Welcome back to our weekly look at Stranger Things season four, today we’re looking at:
“Chapter Five: The Nina Project”
Written by Kate Trefry
Directed by Nimród Antal
Owens takes Eleven to the Nina Project, located in a repurposed missile bunker in Nevada, so she can relive the memories that awakened her powers: there, she is reunited with Dr. Brenner. The party in Hawkins realizes Vecna’s mind lair is a representation of the Creel house, and start searching for him there. Jason attends Chrissy’s funeral, and resumes the hunt for Eddie. Joyce and Bauman plot to steal Yuri’s gun. Jonathan, Mike, Will and Argyle bury Agent Harmon in the desert.
1. El’s Reality Comes Undone
Suffice to say, Eleven is not happy to see Brenner (who now bears a long, thin facial scar from his mauling by the Demogorgon), and has to be forced into the Nina tank as a result: god, I get Owens needed his help, but it was such a betrayal of El’s trust not telling her about him beforehand. It’s truly nightmarish stuff for her: her abuser is back in control of her life, and she’s trapped in a neverending representation of her old prison with her head shaved, wearing a patient gown, as if the last three years never happened.
The Nina Project, which can turn thoughts into video Brenner and Owens can watch, is an intriguing idea on its own, but what’s really great about it is the sleight-of-hand it allows, letting Millie Bobby Brown portray an eight-year old Eleven, without having to recreate her face on a younger body double in every shot. (This is also probably why the effects in each shot of the younger Eleven are so good.) The framing device also means Eleven can be portrayed as being verbal in these flashbacks: overall, it’s a fascinatingly impressionistic approach to storytelling from an otherwise literal show.
2. Hopper Gets Some Decent Writing
Hopper’s internment has been the weakest storyline of season four thus far, but we finally get some great writing in the scene where he and his newly processed friend Anton finally sit down and have a heart-to-heart about their kids. Jim reflects on the war crimes he carried out as an 18-year old during the Vietnam War, dispersing the chemical that caused so much pain and suffering for the people there, as well as American soldiers. Hopper confesses he fears his daughter’s terminal cancer was a side effect of exposure to the chemical, and that he similarly believes his existence is a curse on Joyce and El. It was great to finally see Jim open up about his time in Vietnam, and watch David Harbour sink his teeth in something of substance this season.
3. The Karate Man
Likewise, the Russia storyline is improved greatly by the scene of Joyce and Bauman plotting to lure Yuri from his plane’s cockpit so Murray can threaten him with… the karate skills he’s never used outside of martial arts class. (A class full of children I might add.) Murray’s first attempt at fighting in the field goes pretty well, but he enjoys it too much, and winds up knocking out Yuri, even though he and Joyce can’t fly a plane. It’s a patently ridiculous farce, but I’ll take silliness over being boring any day, and Yuri’s dialogue about smuggling peanut butter into the Soviet Union was really entertaining (and educational!) too.
4. A Moment of Silence
Agent Harmon bleeds out from his wounds, but not before passing along a pen, and the name “Nina,” to Mike and friends. He’s unceremoniously buried in a desert junkyard, but Argyle, feeling sentimental, decides to mark the location with a grave made from a pizza box. When he finds the pen isn’t working, Mike realizes it contains a piece of paper, which lists a phone number for a modem. This is a plodding storyline needed to get the guys from point A to point B, but (as I previously talked about here) that conveys the hopelessness of the situation, and does a nice job of making us feel sad about Harmon’s death despite his lack of screentime; I also think Argyle’s sweet attempts to honor him fully endear him to us, despite how late he is to the fold.Continued below
5. The Action’s Over There, Not Here
After Nancy deduces from Max’s detailed drawings that Vecna’s lair is a surreal version of the Creel house, the gang heads there to find him. Unlike the previous episodes, this is the weakest thread, as we know from what was previously shown that Vecna is in the Upside Down version of the house, meaning we know they’re not going to find him — sure, they find out he’s close, thanks to the lights going out when he kills Patrick McKinney, but they’re still spending the episode catching up to us. Despite some fun moments like Lucas telling Max he loves Kate Bush now, the most exciting moments in Hawkins this episode were definitely Jason and Patrick finding Eddie at the boathouse, which is pretty peculiar really. (On that note, it’s a shame Eddie only escaped because Patrick suffered such a gruesome death.)
– As I made clear in my look at the season’s first episode, I don’t care that the child actors are older than their characters, since they’re still teenagers, but seeing a 6-year old Holly Wheeler being played by a 9-year old, now that pushed my suspension of disbelief too far — god that was jarring.
– This episode introduces Jamie Campbell Bower as the “Friendly Orderly” Peter Ballard in El’s memories: Bower’s presence is intriguing, because a decade ago it felt like he was destined to become a major Hollywood leading man, until projects like Camelot and The Mortal Instruments crashed and burned. Anyway, good for him!
– As Brenner explains, the Nina Project is named after Nicolas Dalayrac’s 1786 opera Nina, ou La folle par amour (Nina, or The Woman Crazed with Love), though (unsurprisingly), the show uses the Italian version of the original French music; you can read more about it here.
– Jason et al. still wearing their black ties and suits from Chrissy’s funeral while resuming the hunt for Eddie certainly felt like a Reservoir Dogs reference.
See you all next week for “Chapter Six: The Dive.”