by Sandy DeVito
Episode 6, The Monster, opens as Nancy and Jonathan are still screaming for each other in the woods, Nancy trapped in the Upside Down on the other side of the tree rift, unbeknownst to Jonathan. They can hear each other, though - once again proving that our world and the Upside Down are closer in stranger ways than the residents of Hawkins or we, the audience, understand. On Nancy's side the monster is looking for her too, and she hides behind a tree, breathless, as it stalks the surrounding area. On our side, Jonathan finally finds the tree with the rift and peers into it, realizing Nancy's voice seems to be coming from inside. There's a horrifying moment where we wonder if the monster is going to find Nancy before Jonathan does - then her hand reaches through the goopy matter of the rift. She falls into Jonathan's arms sobbing, and as he holds her (I'm sure it's terrible for him), he sees the rift in the tree close itself behind her as if it was never there at all.
Steve and his annoying friends are driving to Nancy's house as he tells them how weird she's been acting (Corey Hart's Sunglasses at Night playing in the background - ugh, so good). Tommy and Carol mock him, but it's obvious in this scene that Steve really does care about Nancy, and that he's worried about her. Steve's pretty well done as a character in my opinion - Joe Neery manages to make him both a nostalgic caricature of the cool boyfriend for this time period, while also subverting the stereotype enough to not be utterly hateable. But this is his only redeeming scene in this episode, I'm afraid - right after it, they get to the Wheeler's and Steve tries to climb up to her room again, only to see her sitting at the edge of her bed with Jonathan, his arm around her. Steve wasn't there for all that stuff with the monster, so his expression tells us everything we need to know - he's assuming the worst, and he's pissed.
Hop is still with Joyce, telling her everything he saw when he broke into Hawkins Lab. He mentions the room that obviously belonged to a child, and the picture hanging on the wall - Joyce asks if it was "good," showing him a picture Will actually drew. Will's a good artist, but the picture was stick figures; it couldn't have been drawn by him. Hop recalls talking to one of the customers at Benny's restaurant who saw the boy with the shaved head, and how he didn't seem sure if it could have been Will or not. He mentions the case he found on the microfilm at the library, too - the woman named Terry Ives who claimed Hawkins Lab stole her child. "What if this whole time I've been looking for Will, I've been chasing after some other kid?" Congrats Hop, you're catching up with the audience.
Nancy tries to take a shower but keeps having terrifying flashbacks of the monster she saw in the woods. Time for SEXUAL TENSION between the young adults in the story, y'all. Jonathan suggests he sleep on the floor, "unless you--" "No. I don't want to be alone," Nancy says. They both lay down for a moment, and there's an awkward silence - then Nancy asks if he'll come up and lay beside her. You just know Jonathan probably has a giant boner in this scene. Sorry, it's all I could think about while watching it. He's probably been dreaming of laying in a bed with Nancy Wheeler for like two years. They don't do anything, though. Just lay there in silence. Jonathan reassures her the thing can't get them in the safety of the house. "We don't know that," Nancy replies ("Oh my sweet summer child Jonathan," I thought). It's clearly not from this world - who knows what it can do. The next morning, Jonathan wakes up to find Nancy has been up all night, sleepless from fear. She's been thinking hard about the place on the other side of the tree rift, and has surmised that the monster lives there, because it went there to feed. "Will and Barbara--" she murmurs, assuming the worst. Jonathan tries to reassure her by reminding her that Joyce claims she spoke to Will, which would mean he's still alive. "...if Will is alive, Barb might be too." But that would mean Barb is trapped there, too. Nancy insists they go back and try to find the rift again. She's been looking through some old nature books overnight, and has surmised the monster is a predator that hunts at night, that it hunts alone, like a bear, and that it can smell blood, like a shark - she reminds Jonathan that Barb cut her finger the night she went missing. She proposes they test this theory, and set a trap for it. Suddenly, we hear a sharp rattling at Nancy's door - but false alarm, it's her mother asking her to come down to breakfast. She lies and says she's getting dressed and will be down in a minute. But we see that for a moment, Jonathan and Nancy grabbed each other's hand.
