The third episode of Stranger Things 4, titled “The Monster and The Superhero”, continues the plot threads started in “Vecna’s Curse” while also providing crucial moments where some of the main characters have to make a choice on where they stand. Like most great horror stories, there’s always a break needed after ramping up the tension and “The Monster and The Superhero” provides that break without sacrificing the forward momentum of the series.
Spoilers ahead, so don’t read if you haven’t watched episode three of Stranger Things 4 “The Monster and The Superhero”.
Eleven’s treatment at the hands of the police following her attack on Angela is far more realistic than is comfortable. Anyone who knows anything about minors and the police know that police officers should not be interviewing a minor without the presence of either a lawyer or the child’s legal guardian. Millie Bobbie Brown gets a ton of credit from me for this episode, which puts Eleven at the center of the episode’s arc. Left powerless after the events of Stranger Things 3, Eleven doesn’t feel like she fits in the world anymore, even with Mike and the Byers family.
When Dr. Sam Owens (Paul Reiser returning from the role he played in Stranger Things 2) is visited by a military officer named Sullivan, Owens puts into a motion a plan to reach out to Eleven. After seeing pictures of what happened to Chrissy Cunningham, Sam Owens believes that Eleven is the best shot at stopping whatever is happening in Hawkins and ending the fight against the Mind Flayer in the Upside Down. So, when Sam offers Eleven the chance at the end of the episode to not only regain her powers but increase them (and regain some sense of who she is on a fundamental level), Eleven takes the offer, even though if things fail, she will probably never see Mike, the Byers, or the Party in Hawkins ever again.
Meanwhile, back in Hawkins, Steve, Robin, Max, and Dustin hook up with Nancy Wheeler and explain their theory of Vecna to her. Given what Nancy has come face-to-face with over the past couple of seasons, she takes it all in stride but focuses on Victor Creel as a potential link to the story. Seeing Robin and Nancy pair off is a nice change of pace (with Steve Harrington once again stuck in the role of reluctant babysitter). The interactions between the two young women are awkward and tense, largely because I think Robin is an undiagnosed autistic person (or at the very least is on the spectrum). Robin has a difficult time reading social cues (a common characteristic of people on the spectrum), which exasperates Nancy to no end when the two women go to the Public Library to look up everything they can on Victor Creel. But it is Robin who finds out the connection the pair are looking for by reviewing news reels from the local tabloid newspaper. It would seem that Victor Creel thought his house was haunted by a demon, even going so far as to hire a priest to perform an exorcism. Vecna apparently didn’t like that, killing Victor’s family but leaving the patriarch alive. Due to Victor’s plea bargain that sent him to an asylum for the rest of his life, the records of his case were sealed, which is why Nancy and Robin weren’t able to find anything in the normal public record.
Lucas finds himself in a precarious predicament in this episode. Jason Carver, the captain of the basketball team and Chrissy’s boyfriend, is out for blood (regardless of what he says to Lucas when loading up the car the players are going to be using). This is proven most clearly when Jason and his jock friends assault Eddie’s bandmates. Jason even threatens to break the drummer’s fingers if he doesn’t give up someone who knows where Eddie is, which causes the drummer to give up Dustin’s name. Now faced with the choice between sticking with the basketball players, who will hurt Dustin in their pursuit of Eddie, or to protect his lifelong friends, Lucas leads Jason and the others to Hopper’s abandoned cabin before splitting from them. While Lucas has been a pretty big jerk to his old friends in the first couple of episodes, it’s clear at this point that his priority is on protecting his old friends rather than going along with the increasingly murderous intentions of Jason and the jocks.
As this is going on, Dustin, Max, and Steve pay a visit to the school counselor Max has been seeing. The counselor dismisses Max’s concerns about looking into anyone else who may have been suffering from the same problems that Fred and Chrissy were dealing with. The scenes with Max’s counselor and the police with Eleven further drives home one of the underlying points of Stranger Things: adults make everything difficult for kids while saying they are trying to “protect” them. Thankfully, Max still has some of her old klepto skills intact (if Max ever chose to play Dungeons and Dragons, I’m pretty sure she’d a make a great rogue) and she steals the keys to her counselor’s office. Later that night, Dustin, Steve, and Max pour over both Chrissy and Fred’s files, seeing that both of them are experiencing the same symptoms Max herself has been facing: bloody noses, headaches, nightmares, inability to sleep, etc. It’s at this point Max hears the voice of Vecna, indicating the monster has chosen her as his next victim.
At this point, I should point out that Vecna in Stranger Things 4 feels like the living embodiment of depression. We see Vecna in the Upside Down connected to the building he inhabits (which is the Creel residence). He is psychically viewing the residents of Hawkins, specifically targeting people who have experience trauma, depression, and abuse. This creature is feeding on the suffering of the people of Hawkins, much the same depression as an illness feeds on and reinforces negative emotions like what Max has been experiencing. It’s a clever metaphor that the Duffer Brothers have baked in to the villain of this series.
Lastly, we have the ongoing search for Hopper. We get to see a bit more of Hopper in Kamchatya, where he’s managed to learn a bit of Russian during his captivity. Hopper manages to convince one of the other inmates to hit his feet with a railroad hammer. Initially, I thought it was to weaken the shackles Hopper and the others are forced to wear around their ankles but it turns out Hopper was far cleverer (and the degree of pain he was willing to endure for this is unreal). By injuring his ankles, Hopper is able to painfully remove the shackles from around his feet in preparation to make his escape with the “help” of Dmitri Antonov (the mysterious caller Joyce Byers spoke with last episode). I’m not sure Antonov is on the level, even with the promise of getting $40,000 American dollars to secure Hopper’s release. It’s far more likely that Antonov is playing Hopper, hoping to cash in and still keep Hopper prisoner. Meanwhile Joyce and Murray make the long trip to Alaska to meet up with the smuggler that is supposed to get Hopper out of Russian-controlled Kamchatya and back to America.
Three episodes in and I’m loving the build-up of the season. The split narrative device has never been one of my favorites, since it is often so badly mismanaged by showrunners and writers of television shows (looking directly at The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones). But the Duffer Brothers have managed to keep the pace of the season going despite having disconnected storylines running at the same time.
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