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.

Stranger Things 3 (“The Bite”)

Season 3, Episode 7
Date of release: July 4, 2019 (Netflix)

And the parties are about to merge to fight against their biggest enemy yet. Yes, I did raise my fists into the air when Eleven threw that car into the Russians and the whole group made themselves visible for the Starcourt party. It took the season seven episodes to get to that point and now it’s about time to let the horror, the action and the apocalypse play out, and for each of the characters to have their own little moment in the fight, whether it’s through hand-to-hand combats, like Hopper has proven during his stint at the fun fair. Because really, some of the kids don’t seem to have any talents that would make them worthy fighters alongside the superhero that is Eleven, as well as the armed Sheriff that is Hopper. Let’s just hope that Lucas and Will know how to put on a great fireworks show, which brings me to think that it might be a wonderful idea for Will to put the finishing touches on the big monster’s ultimate death, as part of his revenge for all the time he has been the damsel of the show, for the times he spent getting frightened to death in the Upside Down, and to showcase that Will has truly grown up. All this time during the beginning of the season he wanted to be a kid again, to forget the trauma he has lived through, but it’s clear he won’t, and making sure that the monster is death could be a great first step towards his rehabilitation. Eleven shouldn’t always be the savior of the world at the end of the season — she saved people and the world twice already, it’s time to pass the torch to the newcomers. Eric Swallwell would agree with me.

The episode was good enough. I was still getting annoyed by the sexual tension between Hopper and Joyce, but at least it’s pretty obvious by now that the two will end up together, or at least try to be normal human beings with each other. But I do have to say that Murray’s yelling at the two during the car ride brought my eyes to roll out of the back of my head — not only did Murray already told Hopper and Joyce to deal with their sexual tension before, but Murray also made sure that his very loud words were not taken serious at all, as the entire scene was built to be a comedy moment, when it could have been a great moment for Hopper and Joyce’s individual character arcs. I have no idea what is so funny about trying to get two people together and make them realize that they are dating material for each other, while some seriously ridiculous Russians are hunting them down, ready to kill them on the spot. Normally you shouldn’t have the time to deal with love while running away from death, but I guess Murray had the mind for that. It’s one of the stories I would have gladly cut out of the season if I had been involved in the making of STRANGER THINGS – I don’t mind that Hopper and Joyce have some sexual tension going on, but it has been making these two characters absolutely awful at times.

Fireworks, baby!

Plus points for Hopper to get his grove back in the Big Top. He got a bit of revenge on one of the Russians for having beaten him up at the lab, and I do have to say that the moment in the mirror maze was cool as ice. Hopper essentially came up to the big Russian dude and had no hesitation putting a bunch of bullets into his chest. It would have been a great kill scene if it weren’t for the goddamn Kevlar vest. If Hopper could have been like that throughout the entire season, maybe I wouldn’t have been getting annoyed by his behavior for most of it.

Minus points for the dumb Russians though. I understand that they can’t just take over Starcourt with their automatic rifles drawn and look for a couple of kids when the whole area is still populated by Hawkins residents, but they had at least 100 minutes to roam around the premise and search for the kids, since BACK TO THE FUTURE just began when Steve, Robin, Dustin and Erica entered the movie theater, while the Russians didn’t seem to be looking or them until after the movie had finished. I guess the Russians did not have the idea to look in the movie theater? And since they couldn’t find the kids for almost two hours, they didn’t figure they might have exited Starcourt and are somewhere in Hawkins? There was a bit of convenience in the narrative when the kids exited the movie theater and were walking straight into one of the Russians and I am starting to appreciate those conveniences less and less. At least it established that the kids were now trapped in Starcourt – time to stage the big battle against the remaining Russians there, as well as the big monster.

