In Stranger Things | S1 E4, Things seemed to be falling into place neatly as Nancy puts together Jonathan’s last photo of Barb, taping torn fragments so their edges almost line up. Nancy knows at least one other person has seen the faceless thing that came after her. But would the faceless monster strike again? …..join Film and TV Nerd to find out!
Jonathan accepts Joyce’s wild-sounding stories, and even has a photo to back them up. Hopper proves that’s not Will’s body lying in the morgue. Dustin, Lucas, and Mike listen in on Will speaking from some other, darker place. If everyone does the sensible, predictable thing in “Chapter Five: The Flea And The Acrobat,” they’ll soon join together to see the whole picture.
Almost no one does the sensible thing, But that’s not a complaint.
Hopper sneaks into Hawkins Lab with no plan except to walk around calling, “Will! Will?” Joyce’s unreliable ex comes home and tells her she’s losing her mind, just like her Aunt Darlene; she welcomes him with open arms and starts speaking about Will in the past tense.
Instead of showing his photo of the monster to his mother and the police, Jonathan keeps it to himself and goes on a monster hunt. Wandering around a dark wood looking for the faceless monster that she believes snatched her friend away, Nancy finds a strange hollow in a tree trunk lined with slippery mucus and emitting clicking gurgles so decides to crawl into it.
This place is now known as “the upside down”, when the boys look for advise on this place they turn to their teacher Mr Clarke. Few people express themselves clearly as Mr. Clarke drawing a model of an alternate dimension on a paper plate you could reach if you could just turn yourself upside-down, like a flea on a tightrope.
Moving on Jonathan starts to confide in his mother, but he shrinks back under his father’s gaze. Instead of telling the boys she’s terrified of the portal, and of Hawkins Lab, El misleads them, misdirecting their compass needles. Hopper should tell Joyce–or anyone–what he’s found at the morgue, but instead he heads out to Hawkins Lab without a word, without back-up, and without an exit strategy. Even Joyce, who’s resisted the incredulity of everyone around her, lets Lonnie play on her emotions.
Nancy calls Jonathan out for not telling his mother the truth, for not asking for help—even for leaving Joyce to question her sanity. “She deserves to know,” Nancy tells him. Jonathan’s excuses—“She’s been through enough” and “I’ll tell her when this thing is dead”—sound as weak as they are, but for the purposes of the story, they’re plenty.
As Hopper comes around after his mad dash in the we see that Brenner’s team left Hopper to wake up sweaty and disoriented on his own couch amid a scatter of empty beer cans and pills. They know the death or disappearance of Hawkins’ police chief would raise a lot of questions. Leaving Hopper’s sweaty panic (and his deputies’ assumptions: “Is he off his meds again?”) to undermine his credibility and scare him off is a smart move… or it would be if he were almost anyone else. Instead, Hopper finally sits down to tell Joyce what he knows.
From a D&D book, Dustin reads, “‘The Vale of Shadows is a dimension that is a dark reflection or echo of our world.’” Together, the three boys try to recall what Will said over the radio: “Like home. Like home but dark.” “And empty.” “Empty and cold.” That’s his description of the place where he’s trapped, the place El calls The Upside Down.
It’s also a haunting description of everyday life turned upside-down by loss, by fear, by catastrophe, by betrayal. It’s how Joyce and Jonathan feel with Will missing. It’s how Hopper feels with his daughter dead and her mother gone. It’s how Mike and Lucas feel when a fight threatens their friendship, and how Dustin feels watching them.
Instead of bringing all its stories together as expected, Stranger Things lets its fifth chapter underscore the dangers of isolation, and the ease of falling into it. “It’s a plane out of phase, a world of monsters. It is right next to you and you don’t even see it.” That’s the scariest thing about Stranger Things’ monster, about the dreadful dim world where Will is stranded, and about any mundane disaster that can befall any of us.
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