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'Stranger Things' Season 2, Episode 6 recap: The shadow monster seems to be winning

For The Baltimore Sun

The shadow monster is outsmarting Will and gang — and Will is losing time.

Dustin and Steve team up to find Dart, making quite possibly the best, yet most unexpected duo in the “Stranger Things” universe. As they leave a trail of raw beef to lead Dart to a trap, Steve gives Dustin worldly advice on how to get girls (“act like you don’t care”); why he shouldn’t fall in love (“she’s only gonna break your heart”); and the secret to impeccable hair (“four pumps of Farrah Fawcett’s spray”). Huh, so that’s how his hair defies gravity.

Later, Lucas and Max join them at the junkyard from last season. There, they barricade themselves in the rusted bus while waiting for Dart to arrive. To prod him to fall for the trap, Steve leaves the bus to act as bait, or “expanding the menu,” as Dustin calls it. But the demogorgons bring a thick fog with them, obscuring the view.

That’s right, demogorgons, plural. One by one they emerge from the mist to catch Steve in his own trap. Realizing he’s outnumbered, he retreats to the bus. The demogorgons almost break into the stronghold, but they get a message from the shadow monster to return to the tunnel to feast on the soldiers.

The shadow monster has his grip on the demogorgons and Will. Not only does he control Will’s thoughts, but now he controls his actions — and it’s getting worse. He hijacks Will’s brain to tell the lab that he knows how to defeat the monster, luring the soldiers to their demise.

The writers could have insisted on using gory visuals when they attack the soldiers, but they instead relied on sound effects and the audience’s imagination to carry the scene. And it worked. The soldiers’ screams and the demogorgons’ screeches in a cloud of fog and darkness amplifies the suspense, proving that not everything needs over-the-top CGI scenes to be terrifying. Ahem, Michael Bay.

“I’m sorry,” Will stammers with tears rolling down his face. “He made me do it. I told you. They upset him. They shouldn’t have upset him.”

Will (Noah Schnapp) was MIA in most of Season 1, so we never saw much of his acting chops. Now that he’s the central figure in all this chaos, his acting range is more apparent. He deftly transforms from the dead-in-the-eye captive of the shadow monster to the grief-stricken kid who’s betrayed by his own brain.

Before the soldiers leave for their deadly mission, a group of doctors review Will’s brain scans, which show that his mind is rapidly being taken over by the shadow monster. “At the rate this is spreading, he’ll be lost by the end of the day,” one doctor warns.

The doctors are ready to scorch the underground tunnels, but Dr. Owens insists on saving Will first, as he clutches his stress ball until his knuckles turn white. That OG fidget spinner of his is going to be pulverized by the end of the season.

It’s astonishing that Dr. Owens actually cares about Will’s safety. Initially I wanted him to be eaten by the demogorgon or destroyed by the shadow monster. But now if he were to die, I’d be neutral. He’s still covering up Barb’s death, after all.

Distressed, Joyce wants Will sent to a “real hospital.” But a regular hospital can’t do anything to help him. The only way to free him from the shadow monster is to go into the Upside Down and fight the evil being — and the only person who can do that is El.

Sure, Hopper dug his way into one of the tunnels, and the lab has a gate in their lab to the other dimension, but she’s the only one who can pinpoint where he is and stop him. That seems a little too familiar to last year’s season finale. To change it up, she should enlist Eight, the other lab baby, to destroy the monsters and end the cancer that’s ailing Hawkins.

More highlights from “The Spy”

Best Dustin one-liner: “Because his face opened up and he ate my cat,” he justifies when Steve asks if he’s sure the demogorgon isn’t a lizard.

Best Erica one-liner: “But they’re in love!” she protests as Lucas takes He-Man away from his makeout session with Barbie.

Funniest line: “So, Jonathan, how was the pull-out?” Murray goads, sensing that he and Nancy hooked up.

“Sorry?” Jonathan replies, almost spitting his coffee.

“The sofa,” Murray says wryly.

Media strategy: Jonathan and Nancy help Murray copy the tape where Dr. Owens is admitting the lab is at fault for Barb’s death, then pack them into envelopes to send them to different media outlets. It’s a crazy plan. At the very least, it should prompt a visit from local outlets, and it will be hard for the lab to cover that big gaping hole filled with vines.

Parting gifts: Murray sends off the two lovebirds with a fifth of Stoli, a glass bottle of water “to water it down” and a not-so-friendly goodbye. “And if you need to reach me again… don’t,” he says, slamming the door in their faces. Damn, noted.

Best exchange: “Who the hell were you talking to?” Billy asks Max, who was talking to Lucas on the stoop. “Mormons,” she replies. “Mormons?” he responds incredulously. “Talkative ones,” she answers.

Most foreboding shot: The mouth of the shark from the “Jaws” poster intersecting with a tunnel from the map, foreshadowing the pack of demogorgons attacking the soldiers. Dun nun, dun nun…

Nice guys finish first: I’m glad that Max picked Lucas’ hand to hold and not Dustin’s. I wasn’t on either’s team until Dustin decided to pull a Mike and be rude to her because he doesn’t want her included in their adventures. Max already has her bully of a brother. Does she really need another mean guy in her life?

Grossest scene: Billy curling weights while smoking. Congrats, you’re ripped! But your lungs are going to look as healthy as the Upside Down.

Sweetest moment: Hopper reaching out to El by radio. “I want you to know I’m not mad, I’m just sorry about everything,” he says close to tears. “I don’t want you to get hurt at all. And I don’t wanna lose you.” But she’s already gone. He’s talking to an empty room, and she’s at her mother’s (probably). I hope that he and El can repair their relationship, though I’m sure she’ll want to live with her mother.

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