[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for the Stranger Things Season 4 “Chapter Six: The Dive.”]
In the previous recap, I suggested that the Hopper (David Harbour) storyline would have been better served as a singular 45-minute episode. After even more time spent dilly-dallying in Russia this episode, I will go one further. This season would have been better had Hopper stayed dead. That might sound harsh, but Stranger Things has a clear problem in its reluctance to kill off major characters (unless your name begins with a B — RIP Barb, Bob, and Billy), which has led to such a sprawling, unwieldy cast.
I’m not the only one that thinks this. Millie Bobby Brown herself said in a recent interview with The Wrap that the show needs to take a Game of Thrones approach to character fates. “The Duffer Brothers are sensitive sallys who don’t want to kill anybody off,” Brown said. “We need to have the mindset of Game of Thrones. Kill me off! They tried killing David off and they brought him back!”
This is why I have no doubt that Steve (Joe Keery) will survive his attack in the Upside Down that ends this episode. The main cast is covered in plot armor. And look, it’s not as if I want Steve to die; he’s a great character. But doing so would increase the stakes of the show and add another dimension to the narrative going forward. I mean, I’m certainly not going to complain if Argyle (Eduardo Franco) accidentally drives his pizza truck off a cliff edge, taking Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and the Byers boys with him.
Killing characters off would also free up some space, meaning episodes such as this won’t feel like they’re dragging every time we check in with the less captivating characters. The Russian prison plot is beyond stale at this point, even if it is leading to what could be an epic fight with a captured Demogorgon. Hopper and his prison comrades are treated to a banquet to plump them up for the impending battle; the other prisoners believe they are being used to train the otherworldly beast. Hopper knows better.
Between gulps of vodka, Hopper tells the other inmates that he’s faced one of these monsters before. “We’re not here to train it,” he says, “we’re here to entertain it.” The beast enjoys the thrill of the hunt and demands live prey. As reality sinks in for the petrified prisoners, Hopper comes up with a plan to defeat the Demogorgon. After provoking a fight with Enzo/Demitri (Tom Wlaschiha), Hopper uses the distraction to tackle a guard and steal his lighter. With a flame and a bottle of liquor, Hopper and co might just have a fighting chance of taking the monster down.
But the battle must wait for now because the Russia plot is moving at a glacial pace. Just as it is with Joyce (Winona Ryder) and Murray (Brett Gelman). They’re at least in Russia now but are lost in the wilderness after crash landing Yuri’s (Nikola Đuričko) plane. Speaking of Yuri, he survived the crash and is tied up as Joyce and Murray’s prisoner. Much like Hopper, Joyce and Murray have a plan, and that’s to use Yuri as a way to get them into the prison. There is some excellent comic potential here as Murray intends to pose as Yuri, while Yuri is forced to act as a captured Murray. But, again, this more interesting stuff has to wait for a future episode.
The California crew is also on the precipice of something exciting, but first, we must watch their detour to Salt Lake City to meet with Suzie (Gabriella Pizzolo). Is it cool to check in with Suzie? Sure, I suppose so. But the whole sequence at Suzie’s Mormon household, which is overrun by unruly kids, could have been neatly tied up in a montage. Instead, this side plot is merely a conduit for Mike and co to find the coordinates of where the government is keeping Eleven — and to get to that, we must suffer through a confiscated computer plot and Argyle flirting with an Ally Sheedy in Breakfast Club-looking chick.
Again, all the best stuff is happening in Nevada and Hawkins. Eleven is still undergoing memory inception to help regain her powers. Dr. Brenner (Matthew Modine) tells her that her brain signals were scrambled when she was attacked last year but that her abilities are still there. She just needs to find them deep within her buried memories. But if she goes too fast, she is at risk of becoming lost in the darkness.
What’s interesting about Eleven’s head trip is that we’re not quite sure who she can trust. I previously thought the creepy orderly (Jamie Campbell Bower) was a bad dude, but I’m not so certain after this episode. The orderly, who exists only within Eleven’s memories, appears to be helping her. He tells her that Papa doesn’t always tell the truth and compares her to the famed One, someone Dr. Brenner claims doesn’t exist. The orderly says he spent years with One, and like Eleven, it took him a while to find his powers. “He found strength in a memory from his past, something that made him sad but also angry,” he explains.
Firstly, the orderly himself is One, right? At least that’s the impression I got. Secondly, this advice helps Eleven in a game of telekinetic sumo wrestling when she taps into a memory of her mother being dragged away from her as a child. Eleven gains a sudden surge of power, sending the cocky Two crashing into a wall. Unfortunately, Eleven pays for this later when the other kids gang up on her in the Rainbow Room, warning her that they’ll kill her if she tells on them. And the orderly pays the consequences, too, as Eleven sees him electrocuted by Brenner and the other doctors.
It’s in this memory that Eleven flashes back to the bloody massacre that opened this season. She remembers now. “I killed them,” she cries after waking back up. “I killed them all.” If only she could kill off some of the other characters. Jokes aside, Brown puts her all into these scenes, which require a great deal of emotional intensity. Now that Mike and the Byers know where she is, I suspect the action will pick up in the next episode.
Finally, in Hawkins, the pressure on Eddie (Joseph Quinn) heats up after police name him as a suspect in the recent murders. I was foolish to think that Jason (Mason Dye) the jock might now defend Eddie after witnessing Patrick’s death. But no, Jason is even more confident that Eddie is a vessel for the devil. He spreads his fears at a town hall meeting, telling frightened parents that Eddie leads a cult involved in Satanic sacrifices. As much as Erica (Priah Ferguson) argues that the Hellfire Club is just a group for nerds, the angry citizens of Hawkins follow Jason in his hunt for Eddie and his associates.
The race is on between the police, the neighborhood, and The Party for who can get to Eddie first. Thankfully, it’s The Party who finds Eddie hiding out in the woods. Again, these are the best scenes because it feels like the plot is moving at a speedy pace. Plus, these are the most likable characters. It’s fun seeing Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Robin (Maya Hawke) become friends and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) apologizing to Max (Sadie Sink) for not being there for her in her time of need. And there’s still time for laughs, like Dustin remarking on Steve’s hairy chest and how “chicks apparently dig it” — cut to Max taking the binoculars and silently checking Steve out for herself.
After Dustin notices his compass going haywire, he comes up with a theory that there must be another gate to the Upside Down nearby. If they can find this gate, maybe they can find and stop Vecna. The electromagnetic pull takes the group to Lover’s Lake, where they surmise that the gate must be underwater (“Water-gate,” Dustin chuckles to himself). The older teens take a boat out to investigate while Dustin, Max, and Lucas wait at the shore, only to be apprehended by the police.
Deep at the bottom of the lake, Steve sees a glowing red light. But before he can report back to the crew, he is dragged into the portal by a slimy tentacle. Nancy, Robin, and a reluctant Eddie all jump in after him, heading for an excursion to the Upside Down. And I gather the trio will arrive just in time to save Steve from those bat-like suckers that start throttling his neck at the end of the episode. Or maybe this show will surprise us? Time will tell.
Stranger Things, Season 4, Streaming Now, Netflix