We see Hop using a payphone to call someone - clearly it's someone he knows from when he was a "big city" cop (I'm assuming maybe in Indianapolis, since this is Indiana?), and that he's asking them for information on Terry Ives. He writes something on his hand - later we know it was an address - and tells them to "say hi to the boys for me," and later, we see he and Joyce arrive at a house. A woman answers the door and Hop asks for Ives, explaining he's the Hawkins police chief and they need to speak with her. The woman, who turns out to be Ives' sister, lets them come inside, but insists they won't get much in the way of information. "You're about five years too late for that." Turns out Terry Ives is confined to her chair, hardly better than comatose, and is totally unresponsive to their questions. Her sister, however, explains that when Terry was younger, she participated in a paid experiment with Hawkins Lab (Hop calls it "MK Ultra"), where they fed her drugs, stripped her naked and put her in an isolation tank for extended periods of time. "They wanted to expand the boundaries of the mind," she says, but Terry was unaware that she was pregnant at the time. Her sister tells them Terry miscarried in her third trimester, but she insists that her daughter is still alive and will someday return to her. "She pretends Jane (the name she gave her) is real." Her sister also explains to them that Terry claims Jane had abilities - and here we see this conversation juxtaposed with past flashbacks of El in the lab, throwing the orderly into the wall, snapping the neck of the other - "read any Stephen King?" the sister remarks. She can see that Joyce and Hop are serious, however. Joyce asks how she can be certain the child didn't survive after all, but the sister claims there's no proof of any kind, and the doctors and nurses all insist Terry miscarried. Hop knows better than to trust this, though - "that could've been covered up, right?" But the sister dismisses them. She doesn't know what we know. She hasn't seen what Hop's seen.
There's a quick little scene in here somewhere where a familiar woman (if you're paying attention you'll recognize her as the woman who showed up at Benny's claiming to be from social services who then shot him in the head) shows up at Mr. Clarke's door, professing to be from the state AV Club, which Clarke is in charge of at Hawkins High. She asks if he knows any youngsters in the club who would be good candidates for a state-run program for students who might excel in technological careers. It's implied that he tells her the names and information for our group of heroic youngsters - and now Hawkins Lab, and whoever is in charge of it, knows where Mike, Lucas, and Dustin live, and by association, where El is hiding.
Mike is in his basement alone, longingly looking at the door as if hoping El will emerge through it at any moment. He goes over to her blanket fort and tears it apart in frustration and anger (spot The Thing poster here). Later, we see Dustin biking to Mike's house, Lucas noticeably missing after the fight they had which caused El to throw him and then disappear herself. Dustin insists Mike go apologize to Lucas - to "shake his hand." The boys clearly operate on a complex system of honor, partly inspired by their favorite game, D&D. Dustin insists that because Mike "drew first blood," he's mostly to blame for the situation, but that Lucas and El share in the blame, too. "This isn't a discussion, this is the rule of law," he insists. "Obey, or be banished from the party." The boys all stick within their defined roles in this narrative neatly - Dustin is so clearly the peacemaker in every situation, the fun and funny voice of kindness and order. "We're gonna go get Lucas, and then we're gonna find Eleven."
Flashback time. Brenner comes to visit El in her tiny room at Hawkins Lab, giving her a small plant. "Today is a very special day," he tells her. "Today we make history. Today we make contact." We are pulled out of the memory as El wakes up in the middle of the woods in full daylight, dirty and disheveled, clearly having slept there all night (at least she didn't wear the wig to bed - that would have really been too much). She still has the wig with her, though - and goes to a nearby body of water to use it as a mirror, trying to put the wig back on. It's damaged beyond repair, though, and she gives up, her scream of frustration causing the water to explode in ripples, birds clouding the air and screeching. This scene reflects El's unspoken fear that no matter how much she wants to be like the normal residents of Hawkins, she will always be an outsider. Starving, she approaches a nearby supermarket, immediately drawing attention with her shorn hair and dirty face and dress. These unkind, staring faces seem to plunge her once more into a memory - Brenner is leading her back to the isolation tank and groups of lab coats are staring at her similarly. He admonishes her to ignore them, to stay "in here," holding a finger to her forehead. "Yes, Papa," she replies (is Brenner her actual father, or did he just tell her he is?). El is afraid, but Brenner insists that the monster she saw before can't hurt her, "not from here. It's reaching out to you, because it wants you. It's calling you. So don't turn away from it this time. I want you to find it. Understand?" El is lowered into the tank once more, and when they shut her in, she opens her eyes to find herself in the Under-the-Skin void again. But we're snapped back to the supermarket as she snaps out of the memory - an employee is attempting to talk to her, asking if she's lost, if her parents are in the store somewhere. "Mouthbreather," she mumbles at him, recalling the word Mike used to describe bully Troy and his cronie. She notices a nearby freezer is full of boxes of Eggo waffles - clearly her favorite of the food Mike gave her before. She ignores the employee, grabbing armfuls of boxes, and heading for the door. The man tries to stop her, shouting after her, but she yanks a shopping cart in his way with her telekinesis, and slams the sliding glass doors of the entrance closed with so much force that they shatter.
