Saturday, November 4, 2017

REVIEW: 'Stranger Things' - New Threats Emerge While Dustin and Steve Team Up in 'Chapter Six: The Spy'

Netflix's Stranger Things - Episode 2.06 "Chapter Six: The Spy"

Will's connection to a shadowy evil grows stronger, but no one's quite sure how to stop it. Dustin and Steve forge an unlikely bond.

The second season of Stranger Things has done a curious thing in really separating its main group of characters. There are many different plot threads that are still all connected. And yet, the characters have gone a couple of episodes without really knowing what's going on elsewhere in this world. That's a stark difference from the way the first season was structured where the main objective was in rescuing Will from the Upside Down. Things are much more complicated this time around. Will is proving to be more connected to the shadow monster and the Upside Down than ever before. Dustin has recruited Steve to help him find Dart before the creature can do any more harm. Lucas is hoping that Max is finally willing to trust him. Nancy and Jonathan are off trying to get their story out to the public about Hawkins Labs being a nefarious place. And Eleven is on her own adventure that seems destined to take her far away from everything else going on in the show. That last one is a little disappointing. El doesn't appear in "Chapter Six: The Spy" at all. And yet, her absence isn't a big deal whatsoever. She was such an important character in the first season. And now, she can just disappear and the show loses absolutely nothing. That's odd and a weird way to structure the story. The show has removed her from the main narrative just when the main characters could use her talents to help out with the increasing threat in Hawkins. This season is getting darker and more intense. This hour is the best one of the season so far because it understands the horror of this world and the complexities that come from all of these characters being affected by the same trauma without having any clue how the actions of one will affect the others elsewhere in this world.

And so, Dustin admits that it was probably a bad idea to keep Dart as a pet. That was abundantly clear to the audience the moment Dart was introduced. The show even pointed out that it was probably connected to the creature Will spit out at the end of last season. The show understood that this was a creature that came from the Upside Down. But it was important for the story that Dustin was a bit more oblivious and alienating to his friends. And now, he needs their help and no one is around to help him deal with this escalating threat. Dart has killed the family cat. Dustin has locked it up in the storm cellar. But he needs backup if he is going to eliminate this threat. He no longer sees the creature as a pet that is good for him. Now, it's an actual reminder of the danger that came running at the group last season. But Will and Mike are in Hawkins Labs with their own problems while Lucas' walkie is turned off. That leads to one of the most inspired creative decisions of this season so far. Dustin teams up with Steve. That is such an unlikely and unexpected character pairing. And yet, it works immediately. Steve does question if Dustin is telling the truth. But the show has an easy and relaxed approach to putting these characters together. Steve does believe Dustin. He's actually willing to go along with this crazy plan because he's seen what these creatures have done before. He still has the spiked bat in his truck. That proves that even though he's wanted to return to a sense of normalcy he has never really moved on from the events of last season either. He's still traumatized as well.

Plus, there's a nice push-and-pull dynamic between Dustin and Steve. They can communicate clearly with each other. They understand the threat and understand how clever this plan to capture and kill Dart is. But Steve also provides some nice grooming and relationship advice. Of course, it doesn't seem like his dating advice is all that great. But him opening up in that way and caring about Dustin is a nice change of pace. Plus, the story highlights how Dustin can see Steve as a hero in this small town. He faced off with the demogorgon as well. And now, he is willing to step out of the presumed safety of the abandoned school bus to lure the creature into the trap. The show gives him that heroic posturing. But then, he deserves it as well. Dustin notes that Steve is awesome. And in the end, he can be just as terrified as everyone else. It's a very effective twist to see that Dart isn't the only creature like this roaming around Hawkins. In fact, there are several. This sequence does a phenomenal job in teasing that reveal. There is the eery calmness that settles over the scene alongside the fog as the group waits to strike. Dart appears at the edge of the scene unwilling to come any closer and into the trap. That prompts Steve to make his heroic decision. It's when he's out there that the second creature comes onto the scene. It establishes that this isn't a situation that Steve or Dustin or Lucas or Max is prepared to handle. It proves that Hawkins has slipped even more into the chaos than anyone previously believed. But the creatures don't ultimately harm anyone in the bus. Instead, they have the opportunity to regroup.

