***WARNING: Major Spoilers ahead for Stranger Things 2*** Proceed with caution.
Chapter Seven: The Lost Sister, AKA the DREADED episode that, at first, feels out of place. At first. And I think that’s how we’re supposed to feel as an audience. Eleven is out of place, she’s looking for herself, she’s looking for connection. How could she not belong with someone who has her shared past, someone who understands what the “bad men” did to her? Her “Lost Sister”. But as the episode progresses El finds herself further and further out of place. She will not become that from which she is running. This is where the episode shines for the writers of the show. We are feeling what El feels, out of place and in the end wanting to return to Hawkins, on edge about what is about to happen with Mike and Hop.
Many feel the episode is gratuitous and the ratings are obnoxiously low for the series on IMDb. Especially when compared with the other episodes in the series – “The Lost Sister” receives an average of 6.4 (out of 10) where as ALL of the other episodes in the entire series range from the mid-eights to the mid-nines (8.4 – 9.6.)
From a writing perspective, I believe those low scores are based on the episode’s placement alone. I would argue that if the writers/producers had placed “The Lost Sister” before episode 6 it wouldn’t have slowed the pacing as much and therefore the episode would have been better received and ultimately understood by the audience. As I’ve said to my writers more than once, there is always a door number three, a solution to any problem you come across as a writer. You just need to figure out what the answer is, and for me that would have been reversing episodes 6 & 7.
As an added bonus, the change of placement not only wouldn’t have interfered with the suspenseful cliffhanger ending of episode 6, but I actually think it would have enhanced it. Not knowing specifically what El’s void flashes, of Mike and Hopper clearly in trouble, were about would have added to the suspense and the anticipation of El’s return to Hawkins amplified. There would also have been more distance between El’s bus ride and the moment she finally appears to save the day. The audience would have been so caught up in the action of the DemoDogs attack that when she did appear it would have been a complete surprise (or at least more of one). Again, adding to the suspense rather than slowing the pace. And the writers would still accomplish what they set out to do with this episode – putting the audience in El’s shoes, out of place, wanting to get back to Hawkins and save her friends and also showing us more than just a glimpse into the future growth of El’s character and her powers. Just watch the episodes in reverse and you’ll see what I mean.
Placement aside, “The Lost Sister” episode is pivotal in the development of El as it delves deeper into her powers and gives us clear insight into the future of the show. Not necessarily because there are more children with powers, but because of the contrast in the way that El and Kali view and use them. El’s powers are an extension of who she is; she only uses her powers when there is a need, and the need usually involves saving someone she cares about or using it in her own self defense. We even see her earlier in the season cleaning up the cabin, after her confrontation with Hop, only using her powers to do the heavy lifting and not to sweep up the glass. Unlike Kali who uses her power for revenge, a revenge which endangers Kali, and her band of outcasts, at every turn. Kali’s need for revenge has consumed her, it has made her the weapon Dr Brenner intended her to be.
What also struck me is that Kali uses some of the same tactics as Dr Brenner uses to get El to use her powers, only this time for Kali’s purposes, something that El (at least at this point) hasn’t even thought about. Kali goes so far as to manipulate El’s own fears of Dr Brenner using them against El in order to try to convince her to stay. These coercive strategies make Kali no better than Dr Brennen.
That clear manipulation becomes part of the breakdown of Kali’s and El’s relationship. Although it is never explored in this episode (and maybe we’ll see some of this if Kali returns for any future seasons), El realizes that Hawkins is home, in part because unlike with Kali, everyone she’s come into contact with in Hawkins (outside of Hawkins Lab) has never forced or manipulated her into using her powers. And while they did ask, she was always in complete control of the choice to use them. The contrast with Kali’s emotional manipulation and the fact that her friends in Hawkins need her, ultimately shows El who her real friends are.
And that is what is key with this episode. It needs to be there for the sheer fact that it shows El where she truly belongs, where she WANTS to belong. Hopper may be imperfect but he cared for El when she had no one else.
Which brings me to the one part of the episode that doesn’t ring true. Kali makes the statement that El’s “policeman” stops her from using her gifts, to which El nods. I re-watched the entire season looking for the clues where Hop may have stopped her from using them or told her not to. This never occurs. Even when she’s screaming, breaking every window in the cabin, Hop never references the use of her powers. In fact, in a later scene you can see him struggle with their argument, but not because of her powers, and not once does he tell her or even imply that she shouldn’t be using her powers. He hasn’t take away her Eggos or the TV because she used her powers, but because she threw a “bratty” tantrum. So I’m still not sure why El nods to Kali in this conversation. Was she just going along with Kali to see where the conversation was going? Or just lying in order to feel more connected to Kali? For me, this is the only plot hole in the episode and again, maybe something that will be explored further in future seasons.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly the creators of Strangers Things, Matt and Ross Duffer, admitted that they knew going in that the Eleven centric episode would be a risk and one that they were willing to take. “Eleven’s journey kind of fell apart, like the ending didn’t work, without it.” I would agree. This episode is pivotal in the evolution of El, her powers and eventually I think even farther reaching than just returning her to Hawkins to save the day. I think in the seasons to come we’ll see just how important this episode was for El’s journey.
I hope The Duffer Brothers continue to take these kinds of risks, that’s what great writers do. Even when they miss (slightly), Stranger Things 2 far surpassed any expectations I had for the season. We love the characters and any time spent on their journey is time well spent, and wherever the writers take us, we’re just along for the ride.
In the end, that’s all writers ever hope for…
❤ ❤ ❤