Okay, so here’s the deal. I really don’t want to write much about Chapter Seven. Why don’t I want to write much about Chapter Seven, you ask? It’s actually quite simple.
This was the first marked non-Billy misstep of the second season for the Duffer Brothers. While it’s clear WHY the show felt to spend an entire episode with Jane in Chicago as she hung out with the Stranger Things equivalent of the thugs from Frank Miller’s classic The Dark Knight Returns, it was largely boring and badly timed.
The cliffhanger of the sixth episode featured demogorgons crawling out of a hellgate thanks to Will Byers leading soldiers to slaughter and spying for the Shadow Monster. That was an amazing story to tell, and just as we get there, let’s take an hour off on a very uninteresting, by-the-numbers story with Eleven and Eight.
The point of the episode was to give Eleven a reason to understand what her home truly was, and why sometimes searching out the past doesn’t necessarily turn out how we think it will. It told her Hopper wasn’t merely trying to control her. It told her Mike and the terrible-haired avengers were her friends. She met her mother and saw through visions some of the horrific things she dealt with, and how she would never quite be the same.
And, if it did one other important thing, it led El to discover how to channel her own abilities through strong emotion, in this case anger over Brenner and the Hawkins Laboratory scientists.
She toyed with rebellion, as we all do in some capacity, and was manipulated by Kali and her crew of felons into using her powers for evil, rather than for good. She was attempting to fill a void in her life, one created by not knowing where she came from and what she might be about. She took part in the convenience store robbery and moved the train, but she realized within the episode that she wasn’t malevolent in intent. She may well be damaged, but at the end of the journey, she knows she’s just a kid, and WE know she’s just a kid.
The hour dragged, despite very impressive visuals and a much different color scheme as the show made sure to keep us in the frame of mind that what we were seeing was unique and off the Stranger Things path. That’s a good thing, because although some character-specific episodes of dramas have been fantastic, quite often they fail. Just a few weeks ago, Mr. Robot spent its third episode of the new season on Tyrell Wellick, and while interesting (and far better than this), it was largely unnecessary.
I compared that episode to Star Wars: Rogue One, which was good, but completely inessential. Wellick’s story was a bit more noteworthy, but it was filling in gaps rather than presenting indispensable content. Chapter Seven of Stranger Things 2 was more necessary than either of those examples, because it was used to present the internal evolution of Eleven’s mind as she came to know herself and who she could trust on a different level.
With that said, it just wasn’t good television. I’ve found El’s content this season to be the weakest non-Billy stuff of the series as a whole, including anything from 2016. Millie Bobby Brown is great, but the season dropped the ball with her early on, then picked it back up, and then tried to overcompensate for it with this episode and failed miserably.
It’s a blemish on what’s been an otherwise excellent season of the show. As the stakes have grown, the writing has kept the tension alive. Even though this episode was bad, the acting was good, with Linnea Berthelsen’s work as Kali (Eight) standing out. Also, when we saw her powers in action, as she played with El’s mind and even made Brenner show up to try and keep her in the nefarious fold, that worked well.
The moral compass of Eleven came to the forefront as she spared Ray’s life after finding out about his two daughters. Kali had long ago lost that white light, and was reacting solely based on the most negative feelings. This guy delivered shock therapy to Jane’s mother, but this is a person that is inherently good, and forgave him in some way for his mistakes. It’s what led her to the opposite direction from Kali. She had the vision of Mike and Hopper in trouble, and she knew she had to save them. What mattered came to the surface, and all else tumbled away.
Vengeance did not trump love or friendship, and she had to get back home.
But, while one of the best scenes in recent movie history came from the bank robbery opening to Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, the crimes of this episode lacked any of that punch, despite trying to create freaks and punks, and even utilizing masks that felt very similar. It just didn’t work. It had a purpose, but we could have received 15 minutes of that and gotten virtually the same effect.
This was a comedown before the final two chapters, but in a binge watch scenario, it’s a detriment. This made me want to stop watching for the day, and it was the first time I had that feeling. If we were watching every week, it would have been worse. Here, at least we controlled when we moved on from the show. I was simply tired after watching Chapter Seven, and needed a break.
Luckily, I had a feeling the final two episodes would be stellar, and in most cases, they were. It will be far more fun to write about them to finish off the week.
I’m @JMartOutkick. Mouth breathers.