Thursday, November 2, 2017

REVIEW: 'Stranger Things' - Joyce, Will, Mike and Bob Struggle to Find Hopper in 'Chapter Five: Dig Dug'

Netflix's Stranger Things - Episode 2.05 "Chapter Five: Dig Dug"

Nancy and Jonathan swap conspiracy theories with a new ally. Eleven searches for someone from her past. "Bob the Brain" tackles a difficult problem.

The Upside Down and the Demogorgon must seem particularly crazy to anyone who didn't experience the events of Season 1. The second season has spent a lot of time focusing on the need for secrecy in Hawkins. The government can't allow the kids to tell anyone about what happened a year ago. The official story was just Will was missing in the woods for awhile and Barb has just disappeared. But the truth is so much more complicated than that. And now, the world is revealing that the supernatural isn't done with this small town yet either. It's pulling these characters back in. And now, they have new friends and allies who are completely in the dark. "Chapter Five: Dig Dug" is the episode where several new characters learn what is actually going on in this community. They all have different reactions to it as well. Some of them deem it too crazy to be real. They need to see actual proof. Others actually get to experience the Upside Down but have virtually no idea what it is. And others still mostly just accept all of this as fact because the narrative requires them to do so. This is an hour that confronts the brutal realities of this world. The season can no longer afford to be secretive. It needs to start having some big, climatic moments that push this town on the verge of destruction right now. This hour does a solid job in doing that. It's still very intimate with the characters. They are the ones at risk here. But they are also the ones trying to save people so that they don't need to be burdened by all of this. In doing so though, they need to bring a few more people into the inner circle so that they can be helpful.

So, the main mission is in rescuing Hopper from the Upside Down where he currently finds himself. The hole he has dug is closing on him. This tunnel is a living, breathing thing. It's interconnected in a way that the humans just don't understand. It's far-reaching that proves that the Upside Down never truly went away after the events of last season. Hopper understood that Will's drawings were vines and immediately ran off to dig this hole to prove that his theory was correct. But he makes a critical error in not telling anyone where he was going. So much of the plot in this episode is hindered by the fact that Hopper didn't tell Joyce where he was going and how dangerous it could potentially be. She has to figure it out with the help of Will, Mike and Bob. Hopper is knocked unconscious several times in the tunnel. First, it's a kind of toxic gas that is spit at him. Later on, the vines tangle up around him with the intention of straggling him to death. He is trying to escape but there is just no easy way out of this chaotic situation. Will understands the urgency of the situation. Mike helps him see that being able to feel and understand what the shadow monster is doing could be beneficial. It would make him the spy this side of the world needs in order to survive. It could just come at a grave cost to Will. He can feel himself slipping away. He's feeling the shadow monster more and more. They are just as interconnected as the vines are below the city. That connection allows Will to have the knowledge that Hopper is in danger and where he is in the vines. He just needs Bob's help in determining where that location is in Hawkins.

This is the episode where Bob is faced with Joyce and Will's big family secret. He's brought in to help with the mystery because he makes a comment about enjoying puzzles. Joyce will only allow him in if he promises not to ask any questions. That's the setup for him becoming an important part of the main story. He proves beneficial right away in being able to identify landmarks in Hawkins that appear in Will's drawings. But he also questions if any of this is actually healthy for Will and Joyce. He can tell immediately that something is wrong with them. Indulging in all of this may not be a good idea. He says that because he has no idea what's going on and the serious consequences at play. Joyce purposefully keeps him in the dark. As such, it's still difficult to believe in the two of them as a couple. Right now, he's just the sweet and innocent guy who went to high school with Joyce and Hopper and now runs the local Radio Shack. He's basically the adult character for comic relief. That's not an inherently bad position. It's a role that Sean Astin does fill well. But he's the one who actually steps foot into the Upside Down with Joyce. He sees the scientists emerge and start burning the place. He has tons of questions. He wonders how Will could know all of this. But this rescue mission is defined by Joyce and Hopper looking at each other with such commitment and passion while Bob is just basically out of frame. And it ends with the flames igniting a new crisis in Will. That's an enticing tease that proves just how dangerous killing the shadow monster will be in terms of its effect on Will.

