by Sandy DeVito
Episode Four, aptly named The Body, opens right after Hopper's told Joyce and Jonathan about the body they found in the quarry. Joyce refuses to believe it's Will, and tries to tell Hopper about the lights and the monster coming through the walls. Hopper, like Jonathan, thinks Joyce is losing her mind, and tries to empathize with her, mentioning how he had to "lock all that away" when his daughter died. "You're talking about grief," Joyce tells him. "This is different." Joyce knows deep in her soul that Will is not dead - she just can't prove it yet.
This scene's also important because it becomes clear to us that Joyce and Hopper's relationship is, or used to be, more than a casual acquaintance. Hopper's attitude towards her in this scene is almost loving - he's gentle with her, holding her arm, speaking softly, looking at her face with sadness and affection. Joyce calls him "Hop." Callahan's crack a few episodes ago about them sleeping together in the past seems like less a joke now than a reality. It's obvious that Hopper cares about Joyce very much; what happened between them still remains a mystery, but it's clear they shared something once. Hop suggests she go to the morgue in the morning to identify Will's body, and in the meantime, try to get some rest. After he leaves, Jonathan listens to Joy Division's Atmosphere alone in his room, crying - and the narrative uses the fourth-wall device of using the song in the scene for us (and a great song it is, capturing melancholy as only Joy Division's music can). Joyce goes out to the shed, getting a pipe of some kind as a weapon, and sits back down, waiting for another sign. She simply refuses to give up. Joyce, go on with your bad self.
Mike and El are in the basement, and Mike is still angry. He gets annoyed with her as she messes with his walkie-talkie, asking her again why she lied to him about Will being alive. "Friends tell each other the truth, and they definitely don't lie to each other. You hurt me." Millie Bobbi Brown's face is so good at conveying emotion without her actually saying anything, and she stares at him with intensity as he says this, her face both full of sadness and determination. Suddenly, as she plays with the device, Will's voice comes over the radio, singing his favorite song, The Clash's Should I Stay or Should I Go - it's distorted and sounds like it's from very far away, but it's definitely him. El knows it, Mike knows it, and we know it too. The next morning, Mike pretends he doesn't feel well enough to go to school (look out for the Dark Crystal poster in his bedroom!), and his mom easily gives in, believing him to be sick with grief. As soon as she leaves, he sends out a message on the walkie to Lucas, demanding he and Dustin come over right away to tell them about what he and El heard the night before.
Hop is at the morgue, and finds out the regular coroner, Gary, isn't there. Instead, the woman at the front desk says that "people from State" told him to go home and conducted the autopsy themselves. This sounds suspicious as hell, and Hopper is beginning to have serious doubts of his own over Will's strange disappearance and apparent death. Joyce and Jonathan show up to look at Will's body, but they aren't permitted to get close, instead they are made to verify the body through a glass window, which is unusual. Jonathan leaves the room in frustration when it's clear Joyce still refuses to believe it's actually Will, and has a cute moment with Hopper outside - anyone else kinda hope that Hopper is secretly Jonathan's real dad? - where it's again clear that Hopper cares about Joyce just as much as Jonathan does, and his investment in this case goes beyond his job. Joyce bursts out of the autopsy room, angry and upset, exclaiming, "I don't know what you think that thing in there is, but that is not my son." Jonathan tries to go after her, pleading with her to stop deluding herself, and they argue in the middle of the sidewalk, attracting the attention of the other people in town. They part ways in anger, with Jonathan snapping at everyone that the "show's over." This reflects the general reputation the Byers had in town even before all of this happened with Will.
Nancy's trying to tell Steve about what she saw behind his house, but he refuses to believe her, instead worrying that he'll get in trouble with his parents when they find out about the party and that they were all drinking. Steve crosses over into douche-ier territory here, clearly far more worried about himself than Barb's fate, and Nancy leaves. Later, Callahan and Powell pull her out of class to ask her about Barb's disappearance (in this scene, her classroom is reading Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness - foreshadowing, no doubt), with her mother present, and she lies to them about sleeping with Steve, probably out of embarrassment. Mrs. Wheeler argues with her when they get home about the lie, and Nancy confesses that she did in fact have sex with Steve in a moment of anger, though it's obvious her mother already suspected as much. In her room alone, in tears, she looks at the shreds of the photograph that Jonathan took that night. She notices something in the corner that she didn't see before, something that looks a lot like whatever she saw in the woods behind Steve's house.
