Worst Episode of Stranger Things 2

Warning: This article contains spoilers for Stranger Things 2. Proceed with caution if you haven’t finished watching the new season yet.

The seventh episode of Stranger Things 2, entitled “The Lost Sister,” is the show’s largest divergence thus far. In it, Eleven (Millie Bobbie Brown) travels to Chicago to seek out her “sister,” a young woman named Kali (Linnea Berthelsen) who has “008” tattooed on her arm in the same place Eleven has her “011” and was also experimented on at the Hawkins Lab. The episode focuses on their relationship and doesn’t cut back to Hawkins or the other characters at all, and taking a quick glance at social media, it’s clear that the attempt to widen the show’s mythology did not succeed the way the Duffer Brothers hoped it would.

The showrunners have released a new statement defending the episode, and you can read their comments below. But watching that episode, I felt a twinge of worry about Star Wars: The Last Jedi. That may seem a bit nutty, but I’ll explain why.

The Worst Episode of Stranger Things 2

Stranger Things 2 kicks off with what we later find out is the aftermath of a murder, as a group of punk outcasts get in a car chase with the cops. We soon find out that Kali has different abilities than Eleven: Kali can make people see projections that aren’t really there. The group escapes from the cops, and we don’t see them again until the seventh episode, where we find out that Kali and her friends are systematically killing the people responsible for experimenting on her when she was a child. Eleven meets up with them, gets a full-on ’80s glam makeover, and eventually decides to go home and help her friends after sparing the life of one of the former lab employees. To put it mildly, the episode has not gone over well with fans – myself included. Here’s what our own Chris Evangelista wrote about the episode in his spoiler review of season 2:

By the time episode 7 rolls around, tensions are high in Hawkins and the main storyline is really picking up steam. So what does Stranger Things do? It airs a backdoor pilot episode where Eleven teams up with the rag-tag gang of punk rock misfits we saw in the opening of the series. Having a plotline where Eleven meets Kali and learns more about her past would’ve been fine, but to have an entire episode devoted to this, so late in the season, doesn’t work at all. It reminds one of those frustrating episodes of Lost that would suddenly focus on members of the tail section when all we wanted to do was get back to the main cast. It doesn’t help that the punks Eleven hooks up with are all generic as hell and unmemorable. This entire episode seems to exist simply to give Eleven a moment where she announces, “I’m going back to help my friends!”

The Duffers spoke with Entertainment Weekly and defended their decision to include that divergence from the main storyline:

“Whether it works for people or not, it allows us to experiment a little bit,” says Matt. “It’s important for Ross and I to try stuff and not feel like we’re doing the same thing over and over again. It’s almost like doing a whole little other pilot episode in the middle of your season, which is kind of a crazy thing to do. But it was really fun to write and cast and work on.

Our test of the episode was we tried to pull it out of the show just to make sure that we needed it because I didn’t want it in there as filler — even though some critics are accusing us of doing that. But Eleven’s  journey kind of fell apart, like the ending didn’t work, without it. So I was like, whether this works or not, we need this building block in here or the whole show is going to collapse. It’s not going to end well. The Mind Flayer is going to take over Hawkins.”

I love the idea of building out the show’s mythology and finding out more about Eleven’s mysterious backstory and the other subjects of the lab, and even the notion of expanding the scope of the show in the second season isn’t a terrible one – but the way they chose to go about doing it here was a huge blunder. Introducing us to characters we don’t care about and who are clearly not aligned with the mentality of the show’s lead characters puts the narrative at a standstill while we wait for Eleven’s inevitable realization that she needs to return home. The fact that these characters aren’t interesting even on a stylistic level (they look like a combination of low-budget Terminator and X-Men cosplayers) makes it even tougher to sit through.

The Last Jedi Rey's Family

The Star Wars Connection

But it’s Ross Duffer’s comment that drew a direct line to something I was thinking about during that very episode – Star Wars:

“That Eleven story line overall is sort of the biggest risk we took. We’re going to continue to do risks moving forward to keep us on our toes. I didn’t want her to just magically save the day. Just like Luke Skywalker, she needed to go off on her own and learn something about herself.”

Think about how many filmmakers have referenced The Empire Strikes Back as an influence when it comes to making a sequel. Now think about how many of those sequels worked nearly as well as Empire. It’s not a high percentage. Eleven spends most of Stranger Things 2 away from the rest of the main cast, and robbing the audience of the dynamic that worked so well in the first season simply wasn’t worth it for the storyline we got in season 2. We know Rey (Daisy Ridley) will be spending quite a bit of Star Wars: The Last Jedi training with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and away from Finn (John Boyega) and BB-8, with whom she shared terrific chemistry in The Force Awakens. We’ve also heard rumblings that The Last Jedi takes some storytelling chances and will prove divisive when it comes out.

At the end of the day, of course I’d like to see more storytellers take chances in film and television. But I don’t think the only two options are “Do what you did in season 1 again” or “blow the whole thing up from the inside out” – there’s a happy medium in there somewhere that Stranger Things 2 doesn’t quite achieve, and while I have faith in The Last Jedi writer/director Rian Johnson as a storyteller, I’m hoping the character dynamics we loved from The Force Awakens aren’t sacrificed in service of driving the plot. Nine out of ten times, it’s the characters that the audience falls in love with, not the plot.

Cool Posts From Around the Web: