Twin Peaks: The Return (The Parts and the Music)

There’s no way I could have done this ranking back in September of 2017. The eighteen parts of Twin Peaks: The Return are segments of a single cinematic canvass that take multiple viewings to get a clear handle on. I watched The Return for my third time this September, and, well, it’s finally time. Keep in mind that there are no “bad” episodes here, only those which are “less mighty” than the ones above it. The Roadhouse musical performances follow separately.

1. What is Your Name? (Part 18). Just when things seem to get resolved in Part 17, the narrative dives and drops us into this desolate finale. It freaked me out like nothing else Lynch has ever done, not even in Fire Walk With Me, and there’s still endless debate as to what happens here. At the end of Part 17, Cooper went back in time to save Laura Palmer from being killed; then she vanished into an Odessa-Texas alternate reality. But who sent her there? The demon-mother Judy, or by the benevolent Fireman in order to bait and trap Judy? (The former view is defended here; the latter here.) I believe most of the evidence favors the former, and that there is no victory over Judy at the end. The finale channels Lost Highway with its long night drives, and blurring of identities during the act of sex, and there is yet another History of Violence homage (the first being in Part 7) in the restaurant where Cooper shows down a trio of assholes single-handedly. But it’s the dread of watching “Carrie Page”, not knowing she’s Laura, yet knowing on some level that she is, that builds and builds to a crescendo, clamping our hearts in a vise, until that final terrible scream.

2. Gotta Light? (Part 8). This modern-TV masterpiece summons the unnerving dread of Eraserhead and the otherworldly awe of Malick’s Tree of Life and Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Here we get the genesis of Bob and birth of Laura, each the product of higher powers — the Evil Mother and Fireman, respectively — so Bob turns out to not be the Big Bad after all, or at least not the Biggest Bad. It’s his demonic mother, and in Part 15, she will be named: Jowday, or Judy. An important scene is that of the young Sarah Palmer hosting a moth-frog while the lumberjack’s mantra repeats over the air; presumably there are other moth-frog victims too. These seem to be a way of “tagging” potential hosts for a future day when Judy comes to earth, as she finally does at the end of Parts 1 and 2, emerging from the glass cage in New York, and then going out west to possess Sarah Palmer. Up until The Return, Sarah hasn’t been possessed, though she has been infected by a deep evil, which explains her schizo-problems in the classic series, and why she always had visions and nightmares of Bob. Frankly I’ve had my own nightmares since watching this episode, in which that undead lumberjack was outside pounding on my bedroom window, chanting: “This is the water, and this is the well; drink full, and descend; the horse is the white of the eyes, and dark within. This is the water, and this is the well…”

3. No Knock, No Doorbell (Part 16). Payoffs galore come in this embarrassment of riches, and plenty of the major players die. Hutch and Chantal, for one. Their storyline has been a constant Tarantino parody, and they go down in a bloodbath after provoking a psychopath by blocking his driveway. Richard Horne’s death is more biblical, like the Binding of Isaac; his father (Cooper’s doppelganger) pretty much sacrifices him by sending him in his place to climb the hill that has been booby-trapped with an electric explosion (the coordinates given by Ray in Part 13 and Jeffries in Part 15 each pointed here). Diane’s death offers the biggest revelation of all: she isn’t even Diane, but rather a tulpa whose purpose has been to keep tabs on Team Gordon and ultimately kill them all. Her confession about the night Cooper came to visit her holds some truth: a version of Cooper (Mr. C.) did rape the real Diane. She seems to have been pushed to this confession because she got a a one-word text message from Mr. C. (reading “all”), which triggered her and caused her to freak out and text him back the second half of the coordinates from Ruth Davenport’s arm (she had sent him the first half in Part 12), which lead to the White Lodge. She suddenly “feels herself in the Sheriff’s station” at Twin Peaks. (Which is where the real Diane is, in the form of Naido, being protected in a jail cell.) Most climactic is Dougie’s “death”; he wakes in his hospital bed, Dale Cooper once again, and I won’t deny I’m in tears when he assumes command like the hero we’ve missed this season, Laura’s theme starts playing, leading to his farewell to Janey-E and Sonny Jim. As if all this weren’t enough, Audrey Horne gives the best Roadhouse performance of the series, in her reprisal of “Audrey’s Dance”, a brilliant inversion of her sultry dance from season 1. But it turns out this dance is all in her mind: she’s sick and paranoid, and locked up in a psych ward — an upsetting but understandable fate for someone who was raped by the man she worshiped, and gave birth to a sadist like Richard.

4. Don’t Die (Part 6). I look so forward to this episode on my re-watches. The Dougie scenes are terrific. He’s driven home by a security guard, and has a touching moment in saying goodnight to Sonny Jim. Janey-E then finds out about his prostitute Jade, and tears him a new one, to which he replies with wonderful childlike innocence: “Jade give two rides”. Janey-E then arranges to meet with the thugs who are demanding his gambling debts, and her diatribe about the “99 percenters in a dark age” is hilarious. Then Dougie starts to unravel a network of corruption in the insurance case files, drawing cryptic images on the pages, which ends up scoring huge points with his boss. Cut to Richard Horne doing business with shady characters, while at the R&R Diner, Fat-Ass Miriam eats pies to the giggling fits of a waitress whose figure is also quite rotund. Shortly after, Richard Horne plows through an intersection, running over a little boy, and Fat-Ass Miriam is the only one who recognizes Richard behind the wheel of the truck. We see Ike the Spike carrying out a nasty (and messy) assassination of a woman who failed to kill Dougie; Dougie is of course next hit on Ike’s list. Finally, Hawk finds the lost pages of Laura’s diary in a bathroom stall door of the police station, apparently stashed there by Leland Palmer back in season 2 when he was brought in for questioning. It’s a hard-hitting episode all around.

5. Call for Help (Part 3). If you’re not hooked on The Return by this episode, you don’t have your priorities straight. The 20-minute opening sequence is a wet dream of Lynchian phantasmagoria, where Cooper, escaping from the Black Lodge, finds himself in the Realm of Nonexistence — almost a cross between the world of Eraserheard (ominous churning sounds, industrial hums) and Pan’s Labyrinth (eyeless humanoids). He’s protected from an unseen evil (who we will later know to be Judy) by two women, one of them being the eyeless Naido, the other being a Ronette Pulaski look-alike. The evil is referred to as “Ronette’s” mother. He exits the enclosure and finds himself floating in space, and he sees a huge face of Garland Briggs saying, “blue rose”, which is an FBI code word for either supernatural or extraterrestrial events. Naido falls off the capsule and plummets to Earth (this is October 1), where she will be found on the same day in Part 14. Eventually, Cooper gets “electrocuted” out of this Realm and into Las Vegas (nine days into the past, on September 22, as we later learn), taking the place of Dougie Jones, who vanishes in turn to the Black Lodge to be unmade. David Lynch as Gordon Cole makes his first appearance in The Return, as he gets a call saying that Cooper is in prison in South Dakota. The actual Cooper (“Dougie Jones”) goes to the casino and starts winning jackpot after jackpot — one of my very favorite scenes in the series. His childlike “Hello!”‘s are precious.

6. There’s a Body All Right (Part 7). This is largely Diane’s episode, as she follows Gordon and his team back to the prison in South Dakota so she can question Cooper. After a harrowing interview (which makes rather clear that Bad Cooper raped Diane), she tells Gordon she knows the prisoner isn’t really Cooper. After they leave, the doppelganger blackmails the warden into letting him and Ray escape the prison. At Twin Peaks, Truman and Hawk read the missing pages from Laura’s diary, and conclude that “if the good Dale is in the Lodge”, and still there, then it must have been a bad version of Cooper that came out 25 years ago. Meanwhile in Vegas, Dougie is questioned by the police, when they find his car has been bombed, and of course Janey-E takes control of the conversation by scorning the police as incompetent fools. Then comes the most fucked up scene of the series: outside the insurance building, Dougie is attacked by Ike the Spike; his Cooper-FBI instincts take over immediately, and he grapples with Ike; suddenly the evolution of the arm (the brain on the tree) sprouts out of the sidewalk, hissing at him, “Squeeze his hand off! Squeeze his hand off!” Dougie/Cooper does just that, and is hailed a savior by the onlooking crowds. It’s a splendid homage to Cronenberg’s History of Violence. This is one of two episodes (besides Parts 1 and 18) that doesn’t contain a Roadhouse performance; it ends rather in the R&R Diner, to a mellow tune on the jukebox, which allows us to breathe better and process that crazy scene.

7. There’s Fire Where You Are Going (Part 11). This episode is packed with horrific events that end in a desert confrontation that almost goes the way of David Fincher’s Se7en. Bill Hastings’ head implodes as Team Gordon investigate the area in which Hastings and his librarian friend Ruth Davenport encountered an alternate reality called The Zone. Major Briggs had apparently been hibernating in the Zone, until he told Hastings and Davenport to find him a set of coordinates (to the White Lodge) in a military base. (When they did that for him, Briggs’ head disappeared and went to the White Lodge, while the rest of his body stayed behind.) Ghosts flit about this area, and Gordon finds the corpse of Ruth with the string of coordinates on her arm (which Diane later surreptitiously memorizes when Albert shows a photo of the arm). Over in Twin Peaks, Truman and Hawk are pouring over Hawk’s Indian map to locate the same place — Jackrabbit’s Palace, the grove mentioned in the metal tube left years ago by Major Briggs (which they opened in Part 9), which provides access to the White Lodge. On other fronts: Becky goes ballistic when she finds Steven is cheating on her, and almost kills her mother driving off to confront him with a gun. Bobby Briggs sees a strange zombie-like child figure crawling out of a stopped car. But it’s the final sequence that is alone worth the price of admission, as the Mitchum Brothers, on the brink of murdering Dougie in the desert, take him on as their friend. Like Part 7, this episode doesn’t end on a Roadhouse performance, but to the piano tunes of Angelo Badalamenti himself, in the casino restaurant, with Dougie and the Mitchums toasting each other — a new friendship that will play out wonderfully in the rest of the series.

8. The Stars Turn and a Time Presents Itself (Part 2). An episode filled with Black Lodge sequences is a treat, and the defining moment of the series is the deja vu encounter with Laura Palmer. She appears to Cooper 25 years since she last saw him (27 years, actually, but who’s counting), just as she had promised, and, repeating the same gestures, bends over to whisper in his ear. Twenty-seven years ago she had whispered the name of her killer in his dream of the Black Lodge (something like “My father killed me”); now she whispers the name of a power even worse than Bob (something like “My mother is Judy”), and tells him that he can finally leave the Black Lodge. At this stage, we have no idea what she’s whispering, or know anything about Judy, but by the finale it will be clear that she gave Cooper a mission to save her from being killed by her father in the past, so that she can ultimately save her mother from Judy — and save other people from the growing powers of the Black Lodge. But again, we’re completely ignorant of the demon Judy at this point; we think Bob is the big bad, and so when we turn to the scenes of Mr. C. (Bad Cooper, still possessed by Bob after all these years), they carry the deepest dread. He has hooked up with a shady pair named Ray and Darya: Bill Hastings’ secretary has information that Mr. C. needs, and she is willing to give this information to Ray. But soon Ray is arrested and put in federal prison for (supposedly) carrying weapons over state line; Mr. C. kills Darya, realizing that she and Ray have been hired to kill him. Before killing her, he tells her that tomorrow he’s supposed to get pulled back into the Black Lodge, and shows her a spider symbol on an ace of spades, saying, “This is what I want.” It’s apparently some great demonic power he wants control over, and who we much later realize is Judy, who of course is the one who wants him dead and back in the Black Lodge. Mr. C. instead wants to find the White Lodge and harness its power to use against Judy, and that’s the information Ray has. Meanwhile inside the Lodge, Cooper looks out from the curtains and sees his doppelganger driving toward the South Dakota prison, but before he can step out, he is sabotaged by the doppelganger of the Evolution of the Arm, without question Lynch’s most brilliant creation in The Return. The doppelganger forces Cooper into the Realm of Nonexistence (which will pick up immediately in Part 3), while July emerges in New York, summoned by the sex act of Sam and Tracy, and then goes to take up residence in the Palmer’s house at west… and we see Sarah Palmer in her living room relishing scenes of gory violence on TV.

9. What Story is That, Charlie? (Part 13). Here we see the two Coopers coming out on top in their respective worlds. Dougie and Janey-E are in Seventh Heaven, now that Dougie has cemented a friendship with the Mullins Brothers, who have lavished them with gifts, in particular a new car, and a play gym set for their son, which they set up in the backyard. Dougie even manages to avoid being poisoned by Anthony at the last minute, and turning his rival colleague to confession and contrition. And that’s not all: the gods are looking out for Dougie everywhere: the Las Vegas detectives finally get the fingerprint results for Dougie: he is a man who escaped from prison two days ago in South Dakota and is a former FBI agent. The truth is so ludicrous they laugh and trash the report as erroneous. As for Bad Cooper (Mr. C.), he gets the spotlight in this episode with the arm-wrestle match and his ascendance to boss-hood of this group of scumbags in western Montana that he has no use for. The brilliance of this scene is that it actually makes us root for Bad Cooper, for the first and only time in the series. He confronts Ray (an informant for the FBI), who confesses that somebody named Phillip Jeffries had ordered him to place the Owl Cave Ring on Mr. C.’s finger when he died. He tells Mr. C. that Jeffries is in hiding somewhere called “the Dutchman’s”, and gives Mr. C. the set of coordinates that will (supposedly) lead to the dark evil that Doppel-Coop is trying to find. Meanwhile, Sarah Palmer is watching violent video clips on repeat as she drinks and smokes; Norma refuses to dumb down her pie formula to increase profits; and Dr. Jacoby runs across his most loyal fan, Nadine, who is proudly displaying her gold shit-digging shovel.

10. The Past Dictates the Future (Part 17). Pardon my blasphemy for putting this in the bottom half, but there’s something at once momentous and unsatisfying about the penultimate climax in Sheriff Truman’s office. It concerns of course the character of Freddie. The showdown between him and Bob is rather silly and plays like a sophomoric satire on the superhero franchise. (Honestly, I haven’t seen anything this hollow from Lynch since the Wizard of Oz imagery in Wild at Heart.) I can understand the logic of involving a character from a far-away place like England. The Black Lodge has been efficient at removing local threats (Briggs, Jeffries, Cooper, Diane, Desmond, Stanley, Hastings, etc.), and so the White Lodge needs to employ agents for this showdown that the Black Lodge either can’t see coming (innocent Andy, naive Lucy), or someone so far away that the Black Lodge can’t get to and corrupt in advance (like Freddie). But Freddie doesn’t work. He’s introduced too late in the series (Part 14) for us to be invested in, he’s not compelling anyway, and his gloved “magic fist” is rubbish. A villain like Bob deserved to go out better than this. Everything else about this episode is top notch. Cooper’s return to Twin Peaks is glorious, and I love that the Mitchum brothers (with their bimbos in tow: Candie, Mandie, and Sandie) are in attendance: a wonderful team up of the Vegas gangsters and the Twin Peaks cops. Cooper’s time-travel back into Laura’s Fire Walk With Me scenes, and his altering of the past, is sublime. Noteworthy is what happens before all of this, when Cooper’s doppelganger enters the White Lodge. That Mr. C. is easily trapped and diverted from Sarah Palmer’s house to the Sheriff’s Office (the coordinates he was given in Parts 12 and 16 by Diane, like those given in Parts 13 and 15 by Ray and Jeffries, led him into a trap both times) shows that he’s not as Bad as he thinks; it’s his mother Judy who is the real Bad.

11. Laura is the One (Part 10). After the plot infodumps of Part 9, this one gets back into story, without any real plot advancements, but with searing drama nonetheless. It shovels up the rot of everyday life, where women suffer unflinching violence at the hands of vain and vicious men. Richard Horne beats a school teacher to death (the one who saw him run over the boy in Part 6), and then robs his grandmother of all her money, choking her and swearing at her in a scene out of Clockwork Orange. Becky is terrorized by her boyfriend Steven (repeating the mistakes of her mother Shelly under Leo Johnson). Candie thinks the Mitchum Brothers will kill her after she hits one of them by accident swatting a fly. In contrast to this misogynistic dysfunction, Dougie and Janey-E share an act of sex that leaves them wonderfully fulfilled. Janey-E is falling in love with her husband all over again. The only real plot advancement is in the thread of the Mitchum Brothers, who, having spotted Dougie on TV (from Ike’s attempt on his life), now plan to kill this man who won all their casino jackpots and (per the lies of Dougie’s colleague) refused their 30 million-dollar insurance claim. Laura is the One shows Lynch channeling Blue Velvet with a vengeance. Laura is a prism showing the helplessness of abused women; the message is visceral and profound.

12. There’s Some Fear in Letting Go (Part 15). The shitstorm is imminent now, and the tension ratchets up. There are also emotional farewells. In the opening scene Nadine lets Ed go, giving him permission, after all these years, to be with Norma. And for the first time ever, I have actually enjoyed watching her, as she — inspired by the freedom-fighting ravings of Dr. Jacoby — marches down the road, armed with her shit-digging shovel, to give Ed his eternal pass to romantic freedom. (“See Ed? I’m shoveling my way out of the shit!”) Gersten and Steven’s affair ends on a rather different kind of farewell, as Steven blows his own brains out under the tree. And Dougie and Janey-E share a precious moment, as Janey-E finally thinks everything is coming together for a happy marriage — having no idea that she’s about to be bidding farewell to her precious Dougie, who puts his fork into an electrical socket, presaging his return to the identity of Dale Cooper in Part 16. The crucial scene is Mr. C’s. He comes to the teleporting Convenience Store in western Montana, gets access to “The Dutchman’s”, where we see that Philip Jeffries has turned into a Dalek/overgrown tea kettle. Judy is now discussed for the first time in The Return. Like Cooper and the Fireman, Mr. C. also has a plan to either capture or destroy this evil entity, and possibly harness her power so that he can become top dog. But Jeffries is dicking him around: Mr. C. asks why he sent Ray to kill him, but Jeffries deflects; Mr. C. guesses that it was not Jeffries but the demonic entity who had called him back in Part 2, the evil that wants him back in the Lodge, who is indeed probably the Judy whom Jeffries once mentioned back in 1989 (in the Fire Walk With Me sequence). He demands to know who Judy is, and Jeffries gives him some coordinates where he can find her; these coordinates point to the same location as the coordinates given by Ray in Part 13. The Roadhouse scenes are among the series best: a bar brawl to the tune of ZZ Top’s “Legs”, and the end performance of “Axolotl”, as a girl crawls on the floor between everyone’s feet, freezes suddenly, and let’s out a scream for who-knows-what-reason. Jesus, bring on the shitstorm already.

