This new Peacock show deals in an intriguing setup and fine performances, but it comes with a flush of problems. And that’s no lie.
Something wicked this way comes … to the small hamlet of Hawkins, Indiana.
Worse yet, it was invited.
It all began in 1983, when a mysterious agency pried open a doorway to another, darker realm. Those in the know called it the Upside Down, and some were lost to its inky void. Only a very few have found themselves in that world and made it back alive. Will Byers, then 12, was lost for days down there. And when he was finally rescued, he wasn’t quite the same.
You’d think that everyone would’ve learned their lesson and sealed the doorway to the Upside Down forever.
Yeah, not so much.
Blame the Russians. That’s what pretty much every red-blooded American did back in 1985, when Stranger Things 3 opens. Even though the paranormally-gifted Eleven—excuse me, El—seemed to shut the door on the Upside Down for good a year before (in Season 2), our comrades back in the U.S.S.R. tried to open another such portal.
But El’s father, Sheriff Jim Hopper, and Will’s mother, Joyce, managed to shut that portal down as well. And while everyone back in Hawkins believed the effort cost Hop his life, it turns out the Russians took him captive.
Joyce is in the process of getting him back, but she’d better hurry, because Hawkins is in trouble again, and the town needs its hero sheriff and his adopted superpowered daughter to save them from yet another Upside Down demonic beastie.
You’d think these constant life-and-death events would deter any romantic shenanigans. But romance is thick in Hawkins’ air.
Hopper had his eyes on Joyce, even though Joyce still held a torch for her former (and now dead) beau, Bob Newby. Joyce eventually agreed to go on a date with Hop, but then, well, he vanished. So Joyce adopted El into her family and moved to California to escape Hawkins’ many horrors (which seems to be the most rational response after years of eldritch-level mayhem plaguing the town).
El, meanwhile, is dating Mike, in whose house she hid during Season 1 and whom her good ol’ dad wanted to throttle for smooching his adopted teenage daughter. Mike’s sister, Nancy, is sleeping with Will’s brother, Jonathan—though that relationship’s been strained by the Byers’ move to the coast. Max and Lucas, friends of Will and Mike, broke up due to the trauma Max faced when her step-brother was killed by an Upside Down creature. Dustin (another member of Will and Mike’s party) has a girlfriend, too—albeit a long-distance one he met at science camp. Steve (Nancy’s ex-boyfriend) and Robin (the girl who helped him move on from Nancy) are lovelorn as well—he, because he can’t figure out what kind of girl he wants to date (though he seems to be set on something more than just sex) and she, because she also wants to date a girl.
Oh, and in the midst of all this relational drama, the crew might have a monster or two to fight, as well. Because when more Hawkins High School students are killed in horrific, limb-snapping ways, our protagonists discern that this limb snapping isn’t of the average, psychopathic murderer variety—it’s supernatural.
That’s why El was taken away by a group of mysterious government officials. One part of the government wants her dead, thinking the killings are her fault. But the other believes it can use El to seal away these beasts once and for all. It’ll all hinge on whether or not El can get her powers back—powers which she lost at the end of Season 3.
Netflix’s Stranger Things is a nostalgic sci-fi romp—a fond-but-freaky look at the 1980s that may, in some ways, outdo the decade that spawned it. The soundtrack is pure cheesy synthesizer. Hair is gloriously feathered. Walkie-talkies are the size of cinder blocks. So maybe it’s fitting that the show owes a great deal to the two Steves that dominated pop culture during the decade: Stephen King and Steven Spielberg.
If you look at their respective bodies of work from the 1980s—King’s IT and The Body (the short story upon which the movie Stand by Me was based) and Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, The Goonies and others—there’s often a sense that there’s something special about early adolescence, teetering as we do on the edge separating childhood from adulthood. It’s at that strange, magical age when the world seems most pregnant with possibilities … even if the fetus inside may have fangs and tentacles and could devour us all.
Fittingly, Stranger Things is an equally mixed bag.
Stranger Things gives us a set of heroic tweens and teens, along with a bevy of caring (if somewhat distracted) adults who’d like to do the same. As such, it’s a story of empowerment, one that scratches the itch of many a geeky 12-year-old who doesn’t feel very powerful at all. (And given the fact that I was also a geeky 12-year-old in the 1980s, this show holds a particular, rather peculiar charm for me.)
But when you take inspiration from King and Spielberg circa the 1980s, you’re gonna run headlong into problems, too. Sure, their stories purportedly whisk us back to more innocent days. But when you meet their characters, they’re often anything but.
The kids here, like their Steve-ish literary and cinematic forebears, can swear like testosterone-deficient sailors and can disrespect the adults in their lives something awful. They play Dungeons & Dragons, which might set off alarms for parents concerned with its darker spiritual elements (and in Season 4, this concern is voiced by parents within the show itself). And while these children seem to eschew alcohol and tobacco for the more esoteric pleasures of Tolkien, the adults (and older teens) they’re around drink and smoke with abandon. Season 4 also introduces several characters—namely Jonathan—to the world of drugs. When the scene shifts to the high-school set, sex (or the heady, fearful promise of it) never seems far away. And in terms of violence, let’s just say that there’s little chance these kids grow up without any permanent psychological issues.
