Stranger Things Chapter Eight “The Upside Down”
Peter: Everything has added up to this. A final confrontation between human and un-human, real and surreal, right side up and upside down. In chapter eight of Stranger Things, minds melt, portals close, and mysteries remain unsolved. Netflix’s fantastic experiment in genre ends with a tantalizing ellipsis at the end of a satisfying season finale.
Susan: The conclusion to the mystery of the disappearance of Will Byers was solved; however, there are some creeping tendrils of unanswered questions. I for one, am content with the seasons resolution, and need not further seasons of this particular story. Either way, “The Upside Down” leaves the viewer with what Stranger Things does best: unabashed nostalgia, spooky suspense, and heartfelt moments.
Lando Fucking Calrissian
Peter: Well, I don’t know why I ever doubted Dustin. That kid is always right. The cold open, which features some very Empire Strikes Back-esque torture depicts some strong momming from Joyce and the complete Lando-ing of Hopper. After some goons go to work on the chief with a taser, he gets some one-on-one time with Papa Vader himself and negotiates the safety of the boys by giving up the location of Eleven (who, in this metaphor, is Luke Skywalker).
Susan: I know it’s easy to paint Hopper with the same brush as Lando, but what possible selfish motivation would he have for giving over Eleven?
Peter: Maybe he’s scared of her powers? Maybe he feels like he just wants things back to normal and sees eleven as part of the big disruptive force that’s tearing his town apart? Who knows? Lando’s intentions were good too, he was just too trusting of a bad man.
In any case, that’s not the whole deal. Hop also promises that he and Joyce will keep their lips buttoned if they can have Will back — the latter part of the deal being contingent on them walking into the gaping wall wound, traversing the upside down, and bringing him back alive. The adults wrap themselves in hazmat suits to protect from the toxic atmosphere of the other dimension (a very welcome little detail in my opinion), and enter the gaping wall wound on a rescue mission. The sinews knit together behind them and we roll titles.
The Upside Down
Susan: After my favourite title sequence of all time introduces the final episode of the season, we are introduced to the “Upside Down” with its creepy air fuzzies and weird growths. Directors Duffer Bros smartly spin the camera, so the first frames of Joyce and Hop’s forray are literally upside down.
Peter: It was a really fun directorial choice to disorient the camera like that. The acrobats have become the fleas.
As Joyce and Hop trek on to Castle Byers, she has a mild panic attack which flashes the chief’s memories back to the life and death of his daughter, Sarah. It turns out she had cancer, and on the manifestation of its first symptoms, Hop talked her through some breathing exercises—the same ones he talks Joyce through on their fantastic voyage.
Susan: Throughout the entire season, we’ve seen Hop’s police work be slowly imbued with his personal tragedy. This episode is the apex wherein we see the entire story play out and why he would be so desperate to help save this one child.
Peter: We see the entirety of Hop’s baggage played out on screen as he and Joyce make it to the now destroyed Castle Byers. Finding nothing, they head to Joyce’s house, where, in the right-side-up, Nancy and Jonathan are turning the home into a monster-sized mouse trap.
Susan: Nancy and Jonathan might be pretty clever at getting all their monster traps laid, but for crying out loud, did they seriously need to be all “blood buddies” about this? I know that blood summons this monster but a) are there no chickens nearby or something? Or maybe they could find some pig blood and let nerds like us point out the similarities to Carrie? And b) cutting yourself in the middle of your palm seems to be the absolute worst possible place when you are about to go into combat. How the fuck you gonna fire that gun now?
Peter: I totally agree on this point, but cutting your palm open for a monster summoning just looks so dramatic!
Susan: It’s true and I kind of love how Jonathan’s like “You don’t have to do this” and Nancy’s like, “Fuck that, WATCH ME BLEED!”
I also concede the whole mutual bandaging scene is the end goal of this stupid self mutilation as we wonder, “Will they, or won’t they?” Nancy and Jonathan some minor hand holding before Steve shows up and pounds on the door and yelling for Jonathan – to apologize I guess. Um, like ever heard of a doorbell there Stevie? Or maybe just you know, not knocking with your entire goddamn fist?
