Chapter Eight is about as bland as its title. But considering how the finale promises to be more than explosive, it’s not the worst content in the world. Nonetheless, after seven episodes ranging from solid to stellar, “Papa” overstays its welcome and becomes the first episode to not justify its runtime.
Director: Matt Duffer, Ross Duffer
Writers: Caitlin Schneiderhan, (Matt Duffer; Ross Duffer, creators)
Runtime: 85 minutes
US Release: July 1, 2022; Netflix
Most of the story revolves around El (Millie Bobby Brown) reckoning with her relationship with Papa (Matthew Modine). More than ever, he presents his manipulative idea of fatherhood. Papa claims more than once that everything he has done was for El’s best interests; finally El calls him out on his malarkey. She understands that however persuasive Papa may be, her friends are in danger. She is motivated more than ever to escape Papa and in doing so, escape her past once and for all. It is an important metaphor and vital to El’s character arch. Overall, however, it feels too expected and therefore less cathartic than it should be. As Papa dies in the desert, asking for forgiveness from El’s defiant eyes, we can’t help but pay more attention to the gaping bullet hole in his chest than anything else. Of course Papa is going to die; of course El won’t forgive him; because Papa has never done anything to illicit sympathy, from her or us. His M.O. is presiding fondly, yet distantly, over the children; he is also a master manipulator. Chapter Eight checks a box with Papa’s death, but Season Four did not invest enough into his humanity to make us care.
Meanwhile in Hawkins, the gang prepares to battle Vecna (Jamie Campbell Bower). Nancy (Natalia Dyer) plays ringleader and decides it’s best to return to the Upside Down guns blazing. Saving her bravado from downright camp is Robin (Maya Hawke) who wisely points out the absurdity of such a plan. Everyone nods but ultimately agrees with Nancy. There’s just no other choice; they have to do something while we all wait for Eleven arrive.
Chapter Eight also jumps back to the Surfer Boy Pizza crew road tripping through the desert. The most important development here is the evolving relationship between Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and Will (Noah Schnapp). “Development” and “evolving”, however, are used loosely; once again they seemingly have the same conversation as every other interaction. Mike angsts about not being good enough for El and Will desperately tries to convey his feelings for Mike. These are monumental character traits, yet the potential ramifications for each is hampered by soapy dialogue. Wolfhard and Schnapp have not had decent material all season; the screenwriters continue writing these two as how they think angsty teenagers sound, rather than how real human beings genuinely sound when they are heartbroken. It’s nice seeing these boys finally getting into the game, but it’s a shame they’ve been relegated to plot devices.
The only thing left to wonder is how are they going to reach Hawkins in time? The same can be said for our friends in Soviet Russia… that, however, will have to wait. Not much happens and so unlike the episode, I am going to recognize that more can be less. Despite necessary plot development, “Papa” seems perfunctory. It succeeds in setting up the finale, but could have done so in half the time.
by Vincent S. Hannam