El finds a fellow prisoner of the Hawkins Lab, but some things are better left lost — for El’s sake and the show’s.
With “The Lost Sister,” “Stranger Things” dedicates a whole episode to expand on El’s internal conflict between right and wrong when a truncated version of this story could have fit as a B-plot in another episode. That’s not to say that El doesn’t deserve her own episode. But why waste precious time — a whole episode, even — on a rag-tag gang of punks who we’ll likely (and hopefully) never see again?
And in a series where standalone episodes like this are virtually non-existent, this one-off story juts out like a coffee-stained snaggletooth in an otherwise dazzling smile.
“The Lost Sister” begins promising. El uses her psychic powers to find Kali, the other lab prisoner from her childhood. “This is why mama wanted to talk,” El says to her aunt Becky. “I think she wants me to find her.”
But if her mother knew the life that Kali led, I doubt she’d want El to hang out with her. Kali and her mohawked friends are criminal outcasts, rejected by mainstream society. “We will always be monsters to them,” Kali tells El. The band of misfits tracks down and assassinates the people who hurt them in their past, and Kali just recruited El to their vindictive team.
For her first assignment, El uses her psychic powers to locate one of their targets. The group then heads to his apartment to execute him. As she’s strangling him with her powers — slowly, Kali insists, so that he suffers — El sees a picture of him with his two daughters.
A wave of guilt washes over her and she stops. Revenge for her mother’s mental state and her traumatizing childhood would be gratifying, but leaving his children without a father makes her just as evil the Hawkins Lab captors.
Again, this is great insight into El’s character, but the story falls flat without familiar faces or compelling acting. Kali is a complex character, and it’s a shame that Linnea Berthelsen gives a stilted performance.
Despite El’s pacifism, Kali still wants him dead. She plans to shoot him herself until El telekinetically knocks the gun out of her hand. Disappointed, she talks to El after the failed assassination, trying to convince her to “fight and face them again.” El won’t budge.
Suddenly, Dr. Brenner appears. “You have a wound, a terrible wound and it’s festering,” he tells El. But she knows that Dr. Brenner is dead, and that Kali is using her powers to manipulate her.
Kali could use her powers for good, but instead uses them for evil. She justifies herself, saying that after being ostracized, she “decided to play the part.”
“Playing the part” of a ruthless assassin isn’t the life that El wants. She might have killed Papa and other lab henchmen out of anger or self-defense, but she’s not a murderer like Kali.
El has a choice: She can either use her powers for evil to be an assassin, or use them for good to be a hero and save her friends. She chooses the latter, and leaves Kali and the gang to fend for themselves.
There goes my theory that Kali was going to team up with El to save the day. But after learning how calculating and self-important Kali is, El is better off facing the shadow monster and demogorgons on her own.
With her psychic powers, she hears Hopper apologizing for his temper, and sees him and Mike in trouble, pleading for her help. As painful as her past was in Hawkins, she takes the next bus there, because her friends need her. It’s what heroes do.
More highlights from “The Lost Sister”
Supermarket sweep: When the gang robs a convenience store, El picks up an apple, attempting to be healthy, then swaps it for two boxes of Eggos.
Best ’80s reference: Funshine, the name of the punk squad’s muscle who’s actually a big ol’ softie.
Little runaway: There’s nothing for El back at her mother’s house, either. Aunt Becky betrayed El by calling someone (likely the lab) to help deal with her. No wonder El has trust issues.
Laughter is the best medicine: The moments of comic relief are few and far between in “The Lost Sister.” Though sporadic jokes aren’t necessary for an episode to be good, this one dragged and needed any help it could get.