Steve barges into casa de Byers after he sees Nancy’s bandaged hand ‘cause he assumes she’s a helpless little angel who may or may not have been abused by Jonathan. Twenty seconds later, Nancy’s got a gun to his head and instructs him to GTFO. It’s a little too late for that when the monster comes in through the ceiling, but it isn’t time for the beast to be slain quite yet.
Peter: Combat ensues, and the teens really handle themselves well all things considered. Steve is a real slugger with the nail-bat, and Nancy puts her preternatural gunslinging abilities to good use. It’s funny how much the encounter feels like an epic battle in a tabletop RPG, because I would have expected that kind of aesthetic to come from a scene involving the nerd squad, not the older kids.
In any case, after some tactical maneuvering, the monster is trapped and burnt, but then the smoke clears there’s no corpse to confirm the kill. It’s looking over the closed bear trap that they notice the lights above them slowly progressing to the door — suspicious paranormal activity that reveals itself to be a touching family moment between Jon and Joyce across dimensions.
Susan: Jon? Pete. Really, his name is JONATHAN.
Peter: On the other side of reality, Joyce and Hopper head to the library, which seems to be the nexus to veiny corruption. Inside they find the body of Will Byers, and he’s hooked up to some kind of living life support machine — a detail not lost on Hopper who sees the weird fleshy tube in the boy’s esophagus and remembers what it looked like when his daughter was hooked up to various hospital apparatuses.
The tube is removed, and Hop shoots it as it writhes around on the ground. Then comes the obligatory chest pounding CPR scene that, even though cliche and predictable, still works. Will comes to and the rescue mission is completed. Joyce gets her son back, Hop achieves some kind of child-loss catharsis, and Will gets his life back. Still, let’s not forget the real victim in all of this: Barb’s body is still attached to the library, and according to Brenner in a previous scene, four other people have gone missing.
Susan: So the four victims would be: the scientist in the cold open to the first episode, those two hunters whose wives thought they were on a bender, and Brenner’s “son” who they sent in attached to the cable. Right?
However, when Joyce and Hop enter the library-monster-food-cellar, Joyce spots a skeleton. Takes more than a week for flesh to deteriorate, even in this world as evidenced by Barb.
Peter: It’s collecting us!
The Kids Are Not All Alright
Susan: We all hope for a happy ending, but it’s Mike who’s the most blindfully hopeful about his future with El. He’s so sure that once this all behind them, Eleven will come live with him and his parents will love her, Nancy will be his big sister, and him? Not her brother, no. Not like her friend either. Something more. Something he’s unable to put into words for a girl who’s been raised in an experimental lab. Rather, his feelings for her is something he can only communicate through a kiss. By the looks of her wide eyes and half smile, it’s a feeling she understands, even reciprocates.
Peter: The fantasy romance is interrupted by the arrival of the bad men. The kids scamper through the middle school halls, doing their best to out run the adults with guns, but find themselves cornered. Thankfully, the pudding was enough to recharge El’s batteries. With an intense glare, she crushes the brains of her heavily armed pursuers. A demonstration that, again, only seems to please Papa. What a creep.
Susan: Well you can fucking say that again Pete. Especially when he has Eleven in his arms and reassures her that she can come home with him and “no one else will get hurt.” It’s manipulative and well, creepy, but El is no fool for this false love as she reaches weakly for Mike.
Peter: The resulting blood from the tiny massacre summons the demogorgon, and as the children escape to the science classroom, Dr. Brenner is forced into permanent mad scientist retirement.
Susan: Bullets, burning, and yes, even the wrist rocket are not enough to kill this faceless monster. In the end, it’s only the exhausted El, her eyes red from blood, her nose and ears oozing, who can finish what she so reluctantly started. Her cosmic scream tears the monster into itty bitties, but it takes her with it, into the Upside Down?
Peter: Wherever Eleven has gone, her departure is emotionally devastating. This poor abused girl’s self sacrifice hurts so much to watch. Thankfully, before the end of the hour we get a strong indication she’s still alive, and possibly hiding out in Mirkwood.
