Chapter Five: The Flea and the Acrobat
Warning! Full spoilers for the episode below.
Thankfully, Hopper was able to navigate through Hawkins Lab without too much harm. He had a quick moment in El’s room that could hint at my previous Kevin’s Speculation Corner that El is actually Sarah, but it was just a quick moment before he moved on. He eventually found the portal into “The Upside Down” but was soon after knocked out by Hawkins Lab security. At best, hopefully Hawkins Lab recruits Hopper? Please don’t be dead Hopper.
With Lonnie back in the picture, he tried to be the voice of reason with Joyce. Of course we’ve seen both Jonathan and Hopper attempt to do the same with Joyce, but the connection with Lonnie is a much different one. Lonnie just wants to attempt to introduce some sanity into the situation, despite what we know about it. Unfortunately, Lonnie ended up introducing that sense of sanity into the household, but blocking Jonathan from telling Joyce that she was right. It was a bit too on the nose that Jonathan would simply stop, when Joyce has been so consumed by these events, even with Lonnie’s argument against telling her. Just as it was convenient that Hopper went alone into Hawkins Lab, this whole situation followed the same silly trends.
Thank goodness that Hopper is alive! Even though that situation within Chapter Five is just as bizarre as well. Stranger Things had done such a phenomenal job up until this point with pacing and plot movement and character, but certain cracks started to show in Chapter Five. Yes, Hopper is alive. But, the situation that he awake in is bizarre and poorly explained. Are the drugs and beer scattered across his apartment because of Hopper’s own demons, or did Hawkins Lab set them up there? Hopper seems strangely surprised by them when he awakens back in his house, but it’s an odd moment. Hopper later finds out that Hawkins Lab has bugged his house, but this just comes across as strange. Hawkins Lab, the same corporation that killed poor Benny, just decides to leave Hopper to continue to cause problems for them? Sure, they want to track down El and investigate the monster’s realm, and I guess that Hopper could aid them in those efforts, but really? We also see Hopper continue to refuse help from his fellow officers, for whatever selfish hero-complex driven or trope driven reason. It’s all just strange and convenient and the first real set of missteps within Stranger Things.
The stronger aspects within Chapter Five definitely circled around “Will’s” funeral. The montage of the various characters getting ready for the funeral was beautifully shot in all of its melancholy glory. Joyce was the centerpiece of the funeral procession, at a point that seemed shockingly numb. But still, she seemed to be stewing, planning. Joyce has been so feverous and ferocious throughout Stranger Things, and this was one of the few moments where she was brutally silent. This silence was paired with another flashback to an extradiegetic level in which we see Will and Joyce interacting before his disappearance. It was sweet and somber, in all of the cabbage-tossing glory.
The horror tropes continued in their convenience with Nancy and Jonathan teaming up, but refusing to tell Joyce the truth. After all that Jonathan has seen Joyce go through on the brink of madness, it’s just silly that he wouldn’t tell her the truth. Even Nancy attempts to have Jonathan tell Joyce the truth. “I’ll tell her, when this thing is dead.” he says, conveniently as ever. It was great to see Nancy and Jonathan interacting, because their dynamic is entirely more interesting than the back-and-forth romance(?) between Nancy and Steve, but this interaction was still flawed. At least they’re bringing a gun to a spooky monster fight!
My favorite scenes in Chapter Five once again revolved around Mike and company, the first time coming at Will’s wake. Mr. Clarke gives a master class about alternate dimensions and Carl Sagan, among other things. There is inquiry in attempt to find Will, giddy smiles when Dungeons & Dragons is brought up, and great dialogue leading into discussion of Chapter Five’s subtitle, The Flea and the Acrobat. Even though it’s entirely theoretical, of course. Mr. Clarke gives hints, without knowing, about how the demon portal in Hawkins Lab was created. “Science is neat, but I’m afraid it’s not very forgiving.” Mr. Clarke, even as a mostly unimportant character, continued to charm in Chapter Five, but also provided vital details to Mike and his friends going forward. The following scene with Dustin giving a much different master class about how compasses work was just as captivating and glorious, also providing the group with their next direction.
Science is neat, but I’m afraid it’s not very forgiving.
