Summary: El removes the bit of the Mind Flayer in her leg but she finds that her powers have vanished. Hopper's group arrives and they form a plan. Joyce, Murray and Hopper go to the Russian lab to infiltrate it while Steve and Robin drive Dustin and Erica to Weathertop so that Dustin can help them navigate. The others attempt to leave to go somewhere safe but Billy destroys their car and they are trapped. The Mind Flayer shows up and gets into the mall. Some of the kids manage to escape from the Mind Flayer and Steve and Robin arrive to help drive them away. Hopper and Joyce infiltrate the Russians and they prepare to turn off the key. The terminator shows up and fights Hopper at the key. Billy finds Mike, Max and El and he captures El. The Mind Flayer comes back to kill her but Billy's memories reawaken and he sacrifices himself. Hopper kills the terminator and sacrifices himself so that Joyce can close the gate. The Mind Flayer dies. Three months later, the Byers family moves out of Hawkins with El. Mike and El confess their love for each other. Steve and Robin find a movie store to work at together. El reads Hopper's letter about the heart to heart conversation he was supposed to have before she leaves.
The Good: Despite my gripes about this season, I thought that it hit something special in the finale, particularly with the final few scenes. After 7 episodes, the show finally captured the emotions of growing up and moving on, themes that the season had tried toying with before. Everything came together with these final scenes as the show impressively conveyed a wide range of different situations where characters were forced to move on from their past lives. Some were easy and familiar like Steve and Robin locating a new store to work at. Some were filled with optimism like Erica getting Will's D&D set. Others were extremely tough and emotional like El missing Hopper and Max struggling to accept Billy's death. And some were bittersweet like the Byers family having to abandon their old lives to discover a new place in the world. The entire sequence was heartfelt, and adding Hopper's voiceover did a brilliant job of adding to the intense emotion that was conveyed here. I can say with certainty that this sequence was the best that "Stranger Things" has ever been and it could easily work as a series finale because of the sense of finality that it had.
The reunion at Starcourt was a lot of fun and it made sense for everybody to finally end up together in the season finale. The episode had a sense of unity between all of the storylines and I enjoyed how all of the various storylines interacted with the others. This episode felt like more of a complete story than every other episode before it.
I also enjoyed the following scenes of the kids hiding from the Mind Flayer. The scenes were quite tense and I thought they were well executed for the most part. Then in the other half of the episode, we had a totally different story as Murray, Hopper and Joyce sneakily infiltrated the Russian fortress. The contrast worked and it felt like I was watching 2 unique climaxes which gave the episode a fresh feeling.
The ending ended up being really poignant with the dual sacrifices coming from both stories. Billy's death was sad and it felt like a fitting, heroic way for Billy to go out. Hopper's death was much sadder and it only added to the gutpunch of Billy's death by having Hopper die just a few moments after Billy. Both deaths coupled with each other made the final victory over the Mind Flayer feel much more triumphant and hard-earned.
The Suzie moment was very unexpected and it ended up being a surprisingly sweet comedy moment. Having Dustin and Suzie sing The Neverending Story was wonderful, and it worked as an emotional moment and also a comedic moment as the show kept showing everyone's confused faces as they listened in to the song.
There were a few fun moments scattered throughout the episode. I loved The Cutting Edge show as it caught us up on what happened after the timeskip in a unique and thoroughly entertaining way. I also really liked the scene between Hopper and Joyce where they set themselves up a date, providing some nice pay-off for their season-long story.
The Bad: I had some logistical problems with this as usual. The Mind Flayer seems much more interested in roaring and seeming threatening instead of actually killing El and the kids. This took away my investment because I was confident that the Mind Flayer will be defeated and having it be an incapable villain only amplified that feeling. Furthermore, I found it hard to believe that nobody saw or heard the Mind Flayer causing chaos all throughout the city. And also, the sheer amount of last minute saves made me confident that everyone would always be saved which didn't allow me to get as invested in every scene as I could have been.
I was disappointed that the immediate fallout of the Mind Flayer was just glossed over. It would have been nice to see how everyone explained what happened to the public. Additionally, I was annoyed that we never got to see what happened to all of the other possessed people. Did they die? Were there clones that existed like we were shown in "The Mall Rats" or was that just something else? To not get these questions answered was pretty disappointing.
How did the army get into the base? Did they all fit in that elevator? It's way too easy to get into the Russian fortress.
It's the 1980s and the Star Wars prequels don't exist yet. So why is the first Star Wars movie called "A New Hope"? That name shouldn't exist yet. It's a small gripe, I know, but for a show that's usually so good with its 80s references, this is unusually sloppy.
The Unknown: Why have El's powers vanished? Will they come back?
What happened to all of the possessed people? Are they dead?
Interesting mid-credits scene. Is Hopper still alive and is he the prisoner? Will the Russians play a role in season 4?
