[Editor’s Note: The following article contains spoilers for “Stranger Things 2,” especially Season 2, Episode 7, “Chapter 7: The Lost Sister.”]
“Stranger Things 2” is nine episodes long, and one stands out from the rest: For reasons good and bad, the seventh entry in Season 2 has already sparked a lively online debate.
Opening with Eleven (a.k.a Jane) visiting her mother in Indiana, the young telekinetic quickly learns the identity and whereabouts of Eight (a.k.a. Kali), her fellow cellmate (of sorts) at Hawkins Lab who’s now living in Chicago. Viewers first saw Eight at the very beginning of the season as she and her motley crew fled from the cops, with Eight using her powers to help them escape.
It turns out Eight can conjure hallucinations in other people, including everything from spiders crawling up your hand to a walking, talking human being. (We’ll get back to him in a second.) But she’s using those powers to track down and kill the people who hurt her and Eleven, and — even though she helps Eleven develop her telekinetic skills — she eventually asks too much of her “sister.” The two part ways as the cops again come after Eight’s gang, and Eleven returns to Hawkins to help her friends.
Part of why the episode stands out is because it’s literally a standalone episode for Eleven. Sure, it connects to the past and future of the show, but her Chicago-set arc sees Eleven flying solo for the full hour and going through something even a one-time viewer could appreciate — or disparage.
Below, IndieWire TV Critic Ben Travers and TV Editor Liz Shannon Miller discuss the ups and downs of the episode, including the new characters, Eleven’s new style, and the surprise guest who may be back for real come Season 3.
IndieWire TV Critic Ben Travers: So, I’ll be honest: My first thought when Episode 7 (or as it should be called, “Eleven Rides the Bus”) ended was that anyone still thinking “Stranger Things 2” is a nine-hour movie can shut the heck up. This is a classic standalone episode of television, complete with a cold open that immediately moved away from the events that preceded it (the demodogs attacking the lab) and an arc that’s almost entirely independent from the rest of the season. That’s not something movies can, or should, do, but that’s also not why “Chapter 7” bugged me — believe it or not, I like TV, especially standalone episodes. I think this is something we both agree on: This episode totally threw off the pacing of the season, if not the tone, as well.
IndieWire TV Editor Liz Shannon Miller: It really did, and I’ll give full credit to our colleague Bill Earl for calling it out as a “backdoor pilot,” theoretically setting up an entirely new story world that could eventually become its own series.
Of course, technically this episode wasn’t a total surprise, thanks to the very first scene of Season 2 introducing Eight and her motley pack of outcasts. But it was still somewhat jarring to completely separate from what was going down in Hawkins — especially given how much shit was going down in Hawkins at that moment! — so that Eleven could get a makeover and develop her own moral compass.
That said, I didn’t hate the chance to meet some new characters. Though do you think anyone got enough definition to really be considered full characters?
BT: Absolutely not. If this was a backdoor pilot, put it about three letter grades below “Schrute Farms.” These characters were utter caricatures, barely developed enough to be memorable and only recognizable for single attributes (and their cartoonish ’80s outfits). That all of them, especially Eight (played by Linnea Berthelsen), were teased in the opening moments of the series only made this episode all the more disappointing: We waited six hours…for this? A solo outing with poorly developed new characters that gives Eleven a (bad) new look and kind of, sort of, develops her powers?
I think viewers’ frustration could easily stem from a larger problem surrounding Eleven’s Season 2 arc: She was pretty much on her own all season, left to carry scenes by herself and kept away from the group of boys she grew to love in Season 1. Seeing her paired up with a new group that’s a lot less fun, a lot less dynamic, and a lot less meaningful — for an entire episode — made me feel like a sad kid on Christmas: You’re not going to get what you wanted, and here’s something totally different you didn’t ask for.
And you know me, Liz: I love Christmas. Please, find me a present hiding under this seemingly barren tree. Was there anything you liked about the episode?
LM: Well, I actually don’t hate Eleven’s new look. If one must adhere to an ’80s aesthetic, that is perhaps the only one I personally find acceptable. But I also accept that we disagree on this point.
I think the best thing the episode does is unlock Eleven as a character to an essential degree. In Season 1, she always felt very much like a cypher to me, because (completely understandably) she was just emerging from her lab rat status and engaging with the world. With Season 2, we see her develop more thanks to her relationship with Hopper and her quest to meet her mother, but in “Chapter Fifteen: The Secret Cabin” she’s really challenged to confront her past and also find her own moral code. It’s not revolutionary storytelling necessarily, the tale of a one-time killer resolving not to kill anymore, but by the end of Episode 7, I felt like I had a better sense of who Eleven was as a person. Given that for so much of the series, she’s lacked that definition, this felt relatively essential.
Of course, a lot of that development came from her “dream” sequences (for lack of a better word) and while I didn’t hate the execution on a visual level, the general concept felt a bit clunky and obvious. What did you think?