13. Brings Back Some Memories (Part 4). Cooper keeps scoring jackpots, and then he is chauffeured home to settle into his new life as Dougie. His interactions with Naomi Watts are instant classics, as he struggles to perform the simple tasks of dressing himself and drinking coffee. These scenes are some of the most precious in the series. The episode lands the surprise of Bobby Briggs, who has become a cop; and it’s an emotional moment when he breaks down at the sight of Laura’s photo in the police workroom. Hawk and Truman are trying to figure out what is “missing” (as the Log Lady told Hawk), as it pertains to Dale Cooper and Hawk’s Indian heritage. Bobby offers that Cooper was the last person to see his father (Major Briggs) alive, before he died in the fire at his station on March 28, 1989. A day before this, Cooper had come by the house to talk to Major Briggs about something. (Which we know must have been Cooper’s doppelganger, though Briggs had no idea.) Gordon, Albert, and Tammy arrive at the federal prison in South Dakota. Cooper tells Gordon that he’s been working undercover all these years with Phillip Jeffries, and that he needs to be debriefed by Gordon. Albert tells Gordon that years ago he had authorized Jeffries to give Cooper some needed information about their contact in Columbia New York. A week later that contact was dead. Gordon feels they are in over their head, and wants to get Diane to talk to Cooper.

14. We Are Like the Dreamer (Part 14). By rights this episode should be a really strong one, as it contains the pivotal journey to Jackrabbit’s Palace on October 1, and Andy’s vision inside the White Lodge: the demonic Judy, the Convenience Store, the two Coopers, and the importance of Naido whom they find naked on the forest floor. But aside from that sequence — and the stunning scene in which Sarah Palmer opens up her face and and bites a man’s throat out — this is an episode weighed down by meandering exposition, and even almost half-ruined by the introduction of a silly character who becomes critical to the series’ end game. That character being Freddie of the Green Glove: a young man from Britain who was given a magic fist, and told by the Fireman to go to Twin Peaks where his “destiny would be fulfilled”. Seriously, did Lynch and Frost actually contrive something this half-baked? This episode finally connects Team Truman in Twin Peaks with Team Gordon in Buckhorn. The Sheriff calls Gordon to tell him about the missing pages from Laura’s diary that could imply there are two Dale Coopers. Gordon asks Diane if on the last night she saw Cooper he mentioned Major Briggs, and she says yes; Albert implies that Major Briggs, who died in a the fire 25 years ago, is out of place and time, since his body is young and only a few days dead, and found here in Buckhorn instead of Twin Peaks; and that inside his stomach was a ring dedication to a “Dougie” from a “Janey-E”. Diane looks alarmed, and tells them Janey-E is her half-sister living in Vegas, and Gordon calls the FBI to find this Dougie Jones.

15. Case Files (Part 5). In this episode we get the return of soap opera elements of the classic series: Norma and Shelly are still working at the R&R, but Shelly has a daughter in an abusive relationship (much like Shelly once was with Leo). There’s a bit too much of Sheriff Truman’s bitching wife. Dr. Jacoby, on the other hand, is put to hilarious use: now a freedom-fighting crank, he spews conspiracy theories on his own radio show, and peddles gold-plated shit-digging shovels (“Shovel your way out of the shit!”). Nadine seems to be his only fan. The best part of this episode, of course, is the Dougie storyline: Cooper’s day at work in an insurance meeting, where he calls out a colleague for lying about a claim, and is then tasked by his boss with reams of case files to work on as punishment, and then loiters outside on the plaza well into the evening, unable to get himself home. He befriends a statue to keep himself company, in a truly heartbreaking scene. Even for all the Dougie stuff, it’s not the strongest episode on whole.

16. Let’s Rock (Part 12). Some lists rank this as the worst episode, and it does admittedly try the patience of even the most die-hard Lynch fans, with scenes that move so glacially it’s obnoxious. But there are good sequences overlooked by the detractors, the best being the return of Audrey Horne. It took twelve episodes to get to her, and her prolonged, go-nowhere argument with her tiny bald husband becomes more suspenseful the less we can make sense of it. Then there is the other Horne, Benjamin (Audrey’s father), who we’ve seen in many episodes so far, but finally gets a strong scene, when Sheriff Truman pays him a visit. His reaction to the news of his grandson (Richard) being the one who ran over the boy makes me feel for Ben in a way I never have up to this point. Truman then gives Ben the old key to Cooper’s room at the Great Northern, that Dougie’s prostitute had put in the mail — cementing Truman’s conviction that Cooper is indeed active somewhere in some important way. Meanwhile Gordon brings Tammy onto the Blue Rose task force, and also deputizes Diane, though this latter is just to keep Diane close: He and Albert spy on her texts; she gets one from Mr. C. asking Diane if “they’ve asked about Vegas yet”; which Gordon knows nothing about. Diane figures the coordinates on Ruth Davenport’s arm point to Twin Peaks, and that must be where Major Briggs is now. She sends the first half of the coordinates to Mr. C. Finally, there are the scenes with Sarah Palmer who looks downright menacing; and there are strange noises inside her house. Oh, and I almost forgot: more of Dr. Jacoby’s hilarious shit-shoveling rants. Really, this episode isn’t quite as bad as it’s made out to be.

17. My Log Has a Message for You (Part 1). I can understand why this was released with Part 2, joined as a double bill. On it own it’s a relatively sluggish re-introduction to the world of Twin Peaks. We learn that Buckhorn, South Dakota is a sort of “New Twin Peaks”, where Cooper’s doppelgänger (Mr. C.) has been operating since his escape from the Black Lodge in the season-two finale. It’s also here that local police have just found the decapitated head of a librarian placed on the headless body of an unidentified man (Major Briggs, we will later learn), and suspect the school’s principal, Bill Hastings. Meanwhile, in New York, a young pair (Sam and Tracy) having sex are brutally savaged by a demonic force; the force appears in a glass cage owned by Cooper’s doppelganger (Mr. C.), who has been trying to trap this evil entity. Mr. C. hooks up with a shady couple named Ray and Darya. In Twin Peaks itself, the Log Lady tells Hawk that “something is missing”, having to do with Dale Cooper, and only Hawk can find it, on account of his heritage. The most critical scene, however, is the very first: Cooper is sitting in the White Lodge, and the Fireman tells him, “It is in our house now. Remember 430. Richard and Linda. Two birds with one stone.” This scene takes place much later in the series, probably after Cooper electrocutes himself back into self-awareness at the end of Part 15. (Notice that in the above pic he doesn’t have his FBI pin, whereas he is wearing the pin in the Lodge scenes of Part 2; he reacquires the pin after the showdown with Bob in Truman’s office in Part 17. ) The meaning of the Fireman’s statement will unfold in the finale: the “it” refers to Judy, “our house” is the Palmer house, “430” is the number of miles that Cooper and Diane will have to drive to get to the alternate reality, “Richard and Linda” are Cooper and Diane’s alter egos, and “two birds with one stone” represents the overall plan of saving Laura and dealing with Judy at the same time. This plan is either (a) a backup plan, in case Judy foils Cooper’s attempt to save Laura in the past by sending Laura to an alternate world, or (b) part of the same plan to save Laura in the past, in which case the Fireman will send Laura to the alternate world in order to trap Judy.

18. This is the Chair (Part 9). If there is a worst episode in The Return, I suppose it’s this one. It’s almost entirely an exposition dump, necessary for our understanding, but weighed down by the expected freight. As Gordon and his team fly away from South Dakota, he gets two phone calls, the first from the Pentagon, telling him about the fingerprint match with Major Briggs on the decapitated body in Buckhorn; the second from the prison they just left, informing him that Cooper (Mr. C.) just escaped. Mr. C. (who had put the hit on Dougie in Part 7) tells Hutch and Chantal that he will have a hit job for them in Vegas. Mr. C. is also sending secret texts to Diane, indicating that she can’t be entirely trusted. The Police, for their part, cannot find records on Dougie Jones prior to 1997, and so they swipe his fingerprints from a coffee mug. Meanwhile, in Twin Peaks, Mrs. Briggs tells the Sheriff’s team about the night before her husband died, when he he met with Agent Cooper (who must have been the Bad Cooper, based on what they read from Laura’s diary in Part 7). She gives them a vial left by her husband, containing directions, dates, times, and a location (Jackrabbit’s Palace) — which sounds a lot like the information for entering another dimension that Bill Hastings is describing to Gordon’s team at the same time in Buckhorn. The interrogation of Bill Hastings is the absolute worst scene of the series. Hastings (played by douchebag Matthew Lillard) sobs pathetically as he relates the details of how he and Ruth Davenport located Major Briggs in an alternate dimension, how they helped the major find coordinates that would allow him to move the White Lodge to a new hiding place, and how Ruth was killed by “others” and that the major’s head vanished. His sobbing goes on and on, and it’s a tedious ordeal to sit through, but unfortunately necessary, unless you’ve seen the series enough times to know all the plot details.

And now, the music…

The musical sequences that finish each episode deserve to be ranked on their own. Most of them (except two of them, from Parts 7 and 11) are Roadhouse performances. One of them (the Nine Inch Nails, from Part 8) comes toward the beginning instead of the very end. Click on the links to see and hear the performances from The Return.

1. Audrey’s Dance, by Angelo Badalamenti (Part 16). The Return’s dreamiest and most nostalgic moment. Compare with the teenage Audrey, so full of promise, here, from Episode 2 of the classic series (“Zen, or the Skill to Catch a Killer”). Now she’s in a mental asylum. The stage performance is all in her head, and it crushes me every time on the reveal.

2. Axolotl, by The Veils (Part 15). The edgy Roadhouse pieces that finishes the episode where a shitstorm feels imminent. On the bar floor a girl crawls on the floor, weaving through the feet of dancers, until she freezes and lets out a scream for some unknown reason. Pure Lynchian psycho-horror.

3. No Stars, by Rebekah Del Rio and Moby (Part 10). The singer of “Llorando” in Mulholland Drive gives a stunning performance (and notice Moby playing guitar), with a voice that goes through you like an awl. A suitable aftermath to the horrible scenes of abuse inflicted on women throughout Part 10.

