Alas poor Barb, she’s still alive. Maybe. She’s in a weird parallel world which is all overgrown and ruinous with a drained pool and a terrifying monster thing at the bottom. She tries to escape, screaming Nancy’s name, but is dragged in by the monster
So we have parallel world monster?
Nancy doesn’t here - she’s busy having sex with Steve. Though later when she’s ready to go he’s way too sleepy to even say goodbye properly (my circle of friends agrees that this is perfectly acceptable so long as he got the job done before turning sleepy. Because we’re terrible)
She returns home to find her mother not exactly pleased by how late she stayed out with people going missing and all. But can we take a moment to give a nod to Karen Wheeler here? Last week she saw her son missed school, guessed that something was up with him and offered to be a source of comfort and support over his missing friend. No judgement, or condemnation, a clear open willingness to listen. And now her daughter comes home and you know Karen knows exactly what just happened (going home in your boyfriend’s sweatshirt isn’t subtle) and, again, while she’s annoyed she quickly makes it clear she is there to listen, no matter what, about anything.
Karen’s throwing out some A* parenting here. Hat tip to Karen
At school Nancy is feeling pretty self-conscious about having had sex though Steve does seem to be genuinely not being a dick - his friends are though. Completely and utterly. Nancy quickly realises that Barb is missing and after trying to dismiss it becomes steadily more uncomfortable
Her friends also expose that Jonathan has been taking severely creepy and stalkerish pictures of her… and this scene is kind of awful? They rip up his (stalker) pictures and break his camera and leave - and she goes back to him to be sympathetic. The whole scene is spun as “bullies bully the poor outcast” rather than “people are justifiably disgusted and angry at the creeper stalking their friend”. Jonathan is not the persecuted innocent here.
Nancy goes looking for Barb and finds her abandoned car, and definite spookiness around where they had their pool party. When Nancy goes home, she approaches her mother about Barbara.
Next storyline we’re going to drop in on Joyce who is… not doing well with Will’s disappearance. After the supernatural woo-woo of last episode she has decided that Will is talking to her through the light fittings (she’s not wrong… but still). Jonathan is rather obviously worried about his mother deciding the best way to find his brother is to buy more lamps and talk to them and tries to talk her down.
But as soon as he leaves, she festoons the house in Christmas lights, goes out, buys more Christmas lights and turns the house into something rather creepily terrifying. This is when Karen the awesome visits with a casserole (hopefully not made with soup because that’s just cruelty) and sees just how far Joyce has slipped away from reality - and nearly gets her daughter eaten by the monster in the walls.
Having got rid of her casserole wielding house guest, she has an earnest conversation with some Victorian Spiritualist Christmas Lights and decides that blink once for yes and twice for no is great to learn that Will is alive but not safe - but doesn’t give enough information to actually find him. So she rigs up a Christmas Lights Ouija board (at this point reality and Joyce are no longer on speaking terms) to spell out that he’s “right here.” And she should “run”
Which is when the monster bursts from the wall - she runs, showing she hasn’t abandoned all sense.
When the Geek squad go to school, to continue to disagree firmly about El but still stand united against the bullies who torment them; they leave El alone at home. She explores, bored, and we get some more flashbacks of her life in the lab, of her “papa” watching while she used telekinesis to break a coke can (much to his pride, despite the nosebleed it caused). But when ordered to use it to kill a cat she refuses and is dragged to the solitary confinement cell while she begs “papa” for help. She doesn’t get locked up - because she uses her powers to ram one man into the wall hard enough to leave a dent, and to snap the neck of the other. It causes her to bleed from the ears and nose… but Papa is very proud. And somehow not shitting bricks.
While examining the house she sees pictures of Nancy with Barb - and seems to be sad. Maybe she knows what happened to Barb?
After school they get together and El is definitely a lot more communicative. They trust her to use her powers to find Will - and he leads them to Will’s house, claiming he is “hiding” which seems to gel with what the Ouija lights are saying to Joyce.
Interval to the cops - Hopper finally gets round to check out the suspicious military base (which his cops decide makes space lasers). The scientist people try to convince Hopper that they’re totally innocent. Hopper is duly not impressed because their CCTV footage of the night in question shows no activity - and no storm either. Fail conspirators! Fail!
He decides to do some research (not helped by the librarian he was dating but kind of ghosted and he is not amused) and discovers a scientist, Dr. Martin Brenner, who was involved in CIA tests for mind control experiments: it looks like El’s “papa”
He’s interrupted by news that a body has been found - he drives out, noticed by the Geek Squad who also follow. Despite begging and hoping, they find Will’s body in a quarry lake.
Mike and Hopper both pull out the stops on some well displayed grief and pain here
Disembodied spirits seem to be the what we’re seeing here… so is it Barb’s body they’ll find next?