R29 Binge Club: Stranger Things Season 3

Photo: Courtesy of netflix.
A summer season of Stranger Things means one thing: Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) in shorts. Sure, there are other reasons to look forward to the third installment of the Netflix show, mainly that season 2 ended with the reveal that the Mind Flayer hadn’t actually been destroyed. That cliffhanger plus the tantalizing trailer released last month has resulted in a lot of compelling theories for what’s about to go down in the next eight episodes.
The change in weather isn’t the only thing to look forward to. The show has also welcomed a ton of new characters that you’re sure to fall in love with, most notably Dr. Alexei, the Russian scientist who has my whole heart and then some. Then, there are the returning faces we couldn’t be more excited to welcome back to our screens, including notable side characters like Lucas’s younger sister Erica (Priah Ferguson), and pure, sweet science teacher Scott Clarke (Randy Havens).
It’s safe to say, however, that the problems facing Hawkins, IN this year are anything but familiar. While the Mind Flayer may still be kicking, season 3 throws a possible Russian spy plot into the mix. There’s also a lot of Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) kissing, which, for those of us who have watched them since they were kids, might just be more disturbing than the falling magnets and unexplained exploding rats combined — yeah, rats explode in this season, too.
Ahead, watch along with us as we make our way through the sweaty, gooey new season of Netflix’s Stranger Things.
Chapter One: Suzie, Do You Copy?
Toto, I don’t think we’re in Hawkins anymore. Instead, the Duffer Brothers and their massive special effects budget have taken us to Russia, where a gigantic device is shooting a laser into the crack of a wall that looks suspiciously like the portal we just saw Eleven close back at the end of season 2. The tentacles that begin creeping out of the crack only confirm that this machine, for reasons unknown, is attempting to blast its way back into the Upside-Down — but Eleven doesn’t do anything in halves. Turns out, the portal is near-impossible to open back up again, causing the machine to malfunction and fry the operators to goo.
The Russian general, it’s safe to say, is not pleased with this outcome. He tells the remaining scientist that they have one year to it figure out and strangles one of them for good measure. You may have forgotten you’re watching Stranger Things for a second, but Netflix snaps you back to reality with a smash-cut to...Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and Eleven making out. On second thought, I’d rather be watching Russian scientists get roasted.
Hopper (David Harbour) feels similarly. Throwing himself against the door, he demands the two lovebirds open up. However, when Eleven does swoosh the door open, she and Mike are innocently reading side-by-side on the bed. Cackling laughing, Mike bikes home while talking to El on the walkie-talkie. They schedule another smooch-fest for tomorrow, but this evening is for the boys.
Mike arrives at the brand new Starcourt Mall to meet up with Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), Will (Noah Schnapp), and Max (Sadie Sink). It’s bright and shiny and, even better, they have an in. Steve (Joe Keery) has forgone college to sling ice cream at the Scoops Ahoy, which happens to have a back entrance into the movie theater that allows the gang into a screening of Day Of The Dead. Just as soon as it starts, however, the power flickers off, and unbeknownst to the audience, it’s a Hawkins-wide outage. As we pan over the dark town, we see rats scuttling and bits of metal swarming into a giant mass. However, almost as quickly as it went off, the power comes back on, prompting cheers from the movie-goers. There’s one audience member who isn’t relieved, and that’s Will. After two seasons of wading around in the Upside Down and getting infiltrated with tentacles, he knows a bad feeling when he gets one, and the return of power brought with it a familiar dread that makes the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.
He’s not the only one affected by the power outage. The next morning, Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) wake up late thanks to their alarm never going off, meaning they almost don’t make it to their summer jobs at the Hawkins Post. While Jonathan handles photos, Nancy has the slightly less glamorous job of fetching coffee for the male journalists who seem to spend most of their time putting her down, even when she has good ideas to suggest.
As for Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), he’s returning from his month-long stay at camp, and eager to reunite with the rest of his crew. However, they aren’t answering their walkie-talkies, and when he gets back home, he resigns himself to the fact that his friends may have moved on without him — but so are his toys. Like, literally moving. His robots and trucks and everything else start independently making their way out of his room to the living room, with Dustin following close behind. Just as soon as he catches up with them, they stop, and Eleven, Mike, Lucas, Will, and Max jump out to surprise him.
If you’re wondering what our heroes’ parents are up to, they’ve also got that summertime feeling. Mrs. Wheeler (Cara Buono) and pals are kicking it at the pool, but they’re less looking for a tan than they are Billy (Dacre Montgomery), who is working as a lifeguard and has the hots for Mrs. W — so much so that he suggests they meet up later at a motel for a “private” swimming lesson.