Mikes continues to pick up bits of what sounds like crying and breathing over the walkie-talkie, and Lucas thinks it's a baby, from a baby monitor in a nearby house. Mike knows that's not it, and Dustin reminds them of a time Will broke his finger and was crying - and the voice over the walkie sounds like that. Mike suggests that El is somehow channeling Will from that other place ("Like Professor X," says Dustin, from the X-Men), and the boys determine they need to find a better radio if they want to contact Will somehow. They remember their science teacher Mr. Clarke's ham radio that he let them mess around with, but realize El's appearance is too strange and they'll be under suspicion if they try to get her into the school. Next comes a scene that's cute on a surface level but contextually doesn't really make any sense - they find some of Nancy's make-up and some of her old clothes and a blonde wig and dress El up to look more "normal" - and here's the improbable part, she looks okay when they're done. These boys are all pre-pubescent, and this is 1983 - what the hell would they know about makeup and putting a wig on correctly (that shit is hard, also, professional-grade wigs are expensive, but they just found one in a box somewhere)? They simply wouldn't be able to get her looking this decent in real life. This is a moment I didn't quite buy. When she comes out, Mike remarks that she looks "pretty...pretty good." If it wasn't obvious to us already, it is now that Mike has a serious crush on her. She seems happy at being called pretty, which also rubbed me slightly wrong in that I don't necessarily understand her acceptance of the male gaze being important to the narrative at this point, or in what way she suddenly understands it, being so abused and isolated for most of her life. The juvenile romance between her and Mike is benignly cute, and it'll make more sense to the large arc if the series continues with a second season unannounced, but considering the fact that we have the whole Nancy/Steve/Jonathan subplot, it never feels necessary, and occasionally just seems out of place, such as here.
We get another scene with the hazmat guys at Hawkins Laboratory - with Brenner this time - and they're sending one guy into the gooey stuff that's taken over one of the walls (I'm gonna call it "the rift" from now on - it's clearly some kind of portal between our world and the Upside-Down parallel world of dark creepy shit). They attach an industrial hook with a cable to his suit and send him in. It's becoming increasingly clear that these guys are probably responsible for this rift opening, this portal to this other place, and are attempting to gain insight on its nature. But things aren't really going as planned. While attempting to communicate with the man they send through, they ask about what he's seeing. "Low visibility...it's all eroded," he replies. They hear him breathing, and then the horrible sound of the Thing - the monster. They try to reel him back in - he's screaming for them to pull him out - but by the time they get the cable through, it's empty, with only a bloody bit of his suit still attached.
Now that El looks relatively normal, Mike and the others take her to the school to try to get to the ham radio. The door is locked, however, and Mr. Clarke finds them. He says that if they promise to go to the assembly the school is having for Will they can use the radio for the rest of the day - there's a funny bit where he introduces himself to El and the boys pretend her name is "Eleanor" and that she's Mike's cousin. "Where exactly are you from?" Clarke asks her, clearly suspicious of her oddness. "Bad place." "SWEDEN," says Dustin, ever our comic relief. "She hates it there." "COLD," Lucas adds. At the assembly, Mike and the others notice Troy and his fellow bully laughing and mocking the kind words about Will. As the assembly breaks up, Mike goes after Troy, calling him out for being rude. Troy makes another joke about Will being gay, a "fairy," and Mike pushes him to the ground. Troy gets up and is about to hit Mike, but El gets a familiar glare, and freezes him to the spot with her mind powers. Clearly stunned, Troy wets his pants in front of almost every kid at the school who's gathered to watch the fight. Everyone laughs, and his fellow bully walks away from him in embarrassment. Payback is all the sweeter when you've got a friend with telekinesis.
Hopper's questioning Gary, the town coroner, and the guy mentions that it seemed weird that the State was so adamant about doing the autopsy on the body considering "this was Will Byers, not John F. Kennedy." Hopper is hot on the trail of something that someone wants to keep hidden. He tracks down the State deputy who found the body after seeing the man on TV, at a bar called Hideaway (with a great retro neon sign). First he buys him a drink, and makes up a story about being in a good mood because his daughter won the spelling bee that day (though we the audience know that Hop's daughter is dead). He begins to ask the deputy some lightly probing questions about how he found the body, and at first the guy claims it was just an accident, and that the quarry is owned by the state. Hop calls his bluff, however, as he knows the quarry to be privately owned, and confronts the man about the lie. The guy tries to leave, but we see Hopper outside punching the shit out of him, clearly fed up. Up until now we're used to seeing Hopper as a kind of fuzzy, sweet guy ("mornings are for coffee and contemplation"), but it quickly becomes apparent that he has a darker, more badass side that's emerging in light of all this weirdness (and ugh, is it sexy - I have a serious thing for Hopper, you guys, I mean, look at this guy). The guy confesses to being told to call in the body by his superiors, and to "not let anyone get too close to it." They both notice someone watching them in a nearby car, but before Hopper can get to it, it drives away. He turns to see the deputy has disappeared as well.
