The first episode of Stranger Things, The Vanishing of Will Byers, starts in Hawkins, Indiana, in 1983, in Hawkins’s National Laboratory. There, some scientist is running from something like I have rarely seen someone run, whoever this actor is either must have prepared for this one scene months in advance, or there really was some asshole running after him. He sadly doesn’t make it and is grabbed and presumably killed in the elevator.
We then meet the four young boys who will be much of the focus of the episode and, to be very frank, who are the ones who steal the show. I personally have always adored seeing great child actors in scary movies, who are given the chance to play kids as kids should be. We’ve got Michael, Dustin, Lucas and Will, they are playing what I quickly assumed to be Dungeon and Dragons or some games of the sort, and Michael isn’t here to fuck around, he doesn’t think this is a fucking game. It’s getting late and Michael’s mother breaks their 10 hours long run to remind them that they need to leave her house asap, and so they do.
Michael’s sister, Nancy, doesn’t appreciate Dustin’s creepiness so he calls her a douchebag. Will, being a good kid, decides to let Michael know that Lucas and Dustin were planning on cheating and leaves to bike home. Each of the boys get home, while Will remains out there, passing through some restricted area. There, the light on his bike stops working, creepy noise spooks him and he crashes through some trees. The scene that follow did give me the spookies for a while, largely because there is something quite nerve-racking about seeing a scared child run through the woods and into his house, realize he is alone, and then spots something at the edge of the woods, something that is coming towards his house, something that is coming for him. He attempts to call someone, his mom perhaps, or maybe the police, but instead the creature seems to be the one to respond, and growls at will while standing behind the locked door. Will runs to hide in the shed to harm himself with that looked like a shotgun, but it is of no help as the monster is already there and leaves Will so profoundly afraid that he remains motionless and silent, and is taken away. We jump to some shirtless guy who seems to be waking up front a rough night, he drinks a beer or two and it is revealing that, ta da, this is the sheriff. Nice.
Back in Will’s house, his mom played by OMG WINONA TYDER HI IT’S BEEN SO LONG and his brother, who are both wondering where the hell Will is. Surprisingly, instead of waiting around, Will’s mother, Joyce, follows her gut, and her gut is telling that something is wrong. We see the boys at school, kids are racist and ableist assholes, and teenage girls like sex GASP. Hopper, our possibly alcoholic sheriff, finally arrives at work and is a dick to his secretary who seems to be the only one trying to do her job.
Apparently, a missing kid isn’t a big deal to Hopper, so he is quite taken aback when a worried mother is already in his office wondering why the fuck she had to wait an hour to talk to an officer. Hopper blows her off, acts like kids don’t disappear, get kidnapped or murdered, shows no concern for her feelings and instead asks her to contact her ex-husband to see if Will perhaps has run away there. She complains but promises to do so, she just wants her child home.
At the laboratory, a bunch of dudes arrive to inspect the section and room where the incident took place the night before, remember that scientist, the one who should have been in the Olympics? There they find some Resident Evil type monster and seem to be completely unfazed, simply wondering “Where is the girl?” Which suddenly sparks a lot of curiosity and interest for me. Who is that girl? Yeah, where is that girl? The girl in question is a young child, shaved head, androgynous look, that seems to have been running through he woods all night and has now found a dinner. Upon observing what seems to be the owner, she gets in and finds some fries to munch on before she is caught. I’m both uncomfortable and intrigued.
Back in school again with Michael, Lucas and Dustin, the boys are playing with some sort of radio until they are interrupted by Hopper and some other cops to be questioned about Will’s possible whereabouts. The guys talk about a street with a name from Lord of the Rings, Dustin corrects Lucas that it is from the Hobbit, everyone complains, I like Dustin. The boys are asked not to go looking for Will as it could be dangerous, but everyone knows kids don’t give a fuck.
Meanwhile, Joyce is reminiscing about a time when she came to see Will in his secret lair. (any kid that has a secret lair and whose password is “Radagast” is one incredibly fucking cool kid). Sadly, she returns to reality and Will isn’t in his lair, I feel for her.
