The Duffer Brothers’ show, Stranger Things, is an instant classic. If you have been under a rock for the last few years and have not heard, this show is chock-full of pop culture references and throwbacks to the late seventies and early eighties. That is not to mention the show is set to epic scores and soundtracks that bring home the nostalgia. The soundtrack can be enjoyed at Spotify’s official Stranger Things Soundtrack. I strongly recommend that you invest some time with this show. You will not be disappointed.
This is a continuation of the review of the third season, covering the second chapter, “The Mall Rats”. See my review of the first chapter, “Suzie, Do You Copy?” Be forewarned that spoilers are below.
The Monster Within
Can you imagine if Stranger Things had been released during the glory days of cable television? If I had to watch this show only one episode per week; let’s just call it torture. Each episode ends on a cliffhanger and “Suzie, Do You Copy?” did not disappoint. We were left with Billy Hargrove (Dacre Montgomery) having hit some sort of creature with his car and losing control of it. He spins out of control only to come to a stop in the parking lot of an abandoned warehouse. Where he is then abducted by the creature that we have seen being constructed by the biomaterial leftover from the dead rats being drawn to the warehouse.
After being abducted, Billy escapes the warehouse but not his demon(s). He quickly makes for his car and tries to use a payphone to call 911 for help. Until suddenly, he seems to be in the Upside Down confronting his Doppelgänger. Did I mention that the intros to the show are badass as well? Montgomery does an excellent job in this scene. There was plenty of foreshadowing in Season 2 that would lead us to believe that Billy could very well be the antagonist in this season. However, Montgomery’s superb acting makes me sympathetic to this character. His plight is dire and he is scared out of his wits. I doubt that Billy has ever been afraid. Billy is directed by his Doppelgänger to build. Although it is unclear exactly what that exactly means.
Billy returns to his lifeguard job the next day and is seen going into chemical storage by Mrs. Wheeler (Cara Buono). She corners him and apologizes for missing their rendezvous the night before. She believes that Billy feels stood up but lashes out at Karen saying, “Stay away from me.” It is a cold statement but it is difficult to say if Billy is angry or scared of himself. He is clearly having aggressive thoughts towards her that are originating from the Mind Flayer.
Billy takes his place in the lifeguard tower and falls asleep. He wakes up to a severe burn on his arm. It seems that he is now susceptible to the sun. He stumbles his way to the showers disoriented and scared. At this point, Heather, one of his fellow lifeguards, checks in on him. Billy hears Heather (Francesca Reale) say, “Take me to him,” speaking of the Mind Flayer. In actuality, he is having a hallucination and she is conveying her concern for him. Billy overpowers Heather and takes her back to the warehouse where he delivers her to the Mind Flayer. Heather becomes the second Flayed.
Boyfriends lie. All. The. Time.
Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) and Mike (Finn Wolfhard) continue to be in an awkward state that transitions into a train wreck. Mike is attempting to follow the ground rules laid out by Hopper (David Harbour). He is not very forthcoming with Eleven and she can sense that he is being dishonest which puts him in hot water. This situation quickly leads to Max and Eleven becoming close while they discuss Lucas’s and Mike’s antics. Max is all the wiser when it comes to boys and informs Eleven that she needs to “dump his ass.”
Her second point is that Eleven needs to live for herself and the best way to get over boys is to go shopping. This leads to a shopping montage that is uniquely fun and draws on rites of passage while being a teenage girl in the eighties. The montage continues to shed light on the story of Eleven’s evolution as she is challenged to shop for her identity, not Mike’s or Hopper’s preferences. While Eleven is eyeing an outfit Max asks, “Do you like that?” Elven asks, “How do I know what I like?” Max states, “You just try things on until something that feels like you.” By the end of the shopping spree, Eleven is leaving the store in a multi-colored romper that is sure to be a Halloween favorite this year. Get yours while you can. You can find it here. By purchasing it through the MHG website, it is a great way to show your support.
Mike’s epic fail. “Am I your pet?” – Eleven
Mike, on the other hand, knows he has been had. He is miserable and is seeking to make up lost ground with Eleven. Lucas counsels him how to make up to his girl and his advice is to buy Eleven something nice to make up to her. It turns out that it is kind of hard to do on three dollars and some change. The boys have some funny scenes that highlight their difficulties connecting with the girls. Poor Will is tagging along but is insistent on playing D&D. My favorite fail is when Mike asks the jeweler the price for the teddy bear charm. Let’s just say it was way outside his budget. Mike and the boys are caught by Max and Eleven outside the mall. Mike seals his fate with his aggravation that Eleven is out in public shopping. Eleven has caught Mike in his lie and literally dumps his ass. Lucas tries to back up Mike and now he is in hot water with Max but let’s face it, he stays there with Max. Eleven sheds no tears over Mike as she celebrates with Max on the bus.
You Don’t Mess Around With Jim
Jim Hopper is over the moon that Mike and Eleven have some distance between them. Looking back on this maybe Jim is being slightly self-centered. Let the kids have fun. Then I think of my girl and what I would do if she was cozying up to some punk boy and I think, “Mike deserves this for his punk ass attitude.” I love the scene where Hopper is singing at the top of his lungs “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim” by Jim Croce. This scene is great because this is the happiest we have seen Hopper in the entirety of the show. He is just jovial and quite hysterical given the context.