Joyce (Winona Ryder) is at the convenience store on Main Streetstruggling to keep things afloat. The street is almost deserted now that everyone has ditched mom and pops for the Starcourt, but she does have one customer: Hopper. He’s stopped by to ask for advice about El and Mike, who can’t seem to spend a single day without each other. Joyce suggests sitting down to create some boundaries via a heart-to-heart, something Hopper isn’t exactly keen to try.
Plus, the kids are too busy playing with Dustin’s new inventions. His biggest? Cerebro, a portable radio tower he built as a way to talk to his new girlfriend, Suzy. Yes, new girlfriend, and yes, as we find out in a later episode, she’s real (contrary to his friend’s teasing). When he tries to prove it by contacting her through the tower, though, nobody answers, and eventually everyone tires of the invention and heads home, but not before Will gets another one of his signature chills as the camera pans over...exploding rats?
Perhaps this explains why Nancy gets a call at the Post from a woman who complains of diseased rats, which gives Nancy the idea for a plan. As for Hopper’s plan, it’s falling apart. Joyce can only coach him so much, and it doesn’t help that many of their meetings end with sentimental moments and dodged requests for a date. Plus, Joyce still hasn’t recovered from the death of Bob (Sean Astin). She’d much rather head home and reminisce about happier times, even if that means she misses the suspicious sight of magnets falling off her fridge.
And Mike and Eleven would rather spend their time frenching. They’re back at it after ditching Dustin’s invention, but Hopper won’t have it. He throws his heart-to-heart out the window and instead goes full monster on Mike, making up that his grandmother is sick before privately threatening him, telling him that he needs to spend less time with El or he’ll forbid them from dating.
Dustin, meanwhile, hasn’t given up. He’s still trying to contact Suzie, but encounters something mysterious instead: a Russian message
Do we think that has anything to do with what’s about to happen to Billy? I mean, how else can you explain his car crash on the way to the motel? Had Mrs. Wheeler not chickened out, perhaps she would have passed his car on the road — but Billy wouldn’t be in it. Instead, he’s pulled into an abandoned warehouse by something. But this is Stranger Things, so I bet you can hazard a guess.
Chapter Two: The Mall Rats
No, Billy’s not dead, but it’s basically worse. If the flashing lights and manic breathing weren’t enough of a clue, then the fact that he somehow ends up face-to-face with...himself...ought to confirm that whatever got him got him good, and he’s at the service of the Mind-Flayer now.
Eleven also has a sneaking suspicion, but of the romantic variety. After not hearing from Mike, she gives him a call, only for her to catch him in a lie about his “sick” grandmother. He won’t tell her that he actually isn’t coming over because Hopper threatened, so he hangs up, leaving El confused and hurt. Hopper, on the other hand, is overjoyed. He heads to tell Joyce about his victory, but skips the threatening-Mike-in-a-car part. To celebrate, he wants to take her out on a not-date dinner, and they plan to meet at 7. Hopper then merrily leaves the store to go deal with some protestors outside the Town Hall, but trips on some fallen magnets on his way out.
As Nancy and Jonathan sneak out of the Post to follow up on the tip about the rats, Dustin, brimming with secret Russian intel, has a joyful reunion with Steve at Scoops Ahoy and enlists him to help translate. Meanwhile, El meets up with Max for some girl time after her weird phone call with Mike, as Mike, Lucas, and Will scheme how to fix the situation.
Mrs. Wheeler is on her own mission to fix things, but Billy’s problem is more than she bargained for. He’s sweaty and out of it, having visions of violence that erupt in him telling Mrs. Wheeler to stay away from him. Trust me, she’ll heed that order.
An unlikely character has entered the ring for Dustin and Steve’s translation project: Robin (Maya Hawke), Steve’s coworker at Scoops Ahoy. She’s heard everything they’re up to and wants in — even though she sardonically asks Steve, “How many children are you friends with?” She knows four languages after all, and while none of them are Russian, she has a better-trained ear than Dumb and Dumber sitting next to her.
Meanwhile, Nancy and Jonathan’s mission has taken a weird turn — even for a mission about rabid rats. Turns out, the creatures are eating Mrs. Driscoll’s fertilizer, and what’s more, the one she’s captured is manic and bloodthirsty, throwing itself around its cage and making horrible noises. Later, it explodes into a moving, amorphous goo.
