We never intended to spend the weekend on a quest to binge the entire season of Stranger Things 2. We had a lot of games to play. We had work to do. Somehow, though, the show sucked us in and we were hooked for all nine episodes. It helps that the show hits the ground running, reintroducing characters while also expanding the roster. Easily the best payoff is the moment we discover where Eleven has been since last season. But we are reminded right away that the actors are uniformly excellent. Winona Ryder does desperate mom with a little less crazy. David Harbour gruff charm makes you anxious to see him as Hellboy and curious about how he’d do as Indiana Jones (seriously, listen to his voice and tell me he doesn’t sound exactly like Harrison Ford). The kids are all great, especially Noah Schnapp, who gets a lot to do this season. It really seems like a perfect season for an incredible show……until you hit episode seven, and then the whole things falls apart (spoilers ahead, beware).
Episode seven pulls away from the events at Hawkins at exactly the worst time. Not only are all the characters in immediate danger, but we’ve just learned that someone they trust may be working against them. Episode seven skips all of that to tell us the incredibly predictable and cliched story of Eleven looking for another super-powered girl living in Pittsburgh. Apparently Eleven is not the only survivor of the Hawkins National Lab and her “sister” Kali has built a small crew of followers to hunt down scientists from the lab and summarily execute them. The episode is a definite departure from the rest of the show. Eleven is the only regular cast member who appears. None of the events take place in Hawkins. The entire episode is fairly self-contained and actually could be inserted into the series at almost any point (or better yet, not at all).
Okay: I love this show, but I was thunderstruck at how bad this episode was. First of all, Kali’s gang is just the worst. They are extremely broad characterizations of 80’s punks that are so thinly drawn that they may as well be cardboard standups. “Axe” is particularly egregious; with his foot high mohawk and perpetual hostility, he’s the kind of guy who would threaten Jackie Chan before getting kicked in the face. The rest of the crew barely registers; they are seemingly extras who were given a couple of lines inspired by Sid and Nancy. They all dress weirdly distinctively which is an unusual for a band of serial killers. Later, Kali and Eleven use their mutant abilities to commit crimes and we’re reminded that the less we see these abilities the better. We get way too much of characters squinting hard or holding out their hands while CGI effects play out in front of them. Can we please develop some new mutant power poses? The whole episode plays out like one of the many, many mutant shows I am currently not watching on other channels. Seriously, Stranger Things, are you aiming to become the new Inhumans? Or The Gifted? Or Legion? Or Sense8?
After watching the first Stranger Things and the first half of the second season, you may be asking yourself “Is there anything the Duffler Brothers can’t do?” Yes. They use episode seven to point out their limitations very clearly. Specifically, they cannot create a convincing band of mutant outsiders. The message for this show is clear: stay in Hawkins. Stay with your four leads. Stay away from becoming just another Xmen ripoff. This episode needs to be a warning: we saw Eleven wander into a scarier place than the Upside Down, she discovered the godawful Xmen ripoff that Season 3 might become. It’s a world full of ridiculous characters straight out of the second season of Heroes. We need to never return to that world and make sure no more of those characters come into out world. Eleven seems pretty good at sealing off gates to terrifying dimensions; let’s hope she seals off the gate to this one as well.