And let’s not forget that despite its pint-size protagonists and nostalgia-laden atmosphere, Stranger Things is as much a horror story as it is science fiction. There may indeed be aliens here, but if so, they’re certainly not bonding with little boys or phoning home. The show has gotten gorier as it has gone on, and death is rarely far away. Season 4 even starts showing us monsters—not from the Upside Down, but from our own human race, bent on using El and all sorts of supernatural beasties for their own gain. Both the monsters and men are out for blood—and it’ll force our barely-in-high-school protagonists to spill quite a bit of it themselves. And they’re not above spattering a bit of it across the screen.
While Lucas, Max and Erica attempt to distract Vecna, Dustin and Eddie deal with the many demobats in the Upside Down. Steve, Nancy and Robin race to confront Vecna, and Eleven ponders how to help her friends from hundreds of miles away. Hopper and Joyce try to assist the children through their own means.
In the Soviet Union, Hopper and Joyce realize the children are in danger, and they don’t have enough time to return to the United States to help. Instead, they decide that they can offer support by slaying the hive-mind beasts that roam the prison. We see them, along with Murray, slay many monsters with guns, swords and fire. In the prison, many Soviet soldiers are seen slain, and one corpse is seen being eaten by a demodog. One soldier succumbs to his wounds. In a flashback, we see Bob being killed by a demodog.
Joyce and Hopper kiss passionately at one point. Hopper makes a mention of wine. The two change into fresh clothes, and we see Hopper shirtless and Joyce, briefly, in her underwear. Enzo smokes a cigarette. Yuri makes a lewd sexual reference.
In Hawkins, Max mentions praying that “something awful” would happen to Billy. Lucas and Max kiss in a flashback. Vecna attacks Max, and Lucas and Erica fight intruders through punching, kicking and choking. Eddie and Dustin stab at demobats, and someone is bitten by the bats. Steve, Nancy and Robin are choked by tentacles.
Eleven and Vecna fight. Vecna makes a reference to purgatory. Balloons pop with a gush of blood. A church hangs a banner of Romans 12:21. Jonathan offers a man a marijuana joint.
The s-word is heard more than 30 times (primarily by Dustin), and “h—” is used five times. We hear multiple uses of “b–ch,” and there are occasional uses of “a–” and “d–n.” In a flashback, Max exposes her middle finger to a bully. God’s name is misused 10 times, and one of them is in the form of “g-dd–n.” Jesus’ name is misused three times.
[Spoiler Warning] In the final showdown with Vecna, a couple of characters die, and pretty horrifically. One is later brought back to life, albeit in a coma. We learn later that 22 Hawkins residents lost their lives, though most believe it was because of an earthquake.
Having reobtained her powers, Eleven wants to help her friends in Hawkins—though some think she isn’t quite ready. While Mike and Will attempt to discover Eleven’s location, the rest of the crew in Hawkins prepare to fight back against Vecna. Hopper and Joyce make their escape from the Soviet prison.
Eleven is once again seen covered in blood and surrounded by the dead bodies of both children and adults as we watch her in a flashback. She falls into a coma after sending One to the Upside Down. Upon reliving these memories, Eleven is defibrillated, and she is able to lift a 10,000-pound tank into the air with her newly recovered abilities. Later, Eleven attacks a person, and she is injected with an unknown substance. Many people, soldiers and scientists alike, are shot and killed.
In Hawkins, Nancy is hunted by Vecna, and trapped by Eldritch-looking tentacles to a chair. Nancy has a vision of Hawkins being destroyed, and she references people dying. Eddie hotwires and steals an RV, and the group purchases firearms and makes Molotov cocktails. Someone aggressively confronts Nancy while brandishing an (unloaded) gun at her.
In the USSR, Hopper kills a demodog, and Soviet soldiers shoot at and are killed by the Demogorgon. Yuri talks about his ex-wife’s rear, and he refers to a helicopter as a “virgin” while making other crude remarks. A group of Soviet soldiers are seen smoking and drinking.
A boy and girl kiss. Guards beat a man, and we see a woman being electrocuted in a flashback (the woman is also said to have killed someone). People are killed in a flashback.
The s-word is heard about 30 times, and “h—” is used six times. We hear multiple uses of “b–ch,” and there are occasional uses of “a–” and “d–n.” Someone calls another person a “testicle” in Russian. God’s name is misused over ten times, and one of them is in the form of “g-dd–n.” Jesus’ name is misused five times.
[Spoiler Warning] Eleven and Brenner are hunted down by the military, and they find a sniper in a helicopter waiting for them when they exit the secret facility. (The sniper has already clearly killed many fleeing scientists.) The sniper shoots and kills Brenner, and Eleven causes the helicopter to crash, killing everyone on board in a massive explosion.
Eleven finally learns how the murders at Hawkins Lab occurred. Steve, Nancy, Robin and Eddie (a boy accused of murder) get stuck in the Upside Down.
