Dr. Brenner and crew are closing in on our boy wonders and Eleven, our intrepid superhero. The opening scene shows Lucas warning Mike, Dustin, and Eleven that the bad men are coming for them. Thus proceeds one of the most enjoyable chase scenes on TV in quite a while: power and light repair vehicles chasing after their targets on bikes. The vans surround them and a game of chicken takes place right before Eleven flips the van in the air over them, blocking the remaining vans behind the wreck. All of this with her telekinetic powers. In the wake of this moment, Lucas, Mike, and Eleven move past their anger and distrust of each other and they become united in community and purpose once again. The opening credits and that terrific 80s synth score then open the show as Lucas and Mike shake hands.
It is an emotional moment and quite possibly the quintessential scene to sum up this episode. Up until this point, the kids, the teenagers and the adults were attempting to solve the same puzzle largely unaware and apart from each other. However, in this episode we see the loose strands of this search party forced together. Everyone is now on the same page, with the same purpose and now they’ll have a fighting chance at making it out of this situation alive and maybe even with those lost, found.
I find it to be rather beautiful that this newly forged community’s first united act revolves around a type of…well, baptism. After a failed attempt to reach Will and Barb through the walkie talkie, Eleven let’s them know that she would be able to find them in the Upside Down in the “bathtub.” A flashback shows Papa (Dr. Brenner) putting Elle in the sensory deprivation water tank where she finds herself in an Under The Skin-like void. She finds the monster there, she touches it and it turns and threatens her and she screams. Her screams induce a psychic power that created the gate in which the monster was able to crossover into Hawkins. Her suggestion of this as the means by which she needs to find and speak to Will and Barb is a suggestion of sacrifice for her. She is facing her own fear and her own part in all of the trouble that taken place.
The bathtub is created out of a kiddie pool, 1500 pounds of rock salt and science class goggles covered with duct tape. This recreated water tank unlike the one in the Department of Energy building is accompanied by people who actually care about Eleven unlike Dr. Brenner in Eleven’s flashbacks. I called this act a type of baptism because as Eleven steps into both water tanks, there is a sense that she is a tool to be used, denied of her humanity. However, unlike Dr. Brenner’s tank and her calling him “Papa,” she comes out of the kiddie pool with a mother in Joyce who wraps her arms around her, draws her in and comforts her. She comes out of the water with a family, showcasing the false father that she once had known. Her position is shifted at this point in the episode. She is no longer a tool being used by cold and uncaring scientists and researchers, but loved and humanized by people who actually care if she lives or dies.
It seems this baptism around “the savior” in the episode parallels the Biblical stories surrounding the baptism of Christ. It was his baptism which solidified the means and focus of his being and mission for those around him. The act of baptism in the Gospels also created a unity for those who followed Christ as well. In much the same way, the savior of Stranger Things is placed in water and comes out creating a unity of mission and focus for all involved in the happenings of Hawkins, Indiana.
From this point on, a weird thing happens: the group once again splits. Hopper and Joyce go to the Department of Energy lab to get to the portal again (and are caught in the final scene of the episode), Nancy and Jonathan decide to trap the monster and our boy wonders continue to protect Eleven at the middle school. Before the baptism, all of these strands were loose and parallel, but after the baptism, there was a change. Each of the “apostles” go out from the school, now, with a sense of the bigger picture (still blurry and darkly, but a picture nonetheless) and are working in their spheres towards a common goal. The strands now tied a tighter together in the strong tapestry of mission and focus.
It is fitting, then, that the episode is called “The Bathtub” as it becomes the symbol of solidarity for all of the characters of Stranger Things. They now have the unity and force of will they need to come up against the monster and the government in the final episode. By the time the black screen comes and the credits roll on episode seven, the audience isn’t sure how it will all work out. The tension is palpable, but there is a sense that our heroes actually have a shot at coming up against the conflict that is broiling up on the horizon.