After a season high point at the end of episode 4, you have to ask what comes next, and The Duffer Brothers can’t wait to show you exactly what that is.
A recurring theme in my reviews thus far has been my love for the characterisation of its main characters, and this episode starts off with one of the biggest laughs of the season. When the mysterious elevator room Erica snuck the Scoops Ahoy! gang into crashes to a halt seemingly miles below the surface of the Earth, Steve declaring that he’s okay “now that he knows the Russians can’t design elevators” was a moment I literally repeated three times in a row. Joe Keery has such a manic energy about him every episode, combining that with some perfect line delivery and you have a recipe for comedy gold. Steve is one of the characters that received a lot of attention after the first season and morphed into the lovable, reluctant Dad we see today, and he absolutely shines at every opportunity.
In this storyline, the Scoops Ahoy! gang – that I’m quite literally now realising bears a striking resemblance to Scooby Doo and has the same vibe through and through so I’m sticking firmly with it – sneak around a secret Russian scientific headquarters. They have a bit of TV logic to them in these scenes as their stealth missions are some of the easiest in the world and rely a little too much on human beings having the peripheral vision of a bat. They’re fun enough to keep the momentum going, but it felt just a little too straightforward. It’s a scene designed purely to advance a key plot point – that the Russians are continuing their work on opening a portal to the Upside Down – but I can’t help but feel it could’ve been done a little smoother. Still, putting the Scoops Ahoy! gang into investigatory situations is intrinsically fun, and I can’t deny the creators using its funniest characters for this type of mission isn’t a smart decision.
This episode finally sees the Joyce and Hopper storyline gather some momentum as they’re forced to kidnap Alexei, one of the scientists from the very first scene of the season responsible for the attempted portal to the Upside Down. Hopper, in his Hawaiian shirt get-up, and Joyce with her bundle of adorable energy are such a fun pair. I loved the scene where they steal the Todfather’s car. Giving this character this specifically memorable name tells me we may not have seen the last of him this year, but Hopper playing him as a fool was hilarious. Quickly flashing his police badge, demanding to commandeer his vehicle, and calling on “Detective Byers” for assistance was chaotically hilarious. I really get the impression that David Harbour is loving Hopper this year, having a more playful run at the character and forgetting his cop protocol that he was so fastidious towards two seasons ago.
This scene was already great, but it was capped off by Winona Ryder’s subtle physical comedy when Hopper referred to her as his partner, Detective Byers. She takes a moment to compose herself and understand what she needs to do, before adopting a stance that Joyce assumes a detective would do. It’s a hilarious little beat for a fabulous character that needs more screen time. I’m all aboard the Hopper train in all of its Miami Vice style story beats, but Joyce has simply been following him around for a while now, and I’d love her to have a bit more agency in the season like she had in Stranger Things 2.
Back with the crew, Nancy and Jonathan are finally relevant again! Rejoice one and all! They’ve joined up with Mike and co. to inform them of their rat fertilizer investigation along with its sudden Upside Down-related turn. Truthfully this episode sees the main crew take a backseat in favour of Nancy and Jonathan, but that’s not to say they don’t get their moments in the spotlight.
In one of the more underdeveloped stories of the season, Mike and Elle’s apparent break up is put to rest and they reunite courtesy of a few M&Ms. Mike was put in a bit of a bind thanks to Hopper all those episodes ago and was forced to distance himself from Elle, which Elle didn’t like, but I never understood why Mike didn’t tell her what Hopper said. It’s also not even that unreasonable request from Hopper considering the volatile nature of Elle herself. Regardless, this little arc is over and the two are happily in love again, ready to save Hawkins once more.
Nancy and Jonathan, meanwhile, work on the plan to release Ms Driscoll from her hospital bed and let her lead her to where she so badly wants to go. If Ms Driscoll can take the gang there they can establish a proper plan on how to stop the looming threat that lurks in the Steel Mill. When they discover Ms Driscoll isn’t there, they run into two of the arseholes from The Hawkins Post. I’m pleased these characters are at least used in the main story rather than just a vehicle for social commentary. Further, this sequence is nicely tense and results in a truly Cronenbergian moment of body horror.
It’s pretty blatantly established that the two Hawkins Postmen are their Upside Down doppelgangers and they’ve gained some slight supernatural abilities in what pretty much boils down to increased strength and a bigger health bar. They take ages to kill, but Nancy gets the drop on one of them, Jake Busey (son of Gary), with a fire extinguisher. In a bit of a too simple crutch for a seemingly unstoppable force, the two Postmen are connected and feel the same blows as one another, which allows the other Postman to drop his guard and be stabbed in the neck by Jonathan. It’s a good little scene that was nicely tense (I genuinely thought Jonathan was going to die), but it sets up the season’s best cliffhanger so far.
The Hawkins Postmen bodies start to melt. In the same way the rats melted earlier in the season, but this time it’s human bodies melting into a vile, Upside Down goo. For lack of a better phrase, it’s absolutely disgusting. It takes some of the visceral body horror of The Fly or The Thing and just makes it purely gross as these humans become piles of brown, sentient sludge. I loved this moment, Stranger Things has always flirted with horror but never this vividly and gruesomely, so the Sentient Slime monster that’s created by the visually abhorrent combination of the two sludges is such an exciting moment. The bellow from this Sentient Slime straight down the camera is the cherry on top of a terrific, tense horror sequence.
While it may not have been as good overall as episode 4, there are some moments in episode 5 that are going to be remembered fondly. Characters are being pitted in genuine mortal danger for the first time this season, and in Season 3 of a show that has only really had one truly memorable death in Season 2’s Bob Newby, I’m starting to get nervous that something bad is going to happen to the main crew. Let’s see how it all plays out.
It’s all getting a bit exciting, isn’t it?!