Spoilers for Stranger Things up until the second to last episode
I gave up about halfway through Stranger Things’ seventh episode this season, “The Lost Sister.” It was a bottle episode feature Eleven visiting a ragtag bunch of 80s punk runaways in Chicago in an attempt to find another teen raised at the lab with her. It was cheesier than an after school special, complete with a ridiculous backdrop featuring lots of graffiti, mohawks and a cast of characters that seemed like cardboard cutouts. A friend finished watching it for me and told me that I didn’t miss anything and that I would have only been more pissed off if I invested the time. Then, when I got to the penultimate episode (I never get a chance to use that word!) I couldn’t finish it either. So I’m still halfway through the second to last episode and am just not motivated to finish the show.
Many people feel the same as me and there are think pieces about what a sh-tty throwaway capsule episode that was. The Onion even did a story about it. In case you were wondering, creators the Duffer brothers revealed that they considered scrapping that episode but decided to keep it because it told essential backstory for Eleven or something. Plus, it surely cost a lot of money to make. The writer credited with this episode was Jason Doble. He wrote two episodes last season and only this one this season. Was this terrible episode his idea or did he take the fall for the team? Judging from the Duffer’s comments, it was a group decision. Here’s what they told Entertainment Weekly about “The Lost Sister”:
Creators Ross and Matt Duffer knew that this risk would lead to debate. “Whether it works for people or not, it allows us to experiment a little bit,” says Matt. “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.”
And while it’s a jarring departure from previous episodes, the Duffers say it was necessary. “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. But Eleven’s journey kind of fell apart, like the ending didn’t work, without it. 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.”
Adds Ross, “That Eleven story line overall is sort of the biggest risk we took. We’re going to continue to do risks moving forward to keep us on our toes. I didn’t want her to just magically save the day. Just like Luke Skywalker, she needed to go off on her own and learn something about herself.”
This reminds me of how the Walking Dead showrunners kept defending their poor choices and promising there would be a payoff, which of course pissed off fans. The ratings this season have been the lowest ever for that series as many people subsequently gave up on it. (WD is still doing astronomically well though and I would suspect it will be the same for ST, which is less subject to ratings and fan opinions as it airs on Netflix.) Would it kill showrunners to admit that they made a misstep, to say that they hear and understand fans and that they’re going to self correct in the future? Instead the Duffers are doubling down in the face of criticism and promise they’re going to keep doing what they want. There’s a difference between taking risks and taking the show in a completely different direction that feels inauthentic and doesn’t fit with the storyline and characters.