4. She’s Gone Away, by the Nine Inch Nails (Part 8). One wonders how the Roadhouse found the money to hire The Nine Inch Nails, but anyway… the band perfectly summons the specter of Bad Cooper, who is possessed by Bob. Part 8 is of course all about how Bob was created.

5. Saturday, by the Chromatics (Part 12). Like Julee Cruise in the classic years, Chromatics seems made for the world of Twin Peaks. This soothing instrumental piece caps off the slow-paced episode that is Part 12, and is a favorite of mine.

6. Wild West, by Lissie (Part 14). Lissie’s liveliness sets her apart from the other artists on this list, and it’s interesting that she is used for Part 14, which is dream-themed — almost serving as a wake-up call at the end. It’s a great song.

7. Heartbreaking, by Angelo Badalamenti (Part 11). It’s nice to have a couple episodes that break with the Roadhouse formula (the other is at #12). Badalamenti’s scoring plays over the casino restaurant scene, in which child-like Dougie receives blessings and favors of the mob.

8. The World Spins, by Julee Cruise (Part 17). The first time Cruise performed this was in the final scene of the critical Episode 14 of the classic series (“Lonely Souls”), when Leland Palmer was finally revealed as his daughter’s killer. (See here.) It’s fitting that Cruise reprises the song in Part 17, right after Cooper goes back in time to prevent that murder.

9. Tarifa, by Sharon Van Etten (Part 6). This deeply emotional piece really hits the spot after the roller coaster ride of Part 6, involving the hit-and-run of a young boy, a messy assassination of the woman who failed to kill Dougie Jones at the Rancho Rosa Estates, and Janey-E’s “We are the 99 percenters!” diatribe as she pays off Dougie’s gambling debts.

10. Shadow, by Chromatics (Part 2). This band is so atmospheric they play twice (the other at #5), and they make a perfect first act in the series.

11. Snake Eyes, by Trouble (Part 5). A suitable piece to the upsetting booth scene in which the sadistic Richard Horne is introduced for the first time.

12. Sleep Walk, by Santo and Johnny Farina (Part 7). Nothing beyond these mellow notes are necessary after the batshit crazy scene of the brain-tree in the sidewalk.

13. Mississippi, by Cactus Blossoms (Part 3). Slow-burning country harmonies aren’t usually my thing, but this piece carries enough eeriness to go with the weird confusion of Part 3.

14. Lark, by Au Revoir Simone (Part 4). Lynch has always liked this band for the dreamy voices and haunting harmonies, but they don’t do much for me.

15. A Violent Yet Flammable World, by Au Revoir Simone (Part 9). See #14.

16. Just You, by James Hurley (Part 13). The otherwise excellent Part 13 is capped off by the worst performance. This song has been derided by even hard-core Lynch fans, ever since James first sang it with Maddy and Donna (see here) in Episode 9 of the classic series (“Coma”), and I’m not sure what Lynch was thinking by resurrecting it. Unlike Julee Cruise (see #8), the nostalgia power is very limited here. It’s just a cheesy song about a tortured romance.

Title sequences I’ve never skipped over

There are many lists online ranking the best TV title sequences, but I’m restricting mine to those which are so good that I have literally never skipped over one when watching a full episode. Not even when I’m binging many episodes in a single day. A lot of these are my favorite shows, but I’m not ranking them on their overall strength (in which case Stranger Things would be #1), but solely on the merits of their title sequences.

The Man in the High Castle (Click to watch)

1. The Man in the High Castle. This one reigns supreme. Even if the show has been on a decline since its masterpiece first season, the opening is still worth the price of admission. Who would have thought “Edelweiss” could be put to such haunting effect? The song is almost whispered over the dark Nazi imagery. I get the chills every time; it’s that powerful.

Game of Thrones (Click to watch)

2. Game of Thrones. This one would surely win a popularity contest, and who could begrudge it? Listening to the theme play over the map of Westeros is a mandatory part of every Game of Thrones episode. You’ve been short-changed if you don’t get to watch it. The cello drives the theme, and somehow the overall brooding tune manages to convey the idea of deep misgivings, and that nobody is ever safe.

Twin Peaks (Click to watch)

3. Twin Peaks (season 3). The classic sequence of seasons 1 and 2 is fine too, but I like the third season’s waterfall focus. I’ve certainly never skipped over a Twin Peaks title sequence from any season. Angelo Badalamenti is a scoring genius. And of course the show itself, especially its recent third season, contains some of the most mesmerizing and esoteric hours of television you will ever see — painful to those who crave plain meanings, a rare treat to lovers of dream-logic.

Doctor Who (Click to watch)

4. Doctor Who (new series, 1-3). To date the Time Lord has had 15 title sequences in his/her 37-season stretch, which is more variations than any other TV show I’m aware of. This is the best one, from the first three seasons of the new series. Radiotimes ranked it third of all Doctor Who title sequences, but I think it’s the best, followed closely by the classic Tom Baker sequence.

Stranger Things (Click to watch)

5. Stranger Things. Starkly minimalist, this does more with letter blocks than most shows do with lively imagery. I binged the third season in a day with two friends, and they felt the same as I did — no desire to skip over any of the title sequences. That alone is a success story.

Miami Vice (Click to watch)

6. Miami Vice. One of the few TV shows worth watching in the ’80s. Jan Hammer’s scoring was brilliant, and this opening remains compulsive after three decades. When you think of how embarrassingly bad ’80s movies were, what Miami Vice did on TV was usually leagues ahead of the film industry. It brought a dark edge to the small screen, driven — like the title sequence — by raw music.

and then there

All in the Family (Click to watch)

7. All in the Family. This ’70s classic is the best sitcom of all time, and of course it offends millennial liberals who have been so brainwashed with political correctness that they can’t enjoy good satire. I never tire of listening to Archie and Edith lamenting the days of Herbert Hoover — when everyone pulled his weight, and the old LaSalle ran great — and I never skip over their hilarious duet.

Breaking Bad (Click to watch)

8. Breaking Bad. The last two don’t really count, because they’re too short; only twenty seconds each. No one would skip over them. But if they did extend to the customary minute and a half, I’d feel the same way as I do about the others on this list.

Hannibal (Click to watch)

9. Hannibal. Like Breaking Bad, a twenty-second sequence, but one that I wish was four times as long. Hannibal and Breaking Bad are like Stranger Things, showing the strengths of minimalism in title credits. There’s a chance this show might come back, and I’m keeping that in my prayers.

Hopper’s Cabin: The Season 3 Annex

There’s something different about Jim Hopper’s cabin in Stranger Things 3. He uses a curtain to close off the area of his bed, and I had a hard time making sense of this, since his bed is in the large living room area. Here’s a diagram (from Reddit) of the cabin in Stranger Things 2:

Here are some screenshots from season 2 that confirm the above layout.

Eleven sweeping up the mess of her psychic tantrum, and you can see Hopper’s bed adjacent to the bathroom.

The view of the opposite side of the living room area, where we see the back door to the outside and (to the right) the door to El’s bedroom.

A wide shot of the whole living room — bed on the left, outside door on the right.

So when in season 3 Hopper is suddenly using a curtain to give himself privacy, I thought it must be a pretty long curtain that sectioned off at least half of the living room, which I couldn’t visualize for the life of me. Going back and freeze-framing shows that not to be the case. Hopper’s bed has moved in Stranger Things 3 — to an annex that he apparently built between the time of seasons 2 and 3.

You can still see the outside through the window above the TV, but what used to be the back door is no longer a back door, but an opening into a new part of the cabin: an actual bedroom for Hopper that gives him more privacy. On the left we see that what used to be his bed is now just another couch.

So the adjusted map for Stranger Things 3 looks like this:

 

The Door No One Remembers in Mike’s Basement

One of my proof-readers caught an error in chapter 3 of my novel Endless Night. The kids are in Mike’s basement getting slaughtered in a ruthless D&D campaign, something happens which makes them want to leave the house as fast as possible, but it may be too dangerous to go up the stairs into the kitchen. My reader pointed out that there is a door in Mike’s basement that leads directly outside, so why didn’t they just use that?

Now, I have seen each season of Stranger Things series many times, and I was never aware of an outside door in Mike’s basement. I’ve spoken to others who also didn’t recall such a door. So I got on Netflix and breezed through some of the episodes, and sure enough — once you look for it — it stands out rather obviously. The door to the outside is close to the D&D table, and right next to the desk-table that was turned into El’s hideaway fort.

I took screenshots and drew up a map of the Wheeler basement as follows. It turned out to be a worthy exercise. There are other things about Mike’s basement I wasn’t aware until I looked carefully, like the tool area behind the staircase.

(So here’s my question: given this door, why do the kids never use the damn thing throughout seasons 1-3? Do they just like the exercise of climbing the stairs and going out the front door, when they need to leave the house?)

These the screen shots. Click on each to enlarge.

The first scene of the series puts the matter beyond doubt: the outside door is right there, close to the D&D table. To its right is the desk that Mike will soon be turning into El’s hideaway fort. The poster of The Thing (behind Will’s head) is still there in season 3.

Another shot of the same scene, with the staircase visible.

 

Same scene, showing the open bathroom behind Mike, which puts the bathroom opposite the wall that has the poster of The Thing.

Same scene again, and a very helpful angle that shows the tool area of the basement behind the staircase. There is a work table on the far side, and a small desk on the side closer to the gaming table. Note: there is no telephone on the pillar behind Mike, but there will be by the time of season 3.

The couch and food table are the first things you see in the basement when coming down the stairs.

As Mike tucks in El, the outside door is plainly visible to his left.

The couch area. By season 3, there will be a TV to Mike’s left, on top of the area where the green blankets are sitting.

Same scene after Mike leaves for school.

The couch view of El’s fort and the door to the outside.

