The Flea and the Acrobat
We’re half way through season 1! I really consider this episode to be the turning point. At least for me, it was here that the show took a turn that I wasn’t anticipating and it was for the good.
Hopper breaks into the Hawkins Lab accompanied by some epic synth. You kind have to wonder what his background is before Hawkins because he’s got a knack for sleuthing about. Security eventually catches up to him at a locked door but you can’t stop the Hop! He punches his way to gain access through the door and finds himself in a quarantined area where there’s a room that’s clearly a kid’s room. Security is on his tail though and he takes the elevator down in to the basement where he gets a big eyeful of the portal on the wall before being knocked out.
Joyce is being “comforted” by Lonnie and we can quickly tell this guy’s up to no good. He tries telling Joyce she’s grieving from Will’s death and she’s delusional. Jonathan comes home to find the house in more disarray and Joyce’s recent axing of the wall doesn’t shake him as we might expect now that he’s leaning towards believing her. We get a quick exchange between Lonnie and Jonathan where Lonnie tells Jonathan to remove an “Evil Dead” poster from his wall because it’s “inappropriate” which I find humorous and poignant as it’s a classic film about evil crossing into the real world.
The boys and Eleven are back in Mike’s basement discussing what they heard Will say over the ham radio. Two distinct descriptive things were that he was in a place “like home” only it was “dark”. Eleven tells us what that means by saying “upside down”. Still confused, Mike recalls Eleven flipping the D&D board and placing Will’s wizard figurine and the Demagorgon on the black field. Dustin, whose much smarter than people give him credit for, calls it the Veil of Shadows and gives us an explanation of a bleak and desolate place that mirrors the real world (sound familiar?!).
Will’s funeral takes place and then a wake and while the majority of the attendees are sad and grieving, we see all our main players putting on a show because they know or at least are convinced Will is not dead. Jonathan and Nancy are especially not interested in the event, steal a gun from Lonnie’s glove compartment, and prepare to search Mirkwood, believing the sightings of the monster will lead them to find “something” that will help them locate Will and Barb.
We get my favorite part of the episode when the boys find Mr. Clarke and ask him about alternate dimensions. Always willing to teach, Mr. Clarke explains to them the metaphor of the flea and acrobat, explaining how an acrobat can only go backwards and forwards on a tightrope. A flea, however, can go along the sides and upside down (wink wink) on the rope. The boys ask how they can do what the flea does and Mr. Clarke explains that a lot of energy would be needed or in this case a doorway or gateway would need to be opened in order for them to access that point of entry. Such a portal would mess with the gravitational field of the real world and the boys have their lead!
Hopper wakes up in his place, not knowing how he got there. He goes full paranoia and begins searching for a surveillance bug, breaking, ripping, and cutting his way until he finds one in the ceiling light. His deputies show up to tell him more people have gone missing in Mirkwood and that Barb’s car was found at the bus station. Something stinks like last years gym clothes…
Joyce finds some legal paperwork that looks like Lonnie wants to cash in on suing the quarry company for negligence and Joyce’s suspicions are confirmed. She kicks his butt out of the house. Hopper shows up later, telling Joyce to say nothing. They check the Christmas lights (all of them apparently) and find no bugs. After the all clear, Hop tells her he’s being watched. He tells her he went to the morgue and “Will’s” body was fake. She was right the whole time! Hop’s on the scent.
The boys try to explain the flea and the acrobat to Eleven but she doesn’t know where the gateway to the Upside Down is. Led by Dustin’s testing of compasses, they set out in Stand By Me fashion, following train tracks as they follow the compass. During this time, we get a flaskback where Eleven is fit with a diving suit and descends into a water tank that reminds me of James Cameron’s Abyss. Back to the present, Dustin says they made a loop, cutting through a junkyard and Lucas blames Eleven of sabotaging their efforts, saying he saw her wipe her nose. Fresh blood on her sleeve confirms she was messing with the compass with her powers and an all out fight ensues between Lucas and Mike.
Eleven uses her power by screaming (eh what?) to keep Lucas from hurting Mike, launching him backwards and hurting him. Back in the sensory deprivation chamber, Eleven finds herself in a strange place that is all black with water on the ground (not the Upside Down but I’ll call it the blackness). She finds the man she’s supposed to find for Dr. Brenner and his words transmit into the lab. Next, Eleven hears the Monster, knowing she’s not alone and runs, waking in the water tank. Lucas comes to and he’s extremely pissed off, storming off. Mike and Dustin notice Eleven has disappeared and we see our group fractured.
Nancy is in her garage swinging a Louisville Slugger around (choke up, Nancy!) when Stevo shows up. He’s trying to make amends and asks about Barb but Nancy’s in no mood as she prepares for her and Jonathan’s plans that night. Not even Stevo’s saying he looks like Tom Cruise and singing Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock n Roll” will make her budge.
After Jonathan shows us he can’t hit the broadside of a barn with the gun and Nancy can shoot the wings off a fly, they go off into Mirkwood with some kind of a plan (I’m still trying to figure out what their goal was even if they found Will or Barb).
Night has fallen and they come upon a deer that looks like it was hit by a car. Wanting to put it out of its misery, Jonathan aims the gun but before he can pull the trigger, the deer is ripped away into the brush (one of the better jump scares in the show). They follow the blood and look around before they get separated and Nancy notices what can only be described as a hole at the base of a tree. It’s got some oozing grossness happening and like an idiot, Nancy crawls in (watch a horror movie, Nancy!). Bad idea. She finds herself in the Upside Down and comes across the Monster chomping away at the deer. She steps on a branch and the monster jerks around opening its face which is reminiscent of a flower’s petals opening. But this isn’t your traditional daisy. No this things got rows of teeth! We end on that chilling note.
Reaction: This is probably one of my favorite episodes. The flea and the acrobat metaphor is one of those iconic things about the show and something I think will be relevant throughout the series. I can’t help but think characters just do dumb things though. Nancy crawling into the opening at the tree base into the Upside Down is one of those brainless things writers have characters do to move the plot. I would have written it different. I haven’t had any moments of that so far but this one makes me mad as a writer.
80s Refs: The Evil Dead, The Abyss, any teen horror slasher, All the Right Moves with Tom Cruise
Call to Action: Watch Mr. Clarke’s explanation of the flea and the acrobat. Such a great moment! (Sorry about the spanish subtitles…)