Everything is really coming together this episode
First we have the full reunion with Mike and EL, El without her wig and the two kids moving their awkward way through flirting. They’re called by Lucas about Ominous Men coming to the house and manage to get out in time with Dustin and meet up with Lucas on the way. They’d probably still have been caught but El can throw large vans around which is an effective way to stop pursuit
Y’know every time these people chase El they never seem to have any plan for what to do when they catch her. “We have caught the girl who can kill people with her mind! Proceeding to asking her really nicely to come with us!”
Lucas and El both make their apologies to each other and Mike to Lucas so things are a bit smoother there. They head to a hiding place in a junk yard as helicopters swarm overhead
The Ominous men search Karen and her husband’s house looking for signs of El and urging them Karen and Ted to trust them. Ted is a good little drone but Karen, who has been unfailingly awesome throughout this series, is much much more suspicious.
Joyce and Jim get called in to pick up Jonathan who is under arrest after his fight with Steve which Chief Jim quickly makes go away before Joyce explodes messily all over everyone. The police are wary of the monster hunting kit Jonathan and Nancy have been driving around with but Jim and Joyce know the truth and demand an explanation
Joyce is super upset that Jonathan wanted to go off without her to do this and almost tearfully protests that he doesn’t have to do this alone. It’s emotional and works so well with all of Joyce’s reactions because of the undertone -the unspoken acknowledgement that Jonathan kind of has had to do it alone. That Joyce has kind of fallen apart - and even before all this happened I get the impression Jonathan has had to handle a lot alone.
The four of them decide to avoid the Ominous People searching Nancy’s house and try to figure out where the kids could have gone - while Nancy and Mike aren’t close, Jonathan remembers Will and his walkie-talkie which they dig out (Nancy takes a moment to take in what Joyce has done to her house) and they use this to talk to Miike who despite his original concerns, tells Jim where they are.
He arrives in time to beat up the Ominous People (Jim has some fighting skills it seems. Either that or Ominous organisation needs to step up their henchmen game) so they can all go on the run. They decide to make an attempt to get Barbara and Will back from the Dark Place.
When first measures fail they aime to create a sensory deprivation tank for El, like she used to have in the Lab. Which means Dustin getting instructions from his teacher (and shaming him with true expertise when said teacher would really really like to have a life on an evening) and them all pitching in to jury rig something. We have a nice moment between Mike and Nancy reminding us they are siblings but best of all is Joyce and El
Joyce’s care, support and gentleness towards El is such a sharp contrast to how she was treated in the lab. Joyce constantly gives her a way to back out and is there when she is scared. When she becomes afraid in the dark beyond Joyce whispers support to her which she hears. It really is excellent and such a sharp change compared to how El had lived before. Stranger Things keeps pulling beautiful moments like this
In the darkness El finds a body covered in goop and growing things - is it Barbara? And she finds Will, in his forest fort in the middle of the darkness. He’s cold and lost and can’t last much longer… before he fades out. But everyone heard his message through the radio and El’s woowoo
So Chief decides he is going to go rescue Will, alone, because everyone else needs to be safe and protected.
Joyce speaks to him about this
So Joyce and Jim go and get captured by the Ominous Guys so that was effective
They expected everyone else to stay safe but Nancy isn’t having that- she and Jonathan were going to kill monsters and damn it there will be a monster killing!
Meanwhile, Steve seems to have formed a rift with his friends as they continue to badmouth Nancy and when he finds himself unable to intimidate them into compliance after Jonathan smacked him up, down and side-to-side, all richly deserved. He looks to be stepping onto a redemption train, willing to clear up the misogynist grafitti painted about Nancy