Dustin and Mike show up at Lucas', and Mike attempts to apologize, but Lucas is the pragmatist - he won't accept until they "forget the weirdo" and head for the gate themselves. Mike refuses. Dustin keeps trying to appeal to their better natures, reminding them of a D&D game that went wrong when they couldn't agree on a decision. They work better when they work as a group, he insists. "We stick together, no matter what!" Lucas argues that El isn't part of their group, reminding them that she threw him into the wall and could have seriously hurt him. Mike insists this is why they need her - she's the only real weapon they have, and without her they have nothing but wrist rockets. But Lucas can't be persuaded, and says he's going to look for the gate alone if they won't ditch her.
Mrs. Wheeler goes up to Nancy's room again when she still hasn't come down for breakfast - but there's no answer and the door is still locked. Clearly not one to be deterred by something as measly as a locked door, Mrs. Wheeler uses a hair pin to jiggle it open, but finds an empty room and the window open. It turns out Jonathan and Nancy busted out to an army surplus store to get more sophisticated supplies to deal with the monster - they put everything from a sledgehammer to a bear trap to a propane tank and lighter fluid on the counter. "What are you kids doing with all this?" the clerk asks incredulously. "Monster hunting," Nancy replies with a smile. The guy chuckles and rings them up, giving up on asking anymore questions. As Jonathan and Nancy are loading all the gear into the back of his car, she offhandedly mentions going shopping with Barb the week before for a new blouse to impress Steve - and "now you're shopping for bear traps with Jonathan Byers," Jonathan interjects. "What's the weirdest part, me or the bear traps?" "You," Nancy smiles at him, "it's definitely you." Nancy might fall for him yet. Steve and Co. drive by right then, however, spoiling the moment. "Hey Nance, can't wait to see your movie," he calls out at her. Nancy and Jonathan are puzzled by this at first, but then Nancy has a realization - she turns and runs a block down, where the town theater, The Hawk, has had its marquee vandalized. ALL THE RIGHT MOVES, it reads, and spray-painted after the letters, STARRING NANCY THE SLUT WHEELER. That's what we get for thinking Steve might not be a huge douche for a minute, y'all. Nancy hears them talking and laughing in a nearby alleyway, and she storms over to Steve, ignoring his friends' jeering, and slaps him hard in the face.
Once more I can't say I really love the teen romance triangle in the show - I like Nancy as a character, and she and Jonathan in particular are kind of cute in an awkward way, but I dislike that her story revolves so much around the two boys who are in love with her, rather than giving her a wider, more personal narrative beyond that. Since Season 2 was finally officially announced last week as of the time I'm writing this, I'm dearly hoping her story will branch out more as the series continues. But this scene is mostly about Jonathan and Steve getting in a fight over her after Steve jeers at Jonathan, saying he used to think he was "queer" and insulting his dad and Joyce out of anger and jealousy. He thinks Nancy and Jonathan slept together and even when Nancy says nothing happened, he clearly cares more about his own assumption and wounded pride than the truth - he can also probably tell, like everyone else with eyes, how crazy about her Jonathan is, and projects that onto Nancy as well. Jonathan throws a punch and they tussle for a minute before Jonathan basically kicks the crap out of Steve until officers Callahan and Powell show up and break up the fight. Steve and his friends get away but Jonathan gets taken into the sheriff's office. Nancy tries to bail him out, and the lady at the front desk quips that she and her "boyfriend" clearly have big plans. "He's not my boyfriend," Nancy insists. "I think you'd better tell him that," the woman replies. I guess this is the first time Nancy realizes that Jonathan has been in love with her forever. Took you long enough, Nance.
