Mark this down as another one of those hundred shows where we suddenly realise “wait, that’s out genre!?” and then we have to do a catch up (by the way, if any of you know of shows which are our gene and you think “why isn’t Fangs covering this?” this is why. Let us know and I’ll check if it’s good: if it is I’ll do it. If it’s not I’ll foist it on Renee.
The helpful screen writing tells us this show takes place in 6th November 1983 in Hawkings Montana.
The 1980s and rural Montana. So I’m going with dystopian.
And in an Ominous Lab of Ominousness we have a scientist running through spooky flickering lights. He is duly eaten by some unseen scary monster. Honestly what’s the life insurance rates for people who work in ominous government labs? I mean, it’s right behind “henchman for millionaire scientists who owns own island with volcano”
This being the first episode of a series and us having a lot of cast we have the obligatory introduction to ALL THE PEOPLE scene. This is something that seems to be happening more often, especially in small town-settings in the genre or when there’s not one focused protagonist - there’s a sudden need to show us EVERYONE in the first episode and it gives me a headache. I find myself hoping some of them die off just so I can keep track. This brief introduction to everyone also makes it very hard to invest in anyone.
So to get past this it’s time to do a quick round of the characters:
Mike, Will, Dustin and Lucas. The geeky outsider kids. Lucas is Black, Dustin disabled and all of them are bullied (Will also faces homophobic bullying apparently from his father as well though there’s no indication he’s gay).
The Byers family: single mother Joyce raising older teenaged working teen Jonathan and relying on him a lot to help her with geeky kid Will.
Wheeler family: Ted and Karen Wheeler, children geeky kid Mike, teen daughter Nancy (who is dating inappropriate, popular kid Steve) and baby Holly
Awful police chief Hopper, divorced, has a tragic dead daughter and eats doughnuts drinks too much alcohol and is generally indifferent to his job. This character is mass produced for so many shows.
So, there’s the main cast and the action starts with the geeky kids’ DnD game breaking up and Will riding home at night. On his way through the spooky lands of the Ominous Government lab he’s menaced by a growling shadowy monster. We never get to see it but it’s duly scary because we can’t see it as Will desperately runs home to try and avoid it. We see it unlock doors, remove chains and make lights flicker. Will runs, struggles with a gun in the shed (this child has access to a gun. A gun.) before the light shines super bright - and then Will then disappearing.
This opens the story with Will vanished. The next day single mother Joyce is duly frantic and desperately seeks help from completely indifferent Chief Hopper who only grudgingly investigates. They’re in a quiet time, he’s sure everything is fine and he also can’t be arsed with all this. He demands Joyce check with Lonnie her ex-husband but we don’t get much info there
As Hopper investigates though, speaking to Will’s friends finding the gun in the shed, finding Will’s missing bike and generally having main signs that there is something desperately wrong. At which point the heart of gold under his rough, jaded exterior comes up (along with the disclosure of his tragic past) and he starts taking it seriously and organising search parties.
The geeky kids continue their school day, being bullied by racist, ablist arseholes, bonding with geeky teacher and loving on HAM radio which is apparently a thing. Oh innocent age before the internet.
Nancy and Steve establish their relationship - and he’s good looking and really cute and charming and disturbingly adept at manipulating her “no” into “yes” a lot. Including sneaking into her room at night despite her obvious reservations. This is starting creepy will likely grow more so. The Wheeler family also has an awkward family dinner showing some rifts in the family with childhood drama with Ted, the father, being just disconnected from all of it and coming across as deeply uncaring.
Time for some woo-woo plot.
At the Ominous Lab of Ominousness, Ominous Dr. Brennen suits up with his team in Haz Mat suits to see the aftermath of the opening scene with lots of spooky burns, marks and residues. He also finds a large, growling pod/cocoon/nest/vines THING. They talk about a girl who has escaped
We find a girl running through the woods to a diner. She’s wearing an institution gown and her head has been shaved. She steals food in the diner and is caught by the cook - who is this massive scary looking man who quickly realises she’s troubled. He very kindly feeds her, gently tries to question her and find out what her name is (she says her name is “Eleven” because she has a tattoo of 11 on her arm). While looking after her she stops a fan with her mind. Which isn’t ominous at all.
When “social services” arrive it turns out to be people from the Ominous Lab. They shoot the kindly cook guy which is a shame, I liked him. But Eleven has super powers and isn’t so easily cornered. After knocking two guys out/killing them and trashing the kitchen she runs out into the woods
She runs into the Geeky kids who have snuck out to look for Will… I’m going to bet Eleven doesn’t kill them
As an introduction to this episode I’m having a lot of forbearance. The second half of the episode really picked up - I think it all depends on how much our focus is on Eleven and the woo - and how much is on the family drama. Though, really Joyce and Jonathan is an excellent family interaction to see them relying on each other, guilt despair, emotion - it’s all well one with them. But I see, for example, the Wheeler family being a likely distraction