Stranger Things 3 (“The Battle of Starcourt”)

Season 3, Episode 8
Date of release: July 4, 2019 (Netflix)

Maybe I just cried a little bit during this episode, considering the fact that two characters were killed off and the remainder of the party were saying their goodbyes to each other at the very end. There was this moment during those scenes when Will and Lucas were hugging goodbye and Will couldn’t hold back those tears — it was the moment that got me. Not Billy getting ahold of himself and going against the monster. Not Hopper nodding to Joyce, before she was turning off the machine. Not even the speech Hopper was giving to Eleven via the letter, although it was touching as well. It was the moment the friends were hugging each other goodbye, knowing that this will be the end of their party and that their childhood is pretty much ending as soon as the U-Haul truck is in the distance. I don’t quite know why it was that moment which got me and had me wiping the tears rom my face, but that’s what the scene did to me. And this after it was kind of weirdly edited. During Hopper’s speech, the montage of the friends saying goodbye to each other and the Byers family driving away began and ended. But then the episode had to cut back to Eleven finishing the letter and all of a sudden we are back to the Byers family packing up the remainder into the truck and Joyce silently saying goodbye to the house she has been living in for almost two decades. Only a minute ago they were driving away from it and now they’re about to drive away from it again. Weirdly edited for sure.

It was a satisfying season finale on all levels. That one or more characters would die was inevitable, as the Duffer brothers definitely found a liking to the way they sacrificed Bob in the previous season. It’s a good thing that Billy was one of the victims of the finale, as his character hasn’t really been that important this season and only served as the foil to have a recognizable villain. The writers only played twice or thrice on the fact that Max was essentially battling against her “possessed” older stepbrother, which means not even they were very much interested in putting color into Max’s character arc. In retrospect it looks like Billy was only good enough to be evil bully from the previous season, the Stephen King reference, but because that wasn’t possible anymore for this season, he was turned into one of the flayed. A character that was never able to be anything more than the evil kid with a potentially good heart had to be sacrificed for this episode, and at least Billy got a great send-off. It was heroic, it was sacrificial, and it was kind of quick — no time to say goodbye, not even the strength to get a few more words out when Max was hovering above him. What a shame that the monster didn’t just eat Billy whole, because the sudden and speedy death would have been a great shocker. I’m still hoping to watch a show one day that gets rid of a character like TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES got rid of Derek Reese (let’s just forget that the character was “resurrected” an episode later), and while STRANGER THINGS 3 wasn’t close at all, it at least successfully gave the character a proper bloody goodbye.

Nancy grew up to be an investigative journalist and a wielder of a pistol.

Meanwhile, let’s not immediately say that Hopper is really dead, even if the way the speech was given made it seem like the Duffer brothers were truly saying goodbye to Hopper. But here are two things: One, when Eleven killed the Demogorgon in the first season finale, she was thrown back into the Upside Down. The same could have happened to Hopper when the machine was blowing up, or maybe he used the opportunity and the almost open gate to sneak through it before the machine blew, essentially escaping into the Upside Down to survive. Two, the mid-credits scene spoke of an American in the Russian prison — it could be anyone but Hopper, but why including that scene when it isn’t being used as a teaser for the potential of Hopper’s survival? It’s also good that the character has been “gotten rid” of in this episode, as it put a fine character arc stamp onto Joyce and Eleven, who now have to deal with letting go of their past. Eleven has lost many people in her life, starting with her mother, followed by “Papi” (he might have been a villain, but he was still the closest thing to a father she had before she landed in Hawkins), and now she lost both her father and her superpowers, while also leaving her boyfriend behind. Joyce in the meantime is kind of losing her lovers left and right over what is happening in Hawkins. She almost lost her son in the Upside Down, Bob was eaten by a demodog, and now Hopper has left her because of the same thing. If she isn’t traumatized by all this in the next season, then I don’t know what the writers are even doing with her.

Again, this episode was filled with moments that could have been cut for running time, but I guess being a show on Netflix means you don’t necessarily have to cut out scenes for the sake of keeping an episode short and to the point, but when Dustin and Suzie were starting to turn this hour into a 1980s HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL rendition, I wanted to end this episode. In addition, the kids were way too busy getting the starter cable out of the car Eleven threw at the Russians. It was sort of funny seeing them getting out of Starcourt, only to be stopped by Billy in the distance and a non-starting car, just to finally get it started half an episode later, yet still having problems to drive away into safety. Suzie’s existence was sort of obvious, since I never believed that Dustin would lie about it, and because she hasn’t been mentioned a lot since the season premiere, I was expecting for her to be a twist in the story here. And voila, she indeed showed up to deliver a clue to save the world. At least the Duffer brothers weren’t working on hammering soap-opera-like twists into the show. The question is though, will she be a recurring character in the fourth season and join the party to this time really save the world?

For a few minutes, this episode became a Disney Channel musical show.

I am however glad that the Duffer brothers continuously make the finale as low-key as possible and do’t necessarily turn it into an all-out apocalypse. During the first season, the kids were dealing with a few soldiers and then the Demogorgon in a classroom, which is small in scale. The second season might have separated the events into three different places, but those were of a smaller scale as well. Eleven and Hopper might have been at the gate, but they barely moved from their space, keeping the action contained no matter what. This episode was quite similar in that regard, as the action was kept in the foodcourt of Starcourt, and Hopper, Joyce and Murray weren’t wildly running around and doing crazy stuff by only killing evil Russians and such. Even Hopper and Grigori’s climactic fight was kept contained within the lab’s control room and then right beside the machine, when it could have been a fight throwing them from one room to another like this is a comic book movie. Besides all that, unnecessary characters were removed from all three finals, so the focus was always on the established heroes. It’s a thing STRANGER THINGS does really well, and since the Duffer brothers managed to pull the small scale finale off once more, it means they realized that going all out and wild, because your show happened to be a social media phenomenon and a success with fans and critics and awards givers, is a mistake.

Then again, it doesn’t mean your show is always the greatest thing ever. Parts of it have been extremely annoying and in a way I am happy that it’s all over. Maybe I feel like that because I watched three seasons fo STRANGER THINGS in eleven days and now I am drained as Eleven was after she got the parasite out of her leg. The lesson I have learned from this? Heavily popular and serialized shows may not be good when binge-watched, and may rob me of my soul.

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