Stranger Things' second season hits its stride with episode six, "The Spy." As we race towards the season finale, we get new connections between characters--I'm already loving the unlikely friendship of Dustin and Steve--and every moment dealing with Eleven and Hopper, no matter how small, is wonderful and heartbreaking. The new girl in town, Max, is finally integrated into the group in a proper way. I feel like this episode is where season two begins to define itself outside the context of season one.
In this chapter, Will is rushed to the Hawkins lab after going into seizures, where Joyce gives an impassioned "what is wrong with my boy?" speech worthy of Ellen Burstyn in The Exorcist. Dustin and Steve look for Dustin's missing pet from the Upside Down, only to find it's not so much a pet any more, and Nancy and Jonathan decide to take the truth of what's going on in Hawkins to the media (justice for Barb!). Most importantly, we find out that the world of the Upside Down spreading through Hawkins is doing a whole lot more than rotting pumpkin patches. If that doesn't sound like a lot, you're wrong--this episode has more going on than the last two combined.
But, we simply must talk about the James Cameron of it all in "The Spy." Stranger Things has been paying homage to just about every horror movie from the '80s they can think of since the season one premiere, but in "The Spy," the Duffer brothers paid tribute to one of the best horror/action flicks of all time, Aliens. If season one's Demogorgon was an other dimensional variation of the Xenomorph from Alien, then Dustin, Lucas, Max and Steve, holed up in the school bus fighting off a ton of little Demogorgons was easily this show's tribute to Cameron's sci-fi action sequel.
The action packed final act of the episode, with the group fending of the baby Demogorgons at the junkyard, was one of the best sequences of season two so far, finally bringing newcomer Max into the plot in a meaningful way, as she joins the other kids in peril. But it wasn't the only Aliens homage in the episode. The scene at the laboratory, where Will sends Dr Owens’s men into an ambush, is also heavily reminiscent of when the colonial marines are ambushed by the Xenomporphs in Aliens, down to the flamethrowers. The fact that Dr. Owens is played by Aliens' Paul Reiser only adds to the Cameronness of it all. If you shouted, "Game over, man!" at your TV, you were probably not alone.
Of course, the reason Stranger Things isn't just "rip-off city" is that the Duffers always find a way to add a unique twist to the proceedings. After all, Will is the one who has Dr. Owens send his men down into the caverns, at the behest of the shadow creature, who can access Will's mind and can control what he does. All with just enough of Will left in charge to feel horrible about what he's done. This adds a whole new layer to the the drama, as one of the kids we've come to love is responsible for the carnage. And unexpectedly, it turns out Dr. Owens isn't a douche like his Aliens counterpart Burke; he actually cares if Will lives. I definitely didn't see that coming, so kudos again to the Duffers for throwing us a curve ball. Unlike, say, American Horror Story, the Duffer brothers find a way to homage something and then take things in a new and unexpected direction,
The disappearance of Will was central to season one, but he was really barely there, more of a MacGuffin than a character. That's changed this season, as this year he's had the chance to shine. This is especially true in episode six, where he goes back and forth between being controlled by the shadow creature and just being a scared little boy. Actor Noah Schnapp is the unsung hero so far of season two, as his performance of a person who is literally haunted by his previous experience is a lot for any actor to take on, much less someone so young.
The other big development of the episode is Nancy and Jonathan hooking up; they've been the "will they/won't they" couple of the show. It's a longtime TV tradition of course, where you have a young attractive couple who have tons of chemistry, but for some reason, circumstances keep them apart. This is usually a storytelling ploy by the producers to milk dramatic tension out of the situation, because traditionally, once the couple gets together, the audience gets what they want and can move on to something else--see: Cheers, Moonlighting, and Lois & Clark.
At the end of season one, despite Nancy and Jonathan's harrowing adventure together and oodles of chemistry, Nancy chose the popular kid at school, Steve Harrington, instead of Jonathan. Steve started out as a typical John Hughes movie "rich kid douchebag" type but slowly revealed himself to be a genuine human being. Again, another twist the Duffers bring to all the '80s movie cliches they love to reference--there's always a twist.
When Nancy and Jonathan finally hook up, the audience gets what we've wanted for episodes. But unlike other shows where a character like Steve would only be seen as an obstacle in the way of true bliss for two other characters, he's become one of our heroes, stopping Demogorgons from killing Nancy's friends. We the audience can't easily hate him, leaving the viewers in murky moral territory. I'm now super curious to see how this resolves without turning Steve back into a villain of sorts. I mean, I can't hate Steve now...we learned in this episode he uses the Farrah Fawcett method to get his hair so stylish. Who doesn't love that?
"The Spy" was maybe my favorite chapter of season two so far, and it will be definitely interesting to see where everything ends up now that so many of the pieces have been thrown up the air and so many new wrinkles to the story have emerged. At the end of the day though, despite all the clever twists on classic horror flicks, this episode reminds us that it's the chemistry between these kids, not to mention the dynamics between adults like Joyce and Hopper, that has made this show the cultural event its become.
What do you think of Stranger Things 2 so far? Be sure to let us know your thoughts below in the comments.
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?