Who says that geeks can’t save the day?
“Remember: Bob Newby, super hero,” Bob assures Joyce before he goes on his death mission. We’re sorry we ever doubted you, Bob the Brain.
“The Mind Flayer” is a powerful and riveting episode, and it’s exactly what “Stranger Things” fans needed after the abysmal “The Lost Sister” episode. In fact, the penultimate episode of Season 2 has more action in the first five minutes than the entirety of El and Kali’s standalone storyline.
The separate groups converge at last to fight evil. Steve, Dustin, Lucas and Max run into Nancy and Jonathan outside of the entrance of the lab. Then they drive to the main door to rescue Hopper, Joyce, Mike and Will and retreat to the Byers’ house. Together, they’re determined to overthrow the Mind Flayer (aka shadow monster) to free Will, avenge Bob’s death and save the town.
The scene at the lab where they’re escaping the demogorgons is an homage to the original “Jurassic Park” — undoubtedly the best film in the “Jurassic Park” franchise. (Sorry, Chris Pratt. No points for you for starring in a recycled plotline with socially regressive characters.)
Bob turning on the clunky red power switches, then hacking into the lab’s mainframe to open the gates are scenes directly lifted from “Jurassic Park.” Even the demogorgons look like velociraptors prowling the hallways for fresh human meat. At last, references that ‘90s kids get.
But Dr. Owen guiding Bob through the hallways and into a janitorial closet to escape the approaching demogorgon feels a bit more like “The Matrix,” when Morpheus tells Neo where to hide in his office from the agents. Only Neo got out unscathed.
As Bob opens the closet door, a broom falls to the ground in slow motion. The demogorgon turns around and sees him, then Bob sprints to the door and barely makes it. He sighs and smiles at Joyce.
Then, when you’re lulled into a false sense of security, BAM! The demogorgon breaks through the door, leaps on Bob and tears into his torso. It’s a cheap ploy, but I still jumped out of my seat. Hopper shoots a few rounds into the demogorgon, until the whole pack of monsters bursts through the door.
It’s a lost cause. Hopper leaves him behind to save Joyce and the kids, taking Bob’s advice from earlier in the episode: “Don’t wait for me. Get them the hell out.” But Goonies never say die! Sniff.
As they’re grieving Bob (founder of Hawkins AV club), Dustin figures out that the Mind Flayer, the demogorgons and the tunnels are all part of the hive mind. Hopper has a hard time believing him, but it’s not like he has a better idea. To find out how to destroy them, the gang turns to Will for answers.
That’s a problem, since Will has unconsciously become a spy for the Upside Down. At the lab, Mike warns that they must knock Will out before retreating to safety.
Not enough praises can be sung for Winona Ryder (Joyce), who fights the pain and summons the strength to tranquilize her on-screen son. It’s a mesmerizing performance, and she deserves at least an Emmy nod this year.
Will’s consciousness has sunk deeper into the recesses of his brain, with the Mind Flayer taking total control over his thoughts and actions. Well, almost all of his actions.
Back at their house, the gang ties up a knocked-out Will in a completely redecorated shed to throw the Mind Flayer off their trail. To bring Will back, they share their fondest memories with him only to get a blank stare and tantrum, shrieking to be released.
But then Hopper notices he’s using his hand to send a message through Morse Code: “Close the gate.” What that means, they’re not sure. But we’ll soon find out now that a new hero has arrived. El’s back and ready to pick up where she left off.
More Highlights from “The Mind Flayer”
Best Steve one-liner: “Malting?” he asks when they’re talking about how fast Dart has grown. “Molting,” Dustin replies. Aw, Steve. At least you have your bountiful hair.
Losing the girl: Both Steve and Dustin seem to have accepted defeat in their respective love triangles. Nancy has a cordial yet strained conversation with Steve after she arrives at the lab with Jonathan. Awkward. But Steve won’t admit it, unlike Dustin, who congratulates Lucas on winning Max’s heart. “I felt it,” he says to Lucas, who denies anything’s going on. “Felt what?” Lucas replies. “The electricity,” Dustin says flatly. Steve has taught you well, Dustin.
Initiation rights: “Just because you know the truth, doesn’t mean you’re in our party,” Mike says to Max. Sheesh. He and Dustin need to ease up on her. She outlived a demogorgon attack. I think that makes her more than qualified to be in their party.
Best ‘80s reference: The montage of the gang working together to make the inside of the shed less recognizable to the Mind Flayer. They made it more bitchin’ with a synthy score playing in the background.
Pre-recs: Every Hawkins student should be required to know BASIC, Morse code and Dungeons and Dragons before they graduate from high school. Make that middle school.
Grossest moment: Billy splashing cologne down his pants. Ew.
Saddest scene: Billy’s abusive dad yelling at him for not doing a better job babysitting Max. The tears rolling down his beet red face were gut-wrenching. I dread to think how he’s going to take his anger out on Max when he finds her.
Missed call: Who called the Byers’ house before Nancy yanked the phone out of the wall? Was it the police department trying to reach Hopper? Was it Dr. Owens calling from the lab (assuming he’s still alive)? My next guess would be El, but there’s no need for her to call with her psychic powers.
Then a hero comes along: El shows up in her punk outfit and smudged eyeliner to save the day, killing the demogorgon lurking outside of the Byers’ house. How did that not render her unconscious, when destroying last season’s demogorgon sent her into the Upside Down? Plot holes be damned, she needs to regain her strength fast. Only she can close the gate.