Who might or might not have infected Eleven, preparing my mind for an eventual death of the character in the next episode. When I saw that something was moving inside her leg, I was thinking of two things: One, she gets killed from inside herself and then turns into the monster herself, which could not only be a great premise for the fourth season, but also reminds me of the 1997 film THE RELIC. Two, I was comparing that scene with the leg with one from the second season finale of MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D., when Coulson was getting his hand hacked off, or else he would have died. Lucas had the axe during the fight with the monster, so we should probably all be lucky that he obviously didn’t take it with himself, or he might have had the same reaction as Mack had when he removed Coulson’s hand.

After this episode, Russians will always hate mirror mazes

And finally, thank the heavens that nothing romantic will ever happen between Robin and Steve. Their post-vomit moment in the washroom was actually pretty good character development for both of them, although the fact that the two were able to air things out in the open and make each other understand about their feelings usually means one of them will die. Robin could still be like Bob Newby from the previous season, getting eaten by the monster after a moment of clarity, and the post-vomit scene was definitely a moment of clarity for her. But I don’t want to see her dead after this, because I have been annoyed by characters far less interesting than her and I would rather see them die instead of her. Besides that, the writers would immediately make use of the “Bury Your Gays” trope after they established that Robin was gay, and we all know how social media is going to react when an LGBT character is being killed off in a gruesome fashion. Does it mean Robin will definitely not die after she established her sexual identity? Will the Duffer brothers have listened to the world and let Robin survive the season?

Stranger Things 3 (“E Pluribus Unum”)

Season 3, Episode 6
Date of release: July 4, 2019 (Netflix)

There is a monster with some size in Hawkins. They better be evacuating the town or nothing will be left of it after the mind flayer has gone through all of its residents and real estate. At least some of the back story is being established now, although I do think that most of it was conveniently created for this episode. When the mind flayer said that he has been building it for Eleven since she opened the gate before the events of the first season, all I could think of is that the writers made the monster intelligent and smart, even if it has been anything but all of it during the first or second season. Again, why couldn’t the mind flayer have done all the stuff he did here during the second season? The gate was open for a while, which means he could have sent some of his shadow into our world to prepare is manifestation, but for some reason he needed to wait until he was exorcised out of Will’s body, and he continued to wait until the Fourth of July festivities to call all the rats to him, so he would at least have some form. Besides that, when he spoke about having built something for Eleven, did he mean his own manifestation, or is there something else going on which is waiting to get revealed over the course of the next two episodes? And why would he say that he has been building it for Eleven, when his endgame is to kill Eleven and everyone else? I would believe someone who opens a gateway to another world and gives you freedom to do whatever deserves a bit of leniency and at least eternal life, even if that life is in Hell.

The team has finally come together to beat the demon from another world.

This episode reminded me of how inconsistent the show has been so far this season. Eleven’s group gets all the thrill, horror and emotion of facing the evil, while Steve’s group gets the ludicrous spy games with the nerds, who barely take this situation seriously, or make it look like it’s a great adventure game that could actually be created at an amusement park for real, in place of escape rooms. Meanwhile, Joyce and Hopper are still annoying me with their aggressive behavior, but with those two I don’t even know if it’s part of the thrill, horror and emotion, or if it’s supposed to be funny and weirdly romantic. I wanted to punch the hell out of Hopper for letting Alexei go, believing that his idea of convincing Alexei that it’s much safer with those crazy lunatics like Hopper and Joyce, because it truly was a crappy idea. The reason it worked, and Alexei went back to Murray’s place to tell the story of the machine was because of the convenience the writers needed for the story to work out and for Hopper and Joyce to hear that the gate is being opened again. All this could have happened without Alexei getting the keys to the Convertible, and the five-or-so minutes that were wasted on this story could have been cut out of the episode (which was already above average in length with about 56 minutes) or been replaced with a few character arcs. Some of Billy’s back story was given with this episode, maybe the writers should have gotten deeper here. Maybe the monster fight at the beginning could have been more thrilling. Maybe the events in the underground Russian facility could have been given more seriousness, but for some reason the writers decided to give Alexei the attention and to make Hopper a crazy person again who only needs another bottle of vodka and maybe a few pills to be completely unreliable as the hero and father figure to Eleven (let alone being the love interest for Joyce).

