Stranger Things Chapter 4: The Body
He probably fell off of his bike, slipped in the mud, or the earth under his feet gave way. “The Body” begins with a hypothesis about the events surrounding the death of Will Byers. However, things are not so cut and dried when radio waves, photographs, and pocket knives all reveal more evidence that the Byers boy may in fact be alive.
Peter: We start Chapter Four with cops investigating the Byers home and Joyce being delivered the terrible news. The body of her missing son Will was found in the quarry. Hop is doing his best, but for Joyce, none of the information adds up. “What you found is not my boy,” she says. She was just talking to him through the electric ouija board above her couch a half hour ago, right before the faceless wall monster emerged from her wall.
Joyce’s pleading falls on empathetic ears, but Hop sees his friend’s plight as the all too familiar face of extreme grief due to child loss. When he lost Sara, he says, he saw things too.
The amazing part of all of this for me as a viewer is how, having been along for Joyce’s wild paranormal ride the entire time, I have seen everything she is describing and more. She is not crazy, she’s just too in touch with the truth. And even though I should be on her side, the reasonable and emotional response she is receiving from her family and friends really makes me torn in regards to the level of her sanity points.
Susan: Seeing is believing in the world of Stranger Things, and it’s Joyce and El who’ve been on top of the paranormal happenings since the very beginning. Even Nancy has a sense of something being askew before everyone else. She’s still looking for Barb and even went back to Steve’s house to look for her. But there is no Barb, and there is no bear either: there’s a man without a face.
When Nancy confides in her BF Steve what she saw and he responds in self-interest. Don’t tell my parents Nancy blah-blah-blah, they’ll kill me blah wah. Fuckin’ smarten up Steve, there’s bigger problems than your Dad out there—people are being taken and or eaten for Christ’s sake.
How To Make a Window
Peter: The most memorable set piece in the episode comes when the boys and Eleven finally get their hands on the HAM radio in the middle school AV Club. The night before, El had channeled Will’s disembodied voice through Mike’s walkie talkie, but the next day she couldn’t reach him. The team decided they need a stronger conduit, so they dress Eleven in Nancy’s clothes and try to sneak into school.
Susan: And so, cue the 80’s makeover montage music. It’s a cute scene, seeing three boys play dress up with El. The end result has all three looking rather surprised and Mike letting El know that she looks pretty. Good. Pretty good.
Despite her cute costume, the four are still pretty on edge. When Mr. Clarke catches them just outside the AV room they all stand at attention. El’s cover is that she’s Mike’s cousin visiting from a “bad place” erm… she means Sweden. Very cold there, yes. Mr. Clarke promises the use of the AV room, but first they have to attend the assembly for Will in the auditorium. Their sneakers squeak in unison as they turn in the direction of the gym.
The Bully Troy and his lackey laugh throughout the presentation much to Will’s friends’ horror. “Mouth breather” El aptly labels the knuckle dragger. After the assembly’s over Mike confronts Troy about his behaviour. “He’s in fairyland now. All happy and gay,” seriously what the fuck is wrong with this kid? It’s pure catharsis when Mike pushes his punk ass to the floor, and even more satisfying when El makes the kid pee his pants in front of everyone.
Peter: After the assembly for Will, the kids make it into the radio room and channel the sound of knocking. A deep, THUD THUD THUD. Then it comes through: Will crying for his mom. The discovery is intercut with Joyce hearing Will in her front wall, then tearing off the wallpaper to find a fleshy, translucent barrier with her boy on the other side. He bangs his hands on the pink surface. He describes the place he’s in as like home, but dark, cold, and empty. Then the portal closes and the radio in town simultaneously explodes.
Joyce grabs hold of her axe and tries to liberate Will from the wall, but all she finds on the other side of her demolition is the light of day. The camera zooms out, Joyce’s face framed by broken siding and ripped pink insulation.
The Dead Shepard
Peter: Speaking of pink walls, in Emerald City we get a new look at the sore that’s blooming on the wall. Papa Brenner oversees an expedition into it’s gooey folds, the lab sending in a hazmat suited man named Sheppard. It doesn’t turn out well for the explorer (sounds like the Demogorgon got him) but the scene made the horror nerd in me giddy. The blister on the wall is a portal, and beyond it there is some kind of navigable geography. It’s the stuff of Lovecraft, and it’s very rarely pulled off as well as it is in Stranger Things. A lot is being made about how Spielbergian this show is, but the part that’s really working for me here is how much it’s tapping into the stuff of weird fiction.
