Welcome back for this week’s installment of the Summer TV Binge of Stranger Things, looking back at season two, episode four, released October 27, 2017:
“Chapter Four: Will the Wise”
Written by Paul Dichter
Directed by Shawn Levy
On this episode, Will’s body temperature becomes unnaturally cold after being attacked by the shadow monster at school; Eleven and Hopper fall out over her leaving the safehouse; Hawkins Lab’s security brings in Jonathan and Nancy for a talk; and Dustin brings Dart home.
1. Parenting Can be Heartbreaking
There’s some really moving scenes in this episode: first, Will tearfully tells his mother what happened to him at the school, and you really empathize with how traumatized and violated he feels about the smoke monster entering his body “everywhere.” Then, Eleven returns home after dark, where a furious Hopper is waiting; he grounds her, and takes away her Eggos and TV after she refuses to apologize. Hopper comes across as a bit too antagonistic here, given we know El’s been otherwise compliant and patient, but his fury is rooted in his fear, fear of what will happen if the feds learn she’s alive, and an awareness that this little girl could kill him with a thought.
The contrast between Joyce and Hopper dealing with their respective kid is really fascinating, especially given how well they gel together when investigating the weirdness in Hawkins, and Hopper’s fight with El feels especially upsetting as it brings back personal memories of struggling to look after kids: there’ve all been times we’ve had to raise our voice, followed instantly by concern that we went too far. Hopper mulls apologizing to El the following morning, but his military discipline asserts itself, and he asks her to clean up the place before he considers repairing the TV.
It’s while cleaning up (and failing to fix the TV) that El discovers Hopper’s box containing all his research on Hawkins Lab, including the file on her mother, Terry Ives. Using the radio to enter the Void, El meets her catatonic mother for the first time, and she recognizes her as her daughter before vanishing. Alone once again, a distraught El screams for her “mama,” ending this chapter of her story on a tearful note.
2. Mr. Clarke Does It Again
There’s a really chilling (no pun intended) moment when Will refuses to get into the hot bath his mom has prepared for him, while the other kids listen to Mr. Clarke teach about how every lifeform, no matter how primitive, has a basic instinct to survive and flee from danger. The word he uses, “bacterium,” conveys that the shadow monster has infected Will physically as well as mentally. It is funny though how, between this episode and the previous one’s lesson on Phineas Gage, that Mr. Clarke’s subjects keep being so thematically relevant to Will’s story: it doesn’t break my immersion, but I do wonder what would happen if he ever found out — he’d probably start thinking he was on The Truman Show.
3. Teenage Rebellion
Nancy and Jonathan sneak out to the arranged meeting place with Barb’s mom, which becomes a tense, Invasion of the Body Snatchers-esque sequence where the two gradually realize they’re being observed by the lab’s undercover security. After finding someone has disabled their car, a guard “invites” them to the lab, where Dr. Owens explains the situation, and how he can’t allow more people (like the Hollands) to know the truth about the events the previous year, as it increases the chances of someone more ruthless (namely the Soviets) finding out about their breakthrough.
The “agreement” to maintain the secret leaves Nancy even more determined to tell Murray Bauman, and “burn down” the lab: she shows Jonathan she recorded the entire exchange with a tape machine in her bag. I can’t help but wonder if Owens, by trying so hard to be cordial and funny, came across instead as insincere: sure, he may be bored as hell cleaning up Brenner’s mess, but people died, so he ought to be more somber about the situation — now she’s become fully consumed with avenging Barb.Continued below
4. Billy the Racist
Billy is very much a character designed to make Steve more sympathetic by comparison: he may’ve been a bad boyfriend to Nancy, but he’s not a bad guy, with Billy showing off what a true douchebag looks like. Steve’s former toady Tommy is shown naturally gravitating towards Billy now, in a definitely not homoerotic scene in the school showers, where they taunt him over his sports performance, and Nancy being seen with Jonathan.
We’re shown just how dark Billy can be when he picks up Max from school this time round, after he sees her arguing with Lucas about being left out of the boys’ secretive discussions again. He tells her he’s learned to be suspicious of a “certain type of people,” which is a pretty unsubtle reference to Lucas being Black, and proof of just how rotten he is. He emphasizes his message by grabbing and squeezing her wrist, and she starts to break down after he finally lets go, a reminder that for people like him, it’s all about control masquerading as concern for girls’ safety.
5. Dustin Lied, the Cat Died
Thanks to Will, Dustin found Dart and brought him home, while not telling the others, presumably because of how Mike went postal on the little thing. Poor Lucas winds up drawing the short straw, and continues the search for Dart in the school dumpster, rendering him smelly for the whole episode. After Mike discloses what really happened to Will on Halloween, Dustin returns home to retrieve Dart, since he’s likely the key to what’s going on, and discovers he’s shed his skin and burst out of his tank. He finds Dart feasting on his ginger cat Mews: I’d say karma caught up to Dustin, but unfortunately it was the cat who paid the price for his actions.
– After realizing Will’s drawings are of the vines spreading in the fields, Hopper goes digging and discovers a tunnel network. On paper, it’s pretty cheesy how the camera turns upside down to reflect how that dimension is seeping into ours, but all in all it’s a great, trippy final shot to end on.
– I feel Eleven breaking down in tears, and Dart screeching at the camera would’ve also made pretty effective endings for this episode: it must be a real privilege to work on a show with so many great possible choices.
– I love how Joyce suggests her son draw what he’s experiencing (instead of talking about it again), to prevent him from having another breakdown: it’s a great reminder of how much she understands the value of art, without likely realizing it.
See you next week for “Chapter Five: Dig Dug.”