Everything is becoming clearer to the different Stranger Things groups in “Chapter Five: The Flayed,” and with clarity comes DANGER.
After spending the night in the hospital waiting for doctors to run tests on Mrs. Driscoll (Peggy Miley), Nancy (Natalia Dyer) wakes Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) in search of Will (Noah Schnapp). She recognizes the things she saw the previous night, and she wants to know that Will is safe– and to find out what he knows.
The lovers overcome the tension between them to track down the kids at Mike’s (Finn Wolfhard) house, where they quickly compare notes and come to the conclusion that the Mind Flayer has Mrs. Driscoll. From there, they make the leap that if she and Billy (Dacre Montgomery) are both flayed, there must be others. Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) immediately identifies Heather (Francesca Reale) as flayed, and when Nancy and Jonathan hear which Heather she means, they realize that her dad / their boss, Tom (Michael Park), must be as well.
All seven kids pile into a station wagon and head to the Holloway house to search for clues. When they arrive, the house is freezing, and there’s evidence of a struggle. In addition to the dining room looking like a messed-up version of what Max (Sadie Sink) and Elle saw there when they visited, all of the cleaning chemicals in the kitchen are ripped apart. They follow the trail of destruction through the house and into the garage, which is where the Holloways were clearly tied up and transported away from the house.
They confirm with Will that he never ate chemicals when the Mind Flayer had him, which means that the creature has changed somehow. They decide it must be based somewhere and that if Mrs. Driscoll kept shouting that she had to “get back,” maybe they can sneak her out of the hospital and follow her to the Flayer.
Next stop is the hospital. Only two visitors are allowed into a room at a time, so Nancy and Jonathan leave the younger kids in the lobby and head up to Mrs. Driscoll’s room. They make up in the elevator, with Nancy apologizing for the mean things she said and Jonathan admitting that he was wrong. When they get to Mrs. Driscoll’s floor, there’s clearly something amiss. The halls are eerily quiet and empty, and alarm lights over patient rooms are going unnoticed.
It should be no surprise to them when they find the old lady’s bed empty.
What is surprising is Tom Holloway appearing in the doorway, covered with blood and expressing satisfaction that Nancy has returned.
Nancy and Jonathan run for it, but there’s another flayed coworker on their trail: Bruce (Jake Busey)! They duck into a part of the hospital that looks abandoned / under construction. The lighting is worse, the equipment is strewn about randomly and there are curtains and tarps aplenty to rustle or disappear behind.
Bruce catches up to them as they lock themselves in a room and try calling for help. Unfortunately, the nurse on duty downstairs doesn’t see the incoming call. Bruce breaks through the door and attacks them. Jonathan manages to create an opportunity for Nancy to escape, and she runs for it with Bruce following.
Tom steps in to continue the fight with Jonathan, and eventually two battles are raging in separate parts of the floor. Nancy is hiding behind exam curtains with a fire extinguisher she grabbed, and when Bruce catches up with her, she uses it to bash his skull in and kill him.
The injuries Nancy inflicts on Bruce are mirrored on Tom, saving Jonathan from him. As Jonathan breaks free, he stabs his boss in the throat with scissors and the older man falls to the ground dead.
Moments later, both men’s bodies start convulsing and melting. They become gelatinous, like the rat from Mrs. Driscoll’s basement. Their slimy remains slink into the hallway, with Nancy and Jonathan trailing cautiously behind, and merge into one big, slimy thing. The thing takes shape. The lights go out, leaving only the red, emergency lights to hint at what’s happening. And then the Mind Flayer is there, screeching at Nancy and Jonathan through terrible fangs.
Downstairs, the lights flicker and Will goes on alert. He realizes the Mind Flayer is active in the hospital, and as he looks towards the floors above where his brother has gone, the others notice him and follow his gaze.
Meanwhile, Joyce (Winona Ryder) and Hopper (David Harbour) finally find what they believe to be the home of the machine that’s making magnets fall. Under a farm house on one of the properties on their list, they discover two men working on some kind of machine in a glossy bunker. Before they get a chance to explore more, the thug who beat up Hopper appears and goes for round two.
They manage to escape him, with one of the two men in cuffs as their best lead on what’s going on. We recognize the man, Alexei (Alec Utgoff), as the one who took over the Russian project when his predecessor failed in the first episode. With the thug following them, they speed Alexei away until their car craps out and they’re forced to walk through woods full of singing, buzzing bugs.
Alexei figures out how to reach the road, and in addition to grabbing hella snacks from the 7-11 they find there, they also “commandeer” a car. Hopper drives them to Illinois, to the compound of paranoiac Murray Bauman (Brett Gelman), the only Russian-speaker he knows.
Murray delays letting them in while he searches Alexei, but Joyce loses patience. She reams Murray, explaining from her perspective what their problem is and demanding that he help get this man to explain why her magnets fell of her fridge. Crazy recognizes crazy, and Murray stands aside to let them enter.
While all of this drama unfolds on the surface, Erica (Priah Ferguson), Robin (Maya Hawke), Steve (Joe Keery) and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) are stuck in an elevator hundreds of feet underground. They deduce that the doors require a key card to open, so they try climbing out the top and Erica experiments with forcing the tube of green stuff open to find out if it’s useful.
Finally, some men come to retrieve boxes and the kids are able to escape before the door closes because Steve shoves the green stuff tube under it. They squeeze through the opening it creates, and as soon as they’re all out safely, the tube is crushed by the door and the substance disintegrates everything it comes in contact with like some kind of acid.
They start hoofing it down a long hallway, contemplating the genius of the Russians apparently building the mall exclusively as a front for moving supplies into the tunnels and off to their real destination. Robin’s only question is why they would do it in Hawkins, and Steve and Dustin stop short. They realize that this must somehow be related to their previous adventures.
As they get further down the hallway, their walkie-talkie starts picking up the coded Russian transmission again, which means that they’re near the communications hub and that they know a signal can reach the surface from there.
They’re caught off guard by arriving at a hallway full of Russian soldiers and various workers, and Erica spots what she believes is the comms room through a closing door. They make their way stealthily towards the door and sprint through it when someone exits the room. Steve manages to overpower the one comms tech left behind, winning his first fight in front of Dustin.
Robin goes exploring and discovers something up a flight of stairs: a control room overlooking THE MACHINE. The kids gather at a window, watching the Russians loading the green acid into a giant ray gun thing and blasting a blue beam of light into a growing crack. The Russians are definitely trying to open the gate to the Upside Down.
P.S. Can we take a moment to appreciate getting to see Jake Busey on a murderous rampage in an abandoned hospital? What a fun throwback to The Frighteners!