Susan: Gotta love the craft, right Peter? (snicker) Also, this Sheppard who gets eaten in the goo-wall, Brenner calls him “son.” Is he saying “son” in a like friendly proverbial sense, or is this another person to be borne out of his experiments like Eleven? Sheppard never calls him, “Papa” so I guess we’ll never know.
The Concerned Citizen
Susan: Nancy gets interviewed by the police with her mother present for their questions. They’re pretty sure that Barb ran away because she was just jealous that, you know, Nancy’s got a booooy-friend and Barb was just jealous, ‘cause you know, women. Nancy’s like, n’mygawd Steve and I are just friends! and all three adults are like, yeah okay (wink). Karen’s pissed her daughter lied to the fuzz. Nancy screaming, “We slept together,” seems disjointed with her teenaged presence, like it’s something a much older woman would say.
While two-thirds of the Hawkins police department investigate the sex lives of teenagers, Hopper gets a whole lot of investigation done.
Peter: Hop senses something fishy about the Byers’ body when he learns that the coroner was barred from performing the autopsy by a cadre of state troopers who claimed jurisdiction. It’s Will Byers, he points out, not John F. Kennedy. Following this thread, Hop tracks down the man who found the body for questioning, first trying to do his best impression of a proud father to get info, then following up with a much more successful turn as a brutal goon.
Susan: Seriously, he goes from calm and collected to beating the shit out of a State trooper, and then waving his gun around (in civilian clothes) at a mysterious black car.
Peter: Still, it gets mega results. Hop’s investigation leads him back to the morgue, which he infiltrates with yet another application of punching and charm. He takes a close look at the grey body in the cold room, then, after noticing it’s strange feeling to the touch, Hop slices open the corpse with his folding knife. What he finds inside is absurdly shocking, even for this show: cotton batting. The Will Byers in the morgue is a teddy bear.
I am surprised at how seriously this reveal landed for me. In most other shows, the twist that a body is in fact an elaborate stuffed toy would solicit laughs. It seems like something out of a comical episode of The X-Files. But thanks to the masterful tension laced throughout these first four episodes of Stranger Things, my investment mutes the voices in my head saying, “Well that’s silly.” I just genuinely want to know what the hell is going on.
Susan: I second that Peter. What the hell is going on indeed. And who is going to be the one who figures it out? I mean we have the Hawkins Three who have El on their side giving them radio shows of their best friend, we have Joyce who’s figured out a way to communicate with her son through a wall, Hop’s obviously ready to get down to business and break into Hawkins Lab, and then there’s Nancy and Jonathan. Nancy crashes Jonathan’s casket shopping to ask him a few Q’s about Barb, and she tells him about the man sans le face, like the one his Mom saw. His interest is peaked and they take a closer look at the photo he snapped the night of the disappearance. It could be perspective distortion, but no, no wide lens. This is the first photo of our boogey man.
That’s a Nasty Mutt
Peter: The state trooper guarding the morgue is reading Cujo by Stephen King. It’s a fun reference considering how much this show is clearly inspired by Maine’s master of horror, but it also begs the question: does Hop realize how much his life is beginning to resemble the work of Stephen King?
Susan: It’s stranger than fiction, that’s for sure. Another strange thing: If Will Byer’s body was supposed to have had an autopsy, wouldn’t there be the trademark three large incisions on his abdomen and chest? I mean, I know that the body isn’t real, but if the Hawkins Baddies wanted to make it look real, why wouldn’t they fake those incisions? Did I miss something here?
(Editor’s Note: The episode title “The Body” is likely a reference to Stephen King’s 1982 novella The Body, which was the basis for the film Stand By Me – a key inspiration for Stranger Things.)
Parents Just Don’t Understand
Peter: Are the Wheelers the most hands-off parents in town? There is a psychic child living in their basement and they are constantly being duped by both of their admittedly precocious teens.
Susan: I think Karen is trying, but her hubby’s really no help and she’s got baby Holly to raise. I mean, you have to give her a little credit because after Nancy tells her she had sex with Steve, Karen does try to talk to her.
Parents Just Don’t Exist
Peter: Is it strange that Jacob and Dustin don’t seem to have home lives? I know that in 80s adventure kid movies parents are rarely shown, so it’s a bit of a trope, but in this case they seem especially absent.
Susan: I was totally thinking this! Like their parents are only this vague notions that may or may not punish them for being out late. Other than that, we get very little information except that Lucas’ dad was probably in ‘Nam. But like, do they have siblings, or is it more convenient for the writers to have them both be single children in suburban 80’s America?