So, I have been greatly pleased for the most part about the return of Stranger Things even if I am only two episodes in. The character relationships have stayed on target even as the kids age, and the general tone is just about right.
But then there was a moment in this one where, really, I had to sit back and think for a moment.
So, like I said, most of what’s going on so far is on target. Hopper is (unsurprisingly) alive in the Soviet Union, and it looks like a guard in his Siberian prison will let him go for the right price from Joyce and Murray. Mike is out in California, reunited with El while Nancy and Jonathan stay apart. Oddly enough, it seems like Will perhaps has feelings of his own for Mike, but that’s mostly implied rather than outright stated.
Oh, and Jonathan’s stated reason for staying away from Nancy, or at least not telling her what college he was accepted into, does largely track with the reason she gave in the previous episode about why she wasn’t pressing the issue of seeing him. Sure, there’s the added factor that he’s worried if she opts to follow him that he’ll end up divorced like his parents, but so far, it does seem as if the two of them aren’t that far apart though I expect that won’t last.
Lucas is distancing himself from his friends now that he’s on the basketball team, to the point where his defense of D&D as not being part of the Satanic Panic stops short as he makes a lame excuse for how he knows anything (his sister plays!), but at least I’ll give the wannabe vigilantes on the team credit for not going along with the idea that all roleplayers are worshiping the devil.
Oh, and Dustin is taking charge of things to find the missing Eddie, who yeah, didn’t do the thing other people think he did, a story corroborated by his uncle that tells the story of a guy who killed his family that sounds like a much likelier suspect. Granted, Nancy heard that story, and the guy she rode out with became the whatever-it-is’s second victim. That thing, something Dustin and Eddie dub the “Vecna,” seems to have the nicest piece of real estate in the Upside Down. And since this is Dustin, he’s already recruited Steve, Robin, and Max to help out.
Even El’s lies about how many friends she has doesn’t quite seem out of place. She’s socially awkward since she was raised in a lab and then in an isolated cabin, and Mike would believe them because he’s smitten. Will he’ll blame for not telling him the truth (sort of), but not El.
So, what’s the issue? OK, so El is being bullied. I made a Carrie reference after the first episode of the season, and that seems to be a bit of what they’re going with here. El, if she had her powers, would have probably killed one of these girls by now. She’s been accused of squealing when all she did was look in the general direction of the girl who, let’s face it, is her obvious tormentor. But then there’s this elaborate pranking done to her at the roller rink in front of Mike. It involves clear harassment on the rink itself and one jackass taking over the DJ’s booth to play music of his choice for the sole purpose of humiliating El in front of, oh, everybody. And while I can believe no one would stop the stuff on the rink, you mean there are no employees or managers at this rink to get that kid away from the turntable? Never mind. That’s not really the issue. El’s reaction is.
Now, El has no powers. So, instead, she swipes a roller skate and slams it into Angela’s face.
So, how am I supposed to feel about that?
Yeah, it’s not right that Eleven hit someone like that, and the injury looks kinda bad without being severe. I certainly don’t want Eleven to resort to violence every time someone rouses her formidable temper. But…doesn’t Angela kinda have something coming to her? Like, it is really hard to feel bad for this girl, the most stereotypical of 80s bully stereotypes. She’s not been shown to be even slightly sympathetic, and while there are worse monsters on Stranger Things–possible psychic murderer Victor Creel sounds pretty bad–she’s also not someone who has given any reason for the audience to feel bad for. I do get that the real problem isn’t that Angela got hurt but that El did it, but at the same time, there is a small feeling that maybe Angela deserved it, and I don’t entirely know if that’s the direction the episode is shooting for.
I suppose I’ll see if the Angela plotline goes much further. El is bound to get her powers back eventually, and the real issue seems to be flashbacks to her time in the lab.