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‘Stranger Things 2’: A Divisive Episode 7 Spurs Debate — Is It a Speed Bump or a Starting Point?

When Eleven flies solo, "Stranger Things" crashes and burns.

Stranger Things

Tina Rowden/Netflix

BT: The black space Eleven visits in her mind always feels like an easy story-driving trick (as well as an “Under the Skin” visual rip-off), so those sequences didn’t do much for me. I agree that the episode progressed Eleven’s character, but I’m mixed on its importance. It was essential for her to explore her past, but nothing in the previous 14 chapters made me think she’d turn serial killer on the ex-laboratory workers just because her pseudo-sister tells her to; Hopper, Joyce, and the boys instilled a much stronger moral balance in her than that. She’s always defended human life, even if she killed a few lab guards who crossed a line, and this is where the episode again proves exasperating.

Eleven could’ve developed her morals (if necessary) and powers (obviously necessary, given the ending) in a lot more compelling fashion if she’d gone through it with her friends. Imagine a scenario where the whole “party” is let loose on the streets of Chicago; where she invites Mike to go with her on the trip and the party comes with, because that’s what they do. Even if we keep the weird new gang involved, Eleven being forced to choose between groups and defending her friends from her sister’s crew holds far more interest than what they dug out with this. It makes the episode more fun for the audience, who then isn’t asked to invest in half-developed characters, and it would obviously have to take place at a different time, thus not upsetting the pace of the season.

There were far better ways to get what we needed to from this episode, but before I end my insane rant, let me ask you about the big question mark still hanging: What’s the deal with Dr. Brenner, a.k.a. Matthew Modine? They kept the actor around in Season 2, mainly in flashback, but then doubts were raised about whether or not he’s actually dead. What do you think? Dead or not dead? Lame pop-in using Eight’s mind trickery, or prominent tease that we might see more of Dr. Brenner in Season 3? (Note: Those final two options aren’t mutually exclusive.)

Stranger Things 2 Season 2 Netflix Caleb McLaughlin, Gaten Matarazzo, Finn Wolfhard, Sadie Sink

LM: You’re in luck! The Duffer Brothers have told me everything they have planned for Season 3 and… No, of course, I’m kidding. It seems like bringing Dr. Brenner back is something they’re into doing but how many people are really clamoring for more of that character, beyond your die-hard Matthew Modine fans?

Well, actually, I’ll admit it — I liked the surprise of it to a degree, especially because it wasn’t announced and it did give Millie Bobbie Brown someone new to bounce off. That said, I never really got into “Papa” as a character during Season 1, as he was a bad guy with little definition, and a Season 3 arc devoted to giving him more dimension sounds really unpleasant. Especially when it’d be far more interesting to learn more about Eight and, you know, any other character on the show aside from an older white male.

I do agree that having her friends meet Eight and her pack would have improved things, but it was already a lot seeing one 13-year-old by herself on the city streets. Seeing all of them wandering through the night would be way too scary! Ultimately where I stand when it comes to “The Secret Cabin” is that as the first episode of a different show, I could find myself being really into it — I like outsider groups, I like superpowers, and they had a fun aesthetic. However, as Episode 7 of Season 2 of a pre-existing show, it’s an interesting experiment but not a very successful one. Much like giving small children superpowers and then hoping you can control them, things go a bit wackadoo. Would you recommend skipping this episode entirely to future viewers?

BT: As always, Elizabeth, I’m so very glad you derived more joy from something than I did, and I sincerely hope viewers are more taken with the entry than I was. As a completist viewer in just about everything I watch, I wouldn’t tell people not to watch the episode so much as I’d warn them that this was a problematic episode. I would absolutely never, ever watch a spinoff dedicated to this group, considering none of the characters were given any dimensionality over the course of an entire hour of narrative, nor does an “X-Men” version of “Stranger Things” appeal to me in the slightest.

But… “too scary”? Come on! That’s what “Stranger Things” is all about! As the ending of Season 2 so wisely illustrated, the kids can’t be kept on the bench. They’ve got to get in the game, look danger in the eye, and feed it some chocolate nougat. Similarly, if they’re going to delve into big city crime, it’s best if they do it together — as much for safety in numbers as audience enjoyment.

That being said, as much as I hate the “Look he’s alive! He’s here! Oh wait, no, it’s just a hallucination” gimmick in this episode, the idea of keeping a human “big bad” alive for Season 3 actually appeals to me. Eleven (and everyone else) needs to fight someone other than a faceless monster, and Papa is a twisted dose of evil on Earth who could, realistically, find out how to open the portal back up and let loose the Shadow Monster.

We’re delving a little too far into fanfiction here, but I do hope the series steers toward its core instead of wildly expanding in Season 3. Episode 7 is a great example of how hard it is to do standalone episodes the right way, as well as the risk of overinflation (especially when it comes to adding characters). It’s far from a season-killer, even for me, so here’s hoping lessons were learned and improvements will be made in the future. There’s no doubt in my mind we’ll see more of Eight. Just don’t push her out of the story instead of inviting her into it.

“Stranger Things” Season 2 is streaming now on Netflix. 

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