One of the climactic moments of Stranger Things' second season happens at the end of Episode 6, when we see a pack of demodogs climbing up through the shaft in Hawkins Labs that gives the scientists access to the gate to the Upside Down. Hopper (David Harbour) is behind glass looking down the hole from the relative safety of the lab's lookout and a demodog's head pops up, indicating that things are about to really suck for everyone. It's the culmination of a really kick-ass episode and the start of the season's intense ending.
Well, it would have been, except Episode 7, "The Lost Sister," rained on everyone's parades. The episode is pure side story and follows Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) as she travels to Chicago in search of her "sister," a woman named Kali/Eight (Linnea Berthelsen) who has the ability to plant visions in other people's minds. They meet up, there are shenanigans, and Eleven ultimately decides that she needs to go back to Hawkins to save her friends.
And people hated it. Like, genuinely loathed it.
But just like Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) was the voice of reason in the face of so many wrong opinions during the great Three Musketeers debate, I'm here to tell you that it wasn't as bad as you think it was. I'm not saying it was perfect or even great, but it wasn't the awful hour it's getting portrayed as. Let me explain why.
Popular Belief: The Side Characters Were Stupid!
Kali's group of friends are... colorful. And yeah, pretty silly. That's not up for debate. But ever since Stranger Things blessed our screens in 2016, I've always considered the series less of a show about the '80s and more of a lost relic from the '80s that's just been discovered in our time, like someone secretly raided Steven Spielberg's or Richard Donner's basements and found this project that never got released. The show lives in that era rather than just pays homage to it; that's what makes it cool and so effective.
The charms of Hawkins and the kids are lifted straight from '80s movies like The Explorers and The Goonies, and likewise, the big city punks are modeled after those from '80s pop culture like Michael Jackson videos featuring parking garage fights, Robocop, and any movie where a musclebound cop who had his badge nearly revoked by the police chief tussled with mohawked street rats. Stranger Things is an '80s movie transformed into a TV series for today, not the other way around. If you could accept that ridiculous high school Halloween kegger in the first episode -- the scale of which only happens in movies -- then you should be able to accept the same idea when introducing a ragtag group of urban punks. Sure, Kali's tribe was borderline stupid, but as models of icons of '80s pop culture, they fit with everything that Stranger Things has done since Episode 1. But yeah, I will concede that the graffiti was horrible.
Popular Belief: The Timing Was Terrible!
I also slammed on the "play next episode" button after the end of Episode 6 because I was amped to see how everyone would survive the unleashing of the demodogs on Hawkins Labs, but Episode 7 followed Eleven's sojourn to the Windy City, while Episode 8 continued right where Episode 6 left off. Breaking up such propulsive action is a mistake made by many television shows, but Stranger Things deserves a pass because it's on Netflix and follows the dump-the-whole-season-at-once model. Though this doesn't totally excuse the placement of the episode, could you imagine if Stranger Things was on broadcast television? Forcing viewers to wait nearly two weeks to see what happened after a cliffhanger would be an offense punishable by death, but here, it's merely a minor diversion.
Binge-able shows have created audiences that are feeling more and more entitled as on-demand options destroy the institutional imprisonment of the previous wait-a-damn-week model. But Episode 7 had to be placed where it was because Stranger Things isn't messing around with timelines. (Remember how confusing Game of Thrones was because it didn't care about telling different stories linearly?) As executive producer Dan Cohen told us, "It landed around there pretty quickly, because of where it falls with Eleven's storyline."
Because Eleven was separated from the group for most of the season -- and you can complain about that too, if you like -- the crazy developments in Hawkins Lab took place at the same time Eleven was searching for her mom and sister. Keeping the two stories apart actually worked to the show's benefit. Part of what made Episode 6 so great was that it didn't spend time with Eleven and focused on the insanity with the demodogs and the gate to the Upside Down, which meant Eleven going to Chicago -- a self-contained story -- worked better as its own episode too. And now it's an episode that you skip on your rewatch (how's that for a silver lining?).
Popular Belief: It Did Nothing for Eleven's Story
When you look at the objective of Episode 7 and what it's trying to accomplish, the easy answer is that it gave Eleven the motivation to return home to her friends. That's an accurate way to look at it, actually, and it's also fairly obvious.
But what Episode 7 really did well is give us a possible look into Eleven's future by seeing Eight. Remember, Eleven isn't just a girl with dope powers; she's a weapon manufactured through experimental science. When she broke that bully's arm in Season 1, it was a moment of triumph for most but it terrified me. It was a sign of her intended use by Hawkins Lab, and by the time she was crushing the skulls of the military police at the end, a dark future for Eleven was a real possibility. Episode 7 gave a preview of what that could look like with Eight, a young person with powers getting revenge on those who took her life away. Eleven's existence has really sucked and she's been effectively powerless -- in terms of self will -- for most of it as part of Dr. Brenner's experiments. Is it really that far-fetched to assume she wouldn't want to get payback on those who wronged her?
In the end, Eleven made a choice. She chose to go back to her friends. Yeah, it was the obvious choice, but I was also pretty sure Luke was going to choose to not go to the Dark Side and that was still good. After everything she went through in the first half of the season, Stranger Things needed to find a way back to where she really belonged. It wasn't perfect, but it worked.
Popular Belief: It Felt Like Filler/a Pilot
Perhaps the hardest thing to accept about Episode 7 is that this is what a lot of Stranger Things' future could look like. There's a reason Eleven is named Eleven and not One; it was always the Duffers' intention to explore what happened to these other kids. But it also shows how Hawkins may be the epicenter of the Upside Down now, but the Upside Down will be a threat to the world as a whole. I'll agree that Stranger Things is best when it's set in Hawkins, but let's give the Duffer Brothers the benefit of the doubt -- they've earned it -- and see where they're going to go.
Popular Belief: Eleven's Punk Look Was Bad
I don't know if people are actually saying this, but NOPE. Darkwave Eleven is totally radical.
Stranger Things is currently streaming on Netflix.