Stranger Things Chapter Six: “The Monster”
In the upside down forest there is a deer-eating, child-abducting monster. It’s a predator. It hunts alone. It can sense blood from a dimension away. It is the Demogorgon and it gives credence to all those childhood worries of there being a monster under the bed. In fact, it goes a step further. There is a monster under every bed. There is a monster under everywhere. And no matter what the weird boy in your bedroom tells you, there’s no guarantee it can’t get you when you sleep. Chapter Six of Stranger Things, “The Monster,” is all about getting to know the faceless bad boy that haunts Hawkins.
Peter: First thing’s first — Nancy has to get the fuck out of the upside down forest. The cold open to the episode is another short one, similar to the one in Chapter Three when Barb was pulled into the upside down pool, and it simply consists of Nancy’s frantic escape to reality through a closing tree portal. Following the disembodied calls from Jonathan, Nancy finds the hole in the tree she came through and is pulled through its fleshy folds just before the dimensional door is shut.
Susan: We learn that although there is a separation between these two worlds, Nancy and Jonathan can still call out to one another. We also learn that Jonathan is smarter than Nancy because when he sees the flesh tree portal he stays on his motherfucking side of it.
Peter: The monster hunting partners head back to the Wheeler house for some recovery, presumably because they know it’s the ideal place to not be noticed by concerned parents.
To Catch A Predator
Susan: Mr. Wheeler’s presumably asleep in his La-Z-Boy and Karen’s probably setting her curls while Nancy washes away the gory goo from her hole-in-the-tree birth and has flashbacks to the horrors of the night. Jonathan and Nancy have a platonic sleepover because for all they know, that thing could be coming back for them. Jonathan catches some zees but Nancy’s too freaked out to slumber. Instead, she does what she does best and hits the books. She consults some science picture books which outline how carnivorous animals stalk and catch their prey. Nancy’s hypothesis is this animal is lured out of it’s home when it picks up on the smell of blood: Barb’s cut hand, the bleeding deer. She compares this monster to the mighty shark who can detect the smell of blood from more than a mile away. Peter, it looks like you were right when you called out the Jaws vibes.
Peter: If only the characters would finally realize their posters have been warning them about this the whole damn time!
Susan: The two decide to test this hypothesis and head to the Army Surplus store to stock up on gas cans and bear traps.
Peter: And ammo. Lots of ammo for Lonnie’s gun (which the deadbeat still hasn’t even realized is missing yet). As an impulse purchase, Jonathan grabs four boxes of .38 caliber bullets, but something tells me it’ll take more than hot lead to subdue the Demogorgon.
Susan: The monster itself is eighties-ish in its appearance. It’s most likely CGI, but there’s something undeniably claymation or stop motion about its movements. True to the genre, we never see it in its entirety. It’s the stuff of nightmares, and when El comes face-to-non-face with the ghoul she creates a split in the time space continuum and creates the portal to this other ghastly world.
Peter: It’s really well designed. Grey skinned and lithe, the monster is just human enough to look familiar, but has no face. Instead, it has a flower-like maw. Since I’ve officially been looking at this show primarily through a lens of giddy Lovecraftian fandom, the first thing I thought of when I got a good look at it was the poem “Night-Gaunts.” If only the Demogorgon would wear a face where a face should be found!
The transdimensional apex predator snatching up the Hawkins folk, however, isn’t necessarily the monster mentioned in the title.
Peter: All on her own again after leaving the adventure party, Eleven walks, wig in hand, to a pond in the forest. She looks into it, gazing at her reflection with the wig on, then off. Filled with guilt and self-loathing, feeling like she’s the chapter’s eponymous monster, the weirdo sends a psychic scream shock wave at her reflection, producing massive spouts of water.
All of that kinetic thinking must have worked up an appetite, because Eleven heads into town, strolls into the supermarket, walks past all the staring adults, and proceeds to commandeer all the Eggos.
Susan: It’s the first time we see her misbehave. She knows it’s wrong to steal, but finding herself friendless and hungry she shrugs off the store manager’s questions with a simple, “mouth breather.”