Although I haven’t dedicated any real time to Nancy and Steve in the past few episodes, their relationship is so back and forth and back and forth. While Nancy and Jonathan have a much more interesting relationship, there are moments when Steve shines through as a honest-to-goodness teenager with a crush. Other times, he continues to be an ass. It’s such much pushing and pulling, that I hope his character gets a larger chance to shine in later episodes, but time is running out for that scenario to happen.
I will keep these lights up until the day I die if I think there’s a chance that Will’s still out there!
Although Chapter Five had a handful of missteps, it did contain more phenomenal work from Winona Ryder. Although she remained mostly silent for a majority of the episode, that trend soon ended when she found out Lonnie’s true intentions of taking advantage of Will’s death. In those moments, Joyce’s silence ended and she exploded with rage and passion fueled by her motherly intuition and love. “Maybe I am a mess. Maybe I’m crazy. Maybe I’m out of my mind But, God help me, I will keep these lights up until the day I die if I think there’s a chance that Will’s still out there!” Ryder continues to shine as Joyce, and continues to be one of the strongest and most consistent aspects within Stranger Things.
We get another strong scene, again with Jonathan and Nancy. Even though the scene comes on the heel of lame duck reasoning, it was still a robust scene with the newly formed alliance. They talk about their families, about their parents, about real life. It’s such a strong contrast between the fluff that has happened between Nancy and Steve, and it’s truly refreshing.
Chapter Five has me conflicted, because it delivered another great scene with Hopper and a phone call to his ex-wife. Stranger Things delivers time and time again with these small character moments, but their motivations in Chapter Five have been so naively opportunistic that it hurts. Regardless, when Hopper reached out to his ex-wife for possibly one last goodbye it’s such a poignant moment; from Hopper telling her that those seven years meant everything to him and that he didn’t regret a thing, to the anguish you can read in his eyes when he hears the cry of a baby in the background. Hopper lies and says he’s been drinking, and then says what appears to be a final goodbye. Hopper then goes to tell Joyce the truth, to tell Joyce, “You were right. Those whole time, you were right.” The look of maddening joy on Joyce’s face after finally being vindicated is dismal but so uplifting all the same. Now Hopper and Joyce will presumably, instead of attempting to expose Hawkins Lab, attempt to break back in and find Will on their own. At least there are two of them this time!
Chapter Five also featured a lot of walking. While this provided Dustin with a few great lines like, “I think a portal to another dimension is going to be pretty obvious.” It was still just a lot of wandering around and wasted time. Usually, the moments with Mike and Eleven and the rest of the group have been among my favorite moments, but Chapter Five felt like a bit of filler, among the forced moments and logic as well. It was intriguing to see Eleven in “the bath” using her powers for the advancement of Hawkins Lab and the government, as well as the inevitable trip into The Upside Down and hints of the creation of the portal to the aforementioned locale. But then came an awkward rift between the group, one that again lasted far too long and felt far too forced. Just when the group was hot on the trail of Will, and the portal, a new rift formed and El disappeared. Again, this felt like another convenience for plot’s sake, and not something with strong character motivation that crafted even stronger character moments.
Chapter Five of Stranger Things once again ended with an enthralling ending, but the forced nature of character’s actions once again slipped through. Nancy and Jonathan set out to confront whatever lurked in the woods, and while Stranger Things continues to spread out and deliver on the horror moments, Nancy fell into Tropesville once again. WHY WOULD YOU CRAWL INTO THAT HOLE, NANCY? It’s just a bit silly, and I know that it lends to the genre, but Nancy has normally been the levelheaded one, crush on Steve aside. Sure, she wants to confront the faceless monster, and also find Barb, but her actions fell far into trope. Was the sequence terrifying and having Nancy being trapped in The Upside Down is just as frightening, but the progression into those circumstances felt, once again, forced.
I found myself loving so many various moments in Chapter Five. At the same time, I feel like Stranger Things forced so many different characters into situations they normally wouldn’t put themselves in, simply to create tension or to begin plot movement. With truly touching moments like Joyce confronting Lonnie, or Hopper contacting his ex-wife, Chapter Five should have been so much stronger. Instead, we’re left with an episode that does a lot right, but missteps quite a few times as well.