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Stranger Things S1E8: The Upside Down

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The 40 Years Old Virgin

Having reached the end of the first season of the thing, it is time to wrap up this series of reviews on a mortified note as the last episode (for now…) does nothing but reinstate the status quo in Hawkins. One is unaware as it can count at spoilers, but all ends well at quite a discomfiting degree. Yes Will is reunited with his family after a rescue expedition through the portal into The Upside Down, yes the Monster is defeated in the most predictable way possible after worming his way in our dimension in the stupidest way possible, yes the villains get their comeuppance. Ten hour Dungeons & Dragons sessions can resume and Christmas can be celebrated. Quite cloying, indeed.

What has changed in Hawkins in the course of this yuletide season? Eleven sacrifices herself to vanquish the Monster she has unwittingly unleashed, which makes Mikes very sad until he’s not anymore, two minutes later. The girl’s character is truly tragic, as she has been robbed of her childhood, her innocence, and finally her life, but she’s dispatched in a fury of strobe lights and hysterical editing that, to add insult to injury, also debases the earnestness Mollie Bobby Brown has deployed bringing Eleven to life. The girl needs no pyrotechnics to convey a feeling of doom, and one is sure we will see more of her, in better vehicles for her talent.

Barb has definitely left the building, and that’s one of the most discomfiting plot failures. The character had potential, but is dispatched early, which no one seems to care about apart from a couple of offhand reminders. The writers’ intention in creating her was apparently that someone had to be killed to make the Monster “real”. But this kill is played for cheap and has no repercussions in what is essentially a moral tale, robbing it of any claim to succeed being one.

The last episode outdoes what preceded in terms of “hommage”, ripping off the obvious by placing an Alien egg in The Upside Down AND having Will be found intubated by a face-hugger. It’s surprising that any of the other Monster victims (which are unceremoniously ignored) doesn’t moan “Kiiiiiiill meeeee” at some point of the scene. The blatant copycatting of this Will liberation scene doesn’t leave any option left for the creators of the show but to follow the same logic that what they are so desperately trying to emulate.

So there is this final twist, sigh. Ending not with a bang, but with a retch, Stranger Things wants to have its cake and eat it too. It brings nothing new to the lengthy conversation Stephen King have with his readership for almost 40 years. It does not succeed in conveying a feeling of childhood irremediably lost in the throes of a particularly vicious winter. It does not scare or move, rehashing Spielbergian imagery without his particular talent to depict Kiddyland. It’s paranormal by connecting the dots, coloring by numbers, and it has all the honesty of a professional ingĂ©nue playing virgin.

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