and kit out their baseball bat with nails. They cut their hands to spill blood and draw the monster, but there’s an issue. Wouldn’t you know that Steve would pick just that moment to show up? He’s fallen out with his preppy posse and wants to talk to Jonathan. Nancy tries to shoo him away, but he barges in when he notices that she’s bleeding. The lights are blinking, the monster is near, and Nancy resorts to pulling a gun on Steve to force him to leave.
The monster slithers out from the ceiling, understandably freaking Steve the fuck out. They dash to Will’s room and prepare to light everything up, but the monster disappears. Steve finally takes the hint and rushes out to his car, just in time to see the lights flickering again. The monster has returned, knocking down Jonathan and not really connecting with any of the bullets Nancy is firing. It’s Steve, now armed with the nail-studded bat, to the rescue. The monster gets stuck in the bear trap and the teens set it on fire. The monster goes up in flames, leaving only a sizzling goo behind.
“It has to be dead,” Jonathan says. “It has to be.”
Eh, we’ll see.
The boys and Elle are still at the middle school. Everyone’s happy: Lucas and Dustin have discovered a stash of chocolate pudding and Elle has not only accepted Mike’s invitation to go to the school dance, she’s given him his first kiss.
The moment is short-lived. The evil agents are swarming in and the kids are sent racing through the hallways. The woman who shot Benny corners the kids, but Elle has her beat: She uses her mind mojo to make everyone’s eyes bleed — they all collapse and die. The effort causes Elle to pass out and Brenner quickly captures the group. Elle comes to just long enough to tell him he’s bad when the lights begin to flicker again. The agents’ blood has attracted the monster. It bursts through the walls and pounces on Brenner as his agents fire their weapons in vain. The boys grab Elle and run off.
They flee to the science classroom, followed by the monster. It looks as though Lucas might have actually popped the creature with his slingshot, but it was really Elle, using every last ounce of her energy to pin the monster against the wall. She says goodbye to Mike, then disappears along with the monster in a flutter of ashes.
And what of Will? Joyce and Hop find him barely breathing (Barb is still very much dead). Hop’s past experience with his late daughter’s cancer treatment both haunts him and spurs him on as he and Joyce administer CPR on the dying boy. It works.
The boys happily visit Will in the hospital. Hop is picked up by agents in a government car, but we don’t know what is said or how the Elle issue will be handled. And what will Barb’s parents be told? Doesn’t anyone care about Barb?
A month passes and the boys are back to playing Dungeons & Dragons. Jonathan comes to pick up Will and gets a kiss on the cheek and a camera from Nancy. Unfortunately, it’s all he’s getting, as she is still dating Steve. Really?
Hop leaves a Christmas party early. He ventures out to the woods and leaves a pile of Eggos and Christmas cookies behind. So...Elle must still be alive?
The Byers are about to sit down to Christmas dinner. Everything’s going hunky-dory until Will goes to wash his hands. He’s been coughing and he spits out a slug-like creature into the sink. He instantly flashes back to the upside-down world, but doesn’t say anything to his family when he sits back down to dinner.
Thoughts: Poor Will can’t catch a break. But we can, because surely that means a second season? Please?

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