Stranger Things Chapter Two: “The Weirdo on Maple Street”
Being different is hard: people look at you strangely, ask you uncomfortable questions, and treat you like you’re not one of them. Maybe they even clap their hands near your face to check if you’re deaf. “The Weirdo on Maple Street” is all about the one particular individual who seems to have changed everything for the small town of Hawkins.
Eleven’s first encounter with the good people of Hawkins ended with her burger flipping acquaintance getting a piece of lead to his head, and now here she is soaked from the rain and subject to Mike, Lucas, and Dustin’s scrutiny.
What’s In A Name?
Susan: Dustin’s freaking the hell out after Eleven almost changes her clothing in front of the three boys. His repeated reenactment of her raising her arms over her head to remove her x-large t-shirt is almost so hilariously distracting that it’s hard to concentrate on what Mike plans on doing with her: They’ll wait until the morning, have her come around the front to ring the doorbell and then Mike’s mom will know what to do. They can’t tell their parentals they were out in the forest in the middle of the night because they’ll be grounded until they’re forty, so this is the best plan.
Peter: Mike’s assertion that his mom will know exactly what to do when she sees Eleven on her doorstep says a lot about his character. This is a kid, who despite having the most repellent father I’ve seen on TV that isn’t a criminal, trusts the structure of his world so much that he thinks parents can solve all problems. His primary concern is avoiding trouble. It’s a sweet kind of innocence and it really helps hammer home the creepy shit going on outside of the D&D basement.
Susan: It’s true, his innocence is palpable. Although we can’t seem to say the same for Eleven. Her vocabulary is pretty slim at first. When she finally does speak her first word it’s, “No” when Mike tries to close the door to the bathroom, giving us a hint at past trauma. Mike’s caring and kind with this young girl, leaving the door ajar to cater to her needs. Once the two are alone, Eleven points to her tattoo on her wrist and points to herself. Eleven is her name, but Mike will call her El for short.
Peter: Juxtapose the childhood innocence aura emanating from the Wheelers’ basement with the sad portrait of the Byers house. Jonathan and Joyce are all alone now that Will has been taken (or eaten? Probably not eaten), and the electromagnetic phenomena taking place in their home is just adding a whole extra level of unfairness to their terrible plight. It’s a sad reflection, and a good reminder that this isn’t just a TV adaptation of The Goonies.
Susan: Hop shows up at the Byers to a very, very nervous Joyce after the search party proved less than fruitful. Joyce is pissed she’s been waiting for six hours for any word from the Chief, “How about a little trust here?” Hop asks half calm, half annoyed. After Joyce explains Will called and she could hear the sound of his breathing and then the phone got zapped, Hop’s understandably skeptical. Joyce throws the whole trust bit back in his face.
Peter: Poor Hop. There hasn’t been a missing person in Hawkins since 1923, and the last time there was a suicide was 1961. He moves to town and within four years he’s dealing with both in the same day. And the worst part, as he remarks to his townie staff, is that unlike in the big city, all of this is happening to people he knows. Of course, we know that Benny’s death was only made to look like a suicide and is actually a government coverup, but what we know won’t rescue Hop from his own personal hell.
Susan: Morning at Mike’s house and it’s time to get Eleven to ring the doorbell and get help, after she has an Eggo that is. However, after Mike explains what she has to do El shoots back with her trademark phrase, “No.” She explains bad people will come for her, for them. She mimes that gun and points it to her temple, then to Mike’s head.
That’ enough for Mike to play hookey and give Eleven a tour of the upstairs. “This is where my dad sleeps” he says pointing at the Lazy-Boy. He gets her to sit in it and asks her for her trust before he pulls the handle and the entire chair is extended. He gives her a tour of his room and he does his best Yoda impression, “He can move things with his mind,” he boasts, but as we later see this isn’t a novel ability to our young El. She’s less interested in his toys and drawn more to the photo of the science fair on his wall, the photo that includes Will Byers. She’s seen him before, somewhere.
Peter: The whole ‘hiding a psychic buddy in your home and they eat junk food’ is very E.T., only there’s a lot more grade nine romantic tension when said buddy is also a human. I mentioned it in the recap for Chapter One, but Millie Bobby Brown — who plays El — is really acting the hell out of a difficult role. The scene between El and Mike is filled with the nerdy vulnerability of being thirteen, stoked by the Spielbergian nostalgia that radiates off of the whole show. That said, I’m reluctant to give into the instinct to ship these kids, mostly because the cynic in me thinks there is no way such a relationship could end well, and any emotional stakes established in episode two are going to be dangled over the gaping maw of the monster that took Will when we get to the finale. I just want these cute kids to be alright.
Susan: I know you do Peter, but didn’t E.T. have to go home? There’s definitely a love connection, but for right now they have to stay outta Mike’s mom’s way. Eleven’s scared to hide in Mike’s closet, but Mike invokes the idea of a “promise” that the Hawkins Three explained to her the night before.
Peter: Unlike with the impromptu changing room from the night before, there’s no way for Mike to accommodate Eleven’s space issues. With the door closed, she experiences a traumatic flashback, confirming that she is indeed connected to the creepy government facility. We don’t learn much mythology-wise here, just a few tantalizing morsels — the white haired man who seems to lead the government shadowmen is El’s “Papa,” she was being treated as a prisoner or test subject, and was handled roughly.
The scene is short but economical. In addition to offering up those details of the secret creepy business in the government facility it humanizes Eleven. Sure, she’s a kid with telekinetic powers, but she’s still a kid. When Mike comes back to open the closet door and asks if she’s alright, her nod and single word reply, “Promise,” says everything you need to know about how precious trust is to this little girl.
