Well dang, they went for it. I won’t say anymore until the end of the review, but in the immortal words of Jack Shephard: “We have to go back.” For many, the developments surrounding Lovers’ Lake will be the main takeaway from Chapter Six. It could be argued, however, that it is the human elements that underline the defining horror of the season thus far.
Director: Nimród Antal
Writers: Curtis Gwin, (Matt Duffer; Ross Duffer, creators)
Runtime: 75 minutes
US Release: May 27, 2022; Netflix
“The Dive” is largely split between the Hawkins gang and El’s (Millie Bobby Brown) continued work with Papa (Matthew Modine) on the Nina Project. The latter involves El’s exploration of her subconscious; as Papa says, the key to regaining her powers is to remember all the lab memories she has long suppressed. There’s a reason these violent memories were buried deep, so going into them naturally brings up associated trauma.
As we learn more about El’s past, we are introduced to the bullying she suffered as a child at the laboratory. She was physically and verbally abused by a gang of peers. It mirrors her experience in Lenora Hills at the hands of Angela (Elodie Grace Orkin); you begin understanding the pained social outcast associated with her character.
Meanwhile, the Hawkins police, with no credible explanations about the violent deaths befalling local teenagers, struggle to appease an anxious crowd of townspeople. Sensing an opportunity, Jason (Mason Dye) speaks up. His talents for motivational speaking are established early in the season. Now traumatized by the deaths of Chrissy (Grace Van Dien) and Patrick (Myles Truitt), he wields these skills with dangerous results. As Jason sees it, the Hawkins curse is a result of supernatural evil. He claims that Eddie Munson (Joseph Quinn) and his Hellfire Club are vessels for the devil’s work. As the parents of Dustin, Lucas, and Mike listen with grim unease, their neighbors are taken in by Jason’s conviction. The police are rendered toothless as Jason succeeds in galvanizing the townspeople to search for the Hellfire Club themselves.
Perhaps more than any other scene in the series, this formation of mob-justice is the most unsettling. It disturbingly shows how quickly rational people can fall prey to their fears. Jason, to his credit, is not wrong about the supernatural evil. But he doesn’t understand the whole picture, nor has he shown willingness to. His safe, traditional world has been rocked by something he cannot explain outside the confines of religion. Again, not wrong, but to place blame so quickly on a group of kids and then whip up a mob to hunt them down? That is a dangerous course of action; but unfortunately the fear it stems from – the fear of what we don’t understand – is very human one.
From the introduction of the Hellfire Club, Stranger Things reflects the social anxieties of the mid-1980s. The Reagan presidency ushered in a deeply conservative movement in the United States in response to the perceived moral crisis affecting children. As show in Season Four, Dungeons & Dragons was seen warily by many. Music, especially heavy metal, was notoriously put through the Congressional wringer in 1985. Members of Congress and the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) – led by Tipper Gore – made a crusade of examining “offensive” messaging in recorded music. Musicians such as Frank Zappa, John Denver, and Dee Snider of Twisted Sister testified in defense of their free speech and artistic license. Nonetheless, the moral crusaders won their fight and gave us the ubiquitous “Parent Advisory” sticker on deserving albums.
As seen in the backlash to supposedly un-Christian messaging in 1980s pop culture, religion played a key role. Especially a brand of fiery evangelism that grew in prominence after its integral role in Reagan’s conservative coalition. Jason in Stranger Things is the poster-child for this movement. Religious undertones have been building since Chapter Three and it is an intriguing element to the broader story. Clearly Vecna is the villain to be defeated, but what damage can Jason’s mob inflict? How do you stop so many minds convinced of one zealot’s misguided narrative? An answer for the skinless demon may be easier than the other.
by Vincent S. Hannam