Stranger Things 2 episodes 1-3 recap: New faces, new problems


Stranger Things Photo: Netflix via Netflix Press Media Center

Stranger Things 2 brings some new faces to Hawkins and continues to explore the Upside Down in a new way.

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Stranger Things 2 doesn’t open how one would expect. We’re taken to October 28, 1994 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. A robbery is in progress, but it’s during the getaway where we’re given a clue as to what’s going on. One of the robbers has powers like Eleven and we see “008” tattooed on her. Whatever is going on in Hawkins goes far beyond the small town. Also, it’s a bold move to start the new season outside of the city we’ve grown accustomed to.

“Madmax” introduces us to some new faces in Hawkins right off the bat. Murray Bauman is a washed up journalist who bombards Hopper as soon as he arrives at the station. We don’t see him again in the first three episodes, but Barb’s parents mention hiring him later in the first episode. The two new kids in town are Max and Billy. No last names are given and Billy doesn’t want anyone calling Max his sister. There’s clearly so much more to dig into with the newbies based on hints like that given in the first three episodes.

Bob Newby is new, as well, but he’s not really new to Hawkins (or at least it doesn’t appear he is). He works at the local RadioShack and gets excited about things like a JVC VHS-C camcorder. He acts like a total dad when he also admits to loving Kenny Rogers and gets excited about Mr. Mom for movie night. Despite his major cheese-factor, he’s showing interest in Will and not treating him like he’s a fragile child. Will even points that out to Jonathan. Bob doesn’t need to be a constant presence to be effective and he does have some great moments in the first few episodes. Namely, he offers to drive Will to school one day and instead of it being an awkward car ride with mom’s new boyfriend, he tell Will a story from when he was a kid and he himself was bullied. It’s a touching moment that Will ultimately circles back to at the end of “The Pollywog.”

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Will’s experience with the Upside Down is still a big focus this season. He’s struggling with what happened and going to get some treatments for it. However, Will’s episodes show a different side to the Upside Down. He’s not just reliving what happened to him, but having a whole new experience. This is a smart move from the Duffer brothers. They’re giving us more of the same, but with a fresh take on it.

Eleven doesn’t make an appearance until we see her at Hopper’s cabin at the end of “Madmax.” Hopper has a secret knock so she knows to open the door for him. She’s not allowed outside and even though it’s for her safety, it’s no way for a kid to live. She understands this and so does Hopper. He’s never really happy about having to keep her there, but he also doesn’t want the authorities (or the doctors) getting their hands on her.

Stranger Things Photo: Netflix via Netflix Press Media Center

Mike and Eleven have a strong connection with one another. In “Madmax,” Mike continues counting how many days it’s been since she went away. In “The Pollywog,” Eleven breaks rule #3 and heads outside, alone, during the day. She makes her way to the school and sees Max with Mike. It upsets her and she makes Max fall off of her skateboard. Max quickly mentions a magnet and Mike instantly knows Eleven is around. In “Trick or Treat, Freak,” Eleven can see Mike and for an instance we think he knows she’s there, but then he put the walkie talkie away and the moment ends with Eleven’s nose starting to bleed.

With these first three episodes, there’s a lot to pick apart. Joyce is still the overbearing, paranoid mother we saw in the first season. Bob brings some stability to her life, which is nice, but it still feels like she’s going to become unhinged again. Personally, I would love to see some more advancement with her character. If she continues on the path she’s on, she’ll smother Will, which is certainly not what he needs.

The technology alone is something fun to look at. The camcorder is Bob’s brand new toy and the boys still heavily use the walkie talkies. Nancy even mentions buying a “walkman” from RadioShack, even though we all know that isn’t what she bought. Just these few items intensify the nostalgia factor of the show. Plus, the kids go dressed up as Ghostbusters except their proton packs aren’t actually functional.

Stranger Things Photo: Netflix via Netflix Press Media Center

It isn’t until “Trick or Treat, Freak” that Max starts hanging out with the boys. The fact that something as simple as befriending the new girl took a little over an episode to accomplish speaks to how much thought is put into this show. They followed her around a bit in the first episode, which she did in fact notice. Subtlety isn’t exactly their strong suit, but in the end, they convinced her to give them a shot. Mike isn’t happy with the decision, but none of them really know her.

Jonathan doesn’t have too terribly much to do in the first three episodes. He chats with Will and lets him go trick or treating without him watching over. He then does a very un-Jonathan like thing and heads to a Halloween party. However, he doesn’t dress up, so in a way he’s still staying in character. Luckily for Nancy, though, he does go because she fights with Steve and Jonathan takes her home. Steve even calls him her other boyfriend, which probably isn’t the brightest move. Nancy then turns to Jonathan to try to get justice for Barb. I’m interested in whether or not Nancy and Steve make it through this rough patch.

Stranger Things Photo: Netflix via Netflix Press Media Center

Barb, Dart, and the pumpkin debacle all deserve mentions, too. Nancy’s concern for Barb doesn’t go unnoticed, but to her, no one else seems to care. Is this focus on Barb more of a fan service? Maybe, but the way it’s implemented within the story makes sense. And if “The Pollywog” is any indication, we’re far from done with Barb.

Dart (short for d’Artagnan) steals a bit of the focus in “The Pollywog.” Dustin finds the creature in his trash can and it’s neither a pollywog nor a reptile. The conclusion ends up being that maybe it’s from the Upside Down. Dart also grows rapidly, which oddly doesn’t concern Dustin one bit (it should, though). He goes as far as lying about not finding Dart when they lose him at school. Dustin’s obsession with the creature even has him stealing from the library of all places, which is how he knows it’s a totally different species.

The pumpkin debacle starts in “Madmax” and continues throughout. Pumpkins and crops are completely dead and Hopper figures out that the lab is at the center of it. It may seem like a silly storyline, but there’s a strong feeling that it’s going to be important down the line. They’re even being tested to see what’s wrong with the crops and trying to figure out what’s happening with them.

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These first three episodes are a solid start to Stranger Things 2. There are a lot of different ways certain situations can go and with six episodes left, they have plenty of time to flesh out the new characters some more.

Stranger Things 2 is now streaming on Netflix.