Friday, November 1, 2019

Halloween "Classic" Recap: Stranger Things: "Trick or Treat, Freak"

“What's wrong with Winston? He joined the team super-late, he's not funny, and he's not even a scientist!”

It’s a little hard to write about an isolated episode of “Stranger Things” because it’s pretty serialized, but I thought that watching this would be a fun way to spend Halloween evening in addition to making lotus root and jammy tomatoes from Priya Krishna’s “Indian-ish” and handing out candy to the occasional group of Trick or Treaters. It was interesting to drop in and see how much of the various plot threads I remembered from back when I first watched season two. With this being the second episode of the season, there are a lot of longer term plots being set up, but there is also some fun Halloween content, too. The Halloween content also digs a little deeper and provides some commentary on the transition from childhood to adolescence. I think this is the perfect theme to explore with Halloween.

Let’s start by expanding on the idea of the dividing line between childhood and adolescence. Halloween in the perfect holiday on which to think about this, because it’s all about playing pretend, which is something we usually associate with childhood. You’ve probably seen recent news stories about that town that banned Trick-or-Treating over a certain age. These days, though, I think it has become more socially acceptable to use your imagination and be whimsical as an adult. While I don’t dress up nearly as much as I would like, I have been known to don a Halloween costume or go to a convention in cosplay as an adult. Even when you’ve got real, adult things to think about (maybe even moreso because of those real adult things), it’s fun to let go once in a while and pretend to be someone/something else. Anyway, “Stranger Things” delves into all this when the boys go to school in their Halloween costumes, and everyone else is in street clothes. Wearing your costume was cool just a year ago, and now suddenly it’s not.

Speaking of costumes, the boys decide to dress as the gang from “Ghostbusters.” “Ghostbusters” is one of my favorite movies, so I really enjoyed this. It’s that movie where my mom and I can just quote lines to each other on demand. I’m not sure why – I’m sure there are plenty of other movies that are just as funny – but there’s just something about the mix of humor and macabre that I love. The boys on their bikes in their “Ghostbusters” gear is just iconic 1980’s nostalgia. They have a bit of an argument over who is going to be which Ghostbuster and debate the merits of each, but really the cool aspect is just the fact that they’re dressed as the Ghostbusters.

There’s also some good material in this episode that establishes the relationship between Hopper and Eleven that will continue to develop throughout the season. When Eleven returned from the Other Side after her big battle in season one, she took refuge with Hopper, who presumably is still really missing his daughter, and he hides her in a remote cabin where the feds can’t find her. Eleven really doesn’t like being cooped up, but Hopper doesn’t want to take any risks, so he keeps her hidden. She really wants to go Trick or Treating, but even wearing a ghost costume that hides her is risky, so Hopper makes a deal. He’ll try to be home on time with a bag of candy, and they can watch movies and get fat together. Of course he gets caught up with work (investigating a mass crop blight that turns out to be Upside Down-related) and gets home late to a pretty pissed off Eleven.

Speaking of the Upside Down, Will is still experiencing some after-effects of his time there. He keeps basically disappearing and returning saying he had visions of the Upside Down. He’s been drawing pictures of it and everything. Hopper thinks he may just have PTSD like some of the guys he knew in the war, but Joyce seems a bit skeptical. Will and Mike have a nice little heart to heart about what he has been going through after Will has one of his episodes while Trick or Treating. Trick or Treating also provides an entry point into the fight between Lucas and Dustin over new girl Max. Max is from California, and she’s under the thumb of her abusive older brother (he almost runs the boys over with his car at one point just to scare Max). She’s the cool, badass new girl, though, and Lucas and Dustin are smitten. They are only too happy for her to join them for a bit of Trick or Treating.

We also see that Nancy has been very negatively affected by the events of the previous season. She’s still (understandably) really upset over what happened to Barb, and she feels incredibly guilty that Barb’s parents still don’t know what actually happened. This guilt really manifests itself at a Halloween party she and Steve attend. Nancy gets extremely drunk and ends up telling Steve she doesn’t love him anymore. He leaves, and Jonathan is left to take her home. It was surprising to see Nancy so out-of-control, as she generally seemed to have a good head on her shoulders. She has been through the wringer, though, so it makes sense that she would be struggling. This development also fuels her relationship with Jonathan, so it’s not all bad.

There’s one final observation I want to make. I completely forgot Sean Astin was in this! He plays Joyce’s dorky, Radio Shack salesman boyfriend Bob. Bob seems like he wants the best for Joyce and the kids, and he really does try to be supportive. He dresses up as a vampire on Halloween and enjoys hamming it up. There’s a sweet little scene of him and Joyce dancing to “Islands in the Stream.” He may feel like the annoying interloper now, but his character will become more important as the season progresses. I don’t think I’ve ever really seen him in anything other than the “Lord of the Rings” films, so it was fun to see him in a different role. And with that, I hope everyone had a great Halloween. Don’t cross the streams!

