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.
Just a university student who loves to watch TV. And criticize it like hell.