In the dinner, the owner, Benny, has made a burger for our mysterious little girl, and she is hungry, which he notices. He attempts to ask her a few questions, and although I was a little nervous at his attempt to blackmail information from her through refusing to feed her, he did seem to soften a little when he noticed an “11” tattooed on her arm, and when she pointed at herself, making it clear that she is “11”. He calls the police, or possibly child services, and explains his worries that she has been abused and that someone should come to care for her. “11” reveals some telekinesis powers and stops a fan that was making the kind of annoying noise that keeps me awake at night.
At the edge of the road where Will first fell, Hopper & some other cops find his bike, and they begin to take his disappearance a little more seriously. They go to Joyce’s house to update her on their discovery, and Hopper begins to notice some strange things around the house, holes, the dog’s anxiety as he barks at the shed, and the ammunition scattered on the shed’s desk. There, he experiences an uneasy feeling, hears things, and he decides to start a search into the woods.
In Michael’s house, his parents continue to be quite shitty, showing a lot of apathy towards his friend’s disappearance, particularly his father who, to be honest, doesn’t seem to give a fuck about anything at all. Michael wants to look for his friend, Nancy wants to get dirty with her boyfriend, their mother just wants everyone to stay home because the night is full of terrors.
As the search starts in the woods, the boy’s science teacher meets Hopper and attempts to spark a casual conversation about how much Will is a good student and a good boy. Hopper says he never liked science. Mr. Clark tells him that he most likely had a shitty teacher, he turns out to be right. By the end of the conversation, and as someone gently approaches Mr. Clark, we learn that Hopper had a child, and that she has died many years ago. I’m intrigued. The boys, as we all expected, decide to go look for Will in the woods because he was a great teammate in D&D (or whatever it was) and I smiled because friendship is nice.
At the dinner, Benny the owner continues to be an absolutely amazing guy, letting “11” go at it on a box of ice cream, making conversation, and generally being sweet in caring. There is a knock on the door of the dinner, “11” is startled, but Benny reassures her that he’ll tell whoever to fuck off and be right back. It turns out that it is social services, which I didn’t believe for a second not only because this is TV writing, but because social services would take days, weeks, not a few hours to show up on location, but hey, whatever. As Benny leads the woman to the kitchen, she shoots him in cold blood, and two men block “11”’s passage as she attempts to run away through the backdoor. But “11” isn’t your regular kid and knocks them out cold.
The boys arrive to the woods, Dustin gets a bad feeling, they call him some misogynistic insult as they have been doing all episode, so he decides to stay with them.
In Michael and Nancy’s house, Nancy’s boyfriend gets in her room through the window because he really cares about her grades, and then tries to pressure her into sex. Her discomfort is clear, and is present for a lot for various reasons, and he eventually backs off and continues to study. Which she doesn’t really seem to need, but hey, teenage years.
Back with Joyce and her son, they boy are looking for a picture of Will to, I assume, use for missing posters. They aren’t doing too good, and it is a very touching scene. She tries to hold onto the feeling in her gut that her son isn’t far away, while experiencing guilt and regret that maybe she hasn’t been present enough in the lives of both of her sons. I empathize on a deep level, being a single mother without any help is a very hard thing, and I appreciated this look into her life, her struggles, her emotions. When the phone rings, Joyce rushes to it, and the scene that follows truly did scare me. There is a breathing on the other side of a line, an odd type of breathing, and Joyce calls out Will’s name, convinced that it is her son. There, a growl begins, deep, which then turns into a screech, Joyce’s helpless cries break my heart as the screech grows louder and more aggressive until the phone electrocutes her. It is a hard scene to watch, and a good reminder that something
supernatural is going on, and not a simple kidnapping.
The episode ends with Michael, Lucas and Dustin watching through the woods as rain pours onto them. They hear noises, are worried, turn and turn, until they are face to face with a drenched “11”. The episode ends.
Usually, pilot episodes are some of the most important episodes for TV shows. This is how you get people hooked, this is when you spark an interest, a curiosity, this is where things start. This first episode of Stranger Things did exactly this for me, I am curious, I am intrigued, I want to know what it is that happened to Will, what happened and what is that thing in Hawkins National Laboratory, and who is “11”, what was done to her, what is she running from, and who are this people.
For all of these curiosities, and for actually making me stop taking notes because I wanted to give my complete attention, this episode gets a perfect note from me.