I also cannot believe that Joyce hasn’t gone even more crazy, now that she believes the gate is being opened again. She had all this experience about her son being in the middle of this deadly craziness, but in this episode she did not make the effort to reach out to Will and check if he is alright. She did not start getting worried about the safety of her son. She was not talking about how her boy is in danger again, because the gate is being screwed with. No, she stayed on Hopper’s level of crazy and phoned the Philadelphia library, just to put some fire under the guy’s ass. After this episode, Joyce and Hopper definitely deserve each other, but they have very much been acting out of character, compared to the previous two seasons. And I still cannot believe that Joyce’s first, second, third and fourth call weren’t to Will or Jonathan. It’s obvious by now what the writers really cared about, and it’s not to put common logic between this season and the previous ones.

Russians like to torture Americans and then get distracted by noise.

But goddammit, if the underground Russian facility isn’t bringing entertainment into the show right now. I have no idea why I’m having so much fun with it, since it’s one of the elements that make this season so weirdly inconsistent from the rest of the show, but I think I could start explaining it away with how teenagers are involved in the story and how it’s essentially a supernatural horror version of THE GOONIES, only the characters aren’t searching for a huge treasure at the end of the map, and the villains aren’t mutants, but evil and torture-hungry Russians. First of all, consider me disappointed that the Russians are indeed evil and that they couldn’t hold themselves back in punching the crap out of Steve, while they only put a slap on Robin (good, at least they’re not sexist Russians). I was really hoping that they were trying to open the gate to find a way to kill everything that’s inside, but judging by the behavior of the men that were with Robin and Steve, it doesn’t look that good. Secondly, Erica and Dustin are kind of the new dream team of the show. Their behavior might be totally wacky for tweenagers and I have no idea why they aren’t the slightest bit scared about having to come up against Russians with automatic rifles, but here they are, sneaking through the facility and hatching out a plan to save Steve and Robin. I’m getting the feeling Erica and Dustin are going to be the action heroes of this season and that they might cause the whole facility to explode or something, burying all the evidence of the Russians ever having existed under the surface of Hawkins, which might or might not be a good idea.

Maybe my problem with this season is how seriously wacky and crazy it has been so far. The first two episodes barely went into stuff and focused on crazy character drama (I still can’t get over drunk Hopper getting mad over being stood up), but now that the season is firing on all cylinders, the writers figured it was the bets time to just go all in. Screw the logic, screw consistency. Everything should be just nuts. After all, Russians are involved, and when it comes to depicting Russian characters in American Cold War stories, nothing that is not nuts is apparently not entertaining enough.

Stranger Things 3 (“The Flayed”)

Season 3, Episode 5
Date of release: July 4, 2019 (Netflix)

There is a monster with some teeth in the hospital. They better be evacuating the building or Hawkins really is going to be food for the monsters from the Upside Down and all of the mind flayer’s friends, although I am wondering why the flayed in the form of Tom and Bruce needed to be in the hospital in the first place and why they were killing most of the staff and presumably patients. I am wondering why Mrs. Driscoll wasn’t allowed to return to the factory and join the other flayed people, and I am wondering why the asshole white guys Tom and Bruce (even their names are asshole-white) had to be tasked to get rid of Mrs. Driscoll. Was it really just because the mind flayer believed that Eleven and her friends would come after them through Mrs. Driscoll (they were)? Was it really just because Tom and Bruce hoped that Nancy would return and they would have a chance to finish her off (it’s what Bruce sort of said)? There isn’t really any logic behind the premise of some of the flayed staying behind to clean up some of the “mistakes,” because that would create the possibility that the mind flayer is an intelligent being with a master plan, and I really don’t want that to happen. A non-human villain with a master plan is being personified via said master plan and I don’t want the mind flayer to turn out just like any other evil human in Hollywood film history. Can’t the mind flayer just be a shadow monster who sends his dogs and other monsters into the real world to wreak havoc? Why would the mind flayer be so smart about taking over the world this season, when it could have done the same during the previous season, but didn’t?

