Monday, November 6, 2017

Mini-Review: Stranger Things 2, Ep. 4


Netflix's runaway hit Stranger Things gained its popularity in part by patiently building a foreboding tone and slowly dipping into the horror well. Season 1 nurtured a buildup not unlike the great season-long slow-burns of Homeland. Season 2 has the same content, but it doesn't seem stitched together so well. The fourth episode of Season 2, however, broke the mold of the show by adding drama that was too good for the surrounding stories.

By now Sheriff Hopper (David Harbour) has taken in secret the orphaned Eleven (Millie Bobbie Brown), hunted by the scientists who know of her telekinetic powers, as ward. In fact, he has taken his job at safeguarding her so far as to have essentially imprisoned her in a far off cabin in the woods. On the edge of adolescence, however, Eleven has grown impatient and not only ventured out, but been seen. Their ensuing confrontation is far more frightening than any supernatural boogeyman the show has yet thrown at us.

As in all arguments, the two start off justifying their positions and blaming the other for violating their agreement. Then they construe the worst of the other: one is lying, the other is willful. Each step of they way they cut off the path to peace. Punishments become threats, complaints turn to epithets.

We grow more and more afraid because both characters have power over each other. Hopper, as the adult and sheriff, has great power of authority, physical strength, and the ability to be cruel. Yet Elven too is a threat since she is not powerless but, untutored, in the possession of potent telekinetic abilities. As we see both in the grip of anger and frustration fail to calm the situation and allow themselves to get provoked into anger, we fear what each might do.

We also pity them, for both characters hurtle toward voluntarily destroying someone who has filled a painful emptiness in their lives. In their new relationship as father and daughter they have begun to make a life together.

Yet the past skews their new roles. Hopper in his outburst becomes tyrannical, like Eleven's real father, overcompensating for the protection he could not provide his own daughter. Eleven, in turn, flies out of Hopper's control–as did his real daughter, in effect, by her death–overcompensating for her suffering under her tyrannical biological father. Both turn into monstrous forms of themselves, abusing the unspoken love which has been given them and which they have begun to cherish.

This scene is great drama and by its end I could not have cared less about the supernatural monsters. The real ones are far more frightening.

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