A stellar ending covers the first chinks in Stranger Things armour…
Episode 5 was probably the most action packed episode of Stranger Things yet, so there was always likely to be a lull afterwards. That’s not to say that a lack of action always leads to less quality, but in the case of The Monster, it kinda does. A lot of previously unconfirmed back story is sketched out here, mostly by Hopper and Joyce’s trip to see the woman who we now know is El’s mother. The MK Ultra experiment led to Eleven being snatched from her mother shortly after birth due to her telekinetic powers. The trauma from that incident leaves El’s mother in a borderline vegetative state. This feels more like dotting i’s and crossing t’s rather than any kind big reveal however, as this has all been hinted at before.
What is interesting though, is that we are six episodes in now and I have barely mentioned Dr. Brenner, who appears to be the main antagonist. Played with a steely eyed determination and a calm disposition by Matthew Modine, we know very little about Brenner’s motivations or back story and unless this is fleshed out in the final two episodes, this feels like a bit of a misfire. It is hard to get angry at a character that we barely know.
Another minor criticism is that one of the things I have loved about Stranger Things is that whilst it wears its influences on its sleeve, the nods and allusions have mostly been quite subtle. On The Monster we have direct references to Stephen King and Star Wars and it all feels a little too on the nose to be completely natural.
These are minor gripes though and The Monster still has some wonderful moments. El has so far been defined by her victim status and her timidity but she has her most empowering sequences yet in episode 6. First, stealing waffles from the store and then the incredible ending sequence in which El saves Mikey from jumping over a cliff.
The Monster is certainly not a backward step but it isn’t really a step forward either. This episode feels more like a stepping stone to the big finale then a decline though and Stranger Things has earned a little audience trust at this point.
Steve Watch – Hmm… boy was I wrong about this one. I’m gonna give Steve one more episode to redeem himself before discarding Steve Watch entirely. Even his hair wasn’t up to it’s usual flamboyant standards in this episode…