This hour is seemingly all about the Upside Down fighting back against the main characters to prove just how powerful and far-reaching it actually is. Dustin, Steve and company are unprepared for what happens at the abandoned junk yard. The scientists at Hawkins Labs were unprepared for how their actions would ultimately hurt Will during their rescue of Hopper, Joyce and Bob. And then, Will has returned to the labs for more testing. Owens is trying to understand what's going on with him. He truly did believe that his trauma was all psychological. And now, he has the proof it is not. It's actually physical. He burns when the Upside Down and its creatures are burned. He has been infected by a virus. A virus that is slowly taking over his body. It was scary to see Will's personality shift in the previous episode as he was more forceful and demanding of his mother. But he's still that sweet, innocent boy who wants to understand what's going on within him. The doctors have no answers. They push their experiments too far. They prove that fire to one creature has an impact on Will. And then, they keep going with it. They take scans of his brain to see the progress the disease has made. The scientists are willing to just write him off saying that he'll be dead within the day. Owens doesn't want to give up that easily though. It makes him seem almost noble for wanting to protect Will. He may just be doing that out of self-preservation to maintain his working relationship with Hopper. Hopper cares about Will and Joyce more than he cares about what's going on in the labs and the Upside Down. But now, everything is becoming intensely connected. One action impacts the other. Will believes he can be a spy and lead the scientists to the point in the Upside Down where they can effectively do something against the shadow monster. But that's only setting things up for the most devastating twist so far this season.

Will feared that the shadow monster could see everything he was doing just like he could see everyone it was doing. He can sense what was happening and had memories that weren't his own. He had those abilities that helped rescue Hopper. But now, Will is losing control of himself. He's in the fight of his life once more. The shadow monster is taking over and forcing him to do things he doesn't want to do. And so, this expedition into the great unknown is ultimately a trap. Will's useful knowledge is actually a hindrance in this investigation. It gets several of the soldiers killed. It's this grand display of power that proves just how manipulative and concise the shadow monster is capable of being. It is taking over Will and he's powerless to stop it. He has enough strength to warn Joyce and Mike of his deception. But it's clear throughout this hour that Will is losing more and more of himself. That bleak glimmer of hope is all that he can offer in the end. And that isn't even enough. Mike and Bob can't warn Owens and Hopper in time to turn the team around. They die in the field where the creatures from the Upside Down make their way up the shaft and into the labs. It's a very ominous final note. This season continues to do a strong job in ending on moments that make the audience want to start the next episode right away. It's very effective here while highlighting the personal significance for the characters. They want to hold onto these personal connections during these troubling times. But they have no idea just how much things have changed over a short period of time. Hopper is taking to an abandoned cabin over the radio while Jonathan returns home to a chaotic mess having no clue what has happened to his family.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Chapter Six: The Spy" was written by Kate Trefry and directed by Andrew Stanton.
  • The show has been pointing towards a romance between Lucas and Max for most of this season. As such, it's weird that Dustin is still holding out hope for him and Max when he's talking with Steve. He has no clue that Lucas has been more present in her life. But it also feels like the show just giving Lucas and Max something to do while everyone else is dealing with the supernatural forces.
  • Max finally offers some explanation about her backstory. It just feels very lame and boring. Her mother and Billy's father got married. They left California because they wanted to get away from Max's father. Meanwhile, Billy is just a dick in general. He has always been that way and hates this new family dynamic. Of course, the show really needs to provide more nuance with Billy. Right now, he's the most one-note character on the show.
  • Murray, Nancy and Jonathan send their watered down story to the Chicago Sun Times. That's a huge move that doesn't ultimately define their story together. But it means that there will be more public awareness to what's going on with Hawkins Labs just as the scientists are dealing with new, monumental problems emerging from the Upside Down.
  • So, Murray gets Nancy and Jonathan to admit that they do have romantic feelings for each other. It's a moment that throws Nancy's relationship with Steve under the bus a little bit. Murray says Nancy and Jonathan are perfect for each other because of their shared trauma. He just doesn't know that Steve experienced all of this as well. But it doesn't matter. Nancy and Jonathan still sleep together, which is at least a big development worthy of spending time with them in an intense episode like this one.
  • Hopper promises to get back to El at the cabin soon. He has no idea that she's been gone for awhile now too. But it's also another promise he can't keep because of the development at the end of the hour. With the creatures arriving from the Upside Down, the threat there is going to be more prominent than returning to the cabin to protect El. 

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.