Stranger Things 2, episode 1 recap: MADMAX

Credit: Stranger Things - Netflix
Credit: Stranger Things - Netflix /

It’s October 1984, and the more things change the more they stay the same. Stranger Things returns with a bang, and a few questions to keep us guessing what’s in store this season.

We begin in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on October 28, 1984. Someone wearing an animal mask is waiting inside a van. As this person waits, a slew of people wearing Halloween masks exit a building and pile into the waiting van. As everyone takes off their masks, we see a ragtag group of young people (some seem young enough to be in high school or college) racing down the streets with the police hot on their trail. In this group, the girl riding shotgun tells the driver to make a right and then proceeds to use her powers to create an apparition of a falling bridge. The apparition causes a multiple car pile-up of police vehicles. However, this young woman caused the bridge to look like it’s collapsed has taken its toll: her nose begins bleeding. To further drive home the point this is all looking very familiar, we see this young woman has “008” tattooed on the inside of her arm.

Back in Hawkins, the boys are looking for any loose change for the arcade. Mike steals from Nancy and takes off on his bike. Dustin, Lucas, and Mike arrive at the arcade by bike, while Joyce drops off Will. Joyce reinforces strongly that Will is not to bike or walk home at all. It seems the lessons from last season have hit home with Joyce, and she is still hovering over Will a year later.

At the arcade, Dustin is informed his first-place status among some of the arcade games is no longer valid, as a mysterious “Madmax” has beaten Dustin’s score. Dustin is livid and is determined to find out who this “Madmax” is. While Dustin is pulling focus by ranting and raving, Will notices a shift in the weather. Stepping outside the arcade, Will sees the atmosphere change. Will appears to be visiting the Upside Down again, but his attention is brought back to the present when Mike asks what’s going on. Will shakes off the eerie feeling that settles into him, and re-joins his friends at the arcade.

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Sheriff Jim Hopper is back, and as unhealthy as ever. Storming into the squad room, Hopper’s donut is replaced by an apple. As he gets settled, a journalist, who seems more at ease with a publication like The National Enquirer, has been camped out waiting for the sheriff. Hopper is not happy to see this man at all and tells him to get lost. This journalist begins rattling off Soviet conspiracy theories as reasons for all the troubles suffered last year. Hopper is a brick wall and refuses to acknowledge what this reporter has to say.

At Hawkins High School, Nancy is counseling Steve on his college entrance exam essay. Steve is quick to point out that he could go work for his father while Nancy finishes up her senior year of high school. Nancy doesn’t comment on this idea (thank you for that, Nancy), but she does seem to be genuinely happy in this relationship. Nancy reminds Steve about a dinner they are committed to going to when they hear the loud roar of a car with a California license plate. There are new people in town, and today is their first day of school. A high school boy and his skateboarding little sister do their best not to engage with anyone. Both siblings have caught the attention of the student population.

Will is in his locker at school and sees that someone has left him a bullying note. Between the school bullying and his experience skimming back into the Upside Down, Will is finding it difficult to fit into his group of friends. Will is quiet, isolated, and shy. Later in class, a new student waltzes in it’s Maxine, or as she likes to be called, “Max.” Dustin and the others soon theorize that Max is the “Madmax” credited with the highest scoring points at the arcade.

Joyce is at work, sewing Will’s Ghostbusters costume when Bob walks in. We are quickly reacquainted with Joyce and this new relationship, as we see her have fun, smile, and actually, laugh. Joyce is happy, and Bob seems to have a lot to do with it. On the outskirts of town, Hopper arrives at a pumpkin patch where all the pumpkins have been destroyed. The farmer is eager to list off business rivals as possible suspects.

Nancy and Jonathan are leaving class and encounter a fellow student who is giving out flyers for her Halloween party. Nancy is trying her best to encourage Jonathan to go, but Jonathan shies away from the suggestion and says he has plans with Will. Steve approaches and twirls Nancy around. The next time Nancy has the opportunity to look up, she catches Jonathan slinking down the hall. The Nancy and Jonathan friendship is intact, with Jonathan respectfully giving Nancy her space and peacefully co-existing with Steve.

The boys are spying on the skateboarding student named Max. The boys seem to be equally impressed and infatuated with her (except Mike). As Max goes back inside after recess, the boys scurry to pick up a piece of paper she dropped in the trash. The note very simply asks the boys to stop following her. Playtime is over when Will is told it’s time for him to leave with his mom for an appointment.

Will is picked up from school early and heads back the Department of Energy building. Hopper is waiting for them and enters the building with both mother and son. Will is silent as nurses poke and prod at him. A doctor soon walks in with a flourish and begins asking Will questions. Later in private, the doctor informs Joyce that things for Will may become worse before they get better.

Nancy and Steve approach a nice suburban home with a for sale sign out front. We learn this house belongs to Barb’s parents, and the dinner engagement Nancy had been talking about before is about this event. Nancy learns Barb’s parents are selling their home to fund a journalist that has been campaigning to help the family find real answers about what happened to Bard. Nancy excuses herself and cries in the bathroom.

While Nancy and Steve are having dinner at Barb’s parents’ house, Mike is at home being chastised for his erratic behavior. Mike must pay for his actions and is tasked with filling bags with toys that can be donated to deserving kids. As Mike looks forlornly at his toys, he tries to contact Eleven one more time by walkie-talkie but isn’t successful. Dustin responds to Mike via the walkie-talkie and wants to share with Mike news about Max, but Mike is quick to get off the walkie-talkie and keep to himself. As Dustin arrives home, there’s rustling from nearby. It appears that maybe something is hiding in the garbage can.

Back at home safe and sound, Will seems to be brooding about a lot of things lately. Will asks Jonathan to stop treating him the way everyone else does, but Jonathan responds that Will is his best friend and he will always be there for his best friend. Will is placated by Jonathan’s ideas about their relationship and how it works. For the first time since he came back, we see Will smile a genuine smile.

Next: 30 little-known facts about Stranger Things

Later in the evening, Will gets up in the middle of the night; there seems to be a storm brewing both outside and inside. Hopper has arrived at an old, run-down house in the woods and makes his way to the front door. Hopper makes his way inside and speaks to the person in another room. The person he’s speaking to isn’t happy because he’s late, and Hopper isn’t happy with the person he’s speaking to because she sent signals when there’s a strict rule about sending signals.

It’s Eleven. She’s back and she’s living in the woods and surviving thanks to Sheriff Hopper.

Stranger Things 2 is off to a promising start. The premiere episode had great energy, answered some questions we had about the characters, and left us asking a few more questions that will hopefully be addressed over the course of this season.