[Spoiler Warning] We learn that Vecna used to be a human being—the son of Victor Creel, to be exact. His name was Henry. Like Eleven, he was born with supernatural powers. Henry used his powers aggressively, torturing and killing a rabbit. He also became obsessed with spiders, particularly black widows. Angered that his parents wanted him to be “normal,” he created visions in their minds drawing from horrible events in their pasts (his father had accidentally bombed a civilian family during the war). Victor believed these visions were caused by a demon, but his wife knew it was their son. To stop her from revealing the truth, Henry killed her, levitating her into the air, snapping her bones and ripping her eyes from her skull. He also killed his sister (though we only see her corpse). The use of so much power caused him to pass out, though not before his father was arrested for the murders, which was the boy’s plan all along.
After this, Henry was taken in by Dr. Brenner (though his father was told that his son had died). Henry then became Number One at Hawkins Lab. But when Brenner realized he couldn’t control One, he injected One with a serum that neutralized his powers and made him become an orderly. As an orderly, One tricks Eleven into trusting him, and she removes the device that continually delivers the power-neutralizing serum. He then tells Eleven to hide and uses his powers to kill all the guards, nurses, doctors, orderlies and children at Hawkins Lab (we see some of these attacks and the mangled corpses after). Hearing the screams, Eleven investigates. One tries to convince her to join him, but she refuses, and they fight using their powers. Eleven defeats One, using her powers to open a gate to the Upside Down and pushing him through it before closing it again. As One falls through the Upside Down, he is hit by the strange lightning there, transforming him into the corpse-like monster that Dustin and his D&D playing friends name Vecna.
Hopper and other prisoners are given weapons to fight a Demogorgon (a monster from the Upside Down). Hopper uses a stolen lighter and alcohol to create a torch, since fire is the creature’s only weakness. Every prisoner except for him and his friend are brutally ripped apart by the Demogorgon (one man’s head is bitten off). The prison warden delights in their fear, Joyce and her friend, Murray, point a gun at him and fight off several guards to open the gates and free Hopper before the Demogorgon can kill him. Hopper manages to throw his spear into the monster’s face as well.
Hopper says he thought he was put into prison to pay for what he’s done, but now he thinks he was put there to help El somehow. He considers praying (and later a man says he hopes Hop’s prayers were heard).
People stuck in the Upside Down communicate with the real world by making lights flash. Nancy gets pulled into a trance by Vecna, and she sees the dead body of her friend Barb (who was killed in season one) in a pool. The pool then fills up with blood while Nancy is still inside (though she is able to climb out).
Steve is strangled and savagely bitten by bat-like creatures in the Upside Down. Nancy, Robin and Eddie rescue him, using broken oars to hit and stab the beasts. And Steve finishes one off by biting it back and slamming it onto the ground by its tail. (Someone compares this to the time Ozzy Osbourne bit a bat’s head off on stage during a concert.) A man who was badly beaten and thrown into a metal coffin heated by lamps overnight is released after he gives his captors Eleven’s location (though he asks them not to harm her). Eleven suffers a concussion from supernatural bullying, but her tormenters still mock her. Brenner punishes one of them with a shock collar. A man gets punched in the face. Someone speculates that Hopper is stretched out on a rack with birds pecking his eyes. A flashback shows a man getting electrocuted.
Nancy has a flashback to Season One, when she and Steve had sex. Eddie gives Steve, who’s shirtless, a vest to cover up for his “modesty.” People smoke and lie. A girl slashes the tires of a police car. Dr. Owens, another researcher from Hawkins Lab, feels guilty for Eleven’s traumatization and begs Dr. Brenner to stop the treatments that would potentially restore her powers. When Eleven calls herself a monster (because she believes she murdered people), Brenner tells her that people are not so easily defined. He then adds that she can only become whole by embracing the good and the bad. A boy says he isn’t brave but rather too ashamed to be the only person who didn’t help rescue someone.
The s-word is used 20 times. We also hear uses of “a–,” “b–ch” and “h—.” A girl is chastised by her parents for saying, “bull.” God’s name is abused eight times (twice paired with “d–n”). Jesus’ name is abused five times.
A teen boy says that he believes his classmate is a “vessel” for Satan who wields devilish powers. He then tries to incite something like a modern-day witch hunt by preaching this to the people of Hawkins. He quotes Romans 12:21. A teenager says he is “spiritual” when meeting a “really religious” girl. People describe hell (and a girl mockingly asks her sister if she’s going there for swearing). Someone references the Garden of Eden from Genesis. A man crosses himself. A Mormon girl says she felt so guilty after hacking into a school computer that she confessed to her father, who was more upset that she was dating an agnostic than her law-breaking. (Though he did punish her by taking her computer away.)
In a memory, El and other children with supernatural abilities participate in a challenge to knock each other telepathically out of a circle. After defeating the most powerful of these children, El is attacked by him and his cohorts, who use their supernatural powers to beat her up. In the present, Steve finds a gate to the Upside Down at the bottom of a lake, surrounded by fish skeletons. He is grabbed by tentacles and pulled through the gate. On the other side, he is attacked by bat-like creatures which strangle and bite him repeatedly.
Flashes from Eleven’s past show dozens of murdered, bloodied people (including children). A man suffering from a gunshot wound is beaten and tortured for information (he is placed into an upright metal coffin heated by lamps). A teen boy cries as he holds the mangled corpse of his friend. Lucas admits he brushed it off when a teammate came to practice with a black eye because he didn’t know the guy that well. El witnesses an orderly getting electrocuted. Hopper purposely starts a fight with his fellow inmates so he can grab a guard’s lighter.