Where does the series go now? This episode felt like a series finale in a lot of ways. Is there more story to be told? How can the show continue the story for another season?
Best Moment: The final sequence was incredibly emotional. It's so impressive how the show nailed the feelings of growing up. There were so many varying examples of this, and that means that there is at least one moment in this sequence that any viewer can relate to and understand.
Character of the Episode: Hopper.
Conclusion: This was an exciting episode and it served as a fun conclusion to the season. But that phenomenal ending sequence turned this into the best "Stranger Things" episode yet and it worked as a tremendous closing scene. I do wonder where the show can go after this.
As a whole, this season was disappointing. The characters were very different from prior seasons and a lot of the season's writing was uninspired, repetitive and boring. Still, the season was a fun watch overall like the previous two. And much like the previous two, I'll conclude by saying that I had fun watching this, but I don't see myself ever being motivated to watch this season again.
Summary: The kids remain at the house where they fight the Mind Flayer. El is injured badly but they escape. As El recovers at a store, Dustin calls Mike on the walkie. Dustin and Erica get Steve and Robin out but they are trapped in the mall with the Russians closing in. Steve confesses his love for Robin but Robin reveals that she is lesbian. The Russians find their location and the team is trapped, but the other kids return and El kills the Russians. El then collapses in pain from her wound which has started to convulse. Hopper and Joyce go searching through the Independence Day festival to find the kids. They are unsuccessful and Kline notices them. The terminator arrives and kills Alexei. Hopper, Joyce and Murray eventually escape and head to the mall.
The Good: Steve and Robin were once again this episode's saving grace. Their scenes were extremely well done. At first, it seemed like their interactions existed solely for comedy as they were high as a kite and were just saying a bunch of stupid, funny stuff. But then their interactions took a surprisingly poignant turn with Steve confessing his feelings for Robin and Robin then having the tough task of refusing him. The moment was impressively emotional and I felt really bad for Steve who had to suffer losing the girl he loves yet again. But what was most striking to me was how quickly Steve and Robin were able to move on and keep their friendship intact, showing their maturity and demonstrating the closeness of their bond which has developed in such a short amount of time. It was a beautiful scene and it paid off of their season-long story in a beautiful way.
The Hopper/Joyce story had a few good moments. The action sequence at the fair was pretty creative and it had its fair share of tense moments. I got a laugh out of Murray doing his thing where he predicts people's lives with striking accuracy once again. It was stupid (see: The Bad), yet it was still funny.
The Bad: "Stranger Things" still hasn't figured out how to handle a season's climax. This show has been consistently good at heating up storylines with intriguing mystery and some surprising twists, but when it comes to providing an action-packed climax, the show has been consistently disappointing. That trend continues here as this episode completely failed in all of its big action scenes, and without the allure of mystery keeping me engaged, that gave this episode very little content that actually interested me.
The Mind Flayer action sequence for example was absolutely atrocious. I never felt any tension because I knew that everyone would escape okay (this clearly wasn't the big climactic confrontation), and as a result, I found myself screaming in frustration at all of the absurd, convenient moments during this action sequence. For one, it makes no sense that everyone would not immediate;y leave the house when they learned that the Mind Flayer knew their location. Instead they perplexingly barred the doors and chose to make a final stand, which ended in them all running away anyways. Why didn't they just run away before? Why didn't anybody bring this up as an idea? I have no clue.
Worse yet is the mechanics of the battle itself. The Mind Flayer doesn't immediately go for the kill for whatever reason and everything is set up purely to create the most drama, rather than making any sense. The Mind Flayer can send in multiple tendrils, yet it only starts with one. Then, it doesn't attack El right away, which makes little sense considering that El is its prime target. Another stupidity is that El takes forever to start using her powers. It's like she decided to give everyone else a chance to fight beforehand which is very stupid. And why didn't the Mind Flayer just send in a third tendril to kill El? After all she only has two hands to fight with. Then we have the Mind Flayer pointlessly just poking its head in and roaring until El could explode it, which is a perfect case of the villain becoming suddenly incapable so that the heroes could escape. Also, El was wounded pretty deeply, I find it highly unlikely that she didn't bleed out before they group arrived at the store.
Murray's accurate estimation on Joyce and Hopper's relationship still feels too cartoony. It's also not as funny as the first time it happened in the last season. Thankfully, his intervention did stop the endless bickering between Joyce and Hopper which had gotten old 2 or 3 episodes ago.
The scenes at the fair had their dumb moments. Joyce going back to punch Kline was a dumb action hero trope. Alexei's death didn't really work for me. His character hadn't been developed enough to make losing him feel sad. Furthermore, I can't believe that he died without anybody in the fair noticing. News flash, even if a gun has a silencer on it, you can still hear the gunshot if your close to it! Furthermore, did nobody stumble upon the dead body which was just around the corner from everything? That should be enough to send everybody into a huge panic.