Two love birds and a Russian are walking in a forest…

The episode was still entertaining though. Maybe not Joyce and Hopper’s story, which is starting to annoy me thanks to the repressed sexual energy of the two, but the Russian underground lab, as well as the teens and Nancy/Jonathan teaming up to figure out what is happening and what needs to be done now, were interesting storylines, both filled with the necessary amount of humor to soften things up and not have the audience get scared by all the scenes set in flickering light or darkness (like the whole final sequence in which the two flayed corpses merged and became one monster — which is apparently something the mind flayer was unable to do previously for some convenient reason). I am fully enjoying the adventures of Steve, Robin, Dustin and Erica, thanks to the fact that neither of the people take the situation they’re in too seriously. They don’t have Will or Eleven or Mike with them, who would be dragging them down, and instead they just go along the mightily long tunnel, finding their way to the big machine that opens the gate again. Yes, it’s annoying that the foursome thinks they can loudly talk and slowly walk without being discovered by any of the Russians working there (the convenience in this episode was almost unbearable), but Dustin has never faced any real-life drama, so all he can interact or has experience with is this supernatural bullcrap, which makes him an entertaining character to watch when he reacts to something strange and weird happening. The same can be said about Erica, but she is essentially a new character, and her childish nature has removed herself from acting like a character in a drama series would. Why Robin would be so into this spy crap is beyond me though — the writers haven’t explained that yet, and it seems like she just went along with the ride because the group of characters needed a more mature newbie alongside the established characters, who then can be gruesomely killed for emotional value like Bob was. I previously said that the show could kill off Billy to give Max an emotional punch, but now I guess Robin is an equally readied character to be killed off the show like it’s a show written by Joss Whedon.

This Russian underground lab has lax security for American kids to be watching some of the science happening.

The other team-up was solid. I appreciated that Nancy and Jonathan quickly joined the kids and they were already deep into their own adventure, but when it wasn’t about the danger they were soon to face, the writers decided to focus on the relationship stuff between Nancy and Jonathan, as well as Eleven and Mike. It turns out I am not as interested about these two romances as I was when I started watching the season. Maybe it’s because it’s handled too much as a comedy element, which bites itself with the supernatural stuff that has been going on, or maybe I just find it unrealistic that Eleven and the other kids would face a seriously life-threatening situation, when they were going against Billy in the previous episode, and now have all the time in the world to just talk about stuff and go to the hospital where they can have some fun with food and other stuff. I get that kids wouldn’t be as traumatized about certain events and find quick ways to be kids again, but before the episode depicted the moment between Mike and Eleven close to the end of the episode, there was some seriously awkward crap happening with the kids, who thought that catching food with their mouths was a great idea to kill some time. I don’t know if I should find it troublesome because of the way the writers handled the drama of the show, or super realistic, because it’s how kids would behave in real life.

And then there were freaking Hopper and Joyce, who were babysitting a Russian scientist. I was not at all into the story. Hopper’s angry phases is completely out of character for the show, and even Joyce’s impatience in front of Murray felt like the writers have rebooted her character just to suit that scene, as well as suit her weird relationship with Hopper. Those two have turned into a bickering version of a famous detective duo who solve murders every week, only this time around it’s not a crime procedural and the audience is being thrown into the potential of Hopper and Joyce ending up together. Especially now that they are dealing with Murray, who already helped Nancy and Jonathan to realize that they were into each other. But yeah, Hopper’s seriousness is completely missing at this point, and even Joyce has no reason to worry about her boy any longer, turning her into a different character as well. I guess I have to get used to these rebooted versions of Hopper and Joyce, but five episodes in and I am not doing so great.