This Is Us 4.06: “The Club”

“You’ve seen things 99% of the rest of us couldn’t even dream of. And yeah, you’ve made some mistakes along the way but that doesn’t make you unlovable. It makes you human.” Br>- Kevin

This episode of “This Is Us” moved a couple of storylines forward and gave us some interesting insight into some of the family relationships, especially Jack and Randall. Like last week, we have two past storylines that help inform the present. And it’s all about golf. I tried to learn golf with my dad at one time. Turns out, all ball sports aren’t really the best fit for the blind kid. But, hey, it was a bonding experience. It wasn’t quite that type of experience for Jack and Randall. At least not entirely. See, in the time when Jack and Rebecca were still dating, Jack gets goaded into going to club with Rebecca’s dad. It seems like yet another way to have her dad show Jack up but he almost seems to be trying to get Jack a job other than being a mechanic and working part time at a gas station. Until Jack turns the guy down—while quite drunk—and Rebecca’s dad pointedly says he’s still not good enough for his daughter. This doesn’t deter Jack at all. He says he’s going to marry Rebecca and have kids and be happy. His temper does start to flare though until Rebecca shows up and unknowingly diffuses the situation.

But that golf outing informs how Jack interacts with Randall when he’s 12. Randall is going on and on about his English teacher (who he clearly looks up to as Black male role model) and about Tiger Woods. So Jack goes and teaches him golf. In an attempt to bond, Jack explains that he never felt comfortable on the course and that he regrets letting other people hold him back and define him. But, Randall isn’t appreciative of his dad’s attempts to share experiences. He thinks Jack will never understand what it means to be a black kid (or man) and he’s right but that doesn’t’ mean Jack and Rebecca aren’t trying. Jack also wonders if maybe he feels threatened by having Black male role models in Randall’s life. In the end, he seems to warm up to Randall’s teacher—even inviting him for dinner—and he also shows Randall how to game other people on the course. He explains that a lot of important business gets done on golf courses and he has to know whether to be a show off or terrible to help get what he wants.

And that’s exactly what Randall is doing in the present. He wants one councilman to back his affordable grocery store bill but he’s been told if he keeps asking for support, he won’t get it. So, Randall floats that he’s got an in at a local golf club and then lets himself get roped into going with them. He presents as being pretty terrible but with some coaching from the councilman he’s trying to win over, he gets better. This was a strategic move on Randall’s part to butter up the other councilman. In the end, they come to an agreement to talk about supporting each other’s bills. And that’s really all Randall wanted. He’s learning how to be a politician but still put some Randall Pearson flare on it. I liked how the story had multiple layers to it and we got to see the through-line across multiple eras.

The rest of the episode was all about couples and romance. Kate and Toby are worried their sex life is dead after Jack’s birth and Toby suggests they get away for a night. Kate agrees but things don’t go well. Toby can’t perform and ultimately it’s because Kate told him not to throw away a pair of pants he clearly can’t fit in anymore. She says they are his favorite and he thinks she doesn’t support him and his new body or that she thinks (or even wants) him to put the weight back on. Kate eventually explains that she loves him just as she is and things seem to be moving in a better direction with them. But, they need to be quick because Rebecca and Miguel were about to come back to the house with Jack. Oh boy.

And then there’s Kevin. Oh, Kevin. He’s getting bored out of his mind in Pennsylvania in the small town where Nicky lives. He can’t just bail because he told the VA counselor that he’d be there for Nicky’s court appearance for throwing the chair through the window. So, Kevin goes to work out and ends up running into Cassidy. Things still aren’t going well with her husband but Kevin urges her to keep trying. He also ends up on a rather boring date with a girl who works at the gym. She says that it’s a nice place to raise kids (so hey, at least someone he’s interested in at least minimally wants kids). He’s also been creeping on Zoe. At least he’s moved on from Sophie? But, when he gets back to his trailer with his date, Cassidy is there. Kevin sends his date away because clearly Cassidy needs someone to talk to. She explains that she went to see her husband but things devolved quickly and she lost her temper. She thinks she is unlovable given everything she’s’ been through but Kevin disagrees. And then, of course, they end up sleeping together. I still think she’s going to end up being the mother of his kid that we saw at the end of season 3. I get that we needed to check in on everyone in the family but the Kate and Kevin storylines didn’t feel as cohesive with the rest of the plot and I was kind of annoyed. I wanted to see more of Jack and Randall and those storylines. It felt like Kevin and Kate’s relationship drama could have waited a week.