A man says that six men were killed in 30 seconds by a monster. When he guesses that he and his fellow prisoners are meant to train the beast, Hopper tells them that they are actually just meant to be live prey, so the creature won’t get bored and refuse to eat. (He goes on to say that the feast they are enjoying is their last meal, meant to plump them, not make them strong.)
Joyce and Murray (her conspiracy theorist friend) tie up a man who tried to sell them to Russian KGB agents and threaten to leave him to die in the wilderness. A girl plays dead, complete with fake blood, for a video her brother is filming.
People smoke and drink. People talk about drinking alcohol to ease their pain. Teenagers smoke marijuana. A teen girl stares at a teen boy removing his shirt to swim.
One agent of the government accuses Eleven of the murders happening in Hawkins. Children run amok, playing with fake swords and turning off the power while their older sister babysits them. Eleven remembers the first time she realized that Dr. Brenner was a liar. People lie and ignore police orders.
We hear 22 uses of the s-word, as well as “b–tard,” “b–ch,” “c–ky,” “d–n” and “h—.” God’s name is abused ten times (half paired with “d–n”), and Christ’s name is abused another four. Someone makes a rude hand gesture. A girl chastises her sister for cursing. (And later, when someone starts to swear again, they switch it to “holy heck” to placate her.) When a man misuses Christ’s name in a church, someone berates him.
Eleven is placed in a sensory deprivation tank in an attempt to help her remember how to use her powers. Meanwhile, another boy is killed in Hawkins, and Joyce tries to get to Hopper in Russia.
A teen boy begins having the Vecna hallucinations. He goes into a trance and levitates into the air before his bones all snap and his eyes are ripped from his skull. Lights flicker in the real world whenever Vecna travels to its equivalent in the Upside Down. Eleven remembers training to use her supernatural powers (and being mocked by similarly gifted children for not being as strong). She also has a memory of being covered in blood, surrounded by the mangled corpses of those same kids. When she comes out of the memories, she uses a telekinetic burst to throw several guards into the air. A funeral takes place in a church. Those attending speculate that the devil is among them. When a guy prays, someone tells him it won’t help.
Hopper talks about how he joined the military to prove himself to his dad. Unfortunately, he and his fellow soldiers were exposed to the chemical Agent Orange (which they were told was a harmless herbicide). Once they returned home, it caused miscarriages, stillbirths and birth defects. His own daughter was born healthy, but she eventually died a painful death.
A man bleeds out from a gunshot wound and is later buried. Another man suffering from a gunshot wound is threatened for information. Hopper is beaten in prison for trying to run away. He is dragged through a courtyard that is covered with the blood (and severed limbs) of other prisoners. He punches the man he believes betrayed him. Two people fight their kidnapper, stealing his gun and knocking him unconscious. The plane he was transporting them in crashes, but they survive. Eleven hits a man and tries to run away before being physically restrained by several guards. Someone describes Freddy Krueger, a horror movie villain. Another person describes an opera where a woman’s lover is killed in a duel.
Dr. Brenner, the man who trained Eleven to be an assassin, shows up and insists he only ever wanted to help her. However, flashbacks reveal that he was harsh, allowing her to be manhandled, ordering her to be placing in isolation and pushing her beyond her supernatural limits (which caused her to accidentally open a gate to the Upside Down to begin with). When El tries to run away, she is stopped by guards who inject her with a sedative. Later, Brenner pushes El beyond her limits again, despite another doctor begging him to stop.
Soldiers ransack a family’s house. Teens break into an abandoned, boarded up house.
Teens smoke marijuana. Adults smoke cigarettes. A teen says he wants beer. Hopper says he abused drugs and alcohol after his daughter’s death and that his wife left him because of it. We see drug paraphernalia in someone’s home.
We hear the s-word 34 times, as well as “b–tard,” “d–n” and “p-ss.” God’s name is misused nine times (sometimes paired with “d–n” or “d–mit”) and Christ’s name is misused five times.
When Max realizes she is Vecna’s next target, her friends search for a way to save her.
A man named Victor Creel describes how his family was haunted and killed by the “spawn of Satan.” A flashback shows his family experiencing hallucinations and nightmares, radios turning on by themselves and lights flashing on their own. Another flashback shows him in a war overseas, where he ordered a house to be bombed because he thought German soldiers were hiding inside. But when he searched the ruins, he realized he was wrong. He had killed a family with a baby still burning in its crib. (And he sees this crib with a screaming child in his hallucinations.) One night at dinner, his wife is levitated into the air in a trance. Her bones all snap and then her eyes are ripped out of her skull. (The same presumably happens to his daughter, but we only see her mangled corpse.) His son is not attacked, but Victor says the boys died in a coma shortly after.
Max begins to have hallucinations similar to the ones her classmates had just before they were murdered by Vecna. She writes letters to her family and friends to be read after she dies, because she is cynically convinced her friends won’t be able to save her since nothing ever works out for her. (She also refuses to talk to her friends about how she is feeling because she feels she deserves it for not saving her stepbrother from a violent death.)
