Our watchthrough of Stranger Things 2 continues with the second episode, “Trick or Treat, Freak.”
[Warning: The following contains major spoilers for Stranger Things 2, episode 2.]
The first episode of Stranger Things’ sophomore season gave us fewer answers to last season’s finale than we may have wanted, but the second episode helps fill in those gaps. If the season premiere was a reminder of everyone who appeared in the first season and everything that happened, the second episode is where we really begin our story.
With those formalities out of the way, Stranger Things 2 gets into what makes it good. We get to peek behind the curtain that leads to the Upside Down. We get to spend more time with our group of growing boys. Most importantly, we get to finally dig into Eleven’s backstory a little more, learning more about last season’s most interesting, but least fleshed-out character.
Before we dive into the second episode, let’s recap everything that happened in the premiere:
Top moments from episode one — “Mad Max”
- Introduction of 008, another girl with psionic abilities
- New characters, including a mysterious stud, Joyce’s new boyfriend, Bob, and a tomboyish girl named Max.
- Pumpkins are rotting
- Eleven is holed up at Jim Hopper’s place
- The love triangle between Steve, Nancy and Jonathan continues
- Will is still having visions of the Upside Down
- Mike Wheeler
- Lucas Sinclair
- Will Byers
- Dustin Henderson
- Steve Harrington
- Nancy Wheeler
- Jonathan Byers
- Jim Hopper
- Hawkins National Laboratory
- Hawkins middle school
- Hawkins high school
- Jim Hopper’s house
Though absent from the premiere, The Duffer Brothers waste no more time in revealing the fate of Eleven in the moments after she and her now-vanquished demogorgon disappeared from our plane of existence. The last words the Hawkins four — Mike included — heard from her last season were “No more.”
The goodbye is given as the screen is black. The violent flashes and reverberated screams clue the audience as to exactly where we were in the Stranger Things timeline, about halfway through the season one finale. Eleven wakes up on the floor of the Upside Down world’s classroom, a moment of panic as she assesses the situation. The demogorgon is indeed no more, and she is alone amidst a familiar parallel world, surrounded by a blue hue and a proliferation of vines.
“Mike?” She asks again and again, the desperation in her question increasing with every repetition. She wanders the vine-infested halls looking for what’s next. It doesn’t take long for her to find a red glow that juxtaposes the atmosphere, a glow emanating from a small break between the dimensions. The soldiers who marched through the hallways in the finale are still out there making one last pass at searching. She waits, not long, before it’s safe enough to investigate the perforation. She tries to push her hand through, the thick film stretching across her hand. The Duffer Brothers have made some strong choices in how they visualize the parallel dimensions, both in the color and in the sound mixing — in the real world, the sound of Eleven stretching through is almost comically quiet, with no echoes or random growls and hums.
With a quick work of her powers — a trace of blood still running down her nose — the whole enlarges and Eleven bursts out of the Upside Down world through a slit out of the concrete wall. The metaphor isn’t subtle: Eleven has been reborn, and is back in the real world.
But she isn’t back with the main cast year. After wandering out of the school, we see where she turns to first: the home of Mike Wheeler’s family, which is illuminated by the flashing blue lights of several otherwise-unmarked police cars.
Eleven sneaks up to the window. The house is crowded with an unnecessary number of agents interrogating the entire Wheeler family in separate spots. Mike’s dad is more than understanding:
Agent: “The most important thing is for you to try and go on with your lives and to keep all of this.”
Ted Wheeler: “— top secret. Understood.”
Meanwhile, Mike is being told about how “dangerous” Eleven is, as she looks through the window. They lock eyes, and she knows that this home of hers is not safe. She’s back in the world she wants, but in this moment she doesn’t have a home to return to.
The agents notice Mike looking out, and knowing what that means, they fan out from the front door looking for her. But Eleven is already in hiding, crouching in the fetal position under a log. She keeps her sobs as low as she can. She is back, but she is alone.
Hopper and Eleven’s relationship is continuing to flourish as they settle into their makeshift home. Hopper still won’t Eleven leave the house out of fear that she’ll be spotted and taken away, but this is becoming an increasingly difficult task. Left with nothing but a crappy television set to amuse her, Eleven is aware that it’s Halloween and wants to go out trick-or-treating with friends. She’s even made a costume — the irony of Eleven wanting to be a ghost while her friends are the Ghostbusters isn’t lost on us.