She does eventually leggo her Eggos when she hears Dustin and Mike’s calls for her in the forest. The two try to convince Lucas to shake and make up, but he’s too afraid of El’s powers and decided to go rogue and find the portal himself.
Dustin was right when he warned they would be vulnerable if they split up. Just like on the Bloodstone Path they are in danger of getting picked off by trolls. Troy and his goon corner the two and the bully threatens to cut out Dusty’s baby teeth with a switchblade unless Mike jumps off of the ledge into the quarry. We all remember back when Hop explained how the fall would break every bone in your body.
Peter: And yet Mike does it. He actually takes the plunge to save Dustin’s baby teeth and I can’t tell if it’s an heroic move or a stupid one. Probably somewhere in between. The entire time, as viewers, we are aware that El’s telekinetic intervention is probable, but the show still makes the tension palatable through a combination of well paced editing and Stranger Things’ cast of talented child actors.
I’m not going to lie, I’m portal crazy, so as Mike plummeted to his seeming death, I was hoping the whole gorge would turn out to be a portal and provide us with another look at the upside down universe. But rather that do the whole fleshy-gateway-thing to death, Eleven plucks her friend out of the air and confronts the trolls one more time, breaking the lead boy’s arm before collapsing into a flashback.
We see, through El’s memories of her time in Emerald City, the incident that opened the gate to the veil of shadows. Papa Brenner puts her back in the sense-dep tube in order to make contact and she is transported again to the void, only this time, instead of a Russian agent she is confronted with an image of a feasting monster. She reaches out in the blackness to touch it and makes contact with a single finger. The laboratory wall cracks open with the emergence of the gateway, and suddenly our downstairs dimensional neighbour knows we exist.
Once she comes to, in present tense at the gorge, Eleven explains she’s the monster and apologizes for opening the gate. But Mike corrects her. Eleven is a hero. She saved his life. The scene ends with a heart warming group hug, underlining just how lovable the younger cast on this show truly is. Goddam I miss Lucas already.
The Big Bad Man
Susan: Steve’s worried about Nancy so instead of calling her on the telephone like a normal person, he decides to trespass on the Wheeler’s property and look in her window. You know, like a weirdo. He catches a glimpse of Jonathan in his GF’s boudoir, and he’s all like, “All right. That’s it. Time to graffiti.” He tags a slutty reputation on the marquee of the local movie theatre and Nancy and Jonathan meet him and his douchebag friends in the back alley.
Steve’s doesn’t let Nancy explain and instead tells her to go to hell. Jesus, cool your jets man. He doesn’t stop there though, literally and metaphorically pushes Jonathan until Byers can’t take it anymore and beats Steve’s smugmug to a pulp. Somehow the cops get called? Anywho, they try to break up the fight but Jonathan accidently hits Officer Four Eyes and gets himself arrested.
Peter: I generally try to have a bit of sympathy for Steve and blame his shitty friends for his bad behaviour, but man, it is pretty gross to bring up the death of a person’s little brother in a sticks and stones match. Still, I feel like Tommy should have been on the receiving end of Jonathan’s flying fists.
Susan: I agree. Tommy and Carol are grade A douchebags. God, you know they’re going to procreate and raise little people just like them, too.
Speaking of offspring, Joyce and Hop make their way to find Terry Ives to ask about what happened to her stolen daughter, “You’re about five years too late” says her annoyingly cryptic sister as she directs them to her catatonic sibling.
We learn from Terry’s sis that she volunteered to MK Ultra testing when she was unknowingly pregnant. Looks like the way to cook up a telekinetic child is give a knocked up lady a bunch of LSD and put her in a sensory deprivation tank. Terry’s sister thinks it’s all the stuff of Stephen King, but Joyce and Hop know better. The “Man” is very real and he’s about six foot something, grey hair, and has a lot of firepower on his side.