This Is Us 4.05: “Storybook Love”

“You have strange relationships with people.”
- Nicky

This week’s episode was all centered on food. At least in the two past storylines. It’s not often we see stories in the distant past, the somewhat distant past and the present all at the same time. But they all informed each other and I thought it was pretty cool. In the past set in the year after Jack died, we find Rebecca and Kate have moved into a house and are having Sophie and Kevin over for dinner to celebrate their wedding. Kate thinks it’s weird that Kevin got married without them and she makes her feelings perfectly clear. Beth and Randall come for the visit, as does Miguel. Kate’s boyfriend, Mark, ends up showing up, too. There’s totally more to this story and I can’t wait to find out more. But as we see the night unravel as the kids snipe at each other, we also see a flashback to Jack and Rebecca moving into their new home after she found out she’s pregnant. She wanted to make the perfect lasagna but it got burned and the table didn’t’ have all the legs. And then a bird got into the house and Jack lost his mind because he’s terrified of birds. Ultimately, though, the night turned out pretty perfect. In the not-so-distant past storyline, however, it seems the kids are forcing smiles for Rebecca’s sake as she sings a song from the Princess Bride. I’ve seen that movie countless times and I don’t remember this song at all.

In Philly, Randall and Beth end up having to deal with an expected situation with Tess. Randall has been focusing a lot on exercise which makes Beth nervous (when he’s ramping up for an anxiety episode he tends to get hyper=focused) and he’s trying to recover from bailing on the councilmen for drinks (when he was meeting with constituents and firing his aid). But then he gets a call from Tess’s school that she had a panic attack. Randall tries to sympathize with Tess but she doesn’t want to hear it. She insists she doesn’t want to be anything like her dad. As Randall worries that he’s passed on the one bad thing about himself to his child, Beth flashes back to a very similar conversation with William not long after Randall’s breakdown in season 1. William admits that he, too, suffers from anxiety. While they didn’t have a name for it when he was growing up, his mother would pour him a glass of seltzer water and they’d watch the bubbles settle (the bubbles were analogous to his thoughts). So, Beth drags Randall and Tess into the kitchen and gives them seltzer. It calms Tess enough to admit that she is anxious about the fact that she’d planning to just come out to people but when another girl asked if she thought a boy was hot, Tess answered “yes” instead of saying “I like girls”. Both Beth and Randall promise to help her through the stress. Beth even finds Tess a therapist. She’s found one for Randall, too, but he refuses, saying he’s fine. That’s not going to end well.

Out in LA, Kate is waiting at home for some big present from Randall and Kevin. It’s a delivery so she’s got to be home for it. The doorbell rings and Rebeca shows up, claiming she wants to see the baby. But then, the delivery people arrive with the old piano from their house and it is really a sweet gesture so that Kate can share music with baby Jack. Other than being worried about Kevin buying a trailer in in the woods in Pennsylvania, Kate didn’t have a ton to do this episode in the present. She does uncover some Polaroid pictures from the dinner party, her and Rebecca’s reaction to the photo of Kate and Mark promises drama about to unfold. I have a feeling it’s going to be some sort of abuse.

Out in Pennsylvania, Kevin is trying to bond with Nicky but it’s just awkward and Nicky isn’t really interested in bonding. He doesn’t really want to go to the hockey game Kevin is dragging him to. Cassidy is being honored as a veteran and Kevin is going to support her. Plus, her husband is going to be there which gives Kevin a chance to help her fix things. At first it doesn’t seem like things are fixable. Her husband is chilly at best to her and Kevin and he spends the whole event looking at his phone instead of focusing on Cassidy. Nicky also bails on the event and I don’t blame him. There are too many triggers around: copious amounts of alcohol, loud noises that are somewhat unpredictable. He ends up leaving. I get Kevin was trying to be supportive of his new friend but he put his uncle in a really bad situation. After the game, Kevin confronts Ryan who admits that he met Cassidy when they were 15 and he fell in love immediately and he knew she was going to be his favorite person. The ceremony honored the thing that broke his favorite person. So there may be hope for them yet. I still think that Kevin and Cassidy may end up together but we’ll just have to wait and see. By the end of the episode, Kevin has also gotten Nicky to open up. He tried to share a story about Jack sharing a box of ice cream with him and how much Kevin loved that connection with his dad. Nicky explains that it was their father who started it. Even though he wasn’t a very nice man, every now and then he did something nice and cool. It was nice to see how different things, both good and bad, can be passed down through generations. It was a nice connection for Kevin and Nicky to have and I’m so glad that Nicky was able to stay sober despite the whole triggering situation.