You know the one I mean. Episode Seven. The one that makes everyone go “wut?” afterward. John tweeted about it earlier this afternoon, correctly calling it “a mistake in every way.” I can think of several explanations for what the Duffers might have been trying to do with it but none of them are very satisfying. Let me run through them, then you tell me.
Spoilers ahead, obviously.
1. They needed to give Eleven something to do. I’m on record as saying I liked season two better than season one but there’s no denying that Eleven drew the short straw plot-wise. Episode Seven is the only moment she has all season to spread her wings a bit. Otherwise she’s moping around Hopper’s shack or trying to communicate with her catatonic mother. Zzzzzz.
2. It was essential to the plot. It felt like a weird tangent, but in reality Eleven never would have been able to close the gate in the final episode if her sister hadn’t tutored her on how to power up her psionic abilities. She needed instruction in channeling her rage. Without that, the gate stays open. And a psychic sibling was the only person equipped to provide that instruction. Besides, without an excuse to send Eleven out of town for awhile, there’d be no way for her to arrive *back* in town to help save everyone in Hawkins in the nick of time at the end.
3. It’s a spin-off pilot. We’re all familiar with the device in which a popular show introduces new characters with an eye to spinning them off into their own series. Given the popularity of “Stranger Things” and the fact that Eleven is, by definition, one of at least 11 superkids, there are endless spin-off possibilities here for Netflix. Hell, the network may have demanded this episode of the Duffers in hopes of producing another cash cow. Send El off to find her sister, surround her sister with a cast of misfits and a convenient vigilante backstory about the workers who tormented her and El at the lab, and you’re good to go.
4. They’re setting up season three. You can only do the demogorgan thing so many times before it gets boring. Eleven managed to shut down the entire evil empire herself in season two with nothing more than a nosebleed to show for it. A month later she was ready for the Snow Ball, none the worse for wear. She needs a challenge and logically that challenge is going to have to come from another superkid — or kids. We’re probably headed for some sort of “Avengers”-style superteam where Eleven, her sister, and a few other new supercharacters end up battling either The Ultimate Evil (Billy?) or each other, of course.
But here’s the problem. All of those theories explain why the Duffers would want or need to introduce a new superkid this season. What they don’t explain is why they introduced the particular superkid that they did. Or, more specifically, why they gave her that painfully lame motley crew of cartoon punks and outcasts. It had the feel of parody to me, as though this is what an 80s TV show would have coughed up if the writers had been told to sketch a gang of “tough” kids. There’s the punk with a mohawk! The imposing black guy with a soft touch! The two women with crazy hair! But if it’s a parody, what is it a parody of, exactly? “The Warriors”?
And why did Eleven’s sister need a gang at all? Her subplot, exacting revenge on her captors at the lab, would have been more effective with her as a solo operator. A person who can make those around her see or not see anything she wants is in no need of henchmen. She’d have been a more compelling character as a silent assassin, sneaking into the lab workers’ homes and murdering them — and then trying to enlist El in the effort — instead of screwing around with her supposedly colorful but actually bland dead-weight friends. Given how underused Millie Bobby Brown was in these episodes, the Duffers could have made Eleven’s sister an actual twin and cast Brown as the vigilante Evil El. (Or Evil Eight, I guess.) You know it would have been better.
Exit question: What the hell were they thinking? Did Netflix demand a spin-off episode, annoying the Duffers because it screwed with the integrity of their creation and leading them to deliberately write a garbage spin-off that now everyone hopes will never get made?