Another shot of the outside door, a bit hard to see, but clearly there.

This view of the door makes clear that it goes to the outside. It’s clearly outside lighting, especially from the window above El’s fort.

View of the tool area and work table behind Dustin.

The boys are at the D&D table, and Dustin is sitting where Mike sat during their campaign. The open bathroom is now behind him.

Another shot of the couch area.

The clearest shot of the outside door in season 1, as Dustin prepares to school Mike and Lucas on the nature of magnets.

The epilogue scene, wrapping up the D&D game. As in the opening scene, except you can see behind Mike that he has kept El’s fort intact, even though she’s presumed lost or dead.

In season 2 we hardly see any of the Wheeler basement, except for a scene like this, where Mike is being forced to throw out his toys as punishment for raising hell in school, and…

…this one, as he looks over to the fort he has kept intact for a whole year, as he pines for El and tries calling her on his walkie-talkie every night.

Into season 3, with a hugely grown Mike, and a TV now in the couch area.

And also a phone on the pillar at the bottom of the stairs. The fort is gone now, and it’s just a desk-table again. The Thing poster is still behind the D&D table.

There are much clearer shots of the basement windows in season 3.

The clearest shot of the outside door in season 3, as Will prepares for a campaign that Mike and Lucas have no interest in…

…but which they are going to play, and have their sleep cut short for it.

Another shot of the couch area, and the tiger poster.

El no longer has a fort to call home, but that TV is very useful.

Another view of the basement from the bottom stair.

Mike is talking to Lucas who is on the couch. Behind him to the left is the bathroom door, next to the washer and dryer…

…which comes in this close-up shot.

Stranger Things Timeline (1983-2038)

Soon I will be posting the chapters of Endless Night, my final Stranger Things novel. It tells the full tragedy of Michael Wheeler: how he came the state we find him in The College Years, and what happened between him and Eleven in those terrible January days of 1987. To prepare for the story, here’s a timeline of events, everything laid out across fifty-five years, to keep the chronology of my novels straight.

Timeline

1983 TV Season 1.

1984 TV Season 2.

1985 TV Season 3, with the following differences: Karen Wheeler has an affair With Billy Hargrove. She does not become one of the flayed, but she aids and abets Billy in abducting people for the Mind Flayer. Death of Joyce Byers at Starcourt. Jim Hopper lives and continues raising Jane. Joyce’s sister Ruth Garrett comes to live with Will and Jonathan in the Byers’ house.

1986 Jane, having lost her powers to the Mind Flayer’s bite on July 4 ’85, slowly reacquires them through the months of January-July. By July she’s at full capacity.

1987 Endless Night (Story #6). Death of Mike Wheeler in January. He is resurrected and enslaved for three and a half years in the Upside Down. Hopper and Jane move to Newberg, Oregon in April. Hopper assumes his new position as Sheriff of Yamhill County.

1990 The College Years (Story #1). Mike returns from the Upside Down in August, unable to speak and able to only harm his friends. Jane flies back to Hawkins and kills the Illithid, after it tears out Mike’s eyes and cripples his leg. Mike moves out to Oregon with Jane. Jane moves out of Hopper’s home in Newberg, and Hopper sets up her and Mike in an apartment in downtown Portland.

1991 By March, Jane has rehabilitated Mike so that he is functionally blind, and can walk with a limp. He starts playing guitar, and in the fall joins a band, playing at strip clubs.

1992 The Witch of Yamhill County (Story #4). Children are abducted in the towns of Amity and Bellevue. Hopper enters Baba Yaga’s Hut with three teenagers to look for the children.

1993 Mike Wheeler kills himself shortly after Lucas, Dustin, and Will graduate from college. Jane moves back into her father’s home in Newberg. Three months later, in November, Jane, Lucas, Dustin, and Will gather in Newberg to celebrate Mike’s memory. At the end of November, Will assumes his Peace Corps position in Botswana.

1994 Birth of Mike Hopper in the spring.

1995 In December, Will returns from his Peace Corps service in Botswana.

1996 Jane and Mike Junior move out of Hopper’s home. Hopper buys a house for them on Tibbetts Street in Southeast Portland. Jane will live here for thirty years, until 2026. In Hawkins, Will suffers severe depression readjusting to American culture.

1997 The Black Rose of Newberg (Story #5). Lucas and Raquel Sinclair move out to Portland in July. They move into the downtown apartment complex Jane and Mike Wheeler had occupied between 1990-1993. In September, Lucas assumes his new position as an Endangered Species Biologist. The Black Rose Killer terrorizes Newberg. Hopper asks Jane to help him catch the killer.

2000 Dustin becomes senior software engineer at MIT.

2001 In second grade, Mike Hopper discovers his power of tempus fugit, which makes people experience time flying when it’s really not.

2003 Will becomes Deputy Director of the Fishers Public Library in Indiana.

2006 In seventh grade, Mike Hopper meets Tobias Powell. They become best friends.

2007 Death of Jim Hopper at 66, from lung cancer.

2009 The New Generation (Story #2). Mike Hopper and Tobias are high school sophomores. Through the internet, the Llaza latches on to Mike’s time powers. It devours and absorbs Mike to grow millions of years old and become an advanced shadow creature that takes over all of Tibbetts Street, killing most of the residents. Jane kills the Llaza and rescues Mike, but in doing so triggers a change in his time powers which causes him to age backwards.

2012 Mike is twelve, aging backwards. Tobias is now eighteen and ends their friendship.

2016 Donald Trump elected president. Mike is eight, aging backwards.

2020 Donald Trump elected president for a second term. Mike is four, aging backwards.

2021 The Hawkins “kids” (Jane, Lucas, Dustin, and Will) turn 50 years old. Trump’s second term takes an ugly turn: Roe v. Wade overturned by The Supreme Court. The 22nd Amendment
overturned by the Supreme Court. All non-whites are banned from immigrating to America.

2023 In the fall, Jane has a nervous breakdown. Mike is twenty months old, aging backwards. Lucas and Raquel assume guardianship of Mike, at Jane’s request. Jane is homebound and under medical care.

2024 Donald Trump elected president for a third term. Mike is less than one year old, aging backwards.

2025 Mike Hopper turns “zero” years old on May 22. He does not die, but starts aging forward again, and Jane’s sanity returns.

2026 Fearing rumors of seaboard attacks, Jane and Mike and the Sinclairs leave Oregon and return to their hometown of Hawkins. Dustin leaves the east coast and comes to Hawkins. Mike is one year old, for his third time. Death of Joyce Byers, 86, on Christmas Eve.

2027 Trump unleashes Armageddon on July 4. He is 81, in failing health, and not counting on a fourth term. Russia demolishes America’s east and west coasts. Citizens are told that Iran bombed the east coast and North Korea bombed the west. Death of Trump, who kills himself in a suicidal self-destruct of Washington D.C. Mike is two, for his third time.

2030 The radiation has cleared on the seaboards, but those areas remain a no-man’s land like the Wild West. A new Gate appears under the old Hawkins Lab. Mike is five, for his third time.

2031 On September 11, the new Gate under the Hawkins Lab starts generating Pockets, which appear in Hawkins, and begin radiating outwards, turning America into a shadow wasteland. Creatures from the Upside Down pour out of the Pockets, and kill people who are unable to protect themselves. The people of the Midwest begin construction of the walled Colonies. Jane starts to lose her sanity again. Mike is six, for his third time.

2032 Birth of the Hawkins Colony. Jane deteriorates further. Mike is seven, for his third time.

2033 The Hawkins Lab is reopened by scientists led by Dr. Reardon, in a last-ditch effort to save America and find a solution to the Pockets. Jane is brought from the Colony to the Lab, where she is cared for and monitored. Reardon hopes for her return to sanity, that she might close the Gate. Mike is eight, for his third time.

2035 Death of Lucas Sinclair. He is devoured by a demogorgon as he defends the walls of the Colony. Shortly after Lucas’s death, Mike Hopper discovers that he can time travel. Mike is ten, for his third time.

2037 World’s End (Story #3). The Pockets have taken over a circumference encompassing nineteen states in the Midwest and South. Mike is twelve, for his third time. Will, Tobias, and Dr. Reardon hatch a plan to save the world, by sending Mike back in time with Dustin and Steve. They will travel to the year 2031 and kill Morgred, the man responsible for creating the Pockets. Mike alters the plan drastically and leaves Dustin and Steve in the present, traveling back in time alone, and making two major detours. First he goes to 1983, and picks up the twelve-year old versions of his parents and uncles. Then he brings them to 2021, where he bonds closely with them and becomes their friend. Then they travel to 2031, where Morgred shoots Mike. Eleven kills Morgred. Mike kills a demogorgon coming through the Gate and saves Lucas, but by hurling his time powers at the Gate, it is Mike Hopper who creates the Pockets, not Morgred. In Mike’s dying state, he is able to reach his mother across time and heal her sanity. Mike returns his young parents and uncles to 1983, and then dies. In the present, Jane destroys the Gate, and all Pockets disappear from the Midwest, though many creatures from the Upside Down are left behind, plaguing America.

2038 Death of Will Byers, at 67, from multiple organ failure.

Eleven’s Outfits Ranked

I couldn’t resist. Screenrant ranked Eleven’s best outfits, but omitted some of them, and so I include them all and rank a bit differently.

 

1. Punk Eleven. (Season 2) This outfit alone justifies the much maligned “Lost Sister” episode. It’s El at her most badass, and her most self-exploring, as she comes to terms with her identity and homicidal impulses.