When Vecna attacks her, Max goes into a trance and levitates into the air. She imagines being chased by a monstrous version of her dead stepbrother in the Upside Down. She sees the mutilated corpses of her dead classmates and is strung up and choked by Vecna’s tentacles. However, she is saved by her friends, who discover that music can penetrate Vecna’s trance. She remembers happy times with her friends (including one where she kisses Lucas). She rips a tentacle from Vecna’s neck and flees as rubble falls all around her. She escapes through a portal and wakes from her trance, falling to the ground unharmed.
A woman is called “sexy.” A teen girl comments that an undergarment is pinching her. A man says his brother stole his wife. We hear a man abandoned his wife and stepdaughter because of his grief from losing his own son.
Hopper fights two prison guards, knocking one unconscious and killing the other by strangling him with a pair of shackles. He then blows up the shed they are in, effectively killing the first guard as well. Other guards shoot at him but miss. Two bodyguards get into a gunfight with several soldiers. The first guard is shot immediately and presumed dead. The second kills several soldiers before escaping with his charges, though not before getting shot himself. We see a flashback of a man stabbing his own eyes with razors in a suicide attempt. In the present, he is still alive, but his eyes are sewn shut. A prison guard helping Hopper escape trips and shoves him so the other guards won’t get suspicious. Later, he and Hop are both savagely beaten when they are caught. We see the bodies of several mutilated animals. A boy is almost hit in the face with a lamp.
People smoke. A man drugs two people with a sleeping agent.
Teens are rude to their parents and sneak out without permission. People lie and assume false identities. Nancy and Robin convince a doctor to break rules and let them see a dangerous asylum patient through flattery. A church is used as a smuggling hold (and we see a pinup poster of a woman on the wall).
We hear 28 uses of the s-word, as well as “a–,” “a–hole,” “b–ch” and “h—.” Christ’s name is abused three times and God’s name is abused eight times (twice paired with “d–n”).
Hopper makes arrangements to escape Russia. El is arrested for assaulting her classmate. Nancy, Steve, Robin, Dustin and Max attempt to discover who murdered their classmates.
Posters of scantily clad women hang in a rundown restaurant that high schoolers use for parties. Someone mentions an adult magazine. A man in prison says he isn’t a “fairy” when he incorrectly assumes another man is propositioning him.
We see the demon Vecna and other monsters in the Upside Down. Lights flash and cracks appear on the ceiling of the house where Vecna committed the first murder. Vecna telepathically views several Hawkins residents. Through Vecna’s eyes, we see a couple making out and the girl’s thoughts reveal that she fears her boyfriend will leave her if she doesn’t agree to sex. Another image shows a woman covering a bruise on her face with makeup and her thoughts indicate she was physically abused. But Vecna settles on a teen whose father abuses him for drinking, and when Vecna enters the boy’s mind, the boy’s nose begins to bleed. Later, Vecna begins to haunt Max, causing her to hallucinate.
We see flashbacks to many previous battles with the Upside Down, many showing the brutal deaths of characters. People learn that a man committed to an asylum for murdering his family claimed a demon did it. The man had had a priest exorcise his home, but it failed, and the demon killed his family as punishment.
Hop purposely goads a prison guard into hitting him (though it’s all for show since the guard is helping him to escape). Later, he bribes a fellow inmate to hit him repeatedly with a metal hammer, breaking his foot. Hopper is then able to remove the shackles around his ankles (and we see his bloody, mangled foot).
The girl El hit with a skate in the previous episode is treated for her wound by paramedics. (El’s friends reassure her the girl will be fine, and they later learn the girl suffered a grade 2 concussion.) El is arrested for the assault and sent to a juvenile detention facility since she shows no remorse. However, Dr. Owens tracks her down and offers to make her criminal record disappear if she’ll help defeat Vecna (thereby cutting off all ties to the Upside Down) once and for all.
Several high schoolers hunt down Eddie, a classmate they believe murdered someone. Lucas joins them, but when they beat up Eddie’s friends, he changes his mind and leads them on a wild goose chase to give his own friends more time to prove Eddie’s innocence. Steve jokingly threatens to punch out Dustin’s teeth and then apologizes for taking the joke too far since Dustin has a medical condition that delayed the growth of his teeth.
Joyce remains unaware that Jonathan is perpetually high even when other adults make jokes about it. (She’s also shocked when someone tells her that her kids will probably experiment with drugs and sex while she’s out of town.) People drink wine and smoke.
Many people lie. Mike argues with El for lying to him about being bullied. El fears that everyone, including Mike, sees her as a monster and that she’ll never truly belong. She also fears he only loved her when she had superpowers (which she lost in the previous season). Students steal the school counselor’s keys and break into her office to access restricted files.
We hear 13 uses of the s-word, as well as “a–,” “d–n” and “h—.” We also hear the Russian terms (with English subtitles) for “a–hole” and “b–tard.” God’s name is abused four times (twice paired with “d–n”) and Christ’s name is abused once.
Mike visits El and Will in California while the rest of the gang searches for proof of a murder suspect’s innocence.
A teenage couple kisses. A teenage girl talks about her crush on another girl. We see a teenage boy in his underwear. Some girls wear skimpy shorts. A naked man is hosed down in a prison (nothing critical is seen).