Stranger Things 3 (“The Sauna Test”)

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

Things got a little tense in this episode, as it was celebrating the point-of-no-return with an action scene that had the heroes somewhat win a battle against the villain, which is against the rules of writing for television. While the kids were certainly not able to kill the mind flayer or free Billy from its influence, they still won that fight against the supernatural, even though the rules say that the first fight against the villain is always to be lost, as it serves as a breaking point for the characters, and an assertion to the viewers that the villain is not to be screwed with. Then again, STRANGER THINGS has always been just a little different, and what the fight between Eleven and Billy/the mind flayer showed is that they know of each other’s presence now. That the mind flayer is a ridiculously evil villain is already known, but now the season has established knowledge. The mind flayer and his hosts and foot soldiers can prepare for the fight that will most likely come to them, and the party around Eleven can gather more strength (and foot soldiers) to prepare for the fight which will ultimately come.

I loved that it took a while for the mind flayer to take over his host and make his presence known to Will, because for a moment I was wondering if Max would start feeling the guilt and let Billy free, right as he was turning evil. There actually was this great siblings moment between the two, making me realize that Billy and Max could in fact be brother and sister who like and respect each other, who could hang out every once in a while, with him helping her out with homework and stuff. It would have meant that Max’s moment in the previous season finale left a lasting impression with Billy and he really was trying to change and let the bad boy persona go. It makes me wonder if there will be such a scene by the end of the season, something in the vein of Max saving Billy from his ultimate demise by the hands of the mind flayer, building an unbreakable bond of respect between them. Then again, Billy could be sacrificed as a character — after all, maybe this season needs another main character killed off near the end, like Bob was sacrificed for the greater good in the previous season.

Side note: Let’s not forget that Dacre Montgomery is playing his villainous character extremely convincing. The Red Ranger is doing the perfect villain. I was not expecting that when the writers decided to carry Billy over to the third season. I was not expecting that from a cast member of the POWER RANGERS movie revival.

Erica has it up to here with this ventilation shaft bullcrap!

In the meantime, let’s just hope that it won’t take so long for Joyce and Hopper to join the group, as well as for the folks in the impromptu elevator to be discovered, although I do see the latter as the beginning of a plot device to tell the viewers that the Russians are not at all evil. Yes, they may have been working on getting the gate open and free the monster, but as established by me already, it would be a terrible way for humanity to end. Maybe the Russians have found a way to eradicate the mind flayer forever, but they need the gate open to lead him to its ultimate doom, which is what has been happening in Hawkins. Maybe Steve, Robin, Dustin and Erica will get to learn exactly that, and since they have some working knowledge about the mind flayer and even fought against his demodogs, their experience might be of worth to potential good Russians who just want to save the world. Imagine Joyce/Hopper and Eleven’s party to find out what’s going on below Starcourt, and they find Steve, Robin, Dustin and Erica gleefully working with the Russians to stop the mind flayer from taking over the world — it would be a hilarious scene, it would easily unite all the groups into one party for the fight, and it would add more mature characters and soldiers who can be fodder for the mind flayer and his allies. But then again, maybe the Russians really are evil and they will keep the teens in jail cells below Starcourt.

Besides that, I loved that Erica gets this much screentime now. Maybe the writers loved writing for the character in the previous season (although she barely had screentime then), or maybe the show needed to have an innocent and clueless character added to the narrative, just to repeat the way the first season was told. That Erica turned out not to be clueless at all levelled up the comedy elements of the episode, which was a good choice. Her John McClain moment in the ventilation shaft was all sorts of cool and I even loved her capitalist selfishness when she told the guys and Robin that she is only ready to help them out when she gets free ice cream for life. Steve and Robin probably accepted, knowing they will quit the job at the end of the summer, and at one point Erica will probably not feel good only eating ice cream.

The hero and the villain battle it out for the first time.

