TV

An Investigation Into The Most Controversial Episode Of ‘Stranger Things 2’

Is it really as bad as everyone says?

Stranger Things spoilers! Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Stranger Things 2 has been enjoying a fair bit of praise (from both the public and critics) since it dropped on Netflix. People are loving the upped stakes, Dancing Hopper, Bob (Bob!!) and, of course, the hot Australian with a mullet. But there’s one thing that’s drawn almost unanimous ire to the show: season two’s bottle episode, ‘The Lost Sister’.

The episode follows Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) on her quest to discover more about her family and her past, locked up in the nefarious Department of Energy from birth and deprived of a regular kid’s upbringing. In the previous episode, Eleven discovered (from a trip inside her mother’s addled memory) that her time in the Department of Energy was shared with another little girl — that very same girl we met in season two’s confounding opening scene, with some serious mind-bending abilities and a number eight tattooed on her arm.

So Eleven travels to Chicago to find her “lost sister”, this Number Eight, and the usually tight and focused Stranger Things veers off course massively for an episode, introducing Eleven’s “sister” Kali (Linnea Berthelsen) and Kali’s gang of gross punk criminal babies. It is, to put it mildly, a misstep.

The Critical Consensus

Beyond public Twitter griping, the critical response to the episode has not been kind. Vulture’s Devon Ivie wrote of the episode, “It doesn’t fit in, it’s not especially fun on its own, and rather than deepen the season’s characters or expand the world beyond the self-contained alien horrorville of Hawkins, Indiana, it instead highlights the weaknesses you might otherwise be able to ignore.”

The AV Club laments that the episode “could have [and] should have worked”, but that it falters in its construction of Kali’s punk gang, who “look less like an actual gaggle of punks and more like an artist’s rendering of ‘a gaggle of punks’.” And in his in-depth analysis of the specific failure of ‘The Lost Sister’, Hollywood Reporter‘s Daniel Fienberg compared the Gross Punks in Kali’s gang to the awkwardly punk-ish Lost Boys in the movie Hook.

And look, don’t get me wrong here, I love punks! Punk Sunday was my favourite day to work at The Brunswick Hotel when I was a bartender there. But the punks in Stranger Things 2 are gross and weirdly mean. And they’re confusing — how can a man with a very distinctive mohawk commit covert crimes and not be identified? That is bonkers.

Far too distinctive a crew to get any real crimes done tbh.

The episode largely falls flat in how it exacerbates the issue with Eleven herself: she isn’t especially essential to episode-by-episode goings on in Hawkins, which is where the beating heart of Stranger Things lies. ‘The Lost Sister’ also tries to hastily shoehorn a gang of new characters for us to care about, when there’s already a gang of characters we care about back in Hawkins.

Vanity Fair wrote that the episode, “feels like a traditional backdoor pilot, meant to test the waters for a potential spin-off,” and it does (and, for the record, I have absolutely no interest in a Grody Punk spin-off to Stranger Things, thanks). The show does such a good job of evolving its central ensemble by splitting them up, pairing them off in unusual groupings (Dustin and Steve Harrington, for example), then bringing them together as a stronger and more resilient group of heroes to root for.

But splitting Eleven off from the team only serves to highlight how different her narrative is from the rest of Stranger Things. Sure, Millie Bobby Brown is a fine young actor, and she can carry Eleven’s solo storyline, but teaming her up with a gang of Flinders Street Station Punks is not the way to round out and deepen her character.

Because, like, who cares about her virtually inconsequential sojourn in Chicago with the world’s ickiest and most embarrassing gang? And who cares about her makeover into a bratty kohl-daubed Jubilee-style mall punk? (Ok, maybe I like Eleven’s Modern-age X-Men makeover!). It just felt like a long way to go off-road just to slick back her hair and remind her being angry makes her telekinesis stronger — two things show could’ve learned in Hawkins!

Mall Rat Eleven is somehow very similar to X-Men’s derided ’90s teen twerp, Jubilee.

There certainly seems to be a bit of a disconnect in the way many new characters were introduced into Stranger Things 2 (hi, what is the point of that ungodly mulleted racist Billy, aside from his nice booty?), but at least with Billy and Max, and the conspiracy theorist private eye, we didn’t have to journey so far from the Hawkins gang to visit their subplots. (Plus, Billy’s entire job seems to be providing cheap conflict for Max and the Stranger Kids, and to give Steve Harrington the once-a-season beating we’ve come to expect, and I guess that’s fine).

Perhaps one major problem with introducing new characters to the original Stranger Things oeuvre is that the OG team is so confidently rendered, any further additions feel like an intrusion. But ‘Lost Sister’ also feels so wholly pointless as an episode, so impenetrable (largely because the central group is so thoroughly unlikeable), in a short season of television that, for the most part, runs at the speed of a freight train — which is one of the best parts about the series!

The Duffer Defence

The Duffer Bros (the show’s creators) have defended ‘The Lost Sister’ since all this has blown up. The brothers told Entertainment Weekly how proud they were of the episode, explaining, “Whether it works for people or not, it allows us to experiment a little bit.”

Matt Duffer went on, “It’s important for Ross and I to try stuff and not feel like we’re doing the same thing over and over again. It’s almost like doing a whole little other pilot episode in the middle of your season, which is kind of a crazy thing to do. But it was really fun to write and cast and work on.”

Idk, man. You have a job: Stranger Things. Do that job. Bring me your Putrid Punk Pilot another time, please.

The Duffers went on to protest that the series wouldn’t have worked without that episode. “Our test of the episode was we tried to pull it out of the show just to make sure that we needed it because I didn’t want it in there as filler — even though some critics are accusing us of doing that.”

At least they admitted they kinda fucked up Eleven’s season two arc, though. “Eleven’s journey kind of fell apart, like the ending didn’t work, without [‘The Lost Sister’]. So I was like, whether this works or not, we need this building block in here or the whole show is going to collapse. It’s not going to end well. The Mind Flayer is going to take over Hawkins.”

Either way, a few people actually really enjoyed Eleven’s Punk Adventure, and are more than vocal about it online:

While others think the defence of ‘Lost Sister’ is just fans trying to justify a misstep in their beloved pop culture artefact:

Go figure. In my humble opinion, it’s still a shit episode, but different strokes for different folks, hey!

Stranger Things is streaming now on Netflix.

Matilda Dixon-Smith is Junkee’s Staff Writer. She tweets at @mdixonsmith