Welcome to this week’s installment of the Summer TV Binge of Stranger Things, looking back at season two, episode seven, released October 27, 2017:
“Chapter Seven: The Lost Sister”
Written by Justin Doble
Directed by Rebecca Thomas
Eleven finds her fellow test subject, Kali, aka Eight, in Chicago. She teaches her “sister” to master her powers, but her violent and vengeful demeanor places them at odds with each other.
1. Becky Betrays El’s Trust
The cold open resumes Eleven’s story in “Chapter Five,” after she witnessed her mother’s memories and saw Kali in the lab’s Rainbow Room. After finding her through the Void unconsciously while falling asleep, El goes to tell her aunt Becky, but she sees her calling Florence, the secretary at Hawkins Police Station, sharing her concerns. Feeling betrayed, El takes off with some cash swiped from her aunt’s wallet, something Becky overhears, but is still too late to stop. This event wasn’t followed up on in season three, and while I fully understand that El wouldn’t want to reconcile with her aunt so soon, hopefully they eventually will.
2. Graffiti City
Unsurprisingly, Chicago provides this episode with a much grittier aesthetic than the rural/suburban one of most of the series: Kali and her punkish band of outcasts, and their home in the deprived, almost entirely graffiti-covered areas of the city, lend it an almost apocalyptic vibe reminiscent of late ’70s/early ’80s dystopian sci-fi, like John Carpenter’s Escape From New York, The Warriors, Blade Runner, and The Terminator. It’s a refreshing contrast to the otherwise King/Spielbergian show, making it feel altogether more modern. There’s likely some recent movie influence too, as the sight of Eleven, Kali and all her friends wearing grotesque masks brings to mind the imagery of The Purge movies, although this could doubtless be the result of the timeless quality crime and slasher movies have.
3. Dark Side Dagobah
The biggest influence though, has to be none other than Star Wars: this was the sequel to the first season, so it was inevitable in hindsight that Eleven’s journey would echo Luke going to Dagobah to train with Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back. However, Kali is a far more ruthless mentor however, coming across like a Sith Lord instructing El to tap into her anger, and her attempts to persuade El to stay with her are rooted in her need for her power, whereas Yoda discouraged Luke from going back for his friends because he knew he wasn’t ready. The parallels to the Sith are visually apparent from the makeover El receives, which includes black clothes and eye shadow, and when Kali and El track down Ray Carroll, the orderly who carried out Terry Ives’s electroshock therapy.
El telekinetically strangles Carroll, a strong callback to Darth Vader’s Force choke, and Kali encourages her to make it slow and painful, so she can revel in it. However, when El sees a photo of Ray with his daughters, she realizes she risks becoming like him, depriving these girls of their father. Eleven has killed many people before, but only in self-defense, and this is the first time she is attacking someone who’s completely helpless: thankfully, she decides she isn’t a murderer, and even intervenes when Kali tries to finish him off herself. (It’s a good thing Eleven has tangible psychic powers, while Kali can only cast illusions.)
4. The Return of Dr. Brenner
Carroll reveals Dr. Brenner is still alive, despite getting mauled by the Demogorgon at the end of the first season. Matthew Modine comes back for a scene where Kali conjures an illusion of Brenner, to force Eleven to choose between searching for him, or returning to Hawkins. After Eleven sees the events of the previous episode unfold in the Void as she’s sleeping, she chooses to return to save Hopper, Mike et al., but it’s clear nevertheless that Brenner is alive, and that Kali will find and try to kill him: the question is, will El be tempted to drop everything, and rejoin her when she does?
5. Enfant TerribleContinued below
All right, so this is probably the least popular chapter of the show, as a cursory search will show (eg. it’s the lowest rated episode on IMDb, with a mere 6.1/10.) There is no doubt that having a self-contained episode completely derailed the momentum generated when binge-watching the show, especially as it otherwise leans into the idea of being a series of nine-hour films, and that its own pacing suffers from having to include every development in Eleven’s storyline; but at the same time, it offered a unique setting, it’s as technically competent as the rest of the show, and I have no doubt it’ll feel less like an outlier when its threads presumably pay off in later seasons.
I think the simplest way to get around the episode’s odd placement would’ve been to make it the eighth or even ninth (the finale) of the season, essentially making it an hour-long flashback after Eleven returns to the fold, and the question naturally turns to where she’d been since “Chapter Five.” The Duffers could’ve added a voiceover of Mike asking her that, and a transition card of a VHS tape being rewound (complete with the white noise effect) could be shown as we literally go back in time. It’s certainly something I plan to experiment on doing the next time I rewatch the show, effectively treating the episode as a lengthy deleted scene that I’m watching separately, or trying to place back in.
– On first viewing, I thought Kali (Linnea Berthelsen)’s accent was simply British, which is understandable given her character is meant to have been kidnapped from London. However, on rewatch, I noticed the slight American lilt in her voice; complicating matters is that Berthelsen is actually Danish, so what accent am I really hearing?
– Given all the Tolkien references on this show, I wouldn’t be surprised if the color-changing butterfly Kali shows Eleven was inspired by Saruman’s cloak of Many Colours in The Lord of the Rings book.
– The shot of Kali rendering her gang invisible to the authorities, which seamlessly transitions to the cops’ perspective, is absolutely wonderful, even though you know it was probably done by just having the main cast move away once they were off-camera.
See you next week for “Chapter Eight: The Mind Flayer.”