Hopper won’t budge on it, and we don’t blame him. He cares for Eleven and he wants to make certain she’s not stolen from him. But it’s clear that each other’s schedule isn’t going to work for the other person. Eleven wants someone who’s reliable and, unfortunately for Hopper, his job keeps him very busy.
So, they compromise, a new word he teaches to Eleven. This way, they can be halfway happy instead of completely miserable. He promises to be home early, so they can eat candy together and hang out. In return, she promises not to go out. Compromise.
Who you gonna call?
Eleven is a ghost and the boys are Ghostbusters, because this is the early 1980s and nothing is cooler than Ghostbusters. As the boys get ready, it’s Will that we should be paying most attention to. It’s always Will. While he’s putting the finishing touches on his costume, Joyce comes across a drawing of the Demogorgon on his desk. She asks him if he’s having more “episodes” and he lies; we have to assume that it’s out of a desire to protect his mother and make himself seem as normal as possible. We know Will hates to be thought of as a freak, and admitting to having more episodes would only further push him into that category.
From here, we get into one of the more lighthearted scenes of the series. Stranger Things 2 as a whole is scarier and funnier than the first, and this scene exemplifies the latter. After arguing about which friend should be playing which Ghostbuster, the boys realize that no one else has shown up in their costumes. They’re tossed into the loser pile, the odd ones out — think the group of friends from It — who are now the childish tweens who showed up to school in costumes.
Things go from bad to worse when Lucas and Dustin spot Max, the new girl they have a crush on, skateboarding down the hall. The goal is to ask Max out on a date, but to get that far, they have to first talk to her.
They’re aware of the differences between themselves and Max which go beyond the fact she’s not in a costume and they are. It’s an example of how Max tries to be cool, whereas their group doesn’t. They embrace their nerdiness and, it’s only with the appearance of Max, do they realize just how uncool they are.
Still, Dustin and Lucas do talk to Max and without making fools of themselves. They even ask her to hang out and go trick or treating with them later that night. It’s not the smoothest of introductions, but it’s adorable watching them work up the nerve.
Those were the days
The relationship we’re forever rooting for is Joyce and Hopper. While sitting at Joyce’s kitchen and talking about what Will is seeing and worrying about what’s happening, they get lost talking about the good old days. It’s the look that really gets you; the look in Hopper’s eyes as he stares at her.
There’s nothing that we can infer from this other than the fact that Hopper wants to be with Joyce, but we need to relish these small, beautiful moments.
It’s back to Hawkins National Laboratory where something has gone very wrong. Remember the employee so busy playing with a ball and listening to music that he didn’t notice something very strange was happening in the parallel world? Jurassic Park, much? There is an issue, however, and it’s up to the guy in the hazmat suit to go in and fix it, which he does, with little concern for his own safety.
The team is working their hardest to ensure that the Upside Down stops leaking into the real world. They’re sending in people to cauterize it and ensure that the two worlds remain separate. It’s not going exactly as planned, however, based on what’s happening with the pumpkins.
We know that the Upside Down is leaking. We know it has a connection to Eleven and Will. We know that the doctors and scientists at the Hawkins National Laboratory are aware of all these things. It’s a race against the clock at this point, and the scientists are losing out.
Poor Nancy. She’s still reeling from the death of her best friend and dealing with her role in the situation. She doesn’t know what to do and it’s really weighing on her. After the dinner she had with Steve and Barb’s parents, Nancy is convinced she’s going to have to confess and it’s starting to weigh on Steve’s mind.
This is the turning point for Steve’s character: he wants to be the good guy. He’s not the “king of douchebags” that he was in the first season. He’s a man in love with Nancy, who went through a traumatic experience with her, and wants to be with her.
Steve isn’t just looking out for his future, he’s also looking out for Nancy’s. He is willing to be there for her every step of the way as she processes what happened, but doesn’t want her to succumb to her guilt and kill any chance at a hopeful future while doing so.
Watching Steve be there for Nancy, especially in later scenes when he’s keeping an eye on how much she’s drinking and trying to persuade her not to make a mistake, is heartwarming.