Lady and the Sheriff – “It’s not a date.”
Jim soon arrives at the store to announce his success, albeit he does withhold some of the details, regarding Mike and El. Joyce (Winona Ryder) is ecstatic with his success. It is evident that these two have become very close. In fact, Jim seizes the opportunity to ask Joyce out for dinner that night knowing that he has freed up time from being a chaperone. It is a fine dining restaurant at that. By the way, if you have to state that it is not a date, it most definitely is. Unfortunately, as Jim is leaving to answer a call from the Sheriff’s department he knocks down some magnets. Joyce again discovers that these magnets have lost their magnetism.
Sensing that something is up, she begins reading up on electromagnetism but finds that she needs some help. Who can she turn to but the boy’s old science teacher, Scott Clarke? He quickly helps her determine that an electromagnetic field could reverse the polarity of the magnets. However, it would take a very large and expensive piece of machinery to accomplish this. Nothing like this exists in Hawkins, right?
Unfortunately, while Joyce has been preoccupied with her science lesson, she has completely forgotten about her date with Jim. Jim has ordered some new threads. His Hawaiian shirt has been all the rage too. If you are looking forward to dressing up as Hawaiian Hopper for Halloween, Amazon is a bust. Try Spencers. Meanwhile, Hopper is getting lit while waiting on Joyce. Although he is doing it in quite a classy fashion. This Jim Hopper after dark theme is hilarious. He ends up having a bottle of Chianti to go, something only Sheriffs can do.
The Paranormal Investigators Break Free
Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) skip out of their formal newspaper responsibilities to independently conduct their own investigation of the rat problem. Nancy buys them some time by playing hooky. Jonathan is hesitant to tag along feeling that this could all backfire. Nancy is feeling rebellious and eager to do anything to be noticed at the office. She hates her current predicament so much that she thinks that she wouldn’t even mind being fired to be rid of the hell hole.
They arrive at an elderly lady’s house to discover that she has captured one of the little rat bastards that have been eating all of her fertilizer. Nancy investigates by making some cold calls. Jonathan attempts to take pictures of the rodent as it keeps bouncing around the cage. Just after they leave the little pipsqueak, it explodes into goo and then transforms into some sort of demonic-looking hand, crawling across the floor. Is anybody hungry yet?
All Aboard At Scoops Ahoy
In one of my favorite scenes, Steve and Dustin are reunited after Dustin has been away for the summer. Dustin and Steve on sight go into a secret handshake of sorts which includes lightsabers and disembowelment. While the boys are having their fun Robin quickly inquires, “How many children are you friends with?” I can’t get enough of Robin’s wit. She is quick to seize an opportunity to take a jab at dingus’ ego.
Steve is overjoyed to see Dustin. This is good for Dustin’s self-esteem since he feels that his friends all ditched him the day before. Dustin wants to recruit Steve’s help in translating the secret Russian transmission. Pretty boy Steve, likewise, has fallen from grace. The girls will not give him a second glance while he is slinging ice cream. In a show of outcasts; they take center stage as the lonesome duo trying to determine a Russian transmission. Robin, (Steve’s coworker is played by Maya Hawke who is the daughter of Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman) soon joins their ranks out of immense boredom. She proves to be extremely intelligent and witty. Robin put the boys in their places and quickly earns her place as a fan favorite.
Robin is integral to decoding the secret Russian code. They put the final sentence together after hours. “The week is long. The silver cat feeds when blue meets yellow in the west.” It isn’t much but it is all they’ve got. As the trio is leaving the mall Steve has his breakthrough. He once again brings up the song he briefly referenced in the recording at the beginning of the episode, “Daisy Bell/A Bicycle Build For Two”. It is the song that is being played by a very particular Indiana Flyer pony ride. Which means the message was recorded in the mall.
What has really been great for Steves’s ego, is the Scoops Ahoy outfit. If you are looking to get ahold of this outfit for Halloween this year, click the link.
This episode is the perfect example of what makes Stranger Things a great show. It continued to build the narrative around Hawkins and the changes that have occurred in the town since the construction of the mall. It also continues the character progression with our beloved characters such as Eleven and Dustin as they try to find their center in this “Teenage Wasteland”. We also are beginning to see the romantic side of Hopper as he attempts to court Joyce. We were enticed with the development of the antagonist as Billy receives his instructions to build the Flayed army and abducts Heather and has her turned. Which also leads to the expected cliff hanger as the show ends with Billy offering Heather to the Mindflayer.
The show excels at leveraging short scenes or stories with the characters that drive the story to its final conclusion. For example, I am sure that the fracturing of the group will resolve itself by the season’s end as they face off with the Mindflayer and the Russians. This has been the case with the previous two seasons. In the meantime, we get to sit back and enjoy the fast-paced action and drama that is needed to create such a conclusion through these short glimpses into the goings-on of our favorite characters. The pace and excellent storytelling create a great rewatch experience and I look forward to reviewing the third chapter.
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