Let’s be clear, here: this season’s Russia plot can be divided into two different parts, each of which offers a wildly different viewing experience. There’s before Joyce (Winona Ryder) arrives to save Hopper (David Harbour), and after. Before she and Murray (Brett Gelman) get there, this is the most tedious plot of the season. Hopper seems like he’s in a completely different show, one that’s about pain and torture and atonement for past wrongs and the type of internal character growth that doesn’t really work when sandwiched between scenes of stoner pizza boys and serial killer monsters.
The Russia plot finally picks up some steam in the last few episodes, though, and a lot of the earlier pacing problems evaporate when the group has to escape and then return to help El from afar, facing off against demogorgons and demo-dogs all the while. Most importantly, Hopper and Joyce get their reunion, complete with him checking in about Eleven, her making him promise not to die again, and the pair finally sharing a hasty but intense kiss.
Despite this, every other facet of the Russia plot, namely anything involving peanut butter loving smuggler Yuri (Nikola Djuricko) or prison guard Dmitri (Tom Wlaschiha), absolutely does not pay off. No scene in volume two makes the action grind to a halt more than when Yuri is talking about making love to his lady helicopter. I cannot express enough how little these guys seem to matter in the grand scheme of things. Also, there’s no way Joyce and Murray would have survived that plane crash, right?