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!

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