The Unknown: What is happening to El's leg? Will she lose her leg in the next episode? Or is the Mind Flayer starting to take over her mind?
The story seems to be setting up for a big final confrontation at Starcourt Mall with all the major players heading there. What is going to happen? Will the gate be closed? Will the Mind Flayer attack the Russians too?
What happens to Kline in the next episode? What is his character's resolution?
If the Mind Flayer is killed, will all of the Flayed be returned to their normal lives? Or do they die too?
Best Moment: Steve's confession to Robin.
Character of the Episode: I gave it to Steve last episode, so I'll give it to Robin this time.
Conclusion: "Stranger Things" still hasn't quite figured out how to do big climaxes and it shows with this episode. Outside of the one brilliant Steve and Robin scene, this was a major disappointment and it feels like this season is going to end on a real low point.
Summary: The Russians discover Dustin, Steve, Robin and Erica's presence in the secret fortress. Steve and Robin are captured and interrogated. Dustin and Erica escape but they go back and save the other two. However, Steve and Robin have already revealed everything they know to the Russians after extensive torture. Nancy and Jonathan barely escape from the monster with El's help. El attempts to locate Billy to figure out where the Mind Flayer would be located. She finds Billy and discovers that the location is Brimborn Steelworks. However, the Mind Flayer is able to locate El as a result and the Flayed all go to the Steelworks to prepare for an attack. Alexei reveals that the Russians are trying to access the Upside Down, terrifying Joyce and Hopper.
The Good: I liked parts of this episode but not the episode as a whole. I thought there were a few excellent scenes but the stories overall didn't live up to my expectations.
The best parts of the episode were with Steve and Robin as they got tortured by the Russians. The Russians were intimidating and the two of them were in a genuinely dangerous situation with no way out. It was tense seeing Steve get beaten as the Russians try to force information out of him, and it was emotional seeing Robin and Steve open up to each other while in the face of certain death. The part where they both reflected on their high school life in contrast to the life they wanted was genuinely sweet. They developed a nice bond over the course of this season.
I also enjoyed the cinematic way that we were shown Billy's backstory. I loved the idea of El trying to read his mind to find the Mind Flayer's location, and I thought the execution of the scene was wonderful. I was also a big fan of the reveal that the Mind Flayer can now track El as a result of her approaching Billy. It's fitting that her bold move would have some major consequences, and now the stakes have been raised for the final two episodes of the season.
The start of the episode with the monster attacking Jonathan and Nancy was a really strong start. The scene was tense and I was on the edge of my seat because this moment felt like a point where the story could take an unexpected turn and have Jonathan or Nancy or even both of them get captured. But unfortunately the show took the safe route.
The Bad: This episode ended up being one of the show's most uninspired efforts. The story is predictable and boring, and it's filled to the brim with tropes and clichés that drag down the plot completely. As a result, this becomes a wholly unsatisfying hour of television and it doesn't do a great job of getting me hyped up for the season's endgame.
The characters remain a weak part of this season. Each character gets maybe one episode to be relevant and to do something important, but outside of that everyone is a boring caricature of themselves. This appears to have happened because the cast has expanded far too much with too many characters being given nothing to do. Joyce and Hopper have been part of a rather dull side story for a long time now and they still haven't contributed much of note to the story. Their characters haven't been treated well either as Joyce doesn't seem to care for her kids at all and Hopper has become a complete joke with all of his worst traits played up for comedy. It's funny for sure, but his character's destruction has disconnected me from his story.
The kids are just as bad. I can't recall Lucas contributing a single thing to the story this season. Dustin has been relegated to a side character when he is given his own storyline as the emphasis is always on Steve and Robin. Erica is just awful and remains that way in this episode. Then we have Mike, El and Max heavily involved in this cheesy romance story which I'm somehow managing to get more and more annoyed by in every episode. The problem I have with this is that nobody is likable. Max is the annoying friend, Mike is so overprotective and obsessive that it's impossible to sympathize with him, El continually shifts from sensible to foolish with every scene, and due to this story, Will is just forgotten all together. This season's poor treatment of its characters has been present from episode 1, and it still hasn't been addressed. A few good scenes and some entertaining plot movement does not make up for the sabotage of the show's characters.
This episode is also far too convenient with stupid ways to advance the plot. Hopper giving Alexei the keys is stupid enough and I can't understand why he would take such a risk. What's worse is that his plan actually works as Alexei stops driving and submits in what is one of the show's cheesiest moments ever. Next, we have Nancy and Jonathan just standing there as the monster forms before they somehow manage to survive long enough until El finds them to save them. If the show had any sense of consequence, both of them should have been killed in seconds because they couldn't get away, and moments like the monster taking its sweet time to kill Nancy really hurt the show's credibility. Then we get the absurdly terrible Russian security. According to Alexei, the Russians have their most elite security systems in place, yet they can be breached by 4 dumb kids. That is completely implausible. Furthermore, Dustin and Erica somehow remain hidden after escaping, despite the Russians actively looking for them, and then they somehow stage a rescue mission to get Steve and Robin out of confinement. These scenes were all awful, and it made the Russians look like cartoon villains instead of a competent government organization.