The rest of the episode was slow in comparison, but it was moving the needle. Both Joyce/Hopper and Nancy made their own additional discoveries (although I don’t know if Nancy realized what was happening, when Mrs. Driscoll started going crazy while the lights were flickering, and if she connected that with the mind flayer’s presence) and they will probably have to fight for their lives pretty soon. Nancy has it a little easier, because she is distanced from eventual government agencies watching closely what is happening in Hawkins, but she might be onto the dangers from the Upside Down much sooner that Joyce and Hopper will most likely be, who might as well have a better chance finding the Russians than the monster. But this is still a good idea: Every individual group over the past two episodes made their own advances within the narrative, which the writers can then add at the end of the season, as if STRANGER THINGS is just one big supernatural math lesson. Two values have already been added together (Eleven/Max and the boys) and now it’s time to get the rest into the equation.

Plus points for the writers having figured out what to do with Nancy in the long run. I don’t think any of the characters besides her have been created with a future for them in mind. Okay, maybe Jonathan, who could easily become a photographer, but with Nancy’s effort to follow up on a major story by herself, it makes her feel like she is destined to be a star reporter or investigative journalist in the future. Someone who would work at the New York Times in the 21st century and working to dig into the financial past of the current president of the United States, finding out all the skeletons in every one of his closets.

Stranger Things 3 (“The Case of the Missing Lifeguard”)

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

It’s the episode that moved things forward. It’s the episode with a heavy rain storm, because there is no summer on this green-and-blue planet during which you get drowned by heavy rain. In fact, I am a little surprised that Hawkins wasn’t flooding under all this rain, but then I guess maybe the town had a proper sewer system, which was able to drain the rain water out of the town and direct it to wherever water normally goes. This was quite an interesting episode, which almost made up for the previous one. It turns out that the teenage drama stuff needed to be in the previous episode to have max and Eleven team up for this episode, and the break-ups needed to happen in the previous hour, so that Will had his opportunity to try and be a child with his friends again, to forget the nightmares of the previous season and to bask in the notion that boys don’t need girls to have fun. I quite loved Will’s destructive moments in front of Castle Byers, and I loved the notion that Will has been the last of the party to realize that he has some growing up to do, although in his case growing up with all the memories from the previous two years is a little harder to do, which explains why he wanted to be a child in this episode and just remember the good-old Dungeons & Dragons times with his friends. Maybe his development got kind of stuck right before the moment he disappeared into the Upside Down and now he is catching up on all the teenage drama he has missed.

Someone needs to lose some weight…

I also liked this episode for the way it separated the team-ups and have them discover an individual clue to the greater story arc. Eleven and Max worked the disappearance of Heather, realizing that something very weird and very bad is going on with Billy. Dustin, Steve and Robin worked the Russian angle, realizing that something very sinister is going on here. Hopper and Joyce worked the electromagnetic angle and found themselves back at the lab, where they were attacked (okay, only the man was beat up, but still), which means something sinister is going on. Nancy and Jonathan followed the rats back to Mrs. Driscoll, who is definitely not human anymore, which means something weird and mysterious is going on. And then there are Will, Lucas and Mike, who now come to learn that the monster is back. This episode had five different arcs and each of them led to a different angle of the supernatural story of the season. It’s something I wasn’t expecting after the previous episode, but here we are. The writers have finally put that pedal to the metal and the narrative is now able to race through the next five episodes. Now the obligatory waiting period has started, in which we just sit in front of our screens and count the minutes until all five teams join forces to fight against the monster as one — it’s not like STRANGER THINGS has not made us do that before.

Still, there were some annoying plot points I was rolling my eyes to, and most of them belonged to Hopper, who could not have been more ridiculous throughout the first third of the episode. He bitches and moans that Joyce didn’t show up for their date, he screams at her for not listening, and then he doesn’t believe her when she is worried that something might be going on at the lab. Considering the crap they have gone through together over the past two years, I am actually shocked that Hopper wasn’t listening immediately, getting curious in the process. No, he was only allowed to be angry that he was stood up. That made Hopper a foolish and dumb character and I didn’t mind that he was beat up at the end of the episode. One can only hope that the pain he will be suffering in the next episode is waking him up to all the weirdness that is happening in town, and this time he will listen when someone has something to say about what is happening.