Susan: Will wakes up in the hospital to his mom and Jonathan. After asking where he is, his first concern is the cut on his brother’s hand. His selflessness really doesn’t know any end when we see one month later that instead of interrupting the holiday feast of spam and runny mashed potatoes Joyce put together, he quietly excuses himself to the washroom to cough up one of the slugs from the dark place. A menacing world he is not as free from as we would have hoped, for he’s flashed back into this world with a flicker of the light, but is returned to safety where he can continue on pretending to have a normal life.
Holly Jolly II
Susan: Like the 10 hour D&D campaign that takes place one month after El and the monster are disappeared, there are still things that still don’t quite make sense. Like, where is El now? It’s obvious that Hop is leaving food for her outside Mirkwood. Also, what exactly did Hop talk to the bad men in the black car about? Has he agreed to help them hide their shenanigans in the future? Is Will going to live the rest of his life passing between the Upside Down and here? Why the fuck does Nancy pick Steve? Like, sure, he apologized and didn’t run away from monster, but Jonathan has never hurt her ever, except with his brutal honesty.
Peter: That’s all for season two, which I dearly hope involves the return of the other abductees as Upside Down sleeper agents of infection, barfing up slugs and opening portals. Going into this show, I was given the impression that it was going to be an eight episode mini-series, thanks to its pacing and length. I was legitimately surprised that it was left open for a second season, and while I initially balked at the idea, I have since come around to wanting more. There are so many possibilities for where to go next with this Lovecraftian adventure drama, and even though it’s essentially a collage of 80s media, there’s nothing like it on TV right now. Plus, I need me some more Dustin.
Susan: Listen, this show is amazing and I didn’t want the first season to end. However, I’m dubious about these “many, many” seasons to come. I like how the season ends with mystery– for wasn’t it Will’s disappearance that started this whole thing, and now he’s back right? I will tune into this promised second season, but I’m bracing myself for disappointment, unless, say we jump to the future where Dustin is the new science teacher, it’s the new gen of kids who have to solve a mystery, and Mike and El are reunited as adults. I could take that.
Peter: Susan, you just gave me nerd shivers. If Stranger Things pulls a Fargo and starts doing massive seasonal time-jumps I might lose my shit. Dustin as the science teacher in the 90s, or maybe a season that takes place in the 1920’s when the last missing person was reported. Let’s expand this compelling universe to its full potential
Susan: You hear that, Duffer Bros? If you’re going to come back at us, you best come correct.
For Crying Out Loud
Susan: One of the small elements of the show that I cherish so much is how kids yell at one another or to the parents from one room to another. For example, in this final episode when Dustin yells, “Mike, I found the chocolate pudding!” with his voice cracking half-way through I giggled with pure joy.
Peter: It rings so true to the unhinged emotion of childhood. Give these children awards!
The Bigger Conspiracy
Peter: So, while we were writing these recaps, and the world was becoming obsessed with what is easily my favourite Netflix series, a real world development started happening that I found almost as intriguing. Some Redditors began to speculate that the insanely tantalizing Mother9Horse9Eyes internet mystery/subculture was actually an elaborate Stranger Things viral marketing campaign. I think such a claim is a bit dubious (mostly because if it was a marketing stunt, it certainly failed) but for anyone wanting to delve into similar material for the year-long wait for more Stranger Things, here’s the next best thing: https://www.reddit.com/r/9M9H9E9/
Susan: Well, you know, whatever floats your boat, like my gran used to say.
Peter: Now that it’s all over, do you have a favourite scene, image or moment from this series? I think I’ll have to go with the scene where Joyce tears off her wallpaper to find Will on the other side of a transdimensional barrier. That was the moment I realized this show wasn’t going to pull any sci-fi horror punches. Bless you, Duffer Brothers.
Susan: Honestly, my favourite moment was in this episode when it looks like Dr. Brenner and his lackeys are going to take Eleven back to the Lab and Mike’s like, “You’re gonna have to kill us first!” and Dustin’s like, “That’s right,” and Lucas so passionately yells, “EAT SHIT!” I laughed so hard. The bravery and friendship of these young kids is just so palpable.
Reader? Any faves you’d like to share? Post below!