Was Billy's backstory really necessary for the show? Its timing was very odd as the character of Billy hadn't been focused on for a long time. Furthermore,
Kline is a terrible character. He is cartoonish in the worst ways and the scene where he is threatened by the Terminator was bad.
The Unknown: What is the Mind Flayer going to do now? Will it attack the city or just go for El? How are the kids going to fight this?
What role will Hopper and Joyce play in the story?
Did Dustin, Steve, Robin and Erica seriously just escape that easily? How will the Russians respond to this?
Best Moment: Steve and Robin opening up while facing certain death was excellent.
Character of the Episode: Steve.
Conclusion: This had a few strong moments, but overall this episode was very badly done and continued the disappointing run of this season.
Summary: Joyce and Hopper find a secret underground Russian base that they investigate. The man whoa attacked Hopper at Hawkins lab returns to kill them. Joyce and Hopper escape with a hostage, Alexei. Hopper takes them to Murray's place. Dustin, Steve, Robin and Erica find themselves in a secret Russian facility. They quietly sneak around and discover a massive machine. Nancy tells Jonathan about Mrs. Driscoll and she speaks with the kids about it. They all figure out that the Mind Flayer has possessed tons of people and is doing it at a specific location. Nancy plans to follow Mrs. Driscoll back to this location so they all go to the hospital. At the hospital, Jonathan and Nancy find that Mrs. Driscoll is gone an dBruce and Tom are waiting for them. They fight and kill Tom and Bruce who melt into goo and transform into a monster.
The Good: The best thing about this episode is that it was very entertaining. There is loads of action, the comedy is fantastic, and the pacing is rapid. A lot happens here, and it is fun to watch.
Joyce and Hopper's story starts with a bang with an exciting action sequence that sets up the story for the rest of the episode. They go on an episode-long journey with new character Alexei, who is a fun addition with entertaining mannerisms, but the episode is still pretty serious as they are chased by a Terminator-like villain who is right behind them. The story is fun and there are several funny moments like the commandeering of the convertible car, Joyce accidentally throwing the gun to the bad guy, and Hopper screaming at Joyce to drive over and over again.
The Mrs. Driscoll plot is really strong as well. Like the Hopper/Joyce story, this is filled with comedy and some pretty important plot details which are given out early in the episode. The story reaches its climax with a really fun action/horror sequence as Nancy and Jonathan battle Tom and Bruce, though they do so differently than they may have expected. This leads into a shocking final scene as a monster is born out of Tom and Bruce's remains, leaving us on a pretty good cliffhanger. We also get a nice moment of Jonathan and Nancy making up, which was a solid scene that nicely addressed the tension between them.
The Dustin/Steve story is also really fun. There are a number of fun setpieces, exciting moments, and big reveals. It's good for all of the same reasons that the other 2 stories are good. As a whole, all three storylines are moving the story forwards in the same way and at the same pace.
As a side note, I really liked the transition from Hopper, Joyce and Alexei in the woods to El watching them. This show has gotten a little more creative with its cinematography.
The Bad: The biggest issue with this episode is how little character work there is. The episode is far too busy with too many plot movements, and as a result there are fewer character beats infused into the action than usual. I enjoy some action and plot development as much as anyone else, but I certainly prefer there to be a character story told throughout.
The result of a lack of character means that this episode doesn't have much under the surface of the suspense. The mystery of early in the season is nearly gone, so all the tension comes from the action setpieces which is too simple of a story to carry an episode. The characters are given very basic things to do and there isn't very much conflict for any of them to deal with throughout the episode.
I had a few problems with this. Robin seems to have somehow picked up on the Russian language immediately which is too quick for my liking. I still don't understand why the elevator decided to go down at the beginning of the episode, and it seems that there is no explanation. That's pretty stupid. Lastly, the terminator villain is a little too ridiculous for me.
The Unknown: What does Alexei know? Will he tell Hopper and Joyce anything?
What is with that goo at the end? Are the possessed people actually just goo and not the actual people? Have they somehow been replaced by monsters? How does this work? What is that monster at the end? How did it form like that? How many of these monsters are there? What is going to happen to Nancy and Jonathan?
Best Moment: Nancy and Jonathan getting back together was the only scene of the episode thta actually made me feel something.
Character of the Episode: Hopper.
Conclusion: This was entertaining, but it was lacking in character. I had fun watching this episode, but there is nothing more than ordinary TV drama here.