The American amateur spies spy on the professional Russian spies.

Eleven and Max’s teenage investigation into Heather’s fate was pretty cool on the other hand. I’m glad the two girls have teamed up to have their own adventure together, although not unlike Hopper’s story, I was slightly disappointed that the girls didn’t believe something really awful was happening. Eleven saw Billy in a compromising situation and she felt that he saw her. Then the whole thing with Heather screaming for help in the dark world, which apparently didn’t give Eleven nightmares at all. No, the girls only went to Heather’s place and were not weirded out by what was happening there. Still, the whole story had a great INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS vibe and that part of the episode I loved. There need to be a television adaptation of the film, and scenes like the final one, in which Heather struck down her father, need to be standard horror fare for such a show. I mean, she hammered her high heel into her father’s back — that is brutal as hell!

Meanwhile, the Starcourt gang were almost dealing with Russian terrorists, judging by the hardware they were wearing to protect themselves. It’s a story I didn’t really care for, but there is fun in Steve and Dustin’s verbal repertoire, and I must say I found myself surprisingly liking the Steve/Robin “romance.” Not only would a teenage romance like that bring Steve down to the level of the kids and be their equal, it would also mirror Will’s story: The Byers kid wants to be a kid again, but is forced to grow up. Steve on the other hand is supposed to grow up after finishing high school (it’s nice of the episode to mention that fact), but it turns out he is kind of growing back a few years, just so he can have some fun with a 13-year-old kid, or however old Dustin is. That would also help make the romance part of Steve’s life a little easier, even though I would never believe that Robin is still in school — she is just too cool and too smart to still hang around with idiots who like to disco with too much Farrah Fawcett hairspray on their head.

And finally, the investigative part of the episode, which I did not like and then I barely cared about. The way Nancy was being made fun of by the reporters on staff is by now an annoying part of the show, as it has been happening for the second or third time now. Yes, we got that the guys at the paper are idiots and sexist, there is no need to remind us of this every 35 minutes. If we could move on from that plot and Nancy and Jonathan towards the danger in Mrs. Driscoll’s basement, that would be great.

Stranger Things 3 (“The Mall Rats”)

Season 3, Episode 2
Date of release: July 4, 2019 (Netflix)

It should not be surprising that writers tend to lose a bit of control over their show three years in. You have created this fictional world and have brought in dozens of fictional characters. You set the rules of this fictional world, but every once in a while you come to a story idea that might break one of those rules, and suddenly you create a whole bunch of inconsistencies. STRANGER THINGS doesn’t have that many inconsistencies, and if there are any, they are pretty low on my list of things to talk about, but this episode could start bringing some of those inconsistencies to light, as characters are starting to act unnaturally. Take Nancy and Jonathan for example. They have a job, which is most likely a summer job, because the show has not established whether or not they have graduated high school before the events of this season. They are hunting down a story about rabid or otherwise crazy rats, which is a fine thing to do, since Nancy and Jonathan are putting some effort into getting noticed at the Hawkins Post. They have a very crazy rat in front of them, which acts erratically and very much unnatural for a rat, but neither Nancy nor Jonathan are interested in talking about it, let alone seeing it as something extremely weird and strange. After what they have gone through in the Fall of 1983 and 1984, I would assume they would eye strange things more carefully and expect monsters behind every corner. Granted, the story about rabid rats wouldn’t even wake up my paranoid mind, but if I were to see a rat constantly ramming its body into a cage and then behave like it’s about to give birth to ten live rats at one and then explode due to exhaustion, I would be wondering if something strange is happening in Hawkins again and whether I should maybe talk to Chief Hopper or any scientist who might still be in town.

