Into the Upside Down – Review of “Stranger Things 4” Episode Six “The Dive”

Storytelling in long form, whether it’s a television series or a novel, is like chess: setting the pieces in place where they can have the most impact. Episode Six of Stranger Things 4, titled “The Dive”, is a great example of the story’s chess pieces being moved into position where they will have the biggest impact on us as the audience before the final part of this truncated volume. We’re given more pieces to the puzzle of who Vecna is (which should be patently obvious to anyone paying attention at this stage), as well as ratcheting up the tension for our disparate story threads.

Spoilers ahead, so don’t read if you haven’t watched “The Dive”, episode six of Stranger Things 4.

Joyce and Murray managed to survive the crash of Yuri’s plane and work out an arrangement to get the smuggler on their side. The two least intimidating people in the cast manage to make a smuggler (dim-witted that he is) think that they’ll leave him behind in the frigid wilderness but it works. Yuri leads them to his stash house (the one Hopper managed to make it to a few episodes ago before Yuri betrayed him). The fact that the three of them are going to attempt to pull off a prison escape in the next episode is sure to be a trip to watch.

Hopper, on the other hand, has found a renewed sense of purpose. When Hopper, Antonov, and the rest of the prisoners are led to a feast, it’s Hopper who realizes what is happening. The prisoners are being fed a magnificent meal (like cows) before being fed to the Demogorgon. For a bit during the episode, it seemed like Hopper was simply accepting his fate but this is Hopper and he doesn’t give up. Instead, he manages to hid a bottle of vodka from the dinner table. As the prisoners are being led back to their holding area, Hopper picks a fight with Antonov, giving him the opportunity steal a Zippo lighter from one of the guards. Granted, it resulted in Hopper getting some broken ribs out of the deal but Hopper knows the one thing Demogorgons fear is fire.

As this is happening, we get to see more of Eleven’s backstory as she undergoes more of Brenner’s treatments. Brenner explains that the attack she suffered the previous year at the hands of the Mind Flayer’s flesh avatar essentially short-circuited Eleven’s brain, sapping her of the ability to call on her powers. By relieving the events of her time at the Hawkins Lab, Brenner hopes to reawaken Eleven’s powers. But there is now a time crunch due to the misguided actions of Lt. Col. Sullivan, who firmly believes that Eleven is the cause of the deaths in Hawkins.

We learn from the flashbacks that the Orderly (who I’m even more sure of at this point is Henry Creel/Vecna) was the one who taught Eleven how to use her emotions to fuel her psychic abilities. When Eleven manages to best Two (one of the other test subjects in the Hawkins Lab), the Orderly’s interest in her causes Brenner to subject him to electric shocks. Two and his cronies are also not pleased that Eleven managed to beat Two during the test, which causes Eleven to remember herself covered in blood, giving her the impression she killed everyone in the Hawkins Lab. We’ll get to see the massacre in Episode Seven, no doubt, and the role the Orderly played in causing it to happen.

I just have to say that Suzie’s house is a literal madhouse of activity. I’m not trying to be too on the nose here but it’s pretty clear that since Suzie is based in Salt Lake City, she comes from a big family, and there’s a lot of religious iconography in the house, Suzie is part of a big Mormon family. Suzie’s siblings are off the chain, with each of them being slightly weirder than the next (except for Suzie’s older sister, who seems pretty cool). By comparison, Suzie as the computer geek is the most normal of the bunch and she is a computer genius. With her help, Jonathan, Will, and Mike are able to get the location of the base where Eleven was taken by Owens. If there’s one storyline that has felt kind of wishy-washy for me, it’s the trio of Jonathan, Will, and Mike. There have been some excellent character moments for the them, specifically Will and Mike reconnecting as friends, but it’s definitely the weakest in terms of plot relevance (up to this point).

Back in Hawkins, Jason Carver has gone off the deep end, rallying the town to engage in a literal witch hunt of the Party. I wish this wasn’t a case of “truth in television” but it really is. John Carpenter, a director of classic horror films in the 1980s that the Duffer Brothers have drawn inspiration from, directed a film in the 80s called Starman (starring Jeff Bridges and Karen Allen). In that film, Bridges’ character (the titular Starman) observes that humans are at their best when things are at their worst. Carpenter later stated he personally believed the opposite of people: we are at our worst when things around us are at their worst. The truth is in the middle. Some people will give in to their fear and seek to blame anyone that is different from them for the terrible circumstances they’re experiencing, much like Jason Carver and the people of Hawkins do in this episode. Others, like the Party, find strength in each other and face the unknown, choosing to fight the real monsters in the dark rather than find a scapegoat to blame.

This is most clearly shown during the events of “The Dive” when Dustin realizes the group wasn’t lost when searching for Eddie. Instead, Dustin realizes that a Gate to the Upside Down must be nearby (which in previous seasons of Stranger Things has been shown to create electromagnetic fields that throw off compasses and magnets). With this knowledge, the group is able to surmise that Vecna is opening small gates at each site he kills someone, most likely on the orders of the Mind Flayer. There’s a wonderful moment where Eddie makes the claim that he’s being asked to head into Mordor (the realm of shadow from The Lord of the Rings) because the Shire (Hawkins) is burning, which pretty much everyone but Steve gets.

The compass leads the Party back to Lovers Lake, where Patrick was killed in the previous episode. All of the teenagers (including Eddie) go out on a boat to row out to the point where the Gate has been opened, leaving Lucas, Max, and Dustin on the shore. It’s practically a meme at this point that Steve Harrington gets his ass kicked every season in Stranger Things but he’s also given moments where the truly heroic side of him comes out. Since he has the most experience swimming, it’s Steve who dives into the lake and finds the portal to the Upside Down, only for a tentacle to drag him back over. Without hesitation, Nancy and then Robin dive in to rescue Steve, with Eddie reluctantly making the jump as well.

This is the first time that Steve has had direct exposure to the nightmarish realm we call the Upside Down (Nancy made a trip back in the first season of Stranger Things). The episode ends with Steve being set upon by a new creature, the Demobats that we saw flying around Vecna’s version of the Creel House.

With only one episode left, the pieces are in place for what could be called a midseason finale. My main gripe at this point was the decision to split the last two episodes of Stranger Things 4 off. It seems like a desperate attention grab move on the part of Netflix, which its recently been discovered has been hemorrhaging subscribers. With that being said, I’ve been digging Stranger Things 4 and the twists of the story.

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