Three episodes into Stranger Things 2 and things have definitely fallen into a creepy groove. There are many moving parts — and a variety of genre influences — that help to keep the Netflix series feeling fresh, while continuing to tap into some glorious ‘80s nostalgia. We’re still getting some serious Goonies vibes from the series, but it feels like this time around the Duffer Brothers are bringing some figurative and literal Ghostbusters love to the small-screen.
[Warning: The following includes major spoilers for Stranger Things 2’s third episode.]
The first episode may have helped reintroduce fans to the Stranger-verse, but it was the second episode that really got down to the nitty-gritty. We got an updated, more expansive look at the Upside Down, and found out what happened to Eleven after last year’s finale. We were reconnected with the boys, who have grown closer because of what they went through. But with Will’s ongoing visions of that Ctlhulhu-y monster in the Upside Down and Dustin’s weird trash can discovery, it seems that things are about to get more complicated than they ever imagined.
Before we dive into the second episode, let’s recap everything that happened in Episode 2:
TOP MOMENTS FROM EPISODE TWO — “TRICK OR TREAT, FREAK”
- Eleven escapes to the woods and showcases some epic survival skills
- Nancy’s grief over Barb causes a rift in her relationship with Steve
- The pumpkins are still rotting
- Max joins the group, much to Mike’s chagrin
- Will’s Upside Down visions are getting worse
- Will Byers
- Joyce Byers
- Jim Hopper
- Mike Wheeler
- Dustin Henderson
- Lucas Sinclair
- Nancy Wheeler
- Jonathan Byers
- Steve Harrington
- Mr. Clarke
- Dustin Henderson’s house
- Jim Hopper’s house
- Hawkins High School
- Hawkins Middle School
- Hawkins National Laboratory
- The Byers house
- Forest Hills Park
- Hawkins Public Library
- Hawkins Police Department
STRANGER THINGS 2, EPISODE 3: “THE POLLYWOG” WATCHTHROUGH
A STRANGE NEW PET
Picking up right where the second episode left off, we find Dustin entering his home in full Ghostbusters regalia, a ghost trap in one hand and a sack of candy in the other. As he attempts to make a bee-line for his bedroom, his curious mother confronts him. “How was it,” she asks. “How was what,” Dustin replies. “The greatest night of the year, of course.” Dustin’s mom gets it.
Whatever he found scourging around in the trash is obviously in that trap. As soon as she asks about it, he shrugs it off, saying the trap is rigged to make it seem like a ghost is actually inside.
As the episode title suggests, Dustin’s new reptilian friend is a tadpole of sorts. But this pollywog isn’t a recognizable species. Believing he made a new friend with this baby trash monster, Dustin gave it a home in his room, fed it some Three Musketeers bars and even named the thing: D’Artagnan.
It’s worth noting that Dustin went as Ray Stantz for Halloween. And as you all know, Ray accidentally dreamed up a giant Stay Puft Marshmallow Man to wreak havoc on the city. Something tells me D’Artagnan isn’t going to remind tiny and cute for long.
FRIENDS DON’T LIE
After Eleven’s survival adventure in the woods, we learn that Hopper has taken her under his wing. Continuing that flashback sequence, we see another take on Hopper’s Eggo delivery. This time, however, he’s met with a timid Eleven. Is this a man she can trust?
Cut back to present day. It seems that Eleven and Hopper have fallen into a groove that may signal the father/daughter dynamic the Sheriff has been missing in his life. Still, his main goal here is to protect Eleven. When he arrived home late Halloween night, armed with candy, but not following through on his promise to take her trick or treating, she shuts herself away in her room.
It’s a difficult situation. As Hopper investigates the growing trend of rotting pumpkins, he does his best to keep Eleven safe. But doing so also means keeping her in the dark, away from Hawkins Laboratory and distancing her from any Upside Down activity.
A triple decker Eggo sandwich, with all the trick-or-treat goodies thrown in, lures Eleven into the kitchen quite easily. But she’s still mad at Hopper for being late. “You visited him again last night,” Hopper says. And it’s in this moment we learn he’s aware of her blindfolded trips to the astral plane. No matter how many times she uses the static-ridden TV as a conduit for her travels, she is just unable to connect with Mike.
Eleven misses Mike. Mike misses Eleven. But, according to Hopper, it’s just too dangerous for them to see each other. He does promise her she’ll get to see Mike soon — not just in her head, but in real life. How often has he promised Eleven this reunion? According to El, it’s been 326 days. Wait a minute… 3 + 2 + 6 = 11.
Well played, Duffer Brothers. Well played.
