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TV Review: Stranger Things 2.08 "The Mind Flayer"

EPISODE: 2.08 "The Mind Flayer"

SYNOPSIS: An unlikely hero steps forward when a deadly development puts the Hawkins Lab on lockdown, trapping Will and several others inside.

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REVIEW: After the momentum killer that was "The Lost Sister", Stranger Things picks right up where it left off with the Demodog siege of the Hawkins Lab. As Hopper and Dr. Owens retreat with soldiers around them being massacred, Mike realizes that the creatures are honing in on Will. Convincing Joyce to drug him, they inject Will and try to escape as a group. In a state of shock, Bob watches as gunfire erupts and monstrous animals descend on them. But, before they can get out, they are backed into a corner as the power shuts down. Owens reveals that with the doors locked, they cannot get out without resetting the breakers and rebooting the computers. Hopper volunteers, but it is Bob Newby who steps up as the only one who can use computer programming to save the day. Now, as someone who has seen thousands of films and television shows, very little surprises me but the sheer cliche plotting of this episode is borderline embarassing for a show like this. Of course Bob dies and the way it happens is almost without any true drama or intensity despite the editing and slow motion really trying to drive the death home. Yes, it is sad to see Sean Astin depart after less than a full season, but his character didn't really add much to the mix anyway.

The real focus of this episode, though, is pulling every character together before the season finale. With Bob's sacrifice, everyone is able to make it out of the lab and there waiting at the front gate are the Steve, Dustin, Lucas, Max, Nancy and Jonathan. They all jump into the escaping vehicles and high tail it to the Byers house. After seven episodes, we finally have all of our main characters in a single scene as they try to figure out what to do next. They even assign a name to the giant shadow monster using a parallel from Dungeons and Dragons. This time, they compare the beast to the Mind Flayer, a demonic overlord bent on interdimensional domination. They also realize the only way to get to the monster is to use the connection it has with Will. So, they realize they need to hide their location to make this happen. Converitng the shed behind theit house, they prepare to interrogate Will.

The only real segue from this main story involves douchebag Billy Hargrove. We see the mulleted dude in his bedroom preparing for a big date when his father returns home to find that Max is not in her room. Billy tries to stand up to his old man but gets physically and emotionally accosted until a single tear runs down his cheek. Not to demean any sort of abuse, but this has got to be the most generic bully backstory ever put on film. That single scene also accounts for Billy's appearance in this episode which means the big payoff for his inclusion in this season will be crammed into the already expectedly busy season finale. At least in season one, Steve Harrington was given a full arc and underwent some character development. Here, Billy just seems like filler in a season that really could have spent that time a little more wisely.

As Will loses more and more of his memories and humanity, Joyce, Mike, and Jonathan try to reach him by relating memories they shared over the years. But it is no good as Will lashes out more violently and with a sinister undercurrent to his voice. Seemingly losing hope, Hopper notices that Will is tapping a message with his fingers using Morse Code. Now, Morse has been used frequently on this show and this season was commonly used between Hopper and Eleven when she was at his cabin. It was also how Will communicated through the lights with his mother last season. Now, it is being used again. Maybe I am overanalyzing here, but Stranger Things 2 is beginning to seem more and more like a rehash of season one rather than an original new chapter. I am all for keeping the themes and style consistent, but that does not mean reusing every plot element and contrivance from year to year.

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Using more memories and stories to keep Will off balance long enough to communicate the code, Hopper relays it via walkie talkie and they determine the message reads "CLOSEGATE". Before they can figure out what Will is trying to say, the phone rings which Will is able to hear out in the shed and it is enough for the Mind Flayer to signal his Demodogs to descend on the Byers home and try to kill them all. Backing themselves into the house and fully armed, the group encircles one another as they hear the monsters approaching. But, as the snarling Demodog is about to attack, it is silenced and comes crashing into the house, dead. The door then begins to open, unlatching itself to reveal Eleven. Still clad in her all black clothes from the prior episode, she has tears in her eyes and blood in his nostril as everyone, led by Mike, looks at her, astounded by her return.

Overall, this episode is an improvement over the last few as the intensity and plotting finally pick ip the pace leading into the finale. But, there are still so many plot elements here that feel done to death that it is hard to feel too excited for a minor improvement over the previous chapters. Still, there were a lot of funny moments to be had as the characters discussed the Mind Flayer, with some great lines from Steve, Dustin and Hopper. The memories shared with Will were also well acted by Winona Ryder, Charlie Heaton and Finn Wolfhard, but it was not enough to really drive home what this episode needed to be. The ending return of Eleven was a welcome moment but one that comes after her character felt wasted for virtually the entire season. It is hard not to feel that she was a part of this story merely for her power to be used in the finale, so it will take a lot for this episode to redeem itself with the final hour. 

Next on Stranger Things: 2.08 "The Gate" Eleven makes plans to finish what she started while the survivors turn up the heat on the monstrous force that's holding Will hostage.

Source: JoBlo.com

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