Acting: Natalia Dyer is bringing me down, man. The girl seems to have two acting modes - vaguely perky and vaguely confused. David Harbour is doing a decent job of keeping Hopper an interesting character. Winona Ryder was channelling Richard Dreyfus in CEotTK pretty hard, and in a good way. She did a fair job as coming across as 'really obsessed' rather than just loopy. Cara Buono is the hidden gem of acting in the show, BTW.
Cinematography: Continued great use of lighting, movement, blocking, etc. I can only say 'the cinematographer is really good' so many ways.
Editing: Continues the downward slide seen in last episode. The opening editing in particular was a mess, but this might be because the director demanded it. Hard to say, since some of the later cuts were confusing and jarring.
Directing: I was taught that under-acting is the fault of the actor, over-acting is the fault of the director. We are edging up on the director needing to get a grip on his actors. Ryder is doing OK, but Caleb McLaughlin is edging up on hamminess.
Characters: Hoo-boy. A real mess. I am trying to avoid reading other reviews, but I can't help but notice Joyce gets a lot of grief and Ryder's performance is often pointed to. In my opinion those aren't the issues. These are the issues;
Nancy is developing into an unlikeable character; she drags her friend to party her friend doesn't want to go to, then ditches her, then loses her virginity to a guy that has been acting like he is on the Jerk Squad, and varsity; she lies to her mother for no real reason other than to lie; her continuing lies mean no one knows her 'best friend' is missing when her kid brother's friend is missing and the focus of a manhunt at the same time; she didn't twig to the fact that her new beau hangs out with real bad people. Unfortunately, not only is the character doing terribly immoral things for no discernible reason, she is played by about the weakest actor in the cast.
Lucas is developing into an unlikeable character. He yells ALL THE TIME; he insults people all the time; he is starting to get physical with his friends. He is acting like a bully, which is unlikeable.
Steve starts out letting the girl he just seduced find her own way home in the middle of the night. Then we end up with him teaming up with his jerk friend to threaten Jonathan and then break an expensive camera. Steve started out skirting the edges of being unlikeable and jumped all the way into the deep end of the pool in this episode.
Note: having gone to a rural Indiana public high school, let me pass on my own personal anecdote. In such schools no kid that used hair gel messed with the blue collar kids in any way, shape, or form. They especially didn't break their prized possessions. They knew for a fact that no matter how many friends they had with them now the blue collar kid would find him alone later. They also knew that an entire group of kids would make it their mission to scratch his car, crack his windshield, spill red kool-aid on his velour polo, etc. In my experience, Steve would have been terrified of Jonathan physically and would have instead mounted a gossip campaign against him.Story: The smash open was good. Establishing that while there don't seem to be people about that where the monster lives looks like Earth, including buildings, is fun. The sons and I argued about whether Barb was in the Border Ethereal or the Plane of Shadow.
The Toddler in Peril scene was too obviously a fake out and we all got snacks while it played out.
Showing Modine's character as part of MKULTRA was nice. There was mention of a woman claiming her daughter was taken. I can smell Firestarter already - Eleven's mother was in MKULTRA and when her daughter displayed powers she was kidnapped to be weaponized.
I like how the character of Hopper is developing through little reveals.
And - they find Will's body. None of us are buying it.
Final: Overall an uneven bit. While there was a lot of information about the world (the Border Ethereal, MKULTRA, etc.) the characters largely only increased in being dislikeable.
I suspect that Nancy and Jonathan are going to end up together and Steve will be a jerk about it and get all eaten by monsters. If Nancy ends up without a redemption arc she'll either die or die next season.