That’s also why it’s so painful to watch Nancy tell him that their relationship is bullshit, calling the love he carries for her bullshit. He’s trying to be the man that Nancy wants him to be, but he’s learning their relationship isn’t as strong as he may have thought.
They have a rocky road ahead of them and, standing just on the outskirts of it all, is Jonathan. We saw how quickly Jonathan rushed to Nancy’s side after Steve stormed out following their fight. We know that Jonathan is in love with Nancy, and that Nancy is in love with Jonathan. Now Steve is finding that out.
To quote 1980s pop star Pat Benatar, love is indeed a battlefield.
In Eleven’s second flashback, we get a view into her life as a homeless girl living in the cold woods. She uses her psionic abilities to fling a squirrel into a tree and, we presume, cook herself a dinner. Her hair is a little longer and she’s learned to survive in the harshest of conditions.
More integral to this scene is the way Eleven uses her psionic abilities in encounters with others. When a man approaches her, attempting to communicate with Eleven, she levitates the flaming squirrel and flings it at his face. Knocked unconscious, Eleven steals his jacket and hat, running into the woods.
It’s an important moment in Eleven’s development as she realizes she can take care of herself and use her powers to her advantage on her own. She’s learning that her powers are apart of her, and accepting it.
The pumpkins are rotting, and it’s becoming a much, much bigger issue.
After hearing testimony from more farmers about their pumpkins and crops dying in large numbers, Hopper goes to investigate. He’s the only person who’s aware that this may be a bigger issue, but can’t let anyone in on that. To do so would break his agreement from the end of the last season and risk exposing Eleven.
Still, as the chief of police, he can’t led this slide. He decides to use marker flags as a way to get a better picture of how the disease is spreading in an effort to contain it. Hopper needs to know everything about the situation before he can approach the scientists at Hawkins National Laboratory about it. He doesn’t need help with this from his fellow officers, but rather an experiment: he’ll demand an explanation from the scientists after talking to those who promised to keep the Upside Down from leaking.
Bad, bad Billy
Billy is the most intriguing new character. The sophomore episode gives us a little more insight into who this character really is and, well, he’s kind of a dick. He’s not only suffering from “older stepbrother who hates his younger stepsister” syndrome, but has no respect for other peoples lives.
The concept of who Billy really is as a character isn’t shown to us until he’s driving down a side road with Max and quickly coming up on the back of Mike, Lucas and Dustin riding their bikes. Instead of slowing down or moving to the side to ensure they’re not harmed, he speeds up. It’s only when Max grabs the wheel and swerves to avoid hitting her newfound friends that the disastrous situation is avoided.
Billy flaunts his reckless attitude, and stuck in a town he hates, he’s determined to make it known that he’s the tough guy. He’s the new king, not Steve Harrington. It’s alpha dog versus alpha dog, and Billy won’t go down without a fight. He needs to be the best looking, the toughest, the one who parties hardest.
He’s the type of character who we’re interested in getting to know over the next few episodes. It’s too early to label him a total monster, but he’s certainly headed in that direction.
So, about Bob
Will and Jonathan’s sibling relationship is one of the show’s better familial bonds. Will looks up to Jonathan, and Jonathan considers Will one of his best friends. Their time together alone in the family car, as Jonathan drives Will to go see his friends, is a great example of their relationship.
Jonathan has been a father figure to Will for quite some time, including making parental decisions that put him in the “cool older brother” category. Allowing Will to go trick or treating with his friends, instead of under supervision, is more proof Jonathan just wants his younger brother to be happy. Will’s life is surrounded by chaos and if he can have one night where he doesn’t feel like a freak, Jonathan wants to give it to him.
It’s this obsession with normality that puts Bob, Joyce’s boyfriend, in a predicament. Bob is as normal as they come, choosing to sit at home and watch Mr. Mom instead of asking for a night on the town. When he proposes to Joyce that they leave Hawkins together, as a family, and start anew in Maine, he’s offering them the chance at a normal life.
But can Joyce, Jonathan and Will ever really leave Hawkins? Emotions aside, Will has a physical connection to Hawkins and the Upside Down that he can’t just escape. The normal life they desperately want is within reach, but they can never fully embrace it. Bob will have to do.