People wonder if Hawkins is cursed, stating that the devil lives there. A demonic, corpse-like creature (whom the kids dub “Vecna” after a monster from Dungeons and Dragons) inhabits a house in the Upside Down. Winged beasts swarm the house and Vecna hangs in the air by tentacles. Vecna haunts a teenage boy, making him hallucinate people as monsters and relive a fatal car crash (we see a burning vehicle and the driver crawling and begging for help). Vecna then kills the boy, levitating him into the air, snapping all his bones and ripping his eyes from his skull. (We also see a flashback to a similar death in the previous episode.)
We see flashbacks of deaths from previous seasons, including one where a girl was yanked into the Upside Down by a monster. El has memories from when she murdered a bunch of people at Hawkins National Laboratories. A man tells the story of a murderer from his childhood. The man allegedly killed his wife and children, ripping out their eyes.
El hits a girl in the face with a roller skate, splitting the girl’s face open and causing a lot of bleeding. A boy threatens Steve with a broken bottle. Several teenage boys load their car up with makeshift weapons to hunt down their classmate’s murderer.
A flashback of Hopper’s “death” shows that he didn’t die in an explosion but leapt to safety. (After hearing he might be alive, Joyce admits she never saw his body but assumed he had vaporized.) Unfortunately, Russian soldiers found him, knocked him unconscious and transported him to a prison in their homeland. There, he is tortured for information (which he refuses to give) before being sent to a harsh work camp.
Police and community members assume a teenage boy sacrificed his classmate in some sort of Satanic ritual because he loves Dungeons and Dragons. Max catches a glimpse of the mangled corpse of this classmate from a distance. A teenage boy makes jokes about someone from the trailer park overdosing on heroin—and his friend points out the inappropriateness of the mockery.
People smoke. Two teenagers are perpetually high from smoking marijuana. After a night of underage drinking, several high school students wander home with hangovers. One boy vomits. Later, a few of them are questioned by police though none of them are punished. Some boys make fart noises.
Several characters lie. El is pranked by school bullies. They circle her at a roller-rink, shouting insults before throwing a milkshake on her and causing her to fall. These same bullies mock her dead dad. Will gets upset with Mike for making him a third wheel.
There are nearly 30 uses of the s-word, as well as “a–,” “b–ch,” “d–n,” “douche” and “h—.” God’s name is abused seven times (sometimes paired with “d–mit”), and Christ’s name is abused twice. Someone says, “Holy mother of God.”
A girl is killed by a monster from the Upside Down on the first night of spring break. The tragedy forces the temporarily separated gang back together.
Robin and Steve wonder if another girl is gay, and Robin worries that she will become the “town pariah” if she tells that girl she likes her. A teenager says he wants more than sex from a relationship. Someone references masturbation. Teenagers talk about a movie that exposes female body parts. A man removes his clothes to bathe, camera angles hiding critical body parts. We see a teenage boy in his underwear. Joyce is disturbed to find a toy doll has detailed female body parts. A teenage couple makes out in a school hallway.
In a flashback, several children with powers of telepathy and telekinesis are studied in a lab. One of these children witnesses the murder of a fellow test subject telepathically. We hear gunshots and screaming before the door of the boy’s room is blasted open, knocking the doctor testing him unconscious. When the doctor wakes, he finds the boy’s mangled corpse, as well as the bodies of dozens of other employees and test subjects. He discovers they were killed by Eleven, whom he finds seething with bleeding eyes and nostrils from her telekinetic efforts.
We see flashbacks from Season 3 when Billy, Max’s stepbrother, was torn apart by a monster from the Upside Down. In the present, another demonic being (which looks like a giant, rotting corpse with tentacles and claws) haunts a girl with frightening images (including her dead, emotionally abusive mother as a monstrous being and her dad with his eyes and mouth sewn shut). It puts her into an unawakenable trance, levitating her into the air before snapping all her bones and ripping her eyes from her skull. (The creature also causes lights to flash and objects to shake whenever it is near.)
Jonathan and his friend secretly smoke marijuana and remain perpetually high throughout the episode. A girl tries to purchase marijuana to help with her nightmares before asking for a stronger drug. We learn that Max’s mom has divorced her abusive stepdad in the wake of her stepbrother’s death. However, her mom is also smoking and drinking a lot more, and we see Max putting out her sleeping mom’s cigarette and picking up empty beer cans.
El lies to Mike that she is happy, getting good grades and making new friends in California. In reality, she is bullied, mocked and getting hit with spitballs by her classmates. When someone trips her and stomps on a diorama she made involving Hopper, she tries to use her powers to attack them, only to realize her powers don’t work, resulting in more mocking. She then lies that she fell of her own accord when a teacher investigates. (Luckily, the teacher realizes this and punishes the person responsible.) Max lies to the school counselor and her friends about the trauma she is experiencing (headaches and nightmares of Billy’s death). A boy is injured while playing basketball.
Mike and Dustin fight with Lucas because Lucas wants to be popular, but they are comfortable remaining “freaks.” Lucas asks them to skip a game of Dungeons and Dragons to watch his championship basketball game, but they bail on him. Kids are rude to their parents. We hear a girl vomit (and later learn she may have struggled with bulimia due to fat-shaming from her mother). People mock a girl for singing off-key.
Song lyrics talk about pretending to pray. A Mormon girl states to a statuette of Christ that she will repent later when she hacks into a school’s computer to change her boyfriend’s failing grade. People compare Dungeons and Dragons to satanic cults, stating that it promotes satanic worship, ritual sacrifice, sodomy, suicide and murder.