Summary: Hopper and Joyce track the mystery assailant back to Kline and they confront him about it. Hopper kidnaps him and gets him to reveal that the culprits were the owners of Starcourt mall who are buying out various properties. Hopper and Joyce go to investigate but Kline warns the owners. The kids get back together when Will informs them that the Mind Flayer is back. Max and El suspect that Billy is possessed so they lure him into a sauna to test it. They confirm that Billy is possessed but Billy nearly kills El. Eventually Billy runs back to Heather and many other possessed townsfolk. Jonathan and Nancy are fired and they fight. Nancy goes to investigate more on Mrs. Driscoll. Robin, Steve and Dustin send Erica to infiltrate the room they found. She does so and lets them in. They discover that the room is an elevator and accidentally trigger it.
The Good: This episode was pretty explosive and I enjoyed it. The climax of the episode was brilliant and it provided an effective action sequence for early in the season's story. I thought that the plan to get Billy into the sauna made sense, and I enjoyed the drama once he was in there. Billy's begging was fascinating and created tension in an organic way. I was never sure if it was Billy actually talking or if it was just the Mind Flayer possessing him. The fight between Billy and El ended up being really intense, and it nicely demonstrated the overwhelming power of the Mind Flayer, setting up the story with a sense of impending doom as we learn that the Mind Flayer is building an army of superhumans like Billy.
Nancy and Jonathan's story finally went somewhere I liked. Having them both get fired was a nice way to force change for the characters. It makes sense that their secret investigations would go unpunished when they were in high school (they are just kids), but in the adult world they are severely penalized for acting on their own without any thought. Nancy's follow-up story is great as her fight with Jonathan forces her to really look at herself as a person to get past this rough patch in her life. I was impressed with how the show managed to portray Nancy in a really relatable light, accurately conveying the emotions that a girl in her position would be feeling.
Having the kids back together was fun, and their story in this episode was much better than the split stories of previous episodes. They have great chemistry together, but when they are on their own, the spark is missing. I especially liked how the tensions between characters continued on in their interactions despite them working together. The scenes between El and Mike, and Will and Lucas in particular were quite good.
I like that Kline returned as a much more significant character than he initially seemed. He was never portrayed as a likable guy, so it was smart to have him return as a weak villain. I enjoyed Hopper's fight with him, and I really liked that Hopper took Kline with him to get information instead of just leaving him.
The Bad: But then Hopper inexplicably leaves Kline in his own house so that he can contact his men. It's such a dumb move from Hopper, made worse by the fact that he was smart enough to take Kline with him earlier in the episode but not at the end.
I'm not enjoying Erica at all. Robin toed the line for being an obnoxious character due to the fact that she frequently had the answer for just about everything. However, her great chemistry with Steve and Dustin made her an enjoyable character who didn't annoy me at all. With Erica, the writers send her way over the line as she annoys me in just about every scene she is in. Her personality is extremely hard to buy into for a child, and the fact that this little kid has all of the answers is much more annoying than with Robin. I don't like her as a new character to focus on, and I hope she goes back into the background soon.
This show still doesn't quite engage me like other shows. It's fun to watch in the moment, but I'm never left spending much time reflecting on the episodes or desiring to watch them again. The show is only able to really hit "good" in terms of quality, and it never seems to transcend that. I think it has something to do with the show's format and its simplistic nature of storytelling. There's nothing wrong with simple storytelling, but this show just seems to do it in a very bland way.
The Unknown: Is the Mind Flayer really just a remnant from season 2 like Will said? Or is its emergence connected to the Russians?
Who are the Starcourt owners? What are they buying? Why is it so secretive? Are they the Russians? Why is Kline okay with what they are doing? What are they hiding that Kline had to warn them about?
Where does the elevator lead?
Why was Mrs. Driscoll getting the same body texture as Billy? Is the Mind Flayer also connected to the rats? Why was she freaking out like Billy? Is it a case where every possessed human gets a power-up at the same time, not just one?
Was Billy actually indifferent to what the Mind Flayer was doing or is he actively working for it? Billy's scenes in "The Mall Rats" are purposely left vague for us to speculate about this.
Best Moment: Nancy speaking with her mom and finding her strength again was a nice moment.
Character of the Episode: Nancy.
Conclusion: This was a good episode, giving Nancy some much-needed character development and providing an exciting climax.
Summary: Hopper is mad at Joyce for standing him up. Joyce eventually convinces him to check out Hawkins Lab. They are attacked by a mystery assailant who knocks Hopper out and leaves. Dustin, Steve and Robin search for evil Russians. Robin eventually cracks the code and the trio watch a group of Russians accept a shipment. They are almost caught but they escape. El sees Billy while playing a game with Max and realizes that he is doing something questionable. They track down that Heather is missing and pay her a visit but everything is strangely fine. After they leave, Billy and Heather knock out Heather's parents. Will and Mike get in a fight when Mike is way more interested in girls that his friendship with Will. Will leaves and destroys Castle Byers in a fit of rage. He senses the return of the Mind Flayer. Nancy and Jonathan return to Mrs. Driscoll where they find her consuming the fertilizer.
