Stranger Things: The Flea and the Acrobat – Welcome to Stephen King Land (Review)

The flea and the acrobat explanation

Stranger Things “The Flea and the Acrobat” slipped fully into “Stephen King Land.” It was  a welcome move as this show has managed to pay homage to more “classic” films  and video games per square inch of footage than any other series on offer.  King has been referenced from the start.

Although there are glimpses of Silent Hill and   Firestarter (amongst others)  this episode gave a huge nod to Event Horizon.  (In that 1997 film, Sam Neill’s character explains traveling between worlds by folding a piece of paper in half and then punching a pen through it.  In episode six,  Mr. Clarke does the same demonstration but with a paper plate.)

Heading back to Stephen King Land again,  we only have to look at the main characters to see a mirroring of KIng’s worlds.  The main protagonists are children.  There are some adults  who get it, or get being kids, (like Clarke’s understanding of Dungeons & Dragons).  But ultimately we know that it will  be the youngsters who save the day.

Wynona Ryder’s character is a savvy mum who knows the mind of a child, probably the real reason she and the boy’s father do not get on, and while she “sees” things correctly she has only just now found a champion.

Chief Hopper, who obviously has cojones the size of Texas, has become a one man investigator and is Joyce Byers’ knight in shining armor.  Unlike her parasitic ex-husband Lonnie (Ross Partridge) who turns up for the funeral as a prelude to a payday. (We are not talking about a candy bar here.)

The older kids, Nancy and Jonathan; Will’s brother, are also “in” on the problem. Although it looks like Nancy could well turn out to be the creature’s  next happy meal at the end of this episode.

Things are not looking too good  for the younger members of the “Upside-down Club” either.  After a brilliant homage to the Stephen King film version of “The Body” (Stand by Me)  the quartet have a major falling out. Lucas attacks Mike when he realizes that El was messing with the compasses all along.

El flings Lucas off of Mike and it knocks the angry boy out. When he comes to, Lucas stomps off and Eleven goes missing.

In many ways the children in Stranger Things are ethereal twins to King’s   “Losers Club” in It. The gang is smaller, El has special powers and there is no  Pennywise the Clown. There are  no “floating” moments here. But there are other worlds and they are dark, scary and  deadly. This small group of kids will be the ones to save Will.

Hopper, who discovers the entrance to the upside-down world, is spared and returned to his home by the lake. His house has been bugged, as has the school and, presumably, the Byers home.  Big brother is doing more than watching, he is listening in.  Brenner knows that the kids are close to figuring this mystery out.

What his next move will be is uncertain, but thus far manufacturing a fake child’s body to cover up a disappearance has not presented a problem for the good doctor. The scientists, aka  the government, have also moved Barb’s car to make it look like she ran away from home.

The parallels between Stranger Things and Stephen King abound. The physical discomfort and nose bleeds of El when she uses her “powers” is very much like Charley’s father’s reaction to “pushing” in Firestarter. Nancy being a better shot than Jonathan is similar to Beverly’s ability with the slingshot in “It.”

Mainly though it is the kids. A number  of KIng’s tales deal with the children  as protagonists. “It,” “The Shining,” “Firestarter” and “The Body” to name but a few.  This series with a group of kids who are using Dungeons & Dragons as a way to face the monster  is as close to a King story as one can get.

This last episode brings a new level of disturbing to the series. Children, it seems, are expendable and easily gotten rid of; a fake body, a moved car.  Adults, as we saw earlier with the cook/eatery owner, are as well but in a different way.

Hopper, when he wakes up in his trailer is surrounded by empty pill containers and beer bottles. Brenner and his crew know enough about the local lawman that they have set him up. It will not be surprising at all to see the chief “knocked off” via an overdose later on.

By the end of “The Flea and the Acrobat” we see that Hopper and Joyce have become allies.  Mr. Clarke is a pretty cool teacher, Nancy has discovered a way into upside-down world and Lonnie has been chased away by Will’s mother.  It is also revealed that Brenner and his team are listening in to the entire town.

Stranger Things is streaming  on Netflix and fans are welcome to watch the entire series in one sitting.  For those who do not want this brilliant show to end too soon, it can be watched one episode at at time.


Author: Mike's Film Talk

Former Actor, Former Writer, Former Journalist, USAF Veteran, Former Member Nevada Film Critics Society

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