We hear about 17 uses of the s-word, as well as “a–,” “a–hole,” “b–ch,” “h—,” “p–ck” and “p—y.” God’s name is abused seven times (often paired with “d–n”) and Christ’s name is abused four times. People make a rude hand gesture.
Every main character is beginning to suspect that the evil they thought had been banished from Hawkins in Season 2 is back. Dustin, Steve Harrington and (Steve’s coworker) Robin decode a message that suggests Russians are behind it all. Nancy and Jonathan make an alarming discovery. And El has a frightening vision of a lifeguard being consumed by the darkness.
Will, frustrated that all of his old Dungeons & Dragons pals seem obsessed with girls, desperately tries to interest Mike and Lucas in a game, to no avail. “It’s not my fault you don’t like girls,” Mike says. (We should note that, to this point, Will’s not exhibiting a fondness for boys outside of friendship, either.) El and Max sneak into Max’s brother’s room to find evidence of what might be wrong with him. When El tells Max that she heard a girl screaming, Max tells her that girls often scream happily when they’re with Billy. (When El wonders how that’s possible, Max says she’ll loan El a copy of Cosmo.) Max and El also uncover Billy’s stash of Penthouses festooned with erotic (but not fully nude) cover models. Jazzercise participants wear outfits that showcase their spandex-clad backsides.
El and Max also find a bloody whistle in Billy’s bathroom. Someone faints. Another person is whacked in the head with a wine bottle. A person pours a substance on a handkerchief and covers his nose and mouth with it, telling him it “will all be over soon.” A man is brutally beaten. Guards carry guns. We see flashbacks to some of Season 2’s bloodiest, freakiest moments.
El psychically teleports herself to see what Mike and Lucas are up to—which amounts to burping, passing gas and pondering the inexplicable mysteries of the opposite sex. Hopper gets very drunk after a broken date with Joyce, and he drives home intoxicated. (Never mind that he’s Hawkins’ chief of police.) The next morning, he combats a hangover (while wandering about just wrapped in a towel). He and others smoke. Someone appears to struggle with inebriation, and her husband remarks she’s probably had too much to drink.
The s-word is used at least six times. We also hear “a–,” “b–ch,” “h—,” “a–hole,” “d–k” and misuses of both God’s and Jesus’ name.
Mike—scared of Hopper’s disapproval of his romantic relationship with El—lies to her about the health of his grandmother (an excuse to stay away for the day). She senses the fib, and Max (who knows a thing or two about stupid boyfriends) encourages her to go to the mall with her. Meanwhile, Nancy and her beau, Jonathan, investigate reports of rats eating fertilizer, while Max’s brother, Billy, suffers from a severe infection of the Upside Down.
Billy attacks a coworker and drags her to, apparently, be attacked infected by an entity from the Upside Down. Mike struggles with his own physical ills, including a strange wound on his elbow and a blackening of the veins in his arm. A rat contorts in pain and implodes into a mass of sentient goo, which then oozes out of a cage. Someone imagines smashing a woman’s head against a shelf.
Couples kiss. Mike, Lucas and Will discover a lingerie store (and quickly skedaddle). Nancy lies to her bosses about having “girl problems” to pursue a potential story. Dustin, who’s missing his front teeth (and waiting for a replacement set of false ones to come in), says that his girlfriend thinks kissing is better without them. We see people, both men and women, in swimming suits. Joyce (Will and Jonathan’s mother) stands Hopper up on what Hopper imagined would be a romantic dinner. He gets seriously drunk there and staggers out, breaking things along the way. He and others smoke. The s-word is said about 10 times. We also hear “a–,” “b–tard” and “h—,” along with the f-word stand-in “freaking” and a couple of misuses of God’s name.
Dustin returns from science camp with, it would seem, a new girlfriend. But it’s a long-distance relationships; and because she’s from a strict Mormon family (and he’s not Mormon), they have to communicate via short-wave radio. “It’s all a bit Shakespearian,” he tells his friends. When he tries to give her a radio jingle, though, the only thing he hears is a mysterious communique in Russian—from a lab desperately trying to pry open a portal to the Upside Down.
Dustin and his friends are all now in their early teens, and his pals Mike and El are going out—and smooching every chance they get. We see them kiss, as does El’s pop, Hopper. He doesn’t like their relationship one little bit, and he believes that Mike’s “corrupting” his little girl. (They don’t seem to do more than kiss, but they do mock Hopper, both behind his back and to his face.)
Two college-age youth—Mike’s sister, Nancy, and a guy named Jonathan—are sleeping together. We see them both jump out of his bed after they oversleep, she in a top and panties, he in his underwear. (Nancy flees out his window, obviously not wanting anyone to know the status of their sleeping situation.) Nancy and Mike’s mother, meanwhile, considers having an affair with a much younger lifeguard, Billy. We see both at the local swimming pool wearing bathing suits, and he drops several lewd allusions when he invites her to a nearby Motel 6 for (ahem) private swimming lessons. (The meeting doesn’t take place, though.)