 

2. Nancy’s Dress. (Season 1) The most iconic outfit, and most would put it at #1, though I prefer Punk El.

 

3. The Snowball Dress. (Season 2) Truly beautiful. “Every Breath You Take”.

 

4. The Yellow-Jacket Shirt. (Season 3) I love this one because I associate it with the so many visceral things that happen to El when she’s wearing it. She becomes trapped in Billy’s mind and can’t escape; she’s bitten by the Mind Flayer, and has to perform a hideous self-surgery on herself. Then she loses her powers — the ultimate tragedy.

 

5. The Splatter Shirt and Blue Suspenders. (Season 3) Pure ’80s, and forever associated with the sauna scene, in which she gets strangled by Billy, and then throws him through a brick wall.

 

6. Lab Rat. (Season 1) Adorable; heartbreaking.

 

7. The Runaway Outfit. (Season 2) Overalls, big guy’s coat… Hopper’s clothes, of course, borrowed for her runaway adventure. It’s a mismatch that cries for the punk makeover (#1), but admittedly very cute.

 

8. Eleanor. (Season 1) This is Nancy’s Dress (#2), but with the wig, which sets it wholly apart. It’s how the boys made her over. This is what the ideal girl looks like through the eyes of 12-year old boys.

 

9. Benny’s Burgers shirt. (Season 1) Makes a good night shirt. It’s the shirt she almost pulled off and got naked in front of the boys, and made them freak out.

 

10. Moving Clothes. (Season 3) Simple and mundane, but preferable to what she replaced it with when she got to the mall…

 

11. The Mall Romper. (Season 3) A bit of an eyesore, but a fun splurge for a girl suddenly liberated and thinking for herself.

 

12. Grey Shirt and Jeans. (Season 2) This is El as Hopper likes her and wants her to stay: a cutesy who won’t draw hormonal boys. Daddy’s girl forever.

Stranger Things: The 25 Episodes Ranked

I’ve covered the three seasons of Stranger Things on whole (for me, the ranking is 2–>1–>3), and now for the individual episodes.

Image result for fireworks mind flayer
1. Season 3, Episodes 8: The Battle of Starcourt. 5+ stars. There’s no denying the supremacy of the season 3 finale. It’s more brutal and emotional than the other finales — and that’s saying loads — and the epilogue sees a parting of friends reminiscent of the Grey Havens. I haven’t been affected by cinema on this level since Peter Jackson’s Return of the King. The opening sequence promises the gloves are off: El’s self-surgery is excruciating to watch, and the loss of her powers a tragedy. It leaves everyone to face down the Mind Flayer without the usual El-ass-poundings. Fireworks come into play — “Satan’s Babies” the equivalent of dynamite — and the spectacle is staggering. And yet the fireworks aren’t enough: the way El defeats Billy is transcendent, and better than any psychic beating. Meanwhile, Hopper and Joyce are in the mall’s underground to close the Gate, which they can only do by Hopper sacrificing himself. More tears. But to repeat, the epilogue is even sadder: the Byers house has been sold and Joyce is leaving Hawkins with Will, Jonathan, and El. The farewells between everyone, especially Mike and El, are played with affecting honesty, and it genuinely hurts to think of these friends being separated after all they’ve been through together. This is three months after the Starcourt battle, and El still doesn’t have her powers back. Mike tries acting casual as he and El plan to arrange holiday visits, but he’s clearly hurting inside. As is every viewer. This episode is so magisterial I award it a 5+.

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2. Season 2, Episode 9: The Gate. 5 stars. The season 2 finale starts on Mike’s strongest moments, finishes on his earned reward, each involving the re-entry of Eleven into his miserably shattered life. It’s everything I hoped for in his story arc for this season, and the right place to reconnect El with the main cast. Any earlier than the finale would have cheapened her sacrifice in season 1. Mike has been a shell, and to see him come alive again is sublime. In a particularly heart-rending scene, he goes ape-shit on Hopper, physically attacking him for keeping El hidden all this time. The reunion is short lived, as Eleven must leave right away with Hopper to close the gate. Will, for his part, needs an exorcism: having just been strapped to a chair and worked over in episode 8, he is now tied to a bed, and Joyce proceeds to burn the Mind Flayer out of him by shoving three electric heaters close to him on full blast it’s a wonder his skin doesn’t fry. As both Will and his possessor roar in agony, Jonathan begs Joyce to stop, and Nancy seems equally appalled by this humiliating cruelty, until she outdoes Joyce by grabbing a hot poker and jabbing it into Will’s gut (a scene that still astounds on repeat viewings). As if things couldn’t get worse, Steve and the kids are attacked by Billy, who is clearly a psychopath by this point, as he takes his beatings with maniacal laughter. El’s closing the gate is the moment of glory, but the Snow Ball epilogue is the series’ best scene, as we see all the boys ending up paired with the “right girl”, dancing to the creepy ’80s stalker song, “Every Breath You Take”. It’s so moving, so right, and more than I dared pray for in the sequel season.


3. Season 1, Episode 8: The Upside Down. 5 stars. The season 1 finale may rank third, but it’s still one of the best TV finales I’ve ever seen, tense and emotional, and with the right payoffs and surprises on all sides of the story. At the Byers’ house, Jonathan and Nancy bait the shadow beast, and when it appears (on top of a visit from Steve), hell breaks loose — gunshots from Nancy, morningstar beatings from Steve, a firebomb from Jonathan, all around a strobe effect of blinking lights. Steve is used brilliantly here; I was sure he was going to be killed as a convenient throw-away villain, but he turned out to be the surprise hero in a way that really worked. We’re still reaping the benefits of Steve’s turnaround; he’s been a fan favorite in seasons 2 and 3, and will probably be so in season 4. Meanwhile at the lab, Hopper and Joyce enter the shadow realm and find Barbara’s corpse and Will barely preserved alive, facehugger-style out of Alien. Hopper’s flashback to his daughter flatlining is a powerful juxtaposition over Will’s resuscitation; all along saving Will has been about him coming to terms with the daughter he could never let go. Finally at the school, El’s sacrifice is heartbreaking, and devastates poor Mike, who had just promised to take El in as a member of his family. It’s one of the rare cases that a fake death works, because season 2 kept all the main characters (except Hopper) thinking she was still dead, until the very end.

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4. Season 2, Episode 4: Will the Wise. 5 stars. After the first three episodes of season 2 comes a shift in tone and blistering performances from Noah Schnapp and Millie Bobby Brown. Will, having taken Bob’s well-meaning but stupid advice, is no longer just infected by the Upside Down. He’s possessed by the Mind Flayer. Possession is a scary concept to put on screen, but it’s also the riskiest because it’s hard to do right. Noah nails it in every frame, with subtleties even Linda Blair didn’t pull off in The Exorcist. There are no jump scares here, just the slow creep of dread as Will alternates between being shaken and terrified, to making resolute demands (that his mother run him a freezing bath, because his possessor “likes it cold”), to stalking about the house confused. Millie also gets in her best scene of the season, as she and Hopper have a shouting match when she returns from stalking Mike in episode 3. They’re both trapped: Hopper keeps her confined under strict rules for fear of losing another “daughter”, while Eleven accuses him of being no better than “papa” — she feels just as caged in the cabin as she was in the lab — resulting in her telekinetic tantrum of hurling things at him and shattering windows. Finally, the episode ends on the first death of the season: Dustin’s cat, devoured by his pet pollywog that’s molted into its next stage, a baby demogorgon. Will the Wise is a vastly underrated episode, probably because there’s not much action. Frankly I think it’s almost as good as the finales for the dramatic performances.

Related image
5. Season 1, Episode 3: Holly, Jolly. 5 stars. A widely-praised episode for good reason. The final act is sublime. Hopper and the kids see Will’s body dragged from the river, and they have no reason to think it’s a fake. Mike’s furious reaction as he accuses El and runs home enraged, to the scoring of Peter Gabriel’s cover for David Bowie’s “Heroes”, is a rare piece of cinematic art. The whole episode builds to this climax in one strong scene after another: the opening sequence of Barbara killed in the shadow realm; the scene in which El relives her killing two guards at Hawkins Lab, when she was dragged back to her cell for refusing to kill a cat; Joyce’s breakthrough with Will, as she communicates with her son through the use of Christmas-tree lights, and he tells her to get out of the house as the demogorgon bursts out of the living room wall. It was this episode that fully hooked me into Stranger Things. I binged the rest of the episodes from this point, and have never looked back since.

Image result for the sauna test eleven billy
6. Season 3, Episode 4: The Sauna Test. 5 stars. Plans are put into motion here. Dustin, Steve and Robin recruit Lucas’ sister Erica to crawl though vent shafts; her reward is getting stuck with them inside an elevator that drops into a Russian hell. Hopper beats information out of the mayor (and makes effective threats with a cigar cutter), and learns that the mall owners have been buying up property in Hawkins for some reason. But it’s the kids who confront the menace heads on, in a dramatic face-off with Billy, one of the series’ most intense scenes. Mike’s plan is to trap Billy in the sauna room when the pool is closed. (Before springing this misguided trap, he tries to patch things up with El, but is not successful; she admits to spying on him and Lucas and hearing their sexist theories about the “female species”, to Mike’s outrage.) When they do trap Billy, he doesn’t stay trapped for long. El hurls a barbell loaded with weights at him; he throws it off, seizes her, lifts her up and chokes her; Mike clubs him from behind; Billy prepares to kill Mike, when Eleven — screaming so that hell itself can hear her — levitates him and then throws him literally through a brick wall. This confrontation well exceeded my expectations.

