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'Stranger Things' Season 2, Episode 4 recap: The shadow monster grows roots

'Stranger Things' Season 2, Episode 4 recap: The shadow monster grows roots
Gaten Matarazzo, Winona Ryder, Sadie Sink and Noah Schnapp in "Stranger Things." (Netflix)

“Stranger Things” has done what few shows have accomplished in its second season. It lives up to the hype of the first, and has made everything bigger and scarier, without compromising a quality narrative. And we’re only halfway done!

Episode 4, “Will the Wise,” begins with a heart-pounding scene of Joyce trying to rescue Will from the clutches of evil. After seeing an outline of the shadow monster in the trick-or-treating video, Joyce rushes to the middle school looking for Will. There, she and his friends find him catatonic in the field with his eyes shut, fluttering rapidly. In the Upside Down, we see the shadow monster’s tentacles seep into every part of his body. Back in the real world, his mother shakes him to wake him up, and he comes to. For the most part.

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Will’s not dead, but just like Phineas Gage, his traumatic experience has severely altered his personality. But he’s not just a whole new person — he’s a whole new being, a host for the parasitic shadow monster that has hijacked his mind and body.

“I felt it … everywhere. I still feel it,” he tells Joyce after she takes him back home. It gets creepier: “I don’t have to think. I just know things now. Things I never did before.” That’s more spine-tingling than when Dustin found out that Dart is a mini demogorgon. The shadow monster has fused its mind with Will’s, making him an unwitting vessel for evil that can now roam the earth undetected.

Will can’t say what the shadow monster has in store, probably because his thoughts are being controlled. So he draws furiously, littering the floor with dozens of sketches that show the shadow monster’s network of terror. Joyce and Hopper piece the puzzle together, when Hopper suddenly realizes what it is: “Vines.”

Hopper rushes to a site of the rotting pumpkins and digs. Not far under the surface is the Upside Down, where he climbs inside. The episode ends with a dizzying and haunting shot of the camera turning, well, upside down.

The shadow monster is spreading its roots, carving tunnels of decay under Hawkins. How can the gang undo this destruction? The lab tries blowtorching it, and that doesn’t do much. And in the meantime, what’s to stop Hawkins from collapsing into the Upside Down? It’s only mere feet away from hell on earth.

More Highlights from “Will the Wise”

Sitting ducks: I love the playground scene in which the child rocks back and forth on the duck spring rider while the other kids play duck, duck, goose. This imagery amplifies the suspense as Nance and Jonathan are sitting in the park, surrounded by plainclothes agents. “I think we should go,” Nance says under her breath.

But it was all part of the plan. Nance and Jonathan were hoping to be brought into the lab so that they could record Dr. Owens admitting that Barbara’s death was their mistake. I’m not sure what they plan to do with that recording, because it’s not like the police can stop them. What authorities can help them now?

Long-lost mother: After finding a picture of her mother in a box underneath the floorboards, El uses sensory deprivation to contact her in another dimension. She sees her mom sitting in a rocking chair and repeating a string of coded words: “rainbow, three to the right, four to the left, three fifty.” Suddenly, her mother senses that she’s there and calls out her birth name, Jane. El touches her hand, then her mother turns into dust. She returns to the real world and sobs. Now that El knows that her mother is still alive, I’m sure she’ll resent Hopper for lying to her and saying that she was dead. Speaking of Hopper’s poor parenting decisions...

Bad dad: “You’re a brat,” Hopper yells at El. “B-R-A-T. Maybe that should be your word of the day,” he says, hurling the dictionary at her that she stops in mid-air. Yeah, and you’re a jerk. Maybe you should tone down your temper when disciplining a child, especially a tweener with telekinetic powers who could break your neck with the nod of her head.

They grow up so fast: Dart, once a cute pollywog, has grown into a miniature Demogorgon, much to Dustin’s horror. He comes home to find Dart devouring his pet cat, then screeching at him with its multiple hinged jaw and countless teeth. This is what he gets for trusting a creature that likes nougat. Will Dustin and his crew kill Dart in time before it begins feeding on humans? Or will they need El to annihilate it like she did in the first season finale?

Oh, brother: Max is pissed that the group is keeping secrets from her, but she has skeletons of her own. Stan, aka low-budget Rob Lowe with anger problems, reminds her that he isn’t her brother, yet is “stuck with looking out for [her].” When he sees her arguing with Lucas, he tells her not to hang out with guys like him. “There are a certain type of people in this world that you stay away from, and that kid, Max, that kid is one of them.” In what world is Lucas threatening? He’s a geek. I get this uncomfortable feeling that he doesn’t like Lucas because of his race. Ugh. Please let Stan be Dart’s first human victim.

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