This isn’t the first time we’ve discussed Stranger Things’ “The Gate.” I’ve talked about it countless times and probably watched it twice as much as I’ve talked about it. It’s surprisingly hilarious, it’s full of colossal heart, and it’s the best kind of finale. If God forbid the series had been cancelled and this was the last episode we’d gotten, despite the cliffhanger, I wouldn’t have been angry at the end result.
As noted before: If I loved this episode less, I might be able to talk about it more. In order for a season finale to be successful, it demands to be thrilling and acutely timed to which “The Gate” was all. And especially because it picked up exactly where “The Mind Flayer” left off, it gave writers the chance to explore every possible storyline in order to wrap it up without a harrowing cliffhanger that’d be solely for shock value. Plus, this is the episode with all the hair-raising, heart racing climactic performances, and the birth of “official babysitter/mom with the towel on his shoulder” Steve Harrington. It’s rare for a show’s second season to deliver something even better than the first and it’s especially rare in a science fiction/fantasy genre. We all know it tends to be the worse one of all. The terrible twos, friends. The sophomore slump. It doesn’t exist here.
Stranger Things’ “The Gate” is the best kind of storytelling. Through intriguing action sequences grounded in fight sequences mirroring that of The Karate Kid almost, intrinsic humor, sincere conversations with admirable moments of vulnerability, the natural progression of relationships, and finally, the reminder that there’s more with the hint that Hawkins is under a watchful eye.
We all knew closing the gate would not be that easy, and the reminder that the Mind Flayer is still out there is proof of the fact that there’s still more work to be done. It’s proof that Kali (Eight) will someday have an even bigger storyline. It’s proof that the lights will continue to flicker, but at least, for a moment, or until “Time After Time” ends, the kids can have their solitude in the form of a slow dance.
It’s astounding that Stranger Things’ “The Gate” allows its characters to be kids as best they can given the circumstances while allowing the adults plenty of growth too. Season two evolved Joyce, Hopper, Jonathan, Nancy, and best of all Steve Harrington so pristinely, I’ve (still) yet to see a science fiction or fantasy show achieve this in its sophomore year. And the best part is, it’s organic—there’s nothing forced or over the top, it happens so gradually throughout the entire season, and the last episodes, it’s almost unbelievable still.
I thought maybe it wouldn’t hold up a few years later, but it does. There’s so much unmarred innocence still in this episode even as they each grow to do the impossible, the utterly terrifying. Because at its core, it’s still about the friendships—the right time and the right place and the right people. Protecting these kids, protecting each other is at the height of everyone’s priority. It’s also, and rightly so, an unconventional Christmas episode that pays homage to the very spirit of the holiday—love.
It’s about family, it’s about friends, and it’s about loyalty even in the face of darkness. Stranger Things’ “The Gate” emphasizes the importance of friendships by looking back through memories, paying homage to the loyalty between them, and delivering on the detail that you don’t have to change for anyone. Kids and teenagers taking care of each other in the face of darkness continues to be the running theme throughout, and it serves as a reminder of the fact that no matter where this show goes, they’ll be alright.
(And at least, given today, they are alright still in season three.)
It’s the continuation of sharing cigarettes, quiet vulnerability, and the continuation of shared grief. Hopper saying it gets easier every day then hugging Joyce to cement his support through a physical touch is the right ending to their arc. A sight to see and a moment to adore, it’s a gorgeous part of the episode that showcases the depth of their connection. And ultimately, how in tune they are with one another even on the outside looking in.
Stranger Things’ “The Gate” relies heavily on its character to take the driver’s seat—quite figuratively as well given one of the most iconic scenes to date is still Steve Harrington waking up in a moving car with kids driving. It’s the episode that leaves characters to their own devices, separated before they’re together again, and allows each of them to bring their best to the plot intrinsically.
A strange, winder wonderland sort of delight that balances horror and humor with such organic nuances, it is still a marvel to have witnessed. It’s a perfect episode, does everybody understand that? I said, does everybody understand that? (And hopefully, everybody does because otherwise, I’d throw a towel over my shoulder too.)