Stranger Things: Rewatch of Episode 1

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Chapter 1: The Vanishing of Will Byers

Oh happy day!  We’re here in October with Fall on the horizon and Stranger Things happening.  So here’s how it will go down through the month here on my blog.  I will give a recap of the episode that should not read like a play by play but a “what’s going on here” portion with plenty of my thoughts mixed in.  Then I’ll give an overall thought of the episode followed by a list of my favorite references and maybe even some trivia if its warranted.  The Call to Action will be the last bit of the post.  Hope you enjoy and thanks for reading!

Recap:

We start with some “no namer” running through a creepy lab/hospital-like hallway which makes me think of a scene from Joh Carpenter’s “Halloween” where masked-killer Michael Myers is casually in pursuit of one of his victims.  Our “no namer” gets to an elevator safe and sound about to get away from whatever he’s running from.  We learn quickly what this show is going to be when we hear creepy sounds of what makes me think of gremlins above him.  Then…no more “no namer”.

Strange and creepy.  Here we go!

Meet the boys.  They’re the Goonies, the boys of Stand By Me, the Losers Club, etc.  Except not.  Mike, Dustin, Lucas, and Will are in a basement playing Dungeons and Dragons.  Now, I was not allowed to play D&D growing up.  By the time I could even conceivably sit at a table surrounded by Coke and Dorritos for twelve plus hours rolling dice and collecting hit points, D&D was of no interest to me.  As I grew up, I was told it was forbidden to play for “religious” reasons.  I don’t blame my parents for this line of thinking.  It was pretty common if you were a church-goer in the 80s/early 90s.  (That’s okay, my role playing experiences came later with RPG video games and I preferred those to any game board experiences I’ve had as an adult.)

However, the use of D&D in the show is essential which we will see throughout the series.  There are elements that act as allusion and metaphor but we’ll pause on that for now.  Just remember the name, “Demagorgon”.  It’s important.

This first episode introduces a lot of characters and sets up relationships.  I’ll try to hit on all these as best as I can without becoming droll.

Keeping our focus on the boys (they don’t have a name like the Goonies so I’ll be calling them “the boys” throughout these posts).  The D&D game ends without a resolution to the attack by the Demagorgon and they all leave Mike’s basement to return home for the night.  Things get creepy as Will takes a route home through the woods the boys call “Mirkwood” (Lord of the Rings reference!) but he doesn’t encounter Legolas or some other elven character.  Instead, something tall and lithe is in the road and causes him to crash his bike and run for home.

Whatever the “thing” is, it follows Will and a whole bunch of creepiness happens.  Lights are affected by the presence of the thing (let’s just call it a monster) and Will does the only thing a twelve year old boy should do in this situation: run to the shed and grab a rifle.  However, the monster gets in somehow and the next thing we know, Will is gone.  No scream or nothing.  Just gone.

Cue perfect title sequence! (The synth music here is reminiscent of Carpenter’s iconic Halloween theme.)

More introductions happen after this.  We get our favorite police chief. Hopper. who shows us plenty of things: he likes pills and beer in the morning.  We also get to meet Will’s mom, Joyce (Wynona!), and brother, Jonathan, who realize Will’s gone and that’s not good.  Mike’s older sister, Nancy, and her best friend Barb (#savebarb) let us in on the high school scene and all those fun instances of angst and conformity (I blame the clothes and hair styles personally).

We also see that Nancy, the smart girl, is in a budding relationship with Steve Harrington (whom I will call Stevo), the popular boy, reminding us of John Hughes and most notably “Sixteen Candles”.  More or less, we get a pretty picture of fictional Hawkins, Indiana where things are peachy keen until strange things start happening.  Typical but nostalgically amazing!

Nefarious dealings are happening in the lab we first see at the beginning with the “no namer” as we go back to the Hawkins Laboratory.  HAZMAT wearing dweebs (these guys are always at fault) go to the basement and find spores in the air and nasty, gross fungus-like growths on the walls.  One of these is extra big and pulsating looking far too much like an infected wound.  Gross.

Police Chief Hopper does the appropriate police work and begins to investigate Will’s disappearance at the frantic request of Joyce (she and he have obvious history together).  It takes a while but Hopper eventually realizes this is not a kid who ran off and is hiding somewhere.  He’s gone without a trace.  The search commences and the town begins to band together to find Will.  Also, we are told Hopper had a daughter who died but that remains a mystery.  Joyce and Jonathan do their best to console one another and when the phone rings, Joyce hopes for good news.  Instead, she hears weird sounds, which includes breathing she believes is Will, but before she can get an answer, the phone gets a level-10 electric zap.

And now your star of the show arrives walking through the woods shoeless and in a hospital gown.  Eleven!  This girl’s got spunk.  One kid vanishes and another appears.  We know things are not good for her as she steals food and can unabashedly stop an annoying floor fan with her mind.  Telekinesis powers is always bad-ass.  I don’t care who you are, it would be an awesome super power to have.  Suffice to say, someone, Benny the diner owner, tries to help her and dies in the process but at least she gets away, forced back into the woods while the appropriate 80s cliché of a rain storm hits the night.

Back to the boys and they want to find Will, thinking like boys do, and wonder if the previous night’s D&D game had something to do with his disappearance.  Will had a choice to cast a protective spell against the Demagorgon or cast a fireball.  He chose fireball but his di roll was inconclusive.  This comes off as strange but this is how boys think (trust me).  They go full Goonies and hit the night, enduring the storm on their bikes to look for their lost friend in “Mirkwood” where they eventually run into Eleven!  Episode over.

Reaction: I remember first watching this episode last year and being gripped by it immediately.  There was so much of my childhood wrapped into those 50+ minutes that I had to keep watching.  Also, the music is perfect.  You have to watch the episodes a few times but you truly appreciate the tone of scenes when you focus on the crazy synth sounds produced.

Best 80s References: X-Men 134 (First appearance of the Phoenix that takes over Jean Grey who is a telepath like Eleven), Mirkwood, Goonies, Sixteen Candles, E.T.

Great Storytelling Moment: It won’t come into full affect until later episodes but the use of D&D in Stranger Things Season 1 actually plays important roles as a foreshadowing device.  As a writer, these are the things I love to see utilized and done well.

Call to Action: Here’s the first 8 minutes of the episode for your enjoyment!  If it’s not your cup of tea, then I’d advise against watching the show but you can definitely keep reading my episode rewatch posts!  Far less creepy but plenty strange.

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