Over at the protest, Hopper is reluctant to deny people their right to protest the changes happening on Main Street due to Starcourt Mall, but Mayor Larry Kline (Cary Elwes) points out that they don’t have a permit. Plus, he’s throwing a big Fourth of July party that weekend, which will erase this bit of discomfort from everyone’s minds. So, Hopper does the deed, and then gets dolled up and heads to dinner with Joyce.
It would certainly ruin his mood to learn that El has snuck out to the mall with Max, where she’s normally not allowed due to all the people. However, Max is throwing rules out the window and insists on taking her shopping. El has never known what she likes and doesn’t like, so shopping is a whole new world. Also at the mall? Mike, Will, and Lucas, unable to afford any of the gifts that would make a good apology for El. It’s all for nothing, in the end, because when the gang bumps into one another, El makes herself clear: “I dump your ass.”
Let’s check back on Billy and the Mind Flayer, shall we? Billy asks his alter-ego what he wants, but the answer is vague. He’s instructed to “build what he sees,” before waking up back on the lifeguard stand. A bruise of sorts emerges and grows on his elbow, and he frantically runs to the shower where fellow lifeguard Heather tries to help. Billy lunges and takes her to the warehouse, where she’s also attacked by the Mind Flayer.
Hopper has totally incapacitated himself at dinner waiting for Joyce to show up, but she’s a little preocupied. Perturbed by her magnets falling, she heads to the only person she can think could explain it: Mr. Clarke (Randy Havens), the boys’ science teacher. While he explains that she’s probably finding patterns that aren’t there, it is possible for magnets to lose their magnetism. However, iit would warrant a gigantic AC transformer, billions of volts of electricity, and tens of millions of dollars.
Luckily, Robin, Dustin, and Steve have translated the message — now they just have to make sense of it. “The week is long. The silver cat feeds when blue meets yellow in the west. A trip to China sounds nice if you tread lightly.” It definitely sounds like code, but what’s interesting is what’s playing under it. It’s the same song that plays when the Merry-Go-Round horse is turned on at the mall, which can only mean one thing: The code didn’t come from Russia, it came from Hawkins.
Chapter Three: The Case Of The Missing Lifeguard
There’s not much that’s fun about being a tween girl — unless you’re a tween girl who can use her mind to spy on people via radio static. That’s fun, and it’s what El and Max decide to do after their break-ups with Mike and Lucas. However, with great power comes great responsibility, like the knowledge that Mike and Lucas refer to women as a species, and that they burp and fart with abandon.
As El and Max snoop, Hopper comes home drunk from his failed date. However, his spirits are perked when he learns it’s just Max, not Mike, hanging out in El’s room, and readily agrees to their request for a sleepover. Little does he know, the sleepover activities include spin-the-bottle but for spying, and El’s dared to find out what Billy (Max’s brother, remember, is up to). While Max warns El that he can get up to some pretty disgusting things, neither were prepared for what she actually witnesses: A smashed car, a deserted warehouse, and Billy leaning over Heather as she whimpers. Worst of all, Billy can see her, and it’s this shock that jolts El out of her trance.
As for Will, he’s had enough of Lucas and Mike’s girl talk, and declares a girl-free day for them to play Dungeons & Dragons in peace. Hopper might also be considering swearing off women, since he wakes up still livid about being stood up by Joyce. Speak of the devil, Joyce comes barging in, going on about her magnets and completely oblivious to Hop’s hurt feelings. For that reason, he’s not keen to listen to her babble, but perks up when she suggests the unthinkable: What if the lab is behind the weird things happening with magnets? It’s impossible, of course, because Hopper watched El close the gate, but Joyce insists on heading to make sure, with Hopper close behind.
Disturbed by her vision, El and Max head to Max and Billy’s house to check on him, but his car isn’t there. His room is also empty, but it isn’t until the bathroom when they find something suspicious. The bathtub is filled with ice, and in the trash can is a lifeguard fanny pack and whistle...covered in blood.
Jonathan and Nancy have returned from their rat adventures with the photos Nancy believes will prove herself to her bosses as a real journalist with a story they should be following. However, no photo of a rat, no matter how graphic, will stop her from getting laughed out of the room. They call her “Nancy Drew,” and if anything she’s taken less seriously than before.