BOB’S BAD ADVICE
Sean Astin is still here doing the Bob thing, keeping those Goonies vibes alive. It seems his relationship with Joyce has been taken to the next level. Now he’s staying over at the Byers’ house, which seems to irk Jonathan. But getting a ride to school in what he amusingly refers to as “The Bob-mobile” sparks some curious interest in Will.
On the ride to school, Will’s distracted. He’s troubled by his constant trips to the Upside Down. These face-offs between him and that giant shadow monster have continually gotten worse as time goes on. In an attempt to help Will, Bob tells him a traumatizing story from his childhood involving a white-gloved carnival clown named, Mr. Baldo.
Like Will, Bob was haunted by this monster in his dreams. He was plagued with nightmares for months until they suddenly stopped. How? Simple: Bob stood up to the monster.
“This time, I didn’t run,” Bob said. “This time, I stood my ground. I just looked at Mr. Baldo and his stupid face and said, ‘Go way!’ Just like that, he was gone. Never saw him again. Easy peasy.”
It’s clear Bob means well, but you and I know this advice won’t serve Will well at all.
DUSTIN HENDERSON LIKES BOOKS
A sign advertises the November 6th presidential election, which will result in Ronald Reagan elected for his second term. Stranger Things 2 has continually fed us little details noting the significance of the era. This is one of them. Another is Dustin’s visit to the Hawkins Public Library. There is still roughly a decade before the Internet begins making its way into homes across the country. Could you imagine if Google existed in 1984?
Doubling down on his reptile research, Dustin attempts to check five books out on the subject, but according to the librarian, there’s a five book limit and Mr. Henderson already hit that limit. He pleads with the woman, saying he’s “on a curiosity voyage and he needs his paddles to travel.” That doesn’t work. So, instead, he distracts her and dashes out of the building with books in hand.
WILL BYERS, ZOMBIE BOY
After scaring the boys with her Michael Myers costume, Max has found herself a part of the group. Look, there are already some pretty clear similarities between Mike, Will, Dustin and Lucas and The Losers Club in Stephen King’s It. Adding Max, who feels like Netflix’s version of Beverly Marsh, feels quite apropos. Since she’s new to the group, and to Hawkins Middle School, she’s in the dark about a few things. Namely, Will’s disappearance.
She asks Lucas about Will’s new nickname, “Zombie Boy.” He tries to explain without getting into the crazy minutiae of it all, telling her the town held a funeral after he was missing for a week. He tells Max about the decomposed body at the quarry. This doesn’t appease her curiosity at all.
In class, Mr. Clarke teaches a lesson about Phineas Gage, a real-life railroad worker who was involved in a horrible accident resulting in a rod getting lodged in his skull. Referencing this very real case helps to solidify the stakes. It’s impossible to not see the correlation between what happened to Gage and what is happening to Will. The railroad worker survived the accident and seemed fine, physically. But according to Mr. Clarke, his injury completely altered his personality.
“Friends that knew him started referring to him as, ‘No Longer Gage,’” Mr. Clarke informs the class. That name may not be as bad as “Zombie Boy,” but it’s close.
SHERIFF HOPPER IS ON THE CASE
The rotting pumpkins issue has not gone away. In fact, according to multiple farmers throughout Hawkins, the problem has gone beyond pumpkin patches, and has started to affect the surrounding woods. There’s some gross slime covering the bark of the trees and Hopper decides it’s time to get to the bottom of things.
Mapping out the locations where the rotting has happened, our hero Sheriff finds Hawkins Laboratory lies right smack dab in the epicenter of all the activity. Nothing good can come from this. But as we’ve seen, nothing ever has. Hopper follows the lead, while keeping his officers in the dark.
THE “DON’T BE STUPID” RULES
Back at Hopper’s cabin, we’re given a flashback to Eleven’s first day at her new home. Not only do we learn that this Evil Dead-style cabin was Hopper’s grandfather’s place, we’re given a brief glimpse of a box Hopper is quick to move out of sight. The name Sarah is written on it, alluding to Hopper’s late daughter. Is he replacing Sara with Eleven? It doesn’t seem like it, but Eleven’s presence probably helps fill the void left by Sarah’s death.
A bonding montage commences, which finds Hopper playing Jim Croce’s “You Don’t Mess With Home”, on the record player. This scene brings life to the dusty old place and helps break the tension between Hopper and Eleven. We watch as Hopper teaches Eleven morse code. Quick visuals of jigsaw puzzles, Eggo waffles and television help paint the picture of their shared living situation. To keep her safe, Hopper shows Eleven how to booby trap the perimeter of the cabin: Mouse traps, bullets and trip wires will do it.
Capping things off, Hopper sets three ground rules for Eleven to follow. Always keep the curtains drawn, only open the door if Hopper gives the secret knock and don’t ever go out alone, especially not in the daylight.