Image result for stranger things mike jumps
7. Season 1, Episode 6: The Monster. 5 stars. There are so many defining moments in this episode: Mike jumping off a cliff, El’s telekinetic rescue, Jonathan beating the shit out of Steve, and our first look at El’s mother, Terry Ives. The title “The Monster” is a clever choice and works on multiple levels. The demogorgon is a monster, of course, but it’s just a creature that just feeds according to its nature. El thinks of herself as the real monster, because she brought the creature into the world to begin with. But that award should go to Doctor Brenner, someone who recruits college kids for his nasty experiments which result in catatonic lives (like Terry Ives) and child abductions that turn kids into numbers for grand-scheme lab experiments. Steve could be a monster too; his jealousy triggers life-threatening fist-fights. Or kids like Troy; his bullying is carried to the extreme of holding Dustin at knife point and almost making Mike kill himself. Mike’s fall made my heart skip when I first saw it, and I wasn’t predicting El’s telekinetic rescue. It’s damn good storytelling. The reconciliation between Mike and El, with Dustin overshadowing, has become one of the series’ most iconic moments showing the power of friendship.

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8. Season 2, Episode 6: The Spy. 5 stars. There’s a heavy Exorcist vibe running through this season, but it becomes most blatant in the medical scenes of The Spy. The opening scene (above pic) is clearly inspired by Regan McNeill’s hideous PEG procedure, and Will Byers is having it even worse, convulsing under the doctors who ask him where it hurts, to which he can only scream “everywhere”. Winoda Ryder, for her part, plays the hysterical mother as convincingly as Ellen Burstyn did, and Joyce even shouts down a table of doctors for their incompetence as Chris McNeil did when professionals tried explaining Regan’s possession as mental illness. Later it seems that Will is working against his possessor: he tells Mike he knows how to stop the creature: that there is a location in the tunnels which his possessor “doesn’t want him to see”, and so a team is sent to investigate, but that turns out to be a nasty trap; Will was lying, almost completely possessed now, and an ugly slaughter ensues. The episode is a ripper in other parts too, notably Steve and Dustin’s, who are now joined by Lucas and Max in a rather foolish attempt to bait Dustin’s demogorgon into the open and kill it. As if that weren’t enough, the bonding between Steve and Dustin has become the fan favorite pairing of season two, and for good reason. Their moments together in this episode are among the best in the season.

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9. Season 3, Episode 6: E Pluribus Unum. 5 stars. This episode is sandwiched between two mighty El moments. The first is the ass-pounding she gives to the Mind Flayer, as she barely saves Nancy from joining the flayed. The far grander spectacle is at the end, when she locates the source of the Mind Flayer by communing in the Void with Billy. It’s of series’ most compelling sequences. Communing is something El has done only once before, when she tapped into her mother’s memories in season 2. When she mines Billy’s head, she finds herself on a beach bombarded by his chaotic memories, which allows Billy to latch on to her telepathically. It’s a brutal moment when she pulls herself out the Void and removes her bandana to find Hopper’s cabin empty and all her friends gone. She’s still in the Void after all, in some replica version of the cabin; and Billy emerges from around a corner, advancing on her, delivering a very evil speech on behalf of the Mind Flayer. There’s good stuff elsewhere in this episode, especially with Team Dustin, as Steve and Robin are interrogated and tortured. Steve’s face becomes a repeat of Jonathan’s ass-kicking in season 1 and Billy’s in season 2; it seems that Steve is obliged to undergo this sort of treatment every year.

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10. Season 1, Episode 1: The Vanishing of Will Byers. 4 ½ stars. The opening D&D scene is precious and goes a long way to planting this episode in my top ten. The boy’s 10-hour campaign is a perfect summation of my nerdy childhood and shows why the game was so fun in the early ’80s. It establishes their acting skills through great personas — Mike the group leader (and so of course the dungeon master) and the soul of Stranger Things; Lucas the pragmatic skeptic; the hilarious Dustin ruled by his appetites; and Will the sensitive kid who won’t be getting much screen time. The chemistry between these kids is incredible, and I fell in love with them right away. Eleven’s encounter with Benny Hammond is a perfect introduction of her character. In the short space of his screen time I really loved the guy and was pissed at the goons who shot him. The Vanishing of Will Byers introduces all the other characters too (Joyce, Hopper, Nancy, Jonathan, Steve) with great economy. It has to be in the top ten, even if just barely.

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11. Season 2, Episode 2: Trick or Treat, Freak. 4 ½ stars. The Halloween episode has tremendous rewatch value. There’s Ghostbusters mileage first of all, as Mike bitches at Lucas for dressing up as the leader Venkman instead of (the African-American) Winston, to the latter’s indignant cries of racism. Mike is right, Halloween is the best time of the year, and here the frights are out in full force, as Max scares the shit out of them with her Michael Myers costume, and Will gets the biggest scare of all, as he finds himself in the Upside Down being chased by the Mind Flayer. I always have a bad moment when Will is crouched behind the building and the creature funnels its way down the stairs to grab him. Back at Mike’s house the two boys have a touching moment — my favorite Mike-Will moment as they take comfort in each others damage. It’s almost as if Mike thinks Will is the only one worthy of his affections, on the logic that if he suffering so much (from the loss of El) then so should others suffer. There are also the initial flashbacks which pick up right after El banished the demogorgon in season 1. She barely escapes from the Upside Down and returns to Mike’s house (the only place she’d ever felt safe in her life). It’s hard to say if she thinks that Mike has sold her out or not, but her look of pain is heartbreaking as she realizes she can’t return to him yet.

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12. Season 3, Episode 7: The Bite. 4 ½ stars. In which El is bitten by the Mind Flayer and put on borrowed time. She’s just emerged from a harrowing trip in the Void where Billy latched on to her mind and located her in Hopper’s cabin. The flayed beast descends on the cabin and punches more than a few holes through it. El dishes out her usual ass-poundings, but she’s finally met her match: it seizes her leg and almost pulls her through the ceiling. The scene is intense, as her friends hold her back in a tug of war, and Nancy puts her rifle to good use, but El’s leg is infected. Inside the mall there’s a clever reversal of roles, when Dustin and Erica assume command of Steve and Robin who are still recovering from being drugged and tortured. They duck into a showing of Back to the Future and there’s some entertaining fallout when Steve and Robin need to puke in the bathroom. Meanwhile, Hopper and Joyce and Murray Bauman get mired at the the town fireworks party, where amusement park rides and fun houses become a hunting ground for the Russian Terminator; he kills Alexei and almost takes out Hopper too. The Fun Fair is pure eye candy, and this episode has good rewatch value for the holiday theme.

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13. Season 2, Episode 7: The Lost Sister. 4 ½ stars. Judged by most fans and critics to be the worst episode of the series, it’s not nearly as bad as people make it out to be, and it’s really grown on me. It aligns with season 2’s over-arching theme of estrangement and alienation, as we see Eleven traveling to Chicago and joining a street-gang led by her long lost “lab sister”. Kali has telekinetic abilities like El, but instead of moving objects she makes people see things that aren’t there (or not see things that are). She and her gang hunt down and kill scientists who worked for Doctor Brenner, and the episode focuses on Eleven coming to terms with her power and ultimately rejecting the use of that power for homicidal revenge. The atmosphere evokes The Dark Knight, as El goes on a vigilante tear by night with her new friends, and it’s a crucial part of her character arc. She boasts to Kali’s gang, when they doubt her commitment, that she has killed many people — but that had always been in self defense. Now she tastes the thrill of cold blooded murder, and it’s only at that point (in the above pic) she realizes she doesn’t belong here. Her departure is great: Kali warns her that her friends in Hawkins can’t save her, and El says, “No, but I can save them.” If not for some of the hollow characters in Kali’s street gang, this would place even higher on my list.

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14. Season 1, Episode 4: The Body. 4 ½ stars. This chapter is a major turning point in season 1, of slow-burns and stinging revelations, in which Hopper and Jonathan, along different paths, come to realize that Joyce isn’t crazy and that Will may still be alive. Hopper finds the fake body at the morgue, and Jonathan hooks up with Nancy, who has also seen the creature without a face in searching for Barbara. The kids also realize Will is alive (despite their tragic certainty at the end of episode 3), when El channels his voice over the radio. Three particular scenes stand out: (1) the boys dressing up El, basically making her over into the “ideal girl” as imagined by twelve-year old boys, with rather ghastly results; (2) the gymnasium incident where El freezes Troy and makes him piss his pants; (3) Joyce ripping down her wallpaper and seeing her terrified son shouting to her in a flesh-encased portion of the wall. That last gave me a nightmare and goes a long way in counting for my high esteem of this episode.

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15. Season 2, Episode 8: The Mind Flayer. 4 ½ stars. I hate putting this so low (in the bottom half of the list) because it’s such a ripper, but that only shows how strong I consider the above episodes. The first half is the season 2’s crowning action sequence, resulting in the death of Bob, and the sight of him being torn apart by a pack of demo-dogs is almost enough to turn Joyce into a gibbering lunatic. The only weakness is that Bob’s death is telegraphed a little too obviously (at three particular points I said to myself, “He’s not going to make it”), but other than that, the lab siege is superbly executed. In the second half, all the main characters come together at the Byers house, and Mike gets the idea that Will may know how to kill the thing, thus beginning an emotional ordeal by which Will is strapped to a chair and worked over in turns by Joyce, Jonathan, and Mike. They share intimate memories with Will, and in particular Mike’s recollection of becoming friends with Will on the first day of school is a tearjerker. The tension in the final standoff (above pic) is impressive for not a single shot being fired. I nearly had a heart attack when the demo-dog came smashing through the window.