We see lots of other people in swimsuits, too, and several women leer at the lifeguard (who obviously courts and enjoys their lustful attention). Another post-high school youth, Steve, works at an ice cream parlor, and he peppers passes at customers while newcomer Robin mocks his failed efforts. Nancy works at a local newspaper, and she steps into a men-only newsroom meeting where sexist, ribald comments are dropped.
Men in Russia are kind of electrified by something from the Upside Down and turned into lumps of gory goo. Hundreds of rats, drawn to a deserted steel mill, meet the same fate. Someone is choked to death. Mike, Will and the rest of the gang sneak into the R-rated zombie movie Day of the Dead. Hopper jokes that he might have to kill Mike. “I’m the chief of police,” he says. “I could cover it up.” A car smashes into an unseen something and its driver is dragged away, screaming.
Several characters smoke cigarettes. Hopper drinks beer while watching television, and someone else pours a glass of wine to drink with dinner. A character removes her wedding ring in preparation for an affair (that’s not consummated).
Characters say the s-word at least 20 times. We also hear “a–,” “b–ch,” “d–n,” “h—” and five misuses of God’s name, one of those with the word “d–n.” We also hear less profane insults: “butthead,” “fartface” and the like.
A new girl, Max, lands in Hawkins’ middle school, who the day before apparently swept all of Dustin’s high scores out of the local arcade. Meanwhile, over at the high school, girls bat their eyelashes at Max’s older brother. But even though it seems as though things have returned to normal, they haven’t: The pumpkins at a local pumpkin patch all suddenly die and decay. Scientists continue to poke at an otherworldly gate. And Will continues to “see” the Upside Down—a world that seems to want to devour his own.
Will’s visions of the Upside Down are quite creepy, what with their dark, decomposing vibe and red lightning bolts and hints of monstrous tentacles. The otherworldly things pressing through the door are also disturbing: One tentacled beastie is apparently killed with a flame-throwing-like apparatus, but another, much larger one seems to invade our world at episode’s end. In an opening scene, several young thieves make their getaway, only to be chased by police through the streets of Pittsburgh. One of them—apparently a refugee from the same laboratory that opened the door to the Upside Down—causes a police officer to hallucinate. He sees a tunnel cave in, causing a massive and destructive pileup of police cars.
Teens Nancy and Steve kiss and grab each other, sometimes tenderly, sometimes playfully. Will’s mom, Joyce, has a boyfriend, too, and they kiss passionately in the back room where Joyce works. The guy, Bob, claims he feels like a teenager again. When Mike and his friends ask for information from an employee at the local video game arcade, the employee says he’ll tell what he knows—if Mike can get sister Nancy to go out on a date with him. “I’m not prostituting my sister!” he says.
But Mike will steal money from her (promising to pay her back), and his parents mention that he’s cursed out his teachers and scrawled graffiti on a bathroom, too. Sheriff Hopper drinks beer and smokes cigarettes. A Halloween invitation includes the line, “Come and get sheet faced.” Characters say the s-word nearly 15 times, and someone makes an obscene gesture. We also hear “a–,” “b–ch,” “b–tard,” “d–n,” “h—” and five misuses of God’s name.
On his way home from a friend’s house, young Will Byers encounters a strange entity … and disappears. Meanwhile, a mysterious girl with a shaved head and ravenous appetite shows up at a local diner. The owner gives her some food and calls social services. But when the apparent counselor shows up, she shoots the owner as gun-toting men in suits barge in, looking for the girl. The girl runs away—but only after using her telekinesis to kill two of her assailants.
The deaths are bloodless: We don’t see the man get shot, and while the two agents are definitely dead, their wounds look almost antiseptic. Likewise, when a scientist from a nearby mysterious lab is attacked by an unseen creature, he’s simply pulled from view—his demise presumed, but not seen.
We do, however, see high schooler Nancy Wheeler and her boyfriend, Steve, frantically mosh lips several times. Steve sneaks into Nancy’s room and suggests that to liven up their studying session, they remove an article of clothing depending on who gets an answer right or wrong. The two kiss on the bed, and Steve unbuttons Nancy’s blouse part way. Nancy rejects his advances and they spend the rest of their time actually studying.
Will’s mother, Joyce, is angry that her ex-husband’s phone is being answered by a “teenager” (insinuating that the ex-husband is dating someone much younger). Police Chief Hopper is shown without a shirt and with his pants unbuttoned, revealing his underwear. He drinks a lot (it’s suggested he’s passed out on the couch), smokes and pops pills. He also refers to an intimate relationship he had in high school. Children are bullied and hit each other. Characters—mostly children—swear quite a lot, using the s-word twice, as well as “h—,” “d–n,” “b–ch,” “p—y,” “f-g,” “douche bag” and “a–hole.” Jesus’ name is misused at least twice.
Though he was born in Kansas, Kennedy Unthank studied journalism at the University of Missouri. He knew he wanted to write for a living when he won a contest for “best fantasy story” while in the 4th grade. What he didn’t know at the time, however, was that he was the only person to submit a story. Regardless, the seed was planted. Kennedy collects and plays board games in his free time, and he loves to talk about biblical apologetics and hermeneutics. He doesn’t think the ending of Lost was “that bad.”
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.
Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and geeking out with her husband indulging in their “nerdoms,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything they love, such as Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate and Lord of the Rings.
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