Dustin and Steve have officially begun Mission: Find Evil Russians. However, they’re not exactly sure what evil Russians look like. Blonde hair? With a duffel bag? Looks intimidating? Turns out those three descriptors also apply to an aerobics instructor innocently on his way to class, and the boys are foiled again. To make matters worse, Dustin won’t stop badgering Steve about Robin, who he thinks would be a great match for his older-brother-in-spirit. Steve, however, disagrees, citing her involvement in band and drama. You can take the boy out of high school, etc.
Mike and Lucas aren’t exactly thrilled with Will’s no-girls day, and are half-heartedly playing D&D. It’s something the two boys have grown out of while Will is still clinging on, and Mike says as much when Will loses his patience and storms out.
“It’s not my fault you don’t like girls,” Mike says, and Will bikes off into the rain.
Eleven and Max head to the pool to find the owner of the whistle and fanny pack, only to learn that neither Heather nor Billy showed up to work that day. So they take Heather’s picture off the wall, and it’s back to the blindfold for El to see what Heathr is up to. She stumbles upon her in an ice bath, from which Heather springs forth and cries for help. Suddenly, the tub disappears, and Heather vanishes into the abyss.
Luckily, there is good news. It takes only one visual trigger — a delivery man from a company called “Lynx — to crack the Russian code. When Robin accepts a package from the Lynx man, a silver cat immediately comes to her brain, and the wheels start turning. She runs out to the food court, and it all comes together. “Trip to China sounds nice” is the Chinese restaurant. “If you tread lightly” is the shoe store. “When blue and yellow meet in the west” is the two clock hands, and the west is 9:45 p.m.
Joyce and Hopper have made it to the deserted lab, filled only with memories of Bob’s death. Hopper takes Joyce right to the portal and shows her the filled cavities. They both open up about the trauma they still experience from the events, but Hopper says it’s important to him that her family feels safe. Mostly, that Hawkins still feels like home. Hopper knows Joyce is prepping to put her house on the market, but before they can dive into that conversation, he hears a noise. As he follows it, he gets attacked by a man from behind and knocked out. Joyce comes in moments later, only to see the perpetrator motorcycling away.
Will has gone out into the forest to reminisce on — and destroy — old memories in their fort. As he stars smashing the fort down, he gets that feeling on his neck. A big one. It’s in that moment that Mike and Lucas arrive, and Will announces the worst: The Mind Flayer is back.
During this moment, Nancy and Jonathan have returned to Mrs. Driscoll’s, determined to get to the bottom of the story even if their bosses don’t believe in them. When they knock, however, there’s no answer, so they forge ahead, only to find Mrs. Driscoll on the ground eating fertilizer.
And, as Steve, Robin, and Dustin gather outside the mall at 9:45 p.m. to see armed guards bringing in boxes, El and Max are biking to Heather’s house to see if she’s okay. On the surface, she and Billy appear to be having a pleasant dinner with Heather’s parents (her father, it’s worth noting, is Tom, Nancy’s boss), but something is off. Billy was being suspicious, El relays to Max as they leave, and she was right. As soon as they’re out the door, Billy and Heather attack her parents and capture them. Two more victims for the Mind Flayer.
Chapter Four: The Sauna Test
As Heather’s parents get gobbled by the Mind Flayer and an ambulance wheels away Mrs. Driscoll, Max tries to convince El that everything is fine. However, thanks to Will, the boys know the truth, and they issue a code red to Max, El, and Dustin. Dustin, however, is unavailable. He’s back on the mall roof with Steve and Robin trying to figure out how they can get into the room with the secret boxes without a keycard — and without the armed guards noticing.
But in equally pressing news, the Mind Flayer is back. How? Will’s theory is that he never left. El may have closed the gate, but there was still that bit inside him that escaped and is now trapped in their dimension. Perhaps it has already found new hosts, and El thinks she knows who.
Hopper pays another visit to Larry Kline, and he has questions. The man on the motorcycle who beat him up? Turns out, Hopper saw him leaving Kline’s office the other day. Kline feigns ignorance, and even counters Hopper’s blackmail with dirt of his own, leaving Hopper with only one choice: Slamming Kline’s head into a door and threatening his finger with a cigar cutter until he gets answers. The man works for Starcourt, Kline frantically explains. They want to expand and needed property, and enlisted obviously crooked Mayor Kline to lean on people to sell. Kline says these people are bad news, but Hopper isn’t finished. He makes Kline lead him and Joyce to records of these property sales. It just so happens all the land bought by the “bad news” company is in southeast Hawkins, which is near the power plant. Joyce connects the dots to her conversation with Scott and the power outage a few nights ago, and realizes that whatever machine is causing magnets to lose their magnetism is located at one of these properties.