As Hop and Joyce leave Terry Ives', Hop tries to reassure a despondent Joyce. "We're gonna find him. We're close." "The way Terry found her daughter?" Joyce despairs that Ives' daughter has been missing for 12 years, but Hop thinks it must have been her that showed up at Benny's five days before (I guess this means each episode is one day in Hawkins time). "Which means we have a chance. You know what I would give? For a chance?" We can only assume Hop is talking about the daughter he lost here - the nature of which we still don't know.
We see Lucas strap on his utility belt and a badass bandana, prepared to search for the gate alone. Outside his house we see the familiar white truck from the electric company - or else, the guys who claim to be from the electric company. The man in the front seat waves to Lucas, and Lucas half-heartedly waves back - it's unclear if he suspects their real motives, but we know better. He follows the compass strapped to the handlebars of his bike until it leads him to a chain fence with razor-wire along the top. He follows the fence it until it seems to zero in a specific spot - and the spot is Hawkins Lab. He climbs a nearby tree and pulls out his dad's 'nam binoculars, the better to see the shady goings-on, unaware of the strange hole that's been punched there between our world and another.
El is sitting in the woods surrounded by empty Eggo boxes (she ate all of those? half-frozen soggy Eggos? She loves them more than anyone throughout all time.) when she hears Dustin and Mike screaming her name. But she's not the only one who heard - bully Troy and his crony did too, out looking for our young heroes to pulverize them into dust (the 80's bully is a staple from its era, but these two remind me of EJ and his buddy from Monster Squad). Dustin and Mike try to escape from them, but they are trapped at the edge of the reservoir where the fake body was found. Troy grabs Dustin and holds a knife to his face, demanding to know how Mike and his friends made him freeze and wet his pants at the assembly. "Our friend has superpowers, and she squeezed your tiny bladder with her mind!" Dustin yells. Troy says he's going to cut Dustin's teeth out of his mouth if Mike doesn't jump over the side of the cliff into the water - but the fall is far too long, and foreshadowed in an earlier episode, would mostly likely break every bone in MIke's body. But Troy starts to count back from five, and Mike, clearly a selfless and loving friend, does the only thing he thinks he can to save Dustin - he jumps. Troy lets go of Dustin in surprise, and the three boys rush to the edge to peer over. Lo and behold, Mike is floating in midair; he hangs there by some secret balance for a moment, and then his body begins to float back up until he lands safely beside them.
HERE COMES EL, and she looks like she's about to set someone on fire. No way you bullies messed with her Mike. With a signature jerk of her head, we hear Troy's arm snap and he shouts in pain. He and his buddy run off, screaming. Dustin yells joyously at their retreating backs: "Yeah, that's right, you better run! She's our friend and she's crazy! You come back here and she'll kill you!" El is spent of energy once more, and nose bloody, she hits the ground in a dead faint. This immerses her once more in the memory of her second trip the void. This time, it's only her and the monster. It's hunched ahead, its back turned, feeding. She slowly approaches it, trembling, fingers outstretched. Just as she's about to touch its slimy back, its roar is cut off as she snaps back into wakefulness. Mike is staring down at her. Tearfully she tells him that she was the one who opened the gate - the rift into the Upside Down. "I'm the monster," she whispers, lip trembling. "No, El. You saved me. You saved me." He pulls her into a crushing hug, and Dustin throws his arms around them both. They dissolve into a hug pile. These precious kids are too pure for this world. My viewing of the series is in its second round to write these recaps for you guys, but the first time around, I literally burst into tears during this scene. This group of youngsters lifts this story into the realm of the truly memorable, and they are endlessly wonderful to watch. The series may have its flaws, but it's a great show especially for the dynamic between its young stars. I love them, utterly.
As they're walking home, we see that shady electrician-who-is-obviously-working-for-the-government watching them from his van, and he phones in to the Lab that he sees them heading back to the Wheelers. In his tree hiding place, Lucas sees vehicles leaving the Lab, presumably to capture Eleven. She, Dustin and Mike disappear inside the house, totally unaware of what is heading towards them. With only two episodes left, everything is about to reach its climax.