Warning: Big spoilers through Stranger Things 2’s eighth episode, “The Mind Flayer” lie ahead.
Let’s all take a deep breath after that one. If you’re bingeing, this is a good time to press pause, grab a snack, take a bathroom break, and call a loved one.
The eighth episode of Stranger Things 2, “The Mind Flayer,” slammed every plotline and character back together for a vicious convergence of life-and-death stakes and Jurassic Park homages. Yas, the Demo-dogs are putting out a real Dilophosaurus vibe, but Bob’s (Sean Astin) doomed journey to hero status also echoed Dr. Sattler’s mission to get the park’s power back online. You had Dr. Owens (Paul Reiser) giving directions on the comm system (a la Dr. Hammond), a necessary reboot surrounded by aggressive reptilian beasts, and a thrilling chase of close calls that ended with a shock attack. It’s always the Demo-dog you didn’t even know was there, eh, Bob?
Clever girl; absolutely devastating death. This also isn’t the first tonal homage to a modern classic sci-fi blockbuster this season.
But why was losing Bob so traumatic? He was a great character and a genuinely good man, sure, but Stranger Things also set him up as a team player in this episode only to rip him away from the team. There’s a version of this story where Bob represents a normal life for Joyce (Winona Ryder), which dooms him to disappear once she accepts the continued presence of her strange reality. But in this story, this Bob (our Bob) rolled so hard with the sci-fi punches that he went from mild-mannered Radio Shack jargon-spewer to critical quest participant. In other words, he rose above his station as a symbol of suburban normalcy to prove that he belonged at Joyce’s side in her dangerous, fantastical life.
But then, he died.
Bob the Brain went out in a blaze of glory, but his sacrifice wasn’t even the most merciless element of this episode. That honor goes to forcing Joyce, a mother who endured a missing child, to harm her child twice on pure faith that they can save him while defeating the evil inside of him. She drugs him and helps tie him to a chair, recognizing through some kind of superhuman maternal strength that in order to save her child she has to treat him as an enemy.
In a big way, Will (Noah Schnapp) is still missing. His brain is overrun by the Upside Down. He’s lost deep inside his own mind. Finding him is a heavy challenge. The Mind Flayer sequence was astonishing storytelling from beginning to end, creating the unsettling image of a bound child facing an interrogation before assailing us with happy memories and reasons to love Will’s heart. Mike (Finn Wolfhard) recognizing his asking for Will’s friendship was the best thing he’s ever done? Will giving away his Tonka truck to a sad girl even after he understood Joyce couldn’t afford to buy him a new one? Time to break out the ugly cry GIFs.
Once again, with Will lost, Joyce—hand in hand with friends and family this time—ventured into the unknown to save her boy from a spreading darkness. The emotional power and profundity of this action (offered unconditionally for a second time!) was absolutely overwhelming. The intimate writing, the pressure point editing, and dynamite performances from Ryder, Schnapp, and the others made this one of the best moments of the entire season.
Of course, it kicked off with Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) returning to using D&D to explain their predicaments, evoking Illithids (a.k.a. Mind Flayers) to make sense of the Upside Down’s encroachment on Hawkins’ pumpkin patches and sleepy streets. The show also returned to some of its roots, including a sequence mirroring the opening of the first ever episode when a Red Shirt lab worker tried in vain to get away from the Demogorgon with an achingly slow elevator, and the use of the shed Will first disappeared from to hide him from the panopticon gaze of the Upside Down.
The biggest return of the episode was announced with a dead Demo-Dog crashing through the window and a safety chain sliding off the door without being touched. Like a T-Rex attacking some relentless Raptors, Eleven rolled in to save her crew in the nick of time. She’s also five minutes of white make-up away from going full-in Eric Draven (#MillieBobbyBrownforTheCrowReboot).
Bob’s death, Joyce’s devotion, and now this? “The Mind Flayer” was body blow after emotional body blow.
Deep breath over. Time to dive into the finale.
CATCH UP ON EVERY EPISODE OF STRANGER THINGS 2!
- Episode 1 – Stranger Things 2 gets off to a surprisingly somber start
- Episode 2 – Stranger Things characters try to get back to normal
- Episode 3 – What do you do when your bully is a transdimensional being?
- Episode 4 – The real and figurative monsters plaguing Hawkins
- Episode 5 – Stranger Things explores the tropes of trust and truth
- Episode 6 – Stranger Things goes Aliens
- Episode 7 – Why Eleven is the heart of Stranger Things 2
- Episode 8 – All the Jurassic Park references this season
- Episode 9 – Where does the Stranger Things finale leave its characters?