I love Stranger Things. The first season was fantastic and was the greatest new show I discovered last year. The second season has completely surpassed it, exceeding my expectations and much more. Now that I’ve finished it has left me feeling thirsty for more. To help quench my thirst I’ll look up interviews, behind the scenes videos and stories about the production. I’ll dabble in funniest of memes and ponder the craziest of fan theories. But recently I have come across an unusual debate over episode seven, with the majority of the fandom seemingly hating it. Here we go again (and of course spoilers will follow).
Critics did not pull their punches here. They hated the Pittsburgh setting and the different feel it had from the rest of the series. They hated Kali’s motivation, calling it lackluster and cliché, while disliking the style of the character. They hated Kali’s crew, calling them cardboard cutouts that only existed to be in the background. Most of all they called the episode a distraction or detour from the main story, where the previous episode had left everything on a cliff hanger. Haters are going to hate I guess.
In defense of episode seven I don’t think it’s any worse than the others. It seems every third episode in this season would end with something climatic or important. If anything it was the perfect break off point to have after the cliffhanger of episode six. There is a certain rhythm this season has and I believe episode seven only helped maintain it. If episode seven wouldn’t have existed the story would still work (they could make it easy enough for Eleven to find her friends quicker). However it would also make the season feel rushed as if something was missing, which I am not a fan of.
Many people also called this a filler episode, one that is unnecessary and one that takes you out of the story. First of all people need to quit whining about that. A nine episode season of a TV show in 2017 is a unicorn. Shows on average are 20 episodes or more per season; you don’t get to see a short and consistent setup that Stranger Things brings too often. For these fans out there crying “filler episode” they need to calm down and stop acting so spoiled. Go watch Breaking Bad, the Walking Dead, or Shameless and only then can you talk to me about “filler episodes.”
The hatred against Kali’s story and her crew also seem unwarranted. I liked Kali’s character and how much of a foil she is to Eleven. Both are powerful psychics that gained their powers through torture and enslavement, but have different viewpoints. Eleven is still very new to the open world but has thankfully been shown kindness and love from some great people. Kali, a bit older and more street wise, seems to have never been shown any genuine affection. That is why Kali is motivated more by revenge, rather than compassion and understanding that Eleven has. If anything Kali is an example of whom Eleven could have become under the right circumstances. It’s an interesting dynamic.
Kali’s crew, fellow misfits like herself, seem to also feed into her need for revenge. This could also be seen a case study of staying within a toxic environment to reinforce your beliefs. We don’t get much time with her crew and while they could come off as flat this could be fixed in season 3. Some critics didn’t like their punk motif, calling it a cheap imitation of The Warriors. Personally I love the punk style and I love The Warriors even more. An imitation or homage to that film is not a bad thing at all. If anything the visual clash breathes something fresh into this series. With Kali mentoring Eleven on the use of her powers and Eleven getting her own “punk” makeover, it could all be seen as a metaphor. The punk style is a huge symbol of rebellion and general wildness. Maybe it represents Eleven, who after being sheltered and hidden most her life from the outside world, is slowly going to break free.
I think the most important thing this episode does is it expands the universe even more, laying groundwork and context for the future seasons. Since Stranger Things is getting bigger with each passing year this kind of setup is required to sustain the show. There was always the hint of more gifted children than Eleven so Kali’s inclusion makes sense. I don’t think it would have been possible to introduce Kali in the small town of Hawkins. Bringing her in with the tough urban setting, which could be seen as metaphor to her gritty survivalist nature, was a great choice that fits. I support the Duffer brother’s decision to do this episode, despite wide spread criticism. As long as the writing is still good I can only hope for what future seasons bring.
On an unrelated note this debate surprisingly reminds of the anime Cowboy Bebop. Bebop is an amazing 26 episode sci-fi anime. While the show is very consistent most fans all universally hate episode 21, Boogie Woogie Feng Shui, for one reason or another. I am one of the few out there that likes that particular episode (I find it gets better on its second or third viewing). It’s a weird episode that is more philosophy and concept that actual guided story telling. It’s definitely a weird episode but not the worst by far. Much like Stranger Things 2 episode seven I don’t think Bebop episode 21 deserves the hate it gets. Perhaps unconventional and different episodes in a TV show are doomed to wide spread criticism. An argument could also be made that once a few people get abrasive with their criticisms a whole fandom will follow suit with a mob mentality. Then again I might be reading too much into this; maybe I just like underappreciated episodes.