Chapter Eight: The Upside Down
Warning! Full spoilers for the episode below.
Stranger Things always hit peak perfection in moments of tense anxiety and fear, in moments of pure horror, and Chapter Eight delivered across the board with those moments. While some of the more predictable moments and progression held back previous episodes, Chapter Eight delivered on all fronts.
With Joyce and Hopper held captive, it seemed like a situation that was entirely dire for the duo. We had a great interaction between Joyce and Dr. Brenner, in which the latter tried to leverage the former’s motherhood for his benefit. Joyce has been on a conquest to find Will, and she refused to be manipulated, a mother’s love scorching right through Dr. Brenner. Her passion and love for Will could not be manipulated or disfigured, remaining as a hopeful beacon throughout Stranger Things.
On the other side, Hopper had a less-than-friendly approach with his interrogation, spending far more time with Dr. Taser instead. Hopper remained just as vigilant with his aggressors, claiming that he knew everything and called out Hawkins Lab on multiple fronts. But then, there was a shift with Hopper. A proposition. He just wants to find Will, just as determined to do so as Joyce is, but at what cost? Hopper swears that they will forget all about Hawkins Lab and everything that happens, and they just want to find Will. Furthermore, Hopper gives up Eleven for the sake of finding Will and the protection of Mike and company. This is a huge shift for Hopper, for the sake of Will and Joyce, but again comes at a cost. He sacrifices the truth and Eleven’s safety for the sake of Will, a man determined to accomplish this one goal. But again, at what cost when you’re dealing with the devil?
Although the cast of Stranger Things carried the series across all eight episodes, and I loved the various pairings and Dustin-isms, Chapter Eight was surprisingly very Hopper-centric. We saw this as Joyce and Hopper ventured into The Upside Down. Joyce was having trouble breathing, panicking as they ventured deeper and deeper. Again, the parallelism was perfectly aligned, with Hopper telling Joyce to, “Breath. In and out. In. And out.” in alignment with Hopper telling his daughter to do the same. While an early Kevin’s Speculation Corner made the easy shot that perhaps Eleven could be Hopper’s daughter, Stranger Things made a much stronger, and heartbreaking choice. Hopper’s daughter was sick. It was great to see Hopper outside of the primary narrative, but it was tragic all the same.
In and out.
Nancy and Jonathan shared another tender moment while preparing to fight The Monster. We saw them set up the Byers’ house, Home Alone style, and more awkwardly sweet moments. Nancy hangs in an awkward balance, of caring for Jonathan because they have shared the same harrowing experiences, but still longing for the safe life that Steve represents. We saw the same expressions from Nancy in the police station, and they followed during the bandaging scene. These moments were short-lived though, with Steve finally popping back up. And Steve was certainly Steve when The Monster finally showed up. Although Steve was freaking out, this sequence again provided some phenomenal horror as the trio anxiously awaited the monster to fall into their traps.
Chapter Eight balanced the jumps between groups expertly, as I anxiously waited for the return to each group. This was only amplified when we went back to Joyce and Hopper as they found Castle Byers and were given another flashback to Hopper and his sick daughter in the hospital. We see such a different Hopper, but a man on the verge of cracking and becoming the man we met in Chapter One.
Back to the Byers’ house, Steve is told to leave and does so, without finding the redemption he so desperately needed. But then The Monster does indeed return, and it’s Steve’s time to shine. With Jonathan and Nancy in trouble, Steve returns to save the day, a scene reminiscent of Joaquin Phoenix in M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs, swinging away with his trusty baseball bat. The trio is able to disable The Monster with the expertly placed bear trap, and they attempt to kill it with fire. But Horror 101 states that a monster is never defeated that easily, and The Monster returns to The Upside Down.
Mike and company at the middle school get less attention in the first half of Chapter Eight, but that makes a huge turn when we return to their group. Of course, it kicks off with Dustin in a Chunk-esque sequence discovering pudding the school kitchen, akin to Chunk discovering ice cream in the Fratelli’s freezer. This leads to Mike and Eleven discussing pudding, about Eleven being able to stay with Mike, and a naïve optimism that surely couldn’t last. Mike finally gets his kiss with Eleven, almost interrupted by the arrival of Dr. Brenner and his squad of goons. The moment is short but bittersweet. Shortly after, Eleven is forced to kill more goons, shattering that illusion of sweet innocence.
Eleven is briefly recaptured, but not before The Monster is drawn out by the blood of the goons that Eleven eviscerated. Dr. Brenner is seemingly killed by The Monster, and the kids are forced to find shelter in a classroom. Mike tells Eleven that she can eat as many Eggos as she wants, and they share a brief moment before the monster attacks. In another homage to various Stephen King showdowns, Eleven saves the day and saves Mike and company from The Monster, but the end is nigh. Eleven says goodbye, and the monster is destroyed, but not before seemingly transporting Eleven to The Upside Down, or somewhere new altogether. As I’ve stated, the relationship between Mike and Eleven was a huge driving force throughout Stranger Things, and it was heartbreaking to see the loss on Mike’s face as Eleven disappeared. Of course, it’s just Mike’s first crush, and Eleven will surely return somehow, but it remains touching all the same.
As Joyce and Hopper tracked blood from The Monster to its now abandoned lair, the path was clear to find Will. This is where Hopper’s arc finally came full circle, as they found Will. Will was weak and had a pretty disgusting throat-slug that had to be removed, but it aligned with Hopper seeing his daughter in the hospital. This was Hopper’s own chance at trying to find peace, trying to find some form of redemption in saving Will where his own daughter couldn’t be saved. While Hopper’s daughter couldn’t be resuscitated, Hopper refused to lose Will. And he didn’t. Hopper and Joyce saved Will.
Chapter Eight jumps forward a month, but not before we see Will in the hospital. It’s a happy reunion for Will, his family and his friends, but somber states still remain. Nancy is still torn up about the loss of Barb, and Hopper was possibly recruited by Hawkins Lab, as part of his deal with Dr. Brenner, but the truth remains unclear for the time being.
Stranger Things returns our characters to a state similar to where they were in Chapter One. They have all returned to a familiar situation, but they have all changed in some form or another. Brilliantly, this flash-forward begins with Will and friends all engaged in another Dungeons & Dragons campaign. This time, Will throws a fireball without hesitation and kills their new foe immediately. The boys have returned to a state of comfort and familiarity, but Mike is left pining for Eleven, her pillow fort remade in case she returns. Jonathan still pines over Nancy, but Nancy has returned to Steve, still remaining changed by the whole experience. Hopper is still part of the Hawkins Police Department but is leaving food in the woods for (possibly) Eleven. Whether he is working with Hawkins Lab is still unclear, but will surely be revealed in Season 2.
Finally, we have the Byers. Everyone in the family is changed, but they are closer as a family, celebrating Christmas dinner, together. They’re happy. They’re all too happy, and it was certainly too good to be true. Will heads to the bathroom to wash his hands, but actually is left puking up some sort of slug-like fluid, and has flashes from The Upside Down. Will is not okay, and the seeds are planted for Season 2.
Chapter Eight delivered on all fronts. From the showdowns we’ve all waited for, to the various character payoffs ranging from Hopper to Mike and Eleven, and yes, even Steve, this finale delivered again and again. Chapter Eight delivered tense action scenes, as well as chilling horror sequences. Stranger Things answered a lot of questions and wrapped up the main mysteries of Season 1 expertly, all the while making us hungry for answers locked away in an inevitable Season 2.