Peter: The scene in the child-less baby’s room is interesting from a stylistic standpoint. As Terry’s sister describes the powers Baby Jane is said to have (if she were actually real), we see short clips of Eleven using her various psychic powers. While this is clearly intended to hammer home the climactic link between Terry and Eleven, the scene is a real fourth-wall breaker. Neither Joyce nor Hop have seen Eleven use her powers, so the clips are unrelated to everyone in the scene despite being presented as flashes of memory, leaving just us, the viewers to make sense of them. It’s effective on a visceral level, and I’m sure if the clips weren’t there some viewers would be a tad confused as to Terry’s relevance, but it felt a little too hand-holdy.
Peter: Lucas goes out on his own in “The Monster,” suiting up with a utility pack worthy of the most legendary bags of holding in D&D campaign history. Following the compass signal to a massive fence protecting Hawkins Labs, he ends up in the boughs of a tree, performing recon with his binoculars and discovering that the Hawkins Energy trucks around town are not as legit as they might initially seem.
By the episode’s end, the power people spot Eleven, Dustin, and Mike sneaking home and rally the shadow organization. I don’t think I have ever seen so many guns picked out of weapons lockers in a single television sequence.
Susan: It’s interesting to note that although Dr. Brenner’s been working on developing El’s powers, he actually seems to have no way of sedating or controlling her. He just watches her break necks with her mind and is like, “That’s fucking awesome!”
Peter: Presumably Lucas is seeing the rally, and the heavy artillery, and reconsidering how useful his wrist rocket really is in this situation. Adult with gun versus kid with slingshot is not a fight I ever want to see.
What Makes A Monster
Susan: So this monster comes after blood. That’s cool, but two questions: 1) What was it about Will that made the monster come for him? He wasn’t bleeding. But I guess he WAS in Mirkwood where this thing hangs out. 2) How come something like Benny’s bleeding body didn’t procure our monster without a face?
Peter: I wonder if some places are just closer to the monster dimension than others. Let’s try to theorize away those plot holes. Mirkwood is the obvious candidate for area closest to Hell, what with its tree-portals. The Byers home is right on the Mirkwood border, and Will went missing on the night of first contact, so maybe the Demogorgon was just out and about. As for Benny, he died during the day, which wouldn’t sync with the monster’s hunting patterns.
Susan: I don’t think it’s necessarily about heaven or hell, I think that it’s more like the portal to this other terrible dimension was opened at the Lab, and this opening has allowed the monster the open gates wherever it wants, and it hangs mostly at the Byers property and around Mirkwood. I mean, it’s also supposedly eaten those two hunters as well.
Susan: I don’t want to pick favourites, but if I had to pick a favourite it would hands down be Dustin. Not only is he cute as a toothless button, but he’s wise beyond his years. He’s right when he calls out Mike, El, and Lucas for being “little assholes” when they couldn’t find the portal. Furthermore, he’s good at reading people and it’s adorable when he points out to Mike that the only reason Lucas is being such a jerk is because he’s his best friend and El threatens that friendship.
Peter: I totally agree with you on paper. Dustin is the easy fave. But you know what? I think I’m gonna have to go with Lucas, the Raphael to Dustin’s Michelangelo, Mike’s Leonardo, and Will’s Donatello.
The Young and The Restless
Susan: How does Scott Clark not think it’s weird that some lady showed up at his HOME to get them involved in some kind of statewide AV club? Why wouldn’t she come to the school? He’s just blinded by his love of science, and he unknowingly gives over Mike, Dustin, and Lucas over to the Hawkins Energy baddie who blew our beloved Benny away.
Peter: He’s just so proud of the nerds! I mean, it’s not like they have any other supportive adults in their lives. But obviously I have to agree with you on this. Bad move Scott. You really dropped the sportsball on this one.
Cool Handed Hot Headed Lucas
Susan: Visiting Lucas’ house. Again, no parents, he’s the one who answers the door. Do they not even care that he’s got all the household ‘Nam stuff in his backpack? The only person who seems to care about where Lucas might be going is the mustachioed Hawkins Energy guy who just hangs out in a van on the street. Nothing weird about that.
Peter: Maybe it’s all part of the conspiracy! All that’s missing is a short deleted scene where Lucas sees a van driver and whispers to himself, “Dad?”