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16. Season 2, Episode 1: Mad Max. 4 ½ stars. A massively underrated episode. What the season-2 premiere establishes is the cost of last year’s events, and that the sophomore season will do everything a proper sequel should do. The innocence of Hawkins has been lost. Everyone is estranged, from others and themselves. Mike still pines for Eleven, calls out to her every night in vain on his walkie talkie, and shits on his friends; Nancy hasn’t gotten over Barb and is crushed by guilt. This all adds up to a superb way of reintroducing us to the old characters who will never be the same, and I remember breathing a sigh of relief to see that the characters were being taken seriously like they deserve, especially the above dinner table scene where Mike is being forced to throw away his toys for his unruly behavior at home and school. Will isn’t doing any better. He won’t become possessed until episode 4, but he’s in a bad way suffering post traumatic stress on top of receiving hellish visions from the Upside Down. His exam with Dr. Owens offers the first taste of the season’s Exorcist vibes; subdued and sinister. By the end of this episode, it’s clear that season 2 is in excellent hands, and will be the kind of sequel most directors avoid in favor of pandering to the mainstream.


17. Season 1, Episode 7: The Bathtub. 4 ½ stars. The prologue to this episode could stand its own as a short film: it begins on a tender moment, with Mike almost making a move on El, only to leave home immediately as fugitives; the road chase is intense, and El delivers her most spectacular feat of the series when she flips the van; it ends on a perfect reconciliation between Lucas and El/Mike in the junkyard. The rest of the episode centers around the plot of getting El in the bathtub to locate Barbara (dead) and Will (alive). This is the only episode in season 1 in which the three groups of characters — Hopper and Joyce, Jonathan and Nancy, the four kids — finally come together, which makes The Bathtub a pause after the fury of The Monster and a calm before the storm of The Upside Down. But it’s no short-change; El’s use of the bathtub to locate Will in the shadow version of Castle Byers is creepy as hell.

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18. Season 3, Episode 3: The Case of the Missing Lifeguard. 4 ½ stars. If “Mad Max” is the underrated gem of season 2, this is the one for season 3. It opens on crass teenage humor, when El spies on Mike in the Void, and sees him furious at the way she dumped him in episode 2; he and Lucas are belching, farting, and denigrating the female “species” (a word El doesn’t know) as illogical and emotional; it’s a very entertaining use of the Void, which El usually uses for serious purposes. She also spies on Billy, but that turns out to be not so fun, and ends on an incendiary moment when Billy meets El for the first time. As Mind Flayer he has a flashback to her closing the Gate on him in season 2, and registers her as the supreme threat. Meanwhile Hopper has been dragged to the abandoned lab kicking and screaming by Joyce. Having ridiculed her concerns so nastily, he perhaps gets his just deserts when he is jumped from behind by the Russian Terminator. But this is ultimately Will’s episode, who realizes the Mind Flayer is back in Hawkins. This is after a long and personally hard day in which (a) Mike and Lucas mock the D&D campaign he is running for them, and to which (b) he responds by storming off in the rain, prompting (c) Mike to blast him for “not liking girls”. The tree fort scene is heartbreaking, as Will breaks down and cries, tearing up the photos of him and his friends, and smashing his sacred hideout with a baseball bat.

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19. Season 1, Episode 2: The Weirdo on Maple Street. 4 stars. The best scenes are at the Wheeler house with El and her new friends. By far the most iconic is the boys’ prepubescent horror at this girl they just met who almost gets naked in front of them. Mike handles himself with the decorum fitting his leadership role, but the reactions of Lucas and Dustin are downright hilarious. (Lucas: “Do you think she slept naked?” Dustin: indignantly mimics her taking off her dress.) Another great scene is El’s flipping the game board as she tries to convey the concept of the Upside Down. The other thread to this episode is the party at Steve’s house, in which Nancy loses her virginity. I wasn’t a fan of Nancy at this stage, and obviously not Steve either; their characters are annoying in the way of entitled teens. But it’s for this reason that their story arcs pay off so well in the later episodes.


20. Season 3, Episode 1: Suzie, Do You Copy? 4 stars. Some of the premiere’s best scenes were teased in trailers: Dustin’s return home from summer camp, and the heat between Billy and Karen Wheeler at the pool. Dustin has created the mother of all ham radios, and Billy wants to shag Mrs. Wheeler to kingdom come. Outrageously, that subplot goes nowhere, and it offends me that the Duffers teased a Billy-Karen affair (in the season-two finale and this premiere) only to drop it flat. As for our hero the young Wheeler, it’s nice to see him and El kissing in her bedroom, to Hopper’s constant outrage. Given that Hopper is about to put this relationship on ice, it’s important to see the passion that has defined Mike and El since the Christmas Snow Ball six months ago. It’s a nice catch-up on the old characters while introducing new ones, especially Robin at Scoops Ahoy. There are some tonal misfires, especially in Hopper’s scenes with Mike and El, that are played for laughs when they should be more serious.

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21. Season 2, Episode 3: The Pollywog. 4 stars. Of all the episodes in season 2, this one channels the spirit of season 1 most visibly. The boys are in fine form working tightly together, and even Mike comes out of his shell to take a proactive role, as he chastises Dustin for harboring a creature from the Upside Down. Sensing hostility, the thing makes a dash for the corridor, and the boys engage in a mad chase through the school halls, and into bathroom stalls, until Dustin secretly finds it and smuggles it under his cap. Stand-by-Me bickering is on full display here, as Dustin is willing to defend his new pet against the others no matter the cost. Then there is Mike’s jealousy over Max; he tells her point blank that she’s not welcome in their party. It would be an amusing hypocrisy given Lucas’ jealousy over Eleven last year, except that it’s genuinely sad. That sadness is compounded when Eleven, furious with Hopper, decides to break his rules and pay Mike a visit at the school and lash out at Mike from hiding. The final scene announces serious business ahead, as Will (very foolishly) faces down the Mind Flayer and gets possessed for his efforts.

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22. Season 1, Episode 5: The Flea and the Acrobat. 3 ½ stars. In which the kids learn about the shadow realm, and others get a direct taste of it — Hopper at the Hawkins institute, and Nancy in “Mirkwood” forest. Now that everyone is on to the fact that Will is probably alive, they decide to take action, but things end badly for all involved. El sabotages the shadow gate’s magnetic field, ruining Dustin’s plan with the compasses, prompting a jealous fight between Mike and Lucas. She then smashes Lucas unconscious, driving a final wedge between him and Mike before running off. But the pivotal scene is at the end, with Jonathan and Nancy out in the woods, and Nancy enters the gate and gets her (and our) first full view of the shadow beast. There’s good exposition in this episode, as the science teacher answers the kids’ questions about parallel universes, and the kids do their own research on the shadow realm in a D&D manual.

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23. Season 2, Episode 5: Dig Dug. 3 ½ stars. The middle episode of season two is good but brought down by the obnoxious character of Murray Beauman. Frankly he almost ruined Nancy and Jonathan’s story for me. He’s a crackpot conspiracy theorist, and when Nancy and Jonathan enlighten him with the truth, he hatches a plan to sell their story to the media, but only if they leave out the wild parts (about the Upside Down) no one will believe. By watering down the truth — suggesting that Hawkins Lab is guilty of poisoning people — they stand a better chance of convincing the public. Which is all fine and well; it’s his zany and obnoxious behavior that grates, and I didn’t care for the way he engineered Nancy and Jonathan’s first fuck. Meanwhile Hopper has become trapped in the underground tunnels spreading into the town, which allows the character of Bob to show his use, as he realizes that Will’s drawings of “vines” are actually those very tunnels under Hawkins connecting to lakes and quarries. It’s Eleven who gets the best part of the episode, as she flees Hopper’s cabin in search of Terry Ives. When she finds her mother, she obtains more misery, as if that were possible; Terry has been living a waking nightmare ever since being electroshocked into a blank state.

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24. Season 3, Episode 5: The Flayed. 3 ½ stars. In which the elevator keeps dropping, and Team Dustin (himself, Steve, Robin, and Erica) land in a vast underground bunker, finding the Russians working to reopen the Gate to the Upside Down. Meanwhile, Hopper and Joyce come to Alexei’s house, where they are attacked yet again by the Russian Terminator, and then proceed the next day to Illinois to recruit the thoroughly irritating-but-necessary Murray Bauman. Nancy and Jonathan join the Mike & El team, since Nancy has seen a hospital patient (during the awful Mind Flayer activation at the end of episode 4) turn black like Will did during his season-two exorcism. Their collective sleuthing leads them to the home of the newspaper editor, littered with blood and toxic chemicals, and then back to the hospital, where hell breaks loose and ends on our first solid look at the new Mind Flayer: a gross composition of mutilated human beings. (A cliffhanger: their actual battle with the beast comes in episode 6). On whole The Flayed is episode of information gathering for all the teams. There is a touching moment at the hospital where Mike shares his candy with El, asking her if her “species” likes M&Ms; his awkward way of apologizing. El seems to get it, thankfully. Mike deserves a few graces, given how Hopper’s manipulations have put him through the ringer.

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25. Season 3, Episode 2: The Mall Rats. 3 stars. It could be alternately titled “The War of the Sexes”. The rats who matter here are less the critters being absorbed into the Mind Flayer, and more the kids, who take a field trip to the Starcourt Mall as they declare war on the opposite gender. El is treated to sights she’s normally not allowed to see, and the shopping spree is Max’s attempt to convince El there is more to life than boys — and that El should “dump Mike’s ass” unless he comes back to her crawling on all fours. The boys (minus Dustin), for their part, are on a mission of amends. This is Lucas’ attempt to convince Mike that buying El a gift will make everything right between them. (Will is perhaps the only sane one: he just wants to go home and play D&D.) The boys and girls finally run into each other, sling some nastiness back and forth, and El dumps Mike indeed. Meanwhile, Hopper revels in his victory over Mike — tripping to the song “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim” — and it’s only fitting that he gets shafted by Joyce, who stands him up for dinner while he keeps boozing it up and cursing his waiter. The gender battle was a pretty good idea, though perhaps played too much for laughs.