Stranger Things Chapter Two: The Weirdo on Maple Street
A large theme of Stranger Things is the importance of connections. The bonds of friendship and family. The connection between parents and their children or between siblings.
This is especially important in “The Weirdo on Maple Street”, the second episode of the series. The boys have taken Eleven to Mike’s home and are trying to understand who she is and where she came from. Mike takes a particular interest in her, fascinated by and empathetic towards this strange girl.
The nicest thing about the episode is its expansion of Joyce and Jonathan Byers as characters. We get to know a little more about their personalities (both good and bad) and their history. They’re clearly a close-knit, struggling unit who put up with a lot from a bad, absent father. Joyce is a bundle of nerves because of it and Jonathan seems quiet and reclusive.
This episode gives Jonathan a flashback similar to Joyce remembering Will in his makeshift hut in the woods. Jonathan comforted his little brother while his mom and and dad fight on the phone, playing The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go”. It’s a solid moment of brotherly bonding, expanding our understanding of both Jonathan and Will. Because Will is missing he obviously hasn’t had as much development as the other characters so these little drop-ins are welcome.
Jonathan decides to see if Will is at their father’s house. When he gets there Lonnie definitely lives up to his reputation. He’s rude, dismissive, and really doesn’t seem to care at all about Will, only making minimal effort to seem like he cares about Jonathan. It’s a dead end, Will isn’t there. Joyce knew that already though.
Winona Ryder gets her best scene so far when she heads into the local market where she works. She’s in search of a new phone after the static filled call the night before fried her old one. She grabs a new one and asks her boss for a cash advance. When he balks at the idea she lays into him about her dedication and her loyalty to the job and what she’s dealing with. She also ends it by cheekily demanding a pack of Camels too.
It’s pretty cool.
When Joyce gets home she sets up her phone and posts up, waiting for Will to try to contact her again. He does — or something does — and it fries her new phone too. Poor Joyce, down one son and two phones. But with the lights and power in her house pulsating and Will’s radio playing “Should I Stay or Should I Go” Joyce may have found a new way to contact her son.
Mike skips school to try to understand Eleven more. He basically recreates a scene from E.T. with her, showing off his house and his Star Wars toys. Mike explains to her what friends and promises are and we get more flashes of her life with evil Matthew Modine. She gets thrown into rooms, locked up against her will, and the saddest part is her screaming “Papa!” as she’s being dragged off. She’s never had anything close to a normal upbringing or even a childhood. She’s only been treated like a guinea pig.
In stark contrast to that are the Wheeler family meal scenes. They’re the funniest things to me and are strong showcases for Finn Wolfhard and Natalia Dyer. They display a solid, lived-in sibling chemistry. Cara Buono hasn’t had a lot to do so far, but she’s the parent who’s at least trying, and she does that well. She’s just not the most perceptive person in the world, what with a strange child living in her basement without her knowing.
Speaking of, Eleven tries to explain a little more about the barely-seen creature to Mike, Dustin, and Lucas where she thinks Will may be. Her use of their Dungeons & Dragons board is a smart piece of production ingenuity. It boils it down to something simple for both us and the characters to grasp. And it just looks cool, her slamming down a Demogorgon in the middle of the black board.
Meanwhile, Chief Hopper is zeroing in on the wrong missing child. He comes across poor, shot-in-the-head Benny, the diner owner from the first episode. He learns about the child who was there, believing — or hoping — it to be Will. The search party also comes across a drainage ditch that leads to Matthew Modine’s Top Secret Child Torture Lab and Hair Care Treatment Centre.
The least connected story so far is “John Hughes presents Nancy”. But that story line seems to tie into our main mysteries in a big way by the end of the episode. Nancy goes to a little house party thrown by her sort-of-boyfriend Steve and his two garbage people friends, Tommy and Carol. She drags along Barb.
Poor, poor Barb.
Barb has one of the worst party-going experiences I can think of. First of all, she doesn’t even want to be there. Then she cuts her fingers open while trying to shotgun a beer. Then her friend abandons her. To top it all off, a weird, otherworldly creature kills or kidnaps her at the end of the episode. Talk about a case of the Mondays.
So our themes and our story lines are starting to coalesce. Everyone is zeroing in on a goal or a mission and we should be getting to the point where some of our mysteries will open up a bit more and some of our characters will start coming together.
The Strangest Things:
- It really can’t be overstated how much of a total prick Lonnie comes off as. Kudos to the actor, Ross Partridge.
- There’s another reference to Hopper’s deceased daughter in a moment that also shows off the history between Hop and Joyce. It’s solid work with a few small lines and moments.
- Nancy and Jonathan cross paths a couple times. At school Nancy talks to him about his brother, then later Jonathan creeps on the house party.
- Speaking of, Jonathan creeping on that party is a weird scene. Him stumbling across it makes sense, but he spends waaaayyy too long there taking pictures. Comes across as ickier than it probably should.
- Under the Influence: Will has an Evil Dead poster in his bedroom, Mike showing El his Star Wars toys is straight out of E.T., Joyce’s house escapades seem very Poltergeist and the body pushing out the wall is definitely a nod to A Nightmare on Elm Street (the title also references Elm Street, along with The Twilight Zone)
- “Missing kid, suicide. You must feel like a big city cop again, huh, Chief?” “Well, I mostly dealt with strangers then.” Hop’s deputies are like two Barney Fifes with half the charm between them.
- Of course Dustin is in the Drama Club.