The Good: This episode benefited from terrific structuring. It's impressive how every single storyline in this episode started off as dumb fun before building up to a super creepy sequence which culminates in a major reveal that nicely establishes the season's story. The perfect way that every story flowed, and the way that the writers got all the stories to fit into one another was downright impressive and it made for what is easily the season's best episode so far.
El and Max's story is pretty good. I love the way that El accidentally stumbles on Billy's sinister actions. Of course the two teenage girls would abuse El's powers just for fun, and I love how the fun and games quickly turned into something sinister. There were a couple of excellent sequences here. El's bathtub scenes are always really well shot to convey creepiness and fear of the unknown. The scene with Billy and Heather at Heather's house worked really well too simply because of how odd and unexpected it was. It had its flaws for sure (see: The Bad), but I think that it worked pretty well.
Robin, Steve and Dustin are simply excellent and their chemistry is fantastic. I had tons of fun with their storyline and the humour was simply great. Steve and Dustin's awful attempt at following the "evil Russian guy" was hilarious, and the payoff gag of him being a dancing teacher was awesome. Additionally, we have been treated to the wonderful arc of Steve failing to adjust to real life after leaving high school. Steve has consistently been given more depth than half of the cast.
The Mike vs Will story is heartbreaking and I think it works really well. What makes it so good is that both characters have understandably gone in different directions with their lives and those differences have started to cost them their friendship. Will is sad because Mike no longer has any time for him and is so fixated on girls, while Mike is upset that Will doesn't understand how much he does care about El and how her dumping him has affected him. I've felt that this season hasn't done a very good job of examining the pains of growing up until now with this storyline. It's hard not to feel for Will who has to go through the tough act of leaving his childhood behind. Noah Schnapp puts in a fantastic performance (he remains my favourite kid actor on the show by far), and the scene where he destroys Castle Byers is particularly poignant.
Joyce and Hopper's infiltration of Hawkins lab is fine television overall, but what really stands out is the reveal that Joyce is planning to leave Hawkins as a desperate bid to escape the horrors of her past. This is such a real emotion and it's easy to sympathize with Joyce. Additionally, Hopper finally comes off as a good guy in this season when he talks to Joyce about her decision with some kindness and caring. This is the guy I liked in seasons 1 and 2, not the stupid over-protective dad role that the show has thrust David Harbour into.
The Bad: The mystery this season just isn't as engaging as it was before. I guess it's because we already know so much, so the thrill that was there in season 1 doesn't have a chance to return in this season. It becomes clear that the Mind Flayer is behind everything so his return isn't as big of a moment as the show thinks. It's also the most predictable direction to take the show, so I really hope there are some twists to this.
Some of the main stories are hard to invest in. Hopper and Joyce's argument is really dumb and I was annoyed by Joyce's refusal to acknowledge how she left Hopper. Not having her even mention it at all was way too blunt and it made her seem like a total jerk. Their story was probably the least engaging to watch overall.
Nancy and Jonathan are still horribly dull as characters. The Hawkins Post guys are somehow even worse as they are one-note "bad guys" who do the same shtick in every episode. Unfortunately they aren't funny so the gag has already run its course and has started to annoy me more than anything else.
I wish the Mike vs Will story had gotten more focus in the prior episodes. The big moment of their fight is excellent, but I feel like it could have been so much more had it the fight been the boiling point of a conflict which had been given time to actually grow in the first two episodes. The writers also heavily botched the characters of Mike and Lucas this season as they come off as far too unlikable, and it's hard to sympathize with their cause instead of Will's.
The Unknown: What is the ice for? The Mind Flayer? How was Heather taken down from the bath tub? Was that just a cool effect?
Did Mrs. Driscoll get infected by the remains of the rat? Why is she eating fertilizer now?
What are the Russians smuggling into the mall?
Who attacked Hopper? Was it a Russian?
Are Billy and Heather both possessed by the Mind Flayer? It seems like he is building an army of possessed people this time around.
Best Moment: Will destroying Castle Byers was such a heartbreaking moment. It's a wonderful moment showing how life forces change regardless of who you are and how tough it can be to accept that people will go their different ways and that you need to move on.
Character of the Episode: Will.
Conclusion: This was a much stronger episode with some emotional moments and phenomenal structure and pacing. I still had my usual laundry list of gripes, but this was a fun episode.