At least Joyce is getting her curiosity about the magnets treated, although that story hasn’t gone a log way either in this episode, continuing the tradition of STRANGER THINGS going at it very slowly during the beginning of a season. Joyce notices magnets are not sticking. Joyce asks Mr. Clarke about this phenomena. Mr. Clarke begins his lesson with a practical experiment and teases about the existence of a huge machine which we saw during the cold open of the previous episode, episode teases that the machine might in fact be under Hawkins, and maybe even in the closed-down Hawkins lab. It’s essentially the only thing Joyce’s story did, although it’s the second-biggest thing of this season’s mythology. One might ask themselves if it should have been a story with an extended screentime.

Nothing can ever happen between these two.

The biggest mythology piece in this episode was definitely Billy’s adventure as a seemingly drugged-out swimming pool lifeguard, who actually is under the control of whatever monster came together in the factory. By now it’s definitely not a shadow monster any longer, and instead has turned into the blob with the help of exploded rats, officially bringing THE BLOB into the fold of 1980s science-fiction movies STRANGER THINGS has put an homage to. I didn’t mind that factoid at all, but I did have a bit of a problem with how Billy’s story was edited throughout the episode. Between the story cutting away right before Billy’s attack on his attractive lifeguard colleague, and then “flashing back” to it at the end of the episode to explain why we were finding her in Billy’s trunk, it makes me wonder if the Duffer brothers don’t trust their audience any longer. What was so hard in depicting the attack when it actually happened, instead of explaining to us that it happened after the fact? Together with the fake attack on Karen Wheeler, it felt like I was watching a daily soap opera for a second, creating fake-out and obvious cliffhanger endings when they weren’t even necessary for the narrative. But I guess this is what happens when you want to stall time and wait for the delivery of the major twist until many episodes in — it’s nothing new for STRANGER THINGS.

The trip to the Starcourt was interesting enough on the other hand. Max and Eleven’s shopping spree was delightful, and so was the intercutting of the boys’ efforts to find a gift for Eleven and realizing that this mainstream capitalist shopping mall only wants your money and nothing else. If it had been for me, I would have loved seeing more of Max and Eleven’s shopping spree, having fun while forgetting about worries and troubles and boys for a second. But then the end of that story had to twist my ankle again — what could have been a serious moment when Eleven dumps Mike over the lies turned out to be a more comedic plot. The writers know where to find the drama, so they don’t have to bring too much of the supernatural mystery (which is good), but they also don’t know the drama they already have, so it gets distorted into something you would get amused by on a Disney Channel family sitcom (which is anything but good for a show not airing on the Disney Channel). For Eleven, having Mike around is part of her learning curve of life, but apparently she won’t be learning what it’s like to have her heart broken, hence her amusement with Max after dumping Mike. And there I was, shipping the two even more than all the other major love romances of television during the final episodes of the previous season…

Shopping time!

Dustin, Robin and Steve’s story was nicely done on the other hand. Granted, Steve finding the music on the Russian tape was quite the convenience, but it was still a nice moment of “oh crap, the Russians are here!”, which should better freak the teens out. Then again, Dustin, Steve and Robin shouldn’t even care about the Cold War happening around them, so they can get busy trying to figure out what the Russian tape means and accidentally stumble upon another conspiracy involving the Upside Down and the monsters that come with it. Please tell me though why Robin was so interested in helping out the boys in this regard! Yes, she said she was bored, but doesn’t she have a life on her own? Does she have no friends or family to get home to? Is she secretly a nerd like the boys are, which means she found an immediate liking to Dustin and Steve’s secret mission of blowing up Russians hiding in plain sight before they are able to throw nuclear bombs on American soil?

Meanwhile, let’s all forget about the feeling and goosebumps Will had in the previous episode, as well as Dustin’s unseen girlfriend Suzie. Those two huge plot elements from an hour ago have been forgotten entirely, creating another instance of inconsistency the show seems to be in love with during this season. That does not bode well for STRANGER THINGS 3.