Susan: Some characters aren’t little girls anymore. Nancy, for example, who goes from just making out a few times with “Cool Guy” Steve to full-blown intercourse. That’s so metal. Stranger Things borrows from the genre 80’s classic films we all know and love, but unfortunately, the Duffer Bros have decided to continue in the horror tradition (that still annoyingly exists today) of ensuring that no virginal woman gets down and dirty without some brutal consequences. It seems that Best Friend Barb, with her high-waist pants and strict moral compass, is the one who has to get it for any girl, well, getting it.
Peter: As the wayward teens and their fifth wheel clumsily stumble toward what Barb predicted earlier would be an orgy (“Tommy and Carol have been having sex since like grade seven.”), Jonathan erases all the good faith he earned through his trips down broken home memory lane. After taking a roadtrip to see if his deadbeat dad Lonnie did in fact kidnap Will (no dice), he finds himself in the woods adjacent to Steve’s pool, he gets to work snapping photos of the underage shenanigans. His behaviour isn’t ever explained, but it adds an extra layer of uncanny voyeurism to the celebration.
Susan: After unsuccessfully opening a can of beer for chugging purposes, Barb cuts her hand and goes to the bathroom to tend to her gash while no one helps her and they just jump in the pool. Nancy’s all like, “Barb go home” wink-wink, nudge-nudge. The dejected Barb doesn’t go home though. Instead she sits on the edge of the pool, theoretically to wait for her friend to finish getting deflowered so she can be a good buddy and drive her home.
But Barb’s not driving anywhere tonight. A drop of blood seeps from her wound and hits the surface of the water. Then she’s gone. Something tells me she’s not on vacation.
Two For The Road
Peter: Cue The Bangles, cue the credits. With Barb gone, the Demogorgon claims another victim. The interesting thing about the attack is how quickly it happened. One second she’s there, then in the span of her terrible scream she’s gone, too fast for hidden Jonathan to grab a photo of her otherworldly assailant.
What do you think? Will we see Barb again? Will she become an electric poltergeist like Will, only in Steve’s parents’ house, doomed to interrupt her friends’ sexual adventures with ghastly phonecalls?
Barb’s disappearance is an exclamation point to all the monster mythos spread throughout the episode, and it really looks like it’s all pointing to some sort of alternate reality or transdimensional monster rift. Earlier in the episode we see Papa and a few hazmat suited stooges scan the shed where Will went missing and the white haired menace observes a weird fleshy growth on the wall reminiscent of the wall-blister from chapter one. Later, some sort of wall monster tries to molest Joyce while The Clash scores her inner conflict re: staying/going. All of this just screams Lovecraftian dreamland to me, but the big key is what Eleven tells her new boardgaming group.
Susan: Well, I mean she tells them in the only way she knows how, that is, after Lucas loses his shit and threatens to go straight to the parental units. In the first episode, we saw El stop the annoying squeaking of a fan one look, and now we see she can shut doors on screamy cowards.
Peter: After the the basement boys learn about Eleven’s powers and she indicates to them that she recognizes Will, she makes a powerful visual demonstration. Picking Will’s miniature wizard avatar off the boys’ gameboard, El clears everything else off the mat, flips it over, and places the toy alone on the blackness of the other side.
“Hiding,” she says. And when asked to clarify she slams down the Demogorgon.
Susan: Will’s good at hiding, remember?
What You Gonna Do
Susan: I have a hunch Hop is the only competent police officer Hawkins has to offer. He may have seemed like an apathetic mess when we first met him, but he’s doing some real work here. Not like his bespectacled officer who thinks it’s possible to jump off a 300 foot tall cliff into a quarry. “You’d break every damn bone in your body” Hop explains, “Nah” is his co-worker’s reply. Remember he’s also the dude that was like, “Joyce and him screwed before, huh?” after Hop instructed him to show some respect.
Peter: I’m with you on this one. Also, are the lazy cop and Mike’s dad the only adults with glasses in this show? Is there some sort correlation between nearsightedness and being a garbage person in Hawkins?
Susan: Barb had those humongous glasses. But you know, she’s painted as a wet blanket, sex negative, lisper who Tommy actually gives a wet willy to. Only the most gaping of assholes give wet willies.
Peter: Speaking of the untalented Mr. Wheeler, isn’t it strange that when Mike’s mom came home and heard the sound of two children running around she immediately though it was her husband? What sort of regular behaviour does that man exhibit so that he has become associated with the sound of four scampering feet.
Susan: I think we’re onto something here: 80’s parents in suburban towns were just stupid and never knew where their children were. The dinner scene is also hilarious with El just walking down the stairs and Dustin banging the table to distract her. Only poor baby Holly saw the strange girl in her house.
At The Movies
Peter: What a fun coincidence that Joyce took Will to see Poltergeist in last week’s flashback, and now they’re both totally living it out in their real lives. Maybe that’s where Will (if it really is Will) got the idea to fuck with the electricity. Also, in the same episode where the monster is summoned by blood we have some prominent shots of a Jaws movie poster in the Byers house. Think we’re dealing with a street shark here?
Susan: Maybe it’s too early to say, but there’s one thing Stranger Things is doing really well and it’s taking the monsters and cultural icons of the day and infusing them into a “real life” story.
Hawkins’ Best Rock
Peter: The show continues to have some great licensed music cues. Chapter Two features “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” by The Clash, “Melt With You” by Modern English, “Raise a Little Hell” by trooper, and that awesome cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Hazy Shade of Winter” performed by The Bangles.
Susan: Let the nostalgia rain down upon us.