Summary: Mike tells El he can't see her today and makes an excuse but El can tell that he is lying. Mike goes to Lucas for help while El goes to Max for help. They all end up sending the day at the mall but at the end of the day they encounter each other. El dumps Mike for lying too much. Dustin goes to Steve to help decipher the transmission he picked up. Robin helps them and they realize that it's a code. Steve deduces that the transmission actually came from the mall. Hopper sets up a date with Joyce but Joyce doesn't show up because she has gone to Mr. Clarke for information about the magnets that keep falling. Billy returns but he isn't himself. He kidnaps a fellow lifeguard and takes her to the same monster that attacked him. Nancy and Jonathan investigate the mysterious rats.
The Good: The comedy was much better in this episode and I laughed a few times. The same goes for the character work that was done, and even the development of the plot. This episode improved everything that made me dislike the season premier so much and it served as a much better way to get me into this season.
The El/Mike/Hopper story remains really stupid (see: The Bad), but it's certainly fun to watch in this episode. The awkward phone call between El and Mike was hilarious, and the reveal that Mrs. Wheeler was listening in the entire time did make me laugh. Mike's lies were quite terrible, and it makes sense that El would figure out that something is up. The branching storylines with the guys and girls were pretty good. I thought that the characters were all defined much better in this episode, and each of them served a prominent role in showing how everyone grew up and what kind of people they became. Plus, the mall sequences were very well shot and I liked the idea of ending the episode at the climactic point of El dumping Mike. It's a really fun moment because it nicely captures the reality of what pre-teen romances are like.
Steve, Dustin and Robin definitely steal the show. The team has wonderful chemistry and I really enjoyed their conversations. Watching them decipher the transmission was fun and I liked that all three of them got to inject parts of their character into their conversations without any of them coming off poorly.
Billy's story is really interesting, and the editing during his scenes was masterfully done. His insanity is shown really well and it's easy to understand why he is behaving so strangely and we can easily see what it wrong with him. The sequences with him are pretty horrific to watch, but very gripping nevertheless.
The return of Mr. Clarke was fantastic, and I lived the use of "My Bologna" when he re-entered the story. His advice to Joyce was good, and I liked that Joyce continually asked good questions to give us the necessary information to try to theorize what could be going on with the magnets.
The Bad: There were still problems with this. All of the lies were horribly unconvincing and I was left wondering why many of the characters decided to lie anyways. Mike's poor lies, while funny, felt extremely forced and I don't think he could have convinced my two year old cousin that he was telling the truth. I understand that this is the point, but I find it highly illogical that he would lie so poorly, especially after two seasons where the kids were forced to lie to just about everybody. Hopper's lies to Joyce were also terrible. Surely he understands that she is going to figure out the truth eventually.
It's implausible that only Joyce would notice the problem with the magnets. It has happened to Joyce in two different locations, which likely means that it is happening all over Hawkins. Everyone would notice this, so why is Joyce the only one who is reacting?
The idea of Dustin hearing a transmission all the way from Russia on his walkie would be nonsensical. That's why I'm confused that the range of the walkie wasn't used to decipher the fact that the transmission happened in Hawkins. It makes much more sense to go that route than to have Steve amazingly realize that one random tune from a ride is the exact sound that was playing during the transmission.
Nancy and Jonathan's story is ridiculously dull. We don't learn any new information from their trip (aside from the fact that the rat remains are sentient), and their mission is ridiculously boring. It doesn't further the plot and it doesn't teach us anything new about their characters which makes it a dud of a storyline.
Honestly, why is Will even tagging along with the others if he never talks to them and only asks if they can play D&D? The way he is ignored in every scene should really have ended his friendship with Lucas and Mike a long time ago.
The Unknown: What happened to Billy? How was there a clone of him in the Upside Down? Are there clones of everyone? What does he plan to do with the lifeguard? Is he trying to raise an army of clones? What exactly is controlling Billy? Is it the Mind Flayer? Could it be tied to the Russians or the rats?
What is that goop that the rats transformed into? Does it become some kind of monster? Or something else? I noticed that the rats were eating fertilizer, which I suppose feeds whatever it is that they become. Why do they need the fertilizer? What is causing them to explode anyways?
What are the Russians doing in Hawkins? Is it something to do with the rats?
Best Moment: The first Billy sequence when he returned and spoke to Mrs. Wheeler was excellently done.
Character of the Episode: Billy.
Conclusion: This was fine stuff and it improved on the many flaws of the season premier. Still, I feel like this show could use some better writing and more emotional engagement.
Summary: In 1984, Russia started performing experiments, attempting to access the Upside Down. They failed and were given one year to succeed. In the present, lives have changed a lot. Mike and El are in an active relationship much to Hopper's chagrin. Billy works as a lifeguard, and Steve works at the new mall. Dustin returns from science camp and the gang meets up with him. Dustin takes them on a trip so that they can talk to his girlfriend. The trip takes too long and nobody answers so everyone leaves. Dustin picks up a Russian transmission. Rats have mysteriously started gathering and combusting at a steel works location. Billy is driving by for a date with Mrs. Wheeler when he is suddenly attacked by a mysterious force.
