[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for the Stranger Things Season 3 "Chapter Two: The Mall Rats"]
Hold up! Billy Hargrove (Dacre Montgomery) is still alive. And not only is he still alive but there’s now two of him. What did we possibly do to deserve this?
I will say it's refreshing to see Billy in what is essentially the Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) role, and by that, I mean a host to the Upside Down. All of his mulleted machismo is stripped away after being dragged through rat guts and into the clutches of the Mind Flayer.
While in the Upside Down, Billy is instructed by his doppelgänger to “build” something. The “real” Billy doesn’t know what that means, but it isn’t long before he’s kidnapping Heather (Francesca Reale), his co-worker from the pool, and throwing her in the back of his trunk. I feel like this is something Billy would have ended up doing anyway, whether he was possessed by evil or not. The poor girl is tied up and presented as a sacrifice for the monster residing in the abandoned Steel Works on the outskirts of town. There's some real Invasion of the Body Snatchers vibes with this storyline.
Meanwhile, the characters we actually like and don’t wish death upon are beginning to investigate the strange goings on in town. Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer) and Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton) are hoping to land a big story for the Hawkins Post as they chase a lead on the diseased rats report, regardless of whether they have permission or not. Their investigation takes them to the home of Doris Driscoll, an elderly Hawkins resident who claims mutant rats have been eating her fertilizer. And when her fridge magnets keep winding up on the floor, a curious Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) visits everyone’s favorite science teacher, Scott Clarke (Randy Navens), for a crash course on electromagnetic energy. The impromptu science lesson causes her to forget her previously scheduled “not a date” dinner with Jim Hopper (David Harbour). Hopper also has his hands full with mall protestors and shady town mayor Larry Klein (Cary Elwes).
Our detective team of the week though goes to Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo), Steve Harrington (Joe Keery), and the brilliantly sarcastic Robin (Maya Hawke), who has quickly become the best new character in the Stranger Things universe. Robin, who is fluent in four languages (and probably knows the word for “dingus” in each one), helps Dustin translate the Russian message he intercepted on his radio. Spared on by Cold War paranoia, they surmise that it’s coded intelligence and most likely “evil Russians” plotting against America. Steve, though, realizes something. The music playing in the background of the message is the same distinct tune of the mall’s Indiana Flyer horse ride. The code didn’t come from Russia - it came from right here in Hawkins!
While everyone else is playing spy games, Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard) and Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) suffer their first break up. Hopper’s stern warning scared the lovestruck teenager, and Mike ends up lying to Eleven and making up lame excuses for why he can’t see her, breaking the cardinal “friends don’t lie” rule. The mileage you get out of this storyline depends entirely on how much you enjoy high school romance drama. Will certainly isn't a fan, he just wants to play Dungeons & Dragons, or at least for his friends to stop talking about girls for one minute. He’ll soon be wishing he was possessed by the Mind Flayer again, at least then people paid attention to him.
Meanwhile, Max Mayfield (Sadie Sink) takes Eleven on a "girls day out," which is kind of fun, I guess, if mostly for the garish 80s outfits. It's refreshing to see the two girls bonding after the tension between them last season, and it's also cool that Eleven is beginning to find herself. But some of this feels a little out of character. Remember the Max we met last season? The skateboarding, no-nonsense, arcade game champ. Does she seem the type who'd enjoy shopping at the GAP? Although, weirdly enough, the kitschy collared dresses suit Eleven better than last season's "gothic rock" look. Also, I'm not sure why Eleven was so in awe at the sights and sounds of the mall. It's not as if she's never seen it before; she was literally there in the last episode when the gang snuck into the movie theater to watch Day of the Dead.
The boys also end up at the mall, as Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin) tries to offer Mike advice on how to win Eleven back around, which basically amounts to “buy her something nice.” Having dated Max for all of five seconds, Lucas suddenly thinks he's some kind of expert on romance, but his teenage wisdom only makes matters worse, and culminates with Eleven telling Mike “I dump your ass.” Ouch! At least Hopper will be happy with the outcome; once he’s licked the wounds of his own relationship troubles that is. And now the guys will have time to play D&D with third-wheeling Will... maybe... right?
-It's great to see Dustin and Steve back together; their growing friendship was a highlight of Season 2. Robin slots perfectly into the dynamic too. "How many children are you friends with?" she asks Steve.
-Karen Wheeler (Cara Buono) tells Billy she can't cheat on her husband. It's a good job, because at this point she'd be having an affair with the Mind Flayer.
-Another exploding rat. And now we know the goo that bursts out of them can physically move by itself. Creepy.
-Speaking of creepy, that Russian Terminator-looking dude keeps lurking in the shadows. I expect he's up to no good.
-Hopper rocking the Tom Selleck in Magnum, P.I. look with that new shirt. You know what, it works for him, probably because he already has the tache.
Stranger Things, Streaming, Netflix