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TV Review: Stranger Things 2.03 "The Pollywog"

EPISODE: 2.03 "The Pollywog"

SYNOPSIS: Dustin adopts a strange new pet, and Eleven grows increasingly impatient. A well-meaning Bob urges Will to stand up to his fears.

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REVIEW: It feels a bit weird to say this after how completely sold I was with the first season of Stranger Things, but with this third chapter of season two I cannot figure out whether I am disappointed with what has happened so far or justifying the worth of this show based on previous judgement. Yes, Stranger Things 2 is still good but is it as good as the first year? I have seen some on social media claiming that the Duffer Brothers may have intentionally been paying homage to sequels from the 1980s by overstuffing Stranger Things 2, but that may be giving them much more than the benefit of doubt. The third episode, titled "The Pollywog", is heavily influenced by E.T. but doesn't quite stick the landing with an uneven hour that redeems itself with a jaw-dropping closing sequence that has implications for the rest of this season. But, is it enough to warrant the acclaim we all want so badly to bestow on this show?

Picking up with Dustin's discovery of a bizarre lizard-like creature, most of this episode is focused on Will's increasingly frequent visions of the Upside Down and the splintering relationships amongst everyone in Hawkins. We get some more views into how Hopper found Eleven in the woods and moved her to his grandfather's old cabin as well as learning that Eleven's mind-visit to Mike was not her first attempt to reach her friend. Hopper has been promising that she will see Mike again, but Eleven is beginning to doubt his honesty, trotting out the "friends don't lie" promise as proof. Hopper heads off to investigate the rotting pumpkins further which leaves Eleven alone. While Hopper soon discovers that the rotting farmland is geographically centered around the Department of Energy facility and meets Dr. Owens to inform him as such, Eleven decides it is time and heads off to find Mike.

A significant moment occurs in this episode as Bob drives Will to school. Bob is trying very hard to become friends with Joyce's kids and relates a story about having nightmares as a kid and how he faced down his demon. Obviously, Bob doesn't quite understand the level of seriousness inherent in Will's voyage to the Upside Down, so it seems a bit laughable that the impressionable Will would take this advice at face value. I mean, we all saw the Demogorgon, right? That is not a monster you tell to go away and live to tell the tale. At the same time, Nancy and Steve share a tense conversation in the wake of her calling their relationship bullshit in a drunken stupor. Steve is already pissed and this caps a rough day where Billy has been kicking his ass at basketball. Nancy doesn't remember any of what she said, but Steve seems hurt and she cannot admit whether it is true or not. Nancy and Steve never felt like a serious couple after the chemistry between her and Jonathan, but Steve seems genuinely to be a good guy this season so it is a shame to see this happen to their romance.

After visting the library for research on reptiles and amphibians, Dustin heads to school where he shows everyone the pollywog which he has named D'Artangan. With Max en tow, the kids are hesitant to be as enamored by the alien creature as Dustin is, especially when Will remembers vomiting a very similar looking slug last season. Mike, siding with Will, decides he wants to smash and kill D'artangan, sending the creature scurrying through the school. The kids split up to hunt down Dustin's pet. Meanwhile, Eleven heads out into the woods and comes across a mother and her daughter. She asks for directions to the school before distracting them with her powers and runs away. Eventually, Hopper receives a call about the incident and heads out to track down Eleven. Eleven eventually makes it to the school where she wanders the halls, trying to find Mike. They almost cross paths a few times befor she eventually finds Mike and Max talking in the gym. Eleven is clearly jealous even though Mike is still feeling as strongly for Eleven as ever. She forces Max to fall down which sends Mike looking for Eleven.

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Joyce, meanwhile, has heard about Will being bullied on Halloween. After a difficult instruction from Bob on hooking his camcorder to the TV, Joyce watches the footage before pausing on a strange image. She sketches the static and sees it lines up exactly with the horrible monster Will drew in his room. Joyce calls the school and learns that AV Club was cancelled and jumps in her car to track down Will. At school, Will finds D'artangan in the bathroom but when the creature sprouts additional legs, he runs away into a vision of the Upside Down. Dustin finds D'Artangan in the toilet stall and hides him under his hat and doesn't tell his friends he found the creature. Mike asks where the hell Will is and the all go searching for him. Outside, in the Upside Down, Will confronts the spider-like monster and uses Bob's advice to tell it to go away. We all know this would end badly, but I didn't expect the smokey being to enter Will's mouth and nose like a demonic mist.

Stranger Things 2 is still a really good show, but these first three episodes feel like they have dragged on very slowly. How many times are they going to show Will slipping in and out of the Upside Down before it begins to feel cliche and rote? I also didn't buy Will using Bob's advice for a second as it seemed counter-intuitive to what any of these characters would have down last season. As usual, the highlights are the acting performances from everyone involved, but Winona Ryder's frantic Joyce and Finn Wolfhard's stubborn Mike are beginning to feel repetitive. It was nice to see Dustin get a lot of solid scenes in this episode, especially the interactions with his mother and the librarian, but Lucas feels like an afterthought. Hopefully the momentum kicks it up a notch from here as I am still bought in to figuring out just what the hell is going on.

Next on Stranger Things: 2.04 "Will The Wise" An ailing Will opens up to Joyce -- with disturbing results. While Hopper digs for the truth, Eleven unearths a surprising discovery.

Source: JoBlo.com

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