Jonathan is at the funeral home trying to pick out a coffin for Will when Nancy shows up, saying that Joyce told her he was there; she wants to ask him about the photograph, and if he noticed anything besides Barb by the pool that night. He says he didn't see anything, but when he asks her about what she saw behind Steve's house, she mentions The Thing "didn't seem to have a face," recalling Joyce's description of the thing coming out of the wall. They go to the school darkroom to develop a closer photo of the monster, and he apologizes to her for taking the pictures in the first place (a redeeming moment, considering how creepy it was). Here we get a chance to see what is potentially a possible romance between Jonathan and Nancy, despite Steve. It's obvious that Jonathan has been carrying a huge one for Nancy, probably for a long time, but Nancy's only thought of him is as an acquaintance, mostly through association from their brothers being close. Jonathan is an awkward guy, and shy, but he's clearly sincere and kind (I took a "Who Are You From Stranger Things" quiz and I got Jonathan, which make sense cuz Jonathan was me in high school, though not so much anymore). He's also crazy about her. As the photo develops, we can better see the outline of the monster - and indeed, it seems to be the one Nancy saw. We the audience know a bit more, and it looks like the monster that was with Barb in her final moments - the monster from the other place, the place through the rift, the parallel world.
Hopper's determined to get to the bottom of this, his demeanor doing a noticeable 180 at this point in the story - David Harbour makes him both intensely likable and now formidably fearless. We believe now that he used to be a big city cop. He goes back to the morgue and makes up an excuse to get into the back. He tries to bluff to the guard on duty, and when he fails, he makes that hilarious "I don't have words" scrunchy face again and knocks the guy out. When you're trying to get to the bottom of a state-led conspiracy, sometimes you gotta knock some people out. Quickly, he pulls out the slab housing the body that's supposed to be Will Byers. He hesitates for an agonizing moment, than slices through the chest with his pocket knife. A gross moment of suspense - then we realize the body is full of synthetic stuffing, like the kind used for couch pillows. This body isn't Will at all. It's a fake.
The boys and El finally get to be alone with the ham radio, and we are once more momentarily plunged into another flashback with El. This time, Brenner has a man's photo in front of her, and instructs El to find the man with her mind. "To hurt him?" she asks, going on past experience. But this time, he doesn't want her to hurt the man, but to listen to what he's saying, and relay back to Brenner. We realize that this is a test - Brenner seems to think she's capable of not only telekinesis, but some kind of telepathy, and we see that the man is in another room close by, reading random words off a sheet of paper. El begins to listen - and Brenner starts to hear the man's voice, as if transmitted over a radio, reading the words. And El herself is the transmitter. We come back to the school room: Lucas only has a moment to doubt El's ability with the ham radio when almost immediately all the lights in the room explode, and we begin to hear Will coming through the transmitter. Back at the Byers' house, Joyce has been playing Should I Stay or Should I Go, trying to get another sign from Will - at the same time the boys hear Will over the ham radio, Joyce hears him too, calling to her from the wall. She runs over to it, ripping the wallpaper away. Through the paper, it's like the wall is covered in a glass sheet, dividing our world from the dark one, and we can momentarily see the outline of Will's form, frantically beating on his side. Everything he's saying is also coming through the radio at the school, so Joyce can hear him, but so can Mike and the others, miles away. Will sounds terrified, describing the place as "like home, but it's so dark and empty, and it's cold!" They all hear the monster approaching again, and Joyce begs him to run, promising to find him. At the school, the radio explodes, bursting into flame. The pseudo-portal that formed in the wall seems to close, and Joyce frantically tries to break through, only to break a regular hole in the wall of the house, daylight streaming in from outside. The portal is closed, taking Will with it. But he's alive. The question is, how are they going to get him out of that horrible place?