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Stranger Things S1E7: The Bathtub

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Bed, Bath & Beyond

Admittedly the best episode so far, The Bathtub has plenty of all there is to be annoyed about about the series but some good moments too, even though those remain pretty residual. There is a dialogue scene between Nancy and Jonathan, sat on the floor in front of a red mural representing a giant roaring tiger head; there is a very nice editing of the same Nancy grabbing a fire extinguisher; and there is more excellent acting from Mollie Bobby Brown (what a glorious name!) as Eleven, “still pretty” without her blonde wig, and David Harbour as Sheriff Hopper.

On the other hand, very annoying is the way Stranger Things pilfers Under The Skin, a superior 2013 Jonathan Glazer movie featuring Scarlet Johansson, to represent The Upside Down. Copycatting early 80s paranormal movies and ad libbing Stephen King is one thing and it can be interpreted, or reconstructed, as hommage. Duplicating a great effect from three years ago (even if it could be argued that said effect has its roots in a Japanese contemporary art installation one once saw at the Venice Biennale, involving a vast dark space which ground was a water mirror, and where all spatial consciousness went awry) is a breach of contract and pure opportunism. The fact that those scenes are the most visually striking of the whole season definitely have the scale tipping in the “not half as good as it thinks it is” direction.

This being said. Conscious that it’s the penultimate episode of the season and that something better happens before it’s a wrap, everyone is suddenly very busy in Hawkins. The two opposing teams follow antagonistic curves, the villains getting desperate or tearing at each other while the ragtag Eleven posse of amenable losers tighten the ranks around her. A bicycle/van hot pursuit is the occasion for our mutant darling to demonstrate that she can do more, much more with her mind than just slamming a door. At the price of the exact same nosebleed, natch.

Even if Winona, true to herself, infuses any line with so much pathos she seems to be perpetually stuck on “Famous Last Words” mode, she actually has a scene with Eleven where she’s credible as a surrogate mother. One praises Mollie Bobby Brown for that. That scene, where a sensory privation tank is improvised by way of an inflatable kiddie pool and bags of salt, adds Minority Report to its already crowded dancing card and suspends disbelief a tad too high, since it is requested to admit that a science teacher, disturbed at night by a ten year old (while he watches The Thing, sigh) will goodheartedly provide information on the best way to achieve sensory privation. One guesses their next science project will be a meth lab.

To end up (for now) on something good, the fact that the Evil Lab white vans are labelled “Hawkins Power & Light” is a nice touch. The secret military facility is researching the way to achieve power, and they in the process have opened a breach to an obscure dimension, on which they have no control. Scientific and  political hubris triggering an unspeakable evil defeated by common human decency and love, we are definitely in King’s territory. Stranger Things, for all its shortcomings, gets that right.

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