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:TV Series Episode Review: Stranger Things Season 2: Episode 7

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Stranger Things Season 2:  Episode 7

Review by William Nesbitt
Professor of English, Beacon College

This review assumes you have seen Stranger Things season 2 at least through episode 7. If you haven’t, this review will make little sense.  This also means you need to see season 1 first since season 2 won’t make much sense without it.  Also, while season 2 is great, season 1 is phenomenal.  While episode 7 of season 2 is not necessarily the best, worst, or most essential episode of season 2, it does seem to be the one that has sparked the most debate and divided fans more than any other episode.

Essentially, the episode has been criticized as a one-off diversion from the plotline.  Eleven runs to Chicago to find Kali who runs with a band of ruffians.  We first see Kali in the first episode, realize she has incredible mental powers, and the tattoo of “008” indicates she has some sort of connection with Eleven.  Waiting to see her reappear helps create anticipation for the rest of the season.  The name Kali, a Hindu goddess, tells us that she’s going to be powerful, if not trouble.  The other people she surrounds herself with are stock, two-dimensional characters, but they don’t need to be anything more.

Eleven is faced with the moral decision of whether to kill Ray or not.  She lets him live and prevents Kali from killing him.  This solidifies Eleven’s moral character.  More likely, this will not be the last time she is faced with such a decision.

Kali helps Eleven tap deeper into her powers by having her focus on her pain and anger.  It’s quite reminiscent of the idea of tapping into the dark side as a source of power that we see continually in Star Wars as well as the scene in X-Men:  First Class when Charles Xavier helps Magneto focus and amplify his own abilities by finding the point between rage and serenity.  This is important because when Eleven closes the gate in the season finale she has to become more powerful than ever before.

Kali has the potential to become a powerful ally or a powerful enemy.  While we don’t know which she will become, it’s fairly certain we will see her again (and what about those other numbers?).  Thus, episode 7 is not just about Eleven but it is an introduction to Kali (episode 1 was just a teaser).

One also wonders if this episode is a test for a potential spinoff of some sort—X-Men:  Street Hooligans.  Certainly Netflix watches the ratings and had it been the most popular episode by a factor of three, I think we would have heard more about it as a possibility for potential development into a separate series. I don’t know that was the primary reason for episode 7, but its function as a “tester” could not have not escaped its makers.

There may be two other reasons for the resentment about episode 7.  One is the placement.  There are only two episodes after it, so it seems like a barrier to the season finale.  However, this begs the issue of what the proper placement for such an episode is.  It stalls momentum no matter where you place it, but mid-season might be the best location:  it won’t slow down the early part of the season which is trying to establish momentum nor will it frustrate fans who are getting close to the end.  Perhaps it was placed at the end because those who make such decisions counted on viewers to keep going since we were all so close to finishing the season.  Assuming the series is good, we become more invested with every episode and thus at episode 7 we are at our second-greatest level of investment for the season (placing it right before the series finale might be too overt and awkward).

Essential?  No.  A total waste or disaster as some people say?  No.  Episode 7 is okay, not bad, not wonderful.  I can live with episode 7, but one of these per season is enough.

The second reason there might be some issues about episode 7 is that it serves as the scapegoat for season 2.  Season 2 is not bad at all, but it is not as good as season 1.  One of the challenges of a show based mostly around children and teenagers is that they grow up and move on. 

Maybe Stranger Things isn’t meant for a long run.  Sometimes shows are stopped while they are at or near their peak and before decline sets in.  That’s not the worse fate.  I’ve read that the Duffer Brothers plan to go 4 or 5 seasons, and that seems about right.  That would take us to high school graduation for Mike, Max, Jane (Eleven), Will, Lucas, and Dustin as well as let us see how Nancy, Jonathan, and Steve handle the early waves of adulthood (and Billy).

At the start of season 2 their lives are already changing.  One of the more poignant moments is when Mike, Will, Lucas, and Dustin show up to school dressed up as Ghostbusters, discover they are the only ones in costume, and reflect that the previous year everyone was in costume.  They are in, a sense, ghosts of their previous, more childlike selves.  Already they are realizing how quickly things change, disappear, and are left behind.

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