One of the boys?
If a girl jumps out in a Michael Myers costume, scaring the crap out of you, chances are you’re going to want to be best friends with her. Taking up Dustin and Lucas on their invite, Max joins the boy for a night of trick or treating, but not everyone is as pleased as the aforementioned two harboring a crush on her.
Mike hates Max. He doesn’t know her, but he’s not down with a new girl joining their party. It’s understandable; Mike is still missing Eleven and she was the first girl to be accepted by the group. Mike’s connection to Eleven is stronger than the rest and he spends his time obsessing over where she is. Like his best friend, Will, Mike just wants to protect Eleven from harms way and that becomes extra challenging when she’s not living in his basement.
That’s why the sudden introduction of Max is jarring and anger-inducing for Mike. Mike tells Will later in the episode about how he sees Eleven and hears her voice, admitting that he feels like he’s losing his mind. Mike’s connection to Eleven is ongoing, much like Will’s connection to the Upside Down. Will and Mike are able to bond over this inability to not move past what’s happened; as Will says, he’s got one foot in the Upside Down and one foot in the real world. Mike has one foot in the present, a world where Eleven doesn’t live with him, and one foot in the past, where she does.
It comes down to Mike feeling like everyone has moved beyond what happened last year and he’s the only one who’s worried about their friend. Max is going to be a contentious addition to their party for Mike. It’s going to be a bumpy ride for the two of them for a while yet.
Get it together, Hopper
Hopper is married to his job. That’s not usually a bad thing, but when caring for a young girl cooped up in a creepy house, sacrifices on the job front need to be made. When Hopper realizes that he’s super late for his Halloween hang with Eleven, he sends out a message using morse code to tell her. The heads up is nice, but it’s not the be end all of what Eleven was expecting that night.
She’s mad. Really mad. When Hopper arrives home, he tries to get her to come out of her room with the promise of candy, but to no avail. Eleven is frustrated with the lack of freedom she has and the reliance she puts on Hopper. A flashback to an earlier time, when she was still lost in the woods, reminds us that she’s always been in the care of someone. Eggo waffles and clothing stuck inside a box in the middle of the woods lets us know that she’s being watched and taken care of, but it also reinforces the notion that Eleven is never truly free.
Instead of spending her Halloween with Hopper, eating candy and watching scary movies, as they had planned, Eleven puts on a blindfold and tracks down Mike. She goes to him, and he acknowledges her. He can’t be sure that she’s there, but there’s a presence. We watch Eleven reach her hand up toward his face and try to grab it, only for him to walk away before she can connect. The blindfold is removed and she breaks down crying.
Again, it’s this connection that Eleven and Mike have with each other that we’ll see explored more in-depth this season. They are, quite frankly, in love and will stop at nothing to find each other. They know the other person is out there and they want to be reunited. For Eleven, that means being given the freedom to do just that — go and seek Mike out with repercussion from Hopper. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen anytime soon.
Back to the Upside Down
Poor Will just can’t catch a break. While out with his friends, a group of bullies descend on him, calling his names and scaring him. When Will falls back, he’s immediately transported back to the Upside Down.
The monster is back and scarier than ever, so Will does the only thing he knows how to: runs. He runs as fast as he can, taking refuge behind a statue as the monster starts to encompass him. Will is terrified, frozen in place, trying to block out everything that’s happening. It’s only when Mike calls his name that Will is brought out of the world. Mike decides to take him home, leaving Lucas and Dustin to trick or treat with Max alone.
Will’s visits to the Upside Down are becoming more frequent, and it’s clear that this monster is a part of him. With the Upside Down leaking into Hawkins and Will unable to escape from the monster’s clutches, it’s only a matter of time before everything goes to hell once and for all.
Upon Dustin’s return home, he hears a rustling, chirping sound emanating from the trash can. He walks up to it, slowly, ready to fight whatever’s in there. Whipping the lid off the trash can, it’s evident that Dustin has found … something. We’re not sure what it is, but you can bet it’s related to the Upside Down, as just about everything is.
We expect to learn more about this cliffhanger in the next episode, “The Pollywog.” Just listen to that name!
Stranger Things 2 is available to stream on Netflix now.
-Ross Miller contributed to this report.