THERE’S A NEW ALPHA MALE IN TOWN
When Billy and Max arrived in Hawkins, everyone took notice. But while our group of heroes find a new friend in Max, Billy wastes no time in becoming the stereotypical villain. If there were a martial arts match, we’d probably be hearing someone yell, “Sweep the leg, Billy” just to drive this fact home.
But Billy’s addition to the cast does something we weren’t expecting: It helps to transform Steve into a good guy. Remember how frustrating he was as a character in the first season? Now there’s a new douchebag in town. While it seems like we’ll be seeing a lot of shirtless Billy running the basketball court like it’s no thing, the confrontation between the two boys showcase just how affected by Nancy’s words Steve has become.
STEVE AND NANCY, ON THE ROCKS
After asweaty confrontation on the basketball court, Nancy arrives at the gym to talk to Steve. If you thought this complex love triangle between Nancy, Steve and Jonathan was old news, you’ve got another thing coming!
Nancy may not remember the drunken rant at the party where she called Steve and their relationship “bullshit,” but it’s clear that learning this added more confusion to Nancy’s plate. All Steve wants to hear is that Nancy loves him. And as she’s already buried in guilt and grief over Barb’s death, it seems that Nancy isn’t really sure if she does. That’s quite a harsh way of coming to this conclusion.
Wait, are we actually rooting for Steve now?
DART GOES TO SCHOOL
After doing as much research as possible, Dustin decides it’s a smart idea to bring his little reptilian pal to school. He’s carrying the Ghostbusters trap and invites Mike and Lucas to the AV club room so he can finally share his new discovery. Unfortunately for Dustin, though, the group isn’t too thrilled about D’Artagnan -- they call him Dart, for short -- and who could blame them? After their previous battles with the Demogorgon, and Will’s current issues with the Upside Down, you’d think Dustin would’ve thought twice before bringing an odd creature like into his life.
Dustin tells them he first thought Dart was a pollywog, but most tadpoles are aquatic and Dart doesn’t need water. He then tells the gang that reptiles are ectothermic. They love heat and the sun, yet Dart hates both. Mike and Lucas acknowledge the obvious: This creature has to be connected to the Upside Down. But for some reason, Dustin is holding onto the emotional connection he believes he has with the creature. He names this new species, “Dustonious Pollywogus.”
BOB AND JOYCE SITTING IN A TREE
It’s no surprise to anyone that Bob had a rough time growing up. As he enjoys his lunch with Joyce, he shares with her his unpopular school days where it seems that Bob was the stereotypical nerd. He was picked on constantly and never really stood up for himself, causing him to be a consistent outcast in his school. For that reason alone, he feels it’s important to bond with Will.
He tells Joyce about the condition of his JVC camera after the boys returned from trick-or-treating. It’s a little banged up, but still works fine. When playing back the video, however, Bob found footage of bullies picking on Will. Joyce hones in on this detail, even though Bob is trying to use this story to assure her everything will turn out fine for him in the end. After all, if Bob can grow up and date Joyce Byers, anything is possible.
THE LABORATORY IS LEAKING
Hopper’s investigation leads him back to the ominous Hawkins Laboratory where he tells Dr. Owens that grass, crops and trees are all dying within a three mile radius. The phenomena, quite predictably, leads the Sheriff right to Owens’ office.
“Whatever is happening is spreading from this lab,” Hopper explains. Dr. Owens tells Hopper it’s impossible, that the last burn was two days ago. This statement explains what that lab employee in the hazmat suit was setting fire to. Owens insists the threat is contained but Hopper needs more than that.
“I keep things nice and quiet for you and you keep your shit out of my town,” he tells Dr. Owens. “That is the deal. I’ve done my part. Now you do yours. Convince me.”
NANCY AND JONATHAN HAVE A PLAN
In the parking lot of the school, Nancy has a heart-to-heart with Jonathan. Nacy confides in Jonathan, admitting she’s worried she actually meant what she drunkenly said to Steve. And while Jonathan is probably pining for her to realize her feelings for him, the conversation soon turns to Hawkins Laboratory and their involvement in Barb’s death, Will’s disappearance and Eleven’s psychic state.
While Hopper is doing his part to keep the lab’s involvement in that whole fiasco a secret, Nancy and Jonathan devise a plan of their own. They skip fourth period together and head off to do something about it — something inspired by Bob’s place of employment, Radio Shack.
ELEVEN GOES FOR A WALK
Rebelling against Hopper, Eleven ignores the ground rules and heads out into the woods. She happens upon a mother pushing her little girl on a swing. This leads to a memory that finds Hopper reading Eleven a bedtime story. It’s in this flashback that she asks Hopper if she has a mother. “Of course,” Hopper replies. When pressed for more answers, he tells her, “She’s not around anymore.”