Meanwhile, Nancy and Jonathan are off on their own adventure. Their parents don't seem worried about them at all. With the Wheelers, that's not too much of a problem because Nancy at least has an alibi. They believe she's at a friend's house. But her father really doesn't care that much about his children while her mother is on the phone all day long. However, it does feel like Joyce should be more worried about where Jonathan is. She has no idea what's going on with him. Instead, the plot just demands for her to be worried about Will almost all of the time. Jonathan can just be tossed aside in her mind because it's not all that relevant in the plot. That feels lame and makes Jonathan feel like a distant component of his family. But it's what's necessary for the plot right now. The same is also true of Murray, the investigative journalist, believing Nancy and Jonathan immediately after they tell him everything they know about the Upside Down, Eleven and Hawkins Laboratories. It's not abundantly clear if Murray just instinctively believes their claims despite a lack of tangible proof because he truly is crazy or because the plot just needs him to accept it easily. It feels more like the latter at this point. He needs to be seen as the sane journalist who can help Nancy and Jonathan figure out a way to expose what's going on in the labs in Hawkins while ensuring that the world at large actually cares. Right now, they are the only ones who care about Barb. A story full of science fiction details won't be believed. And so, they plan on watering it down to make it easier to accept and expose. It's a sound strategy that will still probably go awry at some point.

And without Hopper returning to the cabin, Eleven is just able to make her escape to visit her mother, Terry Ives. That's the person she needs to see right now. She could reach out and know that her mother was still alive. But seeing it in her visions and seeing it in real life are different. She's no longer chasing Mike. That means El is completely on her own separate path right now that is far removed from everything else happening this season. That's a creative choice that was made and the audience just needs to accept it. Of course, it's still meaningful to see El learn more about her past and family. Terry can't communicate with the world. But El is able to realize that she is trying to communicate in the same way that El can. Terry was experimented on as well by Brenner. This episode reveals that tragic backstory and the painful memory she is now trapped in within her own mind. It was a traumatic birth and Terry refuses to believe that her daughter died because she heard her crying. It's a sequence full of jump cuts and fading around the edges. As it moves along, the pace accelerates. This is Terry showing El the world she is currently living in. It's not a pleasant experience at all. It reveals the tragic beginning to El's journey and just how monstrous Brenner really was. But now, she has that clarity. She has a home where she belongs and is loved. Her aunt, Becky, isn't told everything that has happened over the years. She expects El to open up at some point. But she's not reaching out. Of course, will El actually open up? Will this be a healthy home for her? Or will it just be a way to easily target and capture her very quickly?

Some more thoughts:
  • "Chapter Five: Dig Dug" was written by Jessie Nickson-Lopez and directed by Andrew Stanton.
  • Lucas decides to share everything with Max. He opens up to her in the backroom of the arcade. He understands just how dangerous it is to reveal this secret. But he knows he must if he wants to remain friends with Max. Of course, it also feels like the show is trying to be too cute and meta when she says it's too derivative a story. She doesn't believe him until he holds steadfast to his story and the code that friends never lie to each other.
  • Elsewhere, Dustin is busy covering up his own secrets. He is now afraid of Dart. This creature killing his mom's cat is the moment where it was no longer safe to have it in the house. But he's all alone in this endeavor. He can't reach any of his friends for help. So instead, he has to lure the creature to the storm cellar and lock it in there for the time being.
  • Of course, there is also a very promising development in Dustin immediately forcing Steve into helping him. Both of them just so happen to be at the Wheeler house looking for assistance. Dustin wants Mike and Steve wants Nancy. But instead, they get each other. It's a surprisingly easy connection to make as well. Dustin just gets into Steve's car and it's not a big deal whatsoever. He even knows about the bat with all of the spikes.
  • So, is Bob ultimately just going to be this goober of a boyfriend for Joyce? It still seems like a rather thin character who won't have much longevity on the show because the Joyce-Hopper connection is more meaningful. Or is the show setting up some big reveal where he is potentially devious as well and working alongside Owens to better monitor Will?
  • How did the scientists at the lab know the exact position to go to with the infected crops? It's been told to Hopper that this infestation has been happening across many farms and is widespread. Yes, the scientists could have just taken samples from one farm. But that still seems very convenient for them to arrive in the brink of time to help Hopper, Joyce and Bob out of the Upside Down.
  • El sees herself playing with another kid during this memory her mother is showing her. That's more than likely going to be the woman teased at the start of the season who also happens to have powers, right? That just seems like a thing that is still very off in the distance. Plus, the show is now running into the problem of if the audience should refer to the character as El or Jane.

As noted in previous reviews from this show, every episodic review was written without having seen any succeeding episodes. Similarly, it would be much appreciated if in the comments, the conversation would only revolve around the show up to this point in its run.