Please see the wider internet for general recaps.
SPOILERS THROUGHOUT THIS TIME!!!
Slightly different order.
Cinematography and Editing: Ives and Zimmerman are at it and it is great. Want examples of how camera and editing work well? Watch the scene where Jonathan is in Nancy's room an laying on the floor. Pay attention to camera angles, lights, and cuts. Now the scene an Lucas' house and how the editing takes us into the story.
Acting: Matarazzo was even better than last episode; the kid is great. Heaton was less engaging and frankly I suspect it is because Dyer was so damn flat; last episode was a head fake, I think. Ryder and Harbour were in Expositionville so they were mainly there to listen to character actor Amy Seimetz to a great job. Catherine Dyer was nicely effective as evil female agent #1, too. Brown had a little more to do and seems to be a solid, yeoman actor.
Directing: Good, especially for a largely Expositionville episode. The cough "teen drama" cough stuff was a mess and we'll talk about the younger guys in full.
Characters and Story: Combining them today. Hopper and Joyce were there to let us all learn things and were fine, if just marking time. Jonathan and Nancy prepping for the monster was OK, but neither character actually changed in this bit. Even Nancy's monologue about 'last week Barb and I were shopping' was just filler - Nancy as a character hasn't change her behavior and, frankly, Natalia Dyer is no where near the actress needed to just convey a change. Jonathan and Nancy just - were on screen and bought stuff, largely.
Then the little confrontation. Way back in my review of episode 3 I went on at length about just how unrealistic the idea of preppy Steve threatening blue collar Jonathan was. Well, today Jonathan gave Steve a beat down. A humiliating one, too. Of course, we had to have the unrealistic dialogue and such first, but still. Jonathan ends up in the pokey and we'll see how this resolves, although I assume Hopper will fix it.
The character of Dustin is quickly evolving into easily the smartest character. Lucas, though, remains a confrontational, physical, emotional jerk who is, as written, a bad person and unlikeable, IMO.
The monster walked right past a barely hiding at all Nancy, indicating it may track by sound and smell, which is fun if typical.
At first I was in a quandary where I knew that we need late exposition but found the episode lacking even though the exposition was interesting and well-presented. Then I got it.
There were two scenes that were so flat-out wrong that my willing suspension of disbelief smacked its forehead and shouted 'Oy, vey!'.
The first was the confrontation at the quarry.
Let me get this straight: a pair of thirteen year old bullies catch their targets in the woods. The bullies are on foot, the kids with bikes. The kids ditch their bikes rather than ride off. The head bully pulls out a switchblade (!), holds it to the throat of a 12 year old (!!), threatens to cut him up (!!!) unless the other kid commits suicide (!!!!).
Seriously? I mean, seriously?! You expect me to believe that a 13 year old is spontaneously going to track down two kids and engage in a rather elaborate double murder?
I don't buy it.
The second was at the theater.
You honestly expect me to believe that some punk high school kid went downtown to the main drag during the afternoon, dragged out a ladder, climbed it in full view of the entire town, spray painted a personal attack against another kid on a theater marquee, climbed own, ditched the ladder, then went 8 feet to the alley next door and stood there with the can of spray paint shooting the breeze with his pals for easily 10-15 minutes?
AND expect me to believe that no one stopped him, no one followed him, not one person did a thing?
Not happening. A town that size a fair amount of people walking or driving by would know the kids, maybe all of them, by name. Even if they fled immediately the police would probably beat them home.
The core concept is ridiculous and would be laughed out of a fanfic forum.
Both scenes were so utterly ridiculous that they erased any good in the episode and, frankly, put a bad taste in my mouth about the last two episodes in advance.
-Stephen King gets name-dropped and Firestarter an indirect reference.
-The pinto from Cujo showed up.
-Poster from the Thing was prominent.
-Someone dies while redeeming themselves in the final episode and with the entire 'I am a monster' bit suddenly Eleven is on the table. Clumsy writing, there.
-Of course the kids elude the assassin strike team. Duh.
-Duffers, you only have 2 more hours to fix Nancy and Lucas; so far, they are unlikeable jerks and show no signs of change. I predict they both get to keep their status as 'designated heroes' even if their idiocy leads to casualties. Well - more casualties in the case of Nancy. Lucas will just tell them about the lab and everything will be forgotten and Nancy will kiss Jonathan and even Barb's parents will forget how she led their daughter to her grave and lied about it for days.
-Steve Lives. Nope - too obvious that he dies. His death is a red herring.