Photo: Netflix

Stranger Things – ‘Trick or Treat, Freaks’

I’ve never cared much for Halloween. Whether I was going to go trick or treating, as the boys and Max do, or go to a wild Halloween party, as the older kids do, or even just stay in and watch a horror movie, as Hopper and Eleven planned to do, I think I’d rather just not bother and treat it like any other day of the year. While that probably makes me out to be really miserable, it’s a standpoint you can get away with here in the UK. Over in the USA it’s a different story, as the latest episode of Stranger Things, ‘Trick or Treat, Freaks,’ has reminded me. I’m still not quite sure if the party we see in this episode is a true reflection of American Halloween parties or a glamourized exaggeration but, either way, this is the context which we find the characters in for this episode.

Having revealed at the end of episode one that Eleven is currently living in the woods with Hopper, we begin this episode by picking up from where we last saw Eleven in Season One. The episode is then peppered with flashbacks as we learn how Eleven survived in the woods before eventually finding those Eggos that we saw Hopper leave for her at the end of the first season. Hopper’s relationship with Eleven, as her adopted father, is really rather sweet, as it clearly means as much to him as it does to El, as a chance to move on from the tragic death of his young daughter, Sara. And so, for all the genuine care and affection he shows, it’s disappointing to see him let Eleven down at the end of the episode, by going back on his promise and returning home late.

It’s actually refreshing to see so many happy family relationships

Meanwhile, Will is suffering from frequent ‘episodes’, giving the series its steady dose of horror. We also learn that Will is fed up of everyone treating him with such concern, after having seen his mum frantically searching the house for him despite the fact that he was just peeing. I really like the Byers family, which is largely down to Joyce and just how believable she is with her sincere motherly concern. She’s right to tell Bob that they aren’t a ‘normal family’, but this doesn’t change the fact that they are a really close and genuinely loving family, from Joyce’s care for her sons to Jonathon and Will’s friendship. Bob is actually a nice fit for the family, somewhat goofy but affectionate too.

I think this is one of the things that I enjoy about Stranger Things. It’s actually refreshing to see so many happy family relationships, epitomised in the Ghostbusters montage as the boys’ parents photograph them in costume, and also in the equally familial bond between Eleven and Hopper. When so many dramas these days are full of broken and distant families, Stanger Things largely leaves this aside and derives its tension and horror from its fantasy world instead. However, I shouldn’t fail to mention the one family bond that isn’t so pleasant, between new kids Max and Billy. So far, they are only on the side-lines of the story, but Max is looking like a promising new dynamic amongst the boys, whilst Billy is rather uninteresting.

Nancy and Steve’s relationship takes a turn for the worst at the Halloween party, and I think it’s worth praising Natalia Dyer (Nancy) for a thoroughly convincing and entertaining performance at being drunk. After she’s called bullshit on everything to do with Steve, it is of course Jonathon who comes to her aid and helps her get home safely. The whole love triangle is feeling a tad drawn out, since if Nancy was going to reject Steve so soon it begs the question of why she chose him over Jonathon at the end of Season 1.

I felt as bad for Barb as anyone after her gruesome and quickly-forgotten demise, but dragging it all back up doesn’t really add anything to Season 2

But if we backtrack to even earlier in the episode, Nancy’s story for this season takes an even more tiresome turn as she gets worked up about how everyone has forgotten Barb and is acting like nothing happened… even though Barb disappeared a year ago now. This little wink to all the fans in the #JusticeforBarb crew last year is about as far from subtle as they could have got – it’s blatantly happening as a poor attempt at appeasing fans, rather than a natural progression that moves the plot forward. I felt as bad for Barb as anyone after her gruesome and quickly-forgotten demise, but dragging it all back up doesn’t really add anything to Season 2.

The episode ends with an intriguing cliff-hanger, as Dustin appears to have found something strange in his bin. Now we have to spend all of ten seconds before the next episode auto-plays wondering what it could possibly be…

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