There’s always been an overarching theme of parents losing connection with their children in Stranger Things. The third episode is setting things up to take this concept even deeper. While Joyce is constantly keeping an eye on Will to make sure he’s okay, Hopper keeps Eleven locked up to keep her safe. But it wasn’t until this moment, really, that there’s been any mention of Eleven’s mother.
Snapping out of her memory, the woman asks if Eleven is okay. “School? Where is school?,” she asks. After a quick answer, Eleven uses her power to violently spin the swingset to distract the mother and daughter as she disappears back into the woods.
DART GETS AWAY
As the gang discusses Dart and Will’s condition, Mike tells Dustin and Lucas that Will acquired True Sight, which is the power of seeing into the etherial plane. It’s good to see that ol’ Dungeons and Dragons magic hasn’t completely disappeared from the show. While the boys meet in private about Dart and Will, Max is locked out. As Mike suggests Dart is from the Upside Down and it may be best to take the creature to Hopper, Max begins picking the lock to get in.
Dustin doesn’t want to turn over his new pet to the authorities. It’s at this point that the trap starts violently shaking prompting Dustin to set Dart free. And right before everyone’s eyes — and right as Max gets that door open — Dartagnan grows exponentially, sprouts some frog-like legs and makes a run for it.
JOYCE BYERS FINDS PROOF
After struggling to get Bob’s video camera to work on the television, Joyce begins to watch Will’s Halloween video for herself. Sure enough, he does get attacked by some neighborhood bullies. But once Will drops the camera, she finds proof that her son’s visions are much more than that.
Through the static of the TV, she sees an outline of the shadow monster Will has been haunted by. She traces a rough image of it and finds her drawing is a perfect match with Will’s.
NANCY AND JONATHAN SET A TRAP
Nancy and Jonathan convene in her bedroom. After a beat, she calls Marsha Holland, Barb’s mother, with the goal of coming clean about her daughter’s disappearance. But instead of doing it over the phone, she asks Marsha to meet her at Forest Hills park the next morning.
Does Nancy know their phones are being tapped? It seems so, because as soon as this meeting is set, the camera moves back to the lab as a group of mysterious men with headsets listen in on the conversation.
MURRAY BAUMAN WAS RIGHT
Hopper is back out with a bunch of hazmat suit-wearing lab technicians investigating the pumpkins and soil in the infected areas. He gets a call that links back to the Russian girl conspiracy we learned about in the first episode. We know the girl Murray Bauman was referring to at the beginning of the season was Eleven. Hopper shrugged it off as nonsense, then. But his officers call to notify him of a woman who had a run-in with a girl that fit the description. He quickly bolts from the pumpkin patch, knowing full well that Eleven has broke the rules.
ELEVEN GOES TO SCHOOL
After an emotional moment with Mike’s bicycle, Eleven heads into Hawkins Middle School to find him. As she wanders the halls, Mike communicates with Dustin and Lucas via walkie talkie. Dart is nowhere to be found.
His hunt leads Mike to the basketball court locker room. He’s armed with the wooden end of a mop. Instead of finding the creature, Mike ends up face-to-face with Max. They move to the basketball court as Max press him on why he hates her. For Mike, the explanation is simple. There’s no room for her in their group.
Mike is the Paladin; Will is the Cleric; Dustin is the Bard; Lucas is the Ranger; El is the Mage. But as soon as she presses him for more information on Eleven, Mike changes the subject.
As Max skateboards circles around Mike, offering to be the group’s Zoomer, which isn’t a real thing, but totally could be, Eleven watches from the door. Jealous, she uses her ability to make Max fall. She disappears before Mike can find her.
WILL FACES THE MONSTER
Joyce calls the school to discover the AV club was canceled. This can’t be good. She races to her car and speeds off toward the school. Meanwhile, Will finds Dart cornered in the bathroom. After he advises the boys on the walkie talkie, the creature screams, prompting another Upside Down interlude for the boy. He tries to make sense of his surroundings and is immediately pursued by a Lost-style smoke monster through the school’s hallways.
The rest of the gang enter the bathroom right after Dustin conveniently finds his pet, quickly hiding Dart under his hat. Their focus turns to finding Will.
After running from the giant shadow beast, Will decides to take Bob’s advice. If it worked on Mr. Baldo it would work on this giant thing, right? Wrong. Will stops running as he hits the football field and stands his ground to face the monster. After a beat, the beast’s giant smoke-like tendrils begins to enter the boy through his nose, ears and mouth. It seems that, much like Phineas Cage before him, Will Byers will never be the same.
Stranger Things 2 is streaming on Netflix now.