The Good: The opening and ending of the episode were classic "Stranger Things". I'll dig into the opening scene first. Of course we have an evil scientist corporation to open up the season, though the twist this time is that they are in Russia. I didn't expect that twist, but I think it makes perfect sense and it is a logical way for the Upside Down to be opened up again, since the US is likely not stupid enough to make the same mistake once again. The idea that Russia's experiments took place at the same time as the events of season 2 is a logical choice, and it makes it clear that the effects of their experimentation will be explored this season.
The ending of the episode was a classic horror sequence that I enjoyed. Billy was ever the asshole as he returned in this episode (I absolutely loved his introduction scene as a lifeguard, brilliant comedy packed with 80s references). I was nervous that we would have to put up with his absurd, over-the-top character for a while, but it looks like he was immediately sacrificed to whatever the main monster of this season is going to be called, though I doubt he is dead. Still, the final scene was a strong way to give this season some momentum.
The rest of the episode had some odd good moments. I liked Joyce missing Bob, it makes his death have more importance to the story, and it makes sense that she hasn't forgotten him over the last year. Hopper had some funny moments throughout the episode as expected, though he was pretty hit-or-miss (see: The Bad). Steve hitting on girls and failing in epic fashion was pretty funny and suitably awkward. Lastly, Dustin's return and his welcoming was a pretty fun moment.
The Bad: But as a whole, this was a very poor premier. The episode did a pretty awful job of reintroducing everybody and showing how many things had changed. I do like these characters, but it was hard for me to believe that I liked everyone here because of how unlikable and unrecognizable most of the characters were. The kids hardly spent any time together and they seemed to antagonize each other more than they had fun which is a bad way to get me to care about their friendships. El and Mike's constant kissing got old fast and I don't really care about their relationship since it mostly developed offscreen, and from what I can see it's mostly just a physical relationship. Hopper as an overprotective parent is such a dull storyline that was filled with every trope possible, and it did absolutely nothing for me. Nancy and Jonathan weren't given enough time for me to care about anything they did. Honestly, nobody was put in a good position after this episode and I'm feeling surprisingly indifferent towards the show. A season premier should not make me feel that way. The fact that the repetitive plot was the best part of this episode is really telling of how much of a failure this episode was as a season premier.
The pacing of the episode was also really bad. There were so many different stories and the episode was jumping all over the place at far too quick of a pace. It meant that nothing really got the chance to sink in. The scenes that were given time really didn't need so much focus given to them. Do I need so many scenes developing the Billy/Mrs. Wheeler romance? No, I don't. Did we really need to spend so damn long on the bad Hopper subplot, including an awkward scene between Hopper/El/Mike that overstayed its welcome? No, that time could have been used much more efficiently elsewhere. In fact, the wrong scenes were so frequently given too much screentime and that meant that this episode fell into that really awkward place where the pacing was both too quick and too slow at the same time. That made things flow very unevenly.
The comedy was a pretty big flop too. Most of the "funny" moments in this episode completely missed the mark. The writers tried to make comedy by just lingering on a scene for longer than they should in an attempt to make the audience have some awkward chuckles. Unfortunately, scenes like these are never funny at all and they fell woefully short of genuine comedy.
And I really need to address Hopper's story directly. Hopper is a fun character, so making him do something as bland as be worried about El and Mike's relationship is a really bad use of him. I'm certain there's going to be some big pay-off in an emotional scene later this season between Hopper and El/Mike, but I wish that it could have been built up to in a more interesting way than this. Hopper's "training" from Joyce was nonsensical (why does Joyce think that making Hopper behave so falsely is a good idea), and worse yet was Hopper's inability to memorize the lines or even say anything from his heart. Then the resulting scenes with Hopper and Mike were pretty bad too so it all felt like a pretty big waste of time.
The Unknown: Who are the Russians at the beginning? What are their goals? Have they already been successful at accessing the Upside Down?
Is the opening scene connected to the mysterious detonating rats? Why are they all gathering at the steel works place? What is in there? What was the monster that attacked Billy? Does it have something to do with the rats? Is it eating the rats? Getting power from the rats? Why did it take Billy? Is Billy dead?
What about that mysterious power outage? What was that mysterious thing that was forming? Was that the monster, or something else?
What is with the magnets that keep falling in Joyce's house? What is causing that? Is that happening everywhere in Hawkins or just her house?
What was the significance of that Russian transmission? Will Dustin understand its importance? Did he record it somehow?
Does Dustin actually have a girlfriend?
Best Moment: Probably the opening scene. The Russia twist was pretty good.
Character of the Episode: A really hard choice since nobody was very likable, even Dustin. I'l go with Joyce.
Conclusion: This episode had a really solid opening and ending scene, but everything in between was bad. This is not s good way to start the season and it completely failed to get me excited.
Just a university student who loves to watch TV. And criticize it like hell.