Welcome to this week’s installment of the TV Binge of Stranger Things, looking back at season three, episode five, released July 4, 2019:
“Chapter Five: The Flayed”
Written by Paul Dichter
Directed by Uta Briesewitz
On this episode, Joyce and Hopper kidnap Alexei from a Soviet safehouse, and take him to someone who can translate Russian; Steve, Dustin, Robin and Erica infiltrate the facility beneath the mall; and Nancy informs Jonathan and the kids that the Mind Flayer has possessed Mrs. Driscoll, prompting them to find out where the monster is “flaying” its victims.
1. How’d They Do All This?
This episode sees the Scoops Troop venture deep into the Russian base, full of vast elevators and corridors, while Joyce and Hopper enter an engineering room, where Alexei is supervising repairs, beneath a farmhouse on the other side of town. One of the few issues with Stranger Things 3 is how hard it is to suspend your disbelief that the Soviets built such a vast, sprawling base in the six months or so between the second and third seasons — sure, they had the cover of the mall, and probably exploited the tunnels the Mind Flayer created, but it’s still a huge stretch.
I wonder if the Duffer Bros. had considered setting season three in 1986, to match the 18 month gap between seasons in the real world, but decided against it as it would’ve meant Jonathan and Nancy would be in college, or skipping over more of Eleven’s speech and language development. Ultimately, the Russians apparently scrambling into action, and working 24/7 to build a new Gate as well as a mall the moment the Americans closed the lab, is simply the biggest leap of faith the show has asked us to make (which, given the Demogorgons, psychic powers, and Dustin having a girlfriend, is saying a lot.)
2. Joyce and Hopper’s Bad Day aka Bauman’s Back Baby!
Hopper grabs Alexei after a confrontation with Grigori, but the gunfire damages his SUV, and eventually causes it to combust and catch fire in the woods. Joyce and Hopper are forced to escort the scientist to the home of Murray Bauman — who is the nearest person who can speak Russian — on foot, and they become absolutely miserable, between the heat, the mosquitoes, and the lack of food and water.
They arrive at Bauman’s home after Jim commandeers a car at a 7-Eleven, and the conspiracy theorist is none too pleased that they brought an enemy of the state to his property, greeting them with a shotgun. Bauman and Alexei trade barbs, and Hopper unsuccessfully tries to defuse the situation, forcing Joyce to yell at Bauman that it’s been a long day, and to “stop behaving like a jackass.” It must’ve been very cathartic for her, especially after Hopper’s constant whining.
3. The Blessed Smirnoff
Alexei, or Smirnoff as Hopper dubs him, is a thoroughly good boy, never complaining until Bauman threatens to shoot him, despite his lack of English, and Hopper’s short temper: you really get the sense he’s enjoying the opportunity to step out of the lab and get away from his Soviet masters, even if it’s only for a while. There’s a great little moment at the 7-Eleven where he tries a slushy for the first time, not knowing it’s meant to be poured into a cup: he’s like a great big puppy that’s been adopted by Jim and Joyce.
Actor Alec Utgoff just has this boyish charm to him, and on that note, if you’re interested, you should definitely check out the Polish film he starred in, Never Gonna Snow Again: it’s a wonderful slice of magical realism, completely anchored by his gentle performance.
4. Darker and Grainier
The cinematography for this chapter, which was directed by series newcomer Uta Briesewitz (Jessica Jones et al., Westworld‘s “Kiksuya“), has noticeably harsher lighting than previous episodes, with stronger shadows. Stranger Things has always looked very cinematic, but the level of film grain here means this season is the closest it’s come to resembling its movie influences, and it helps particularly well with building the sense of dread this episode inspires.Continued below
5. A Real Horror
After meeting up, Nancy, Jonathan, Mike, Will, Lucas, Max, and El go to the Holloways’ home, where they find the kitchen has been ransacked, and dozens of chemical products have been consumed, while the food from two days ago has remained untouched. It’s unnerving to see that, and that the bottle Heather struck her father with has remained on the carpet, a chilling indication that they really have no free will anymore. The group heads to the hospital, where the receptionist only allows Jonathan and Nancy to see Mrs. Driscoll, which is the biggest indication of how intense things are about to become.
The two head to her room, only to find that she’s gone. They’re greeted by a bloodied Tom Holloway and Bruce Lowe, who are both now inhumanly strong, forcing the young couple to kill them after a drawn out fight, while blinking lights render us as stressed out as the characters. However, death is not the end of the Mind Flayer’s violative practices, as it demonstrates why it made its thralls eat toxic ingredients, in what is easily the show’s grossest moment: the two men’s bodies, bones and all, break apart and melt like the rat, and combine into a crab-like monster, ending the episode on a truly bloodcurdling cliffhanger.
– Robin is clearly a “New Teen Titans” fan, given how she brings up Cyborg after the mention of promethium (which his armor is meant to consist of): gee, I wonder why she reads a comic starring Robin.
– Using the Void, El tells the other kids where Hopper and Joyce are, or rather, why they won’t be able to find them: between that and Jonathan and Nancy entering the basement, it’s good the characters are trying to avoid only meeting up in the penultimate episode.
– It’s sweet El doesn’t realize Hopper is referring to Illinois (“Ill-Annoy”), despite visiting Chicago in season two; it’s another instance of why the showrunners probably didn’t advance the setting to 1986.
– Steve finally wins a fight after knocking out the Soviet guard, something Dustin excitedly points out; you really have to love how much he idolizes him.
Have a great Halloween folks, and beware of any treats from strangers: until then, see you all next time for “Chapter Six: E Pluribus Unum.”