At this point, three big things go down. First, Nancy and Jonathan are fired for pursuing Mr. Driscoll, who Tom says has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. This prompts a huge fight between the couple due to their different financial situations, and while Nancy sympathizes with Jonathan’s need for a job, she says he’ll never understand what it’s like to not be taken seriously as a woman. Luckily, her mom is on her side, and Mrs. Wheeler encourages her daughter to keep pursuing the story so she can bring it to an even bigger outlet and make the Hawkins Post regret ever letting her go. With that vote of confidence, she heads to the hospital to talk to Mrs. Driscoll, pretending to be her granddaughter.
Then, there’s Robin, Steve, and Dustin, whom we’ll henceforth refer to as the Scoop Troop. Robin has obtained the blueprints to the mall and figured out that they can get into the secret room via air vents. They just need someone small enough to crawl through them, and that’s where Lucas’s little sister Erica (Priah Ferguson) comes in. She’s been hanging around the Scoop shop all summer trying to get free samples, and in exchange for free ice cream for life, she agrees to the child endangerment the gang is suggesting.
It works a treat (no pun intended). Thanks to her flashlight helmet, the blueprints, and the gang’s instructions via walkie-talkie, she makes it into the secret room and opens the door from the inside so Robin, Steve, and Dustin can enter. When they finally see what’s in the boxes, however, the mystery only intensifies. Steve pulls out vials of green liquid with no discernable purpose, but there’s a bigger question at hand: Uh, how do they get out of the room? The buttons are no longer working from the inside, and the gang quickly realize they’re not in a closet but an elevator, and it’s plummeting deep underground.
And then there’s Billy. The kids remember that when Will was infected by the Mind Flayer, he craved colder temperatures, and they were able to force the infection out of him using heat. With that in mind, they concoct a plan to lure Billy into the pool’s sauna after hours. While setting up, Mike uses the opportunity to come clean with El, explaining that Hopper intimidated him into staying away. For El, though, it’s too little, too late. She cedes that Hopper was perhaps right, and that they should spend time away from each other given that they are different “species.”
Before Mike can properly scold El for spying on him, it’s go time. Using a mannequin and walkie-talkies, Billy is coaxed into the sauna and trapped. As the heat rises, Billy becomes more agitated, until, for a moment, the real Billy underneath begins whimpering. He says that “he” made him do it, and that it’s not his fault. When asked what made him do it, exactly, he explains that it’s a “giant shadow.” It’s pretty clear to the gang that their worst suspicions have been confirmed, but it gets even scarier when Billy manages to break out of the sauna, prompting a dramatic fight with El that ends with her throwing him through the brick wall of the building.
Somehow, Billy survives and runs off to relay what happened to Heather. El may have won the battle, but this is a war. As the camera zooms out, we see it’s not just Billy and Heather who have been recruited, but an entire army of Hawkins townspeople ready to attack.
Chapter Five: The Flayed
While the Scoop Troop is officially miles underground in an elevator they can’t escape, Joyce and Hopper are making progress. After visiting almost all the properties purchased by Starcourt, they arrive at Hess Farms. There’s a Lynx truck in the driveway, which we know is the company that has been transporting the mysterious materials to Starcourt Mall, but Joyce and Hopper are oblivious to what they’re in for until they wander into the farm’s basement.
It’s there they see two Russian scientists working on a mysterious machine. They quickly bind and gag them before the Terminator-like Grigori (Andrey Ivchenko), the Russian motorcycle driver, arrives. To escape, Hopper handcuffs one of the Russian scientists to his wrist and runs off with Joyce, dodging Grigori’s bullets.
Once they are in the safety of the forest, Joyce can go back to focusing on the things that are really important: her magnets. However, the language barrier between her and their Russian prisoner Alexei makes getting answers difficult...and the fact that their car just exploded doesn’t help matters.
Back in Hawkins, Nancy has spent the night with Mrs. Driscoll at the hospital, and has witnessed some disturbing stuff — disturbing because it’s familiar. She calls Jonathan, but it’s actually Will she wants to speak to, so she and Jonathan set out to find the crew.
From down under the mall, Dustin attempts to get in contact with his friends via walkie-talkie, but they’re too deep for the signal to transmit. Plus, they have company. While he, Steve, Robin, and Erica can’t leave the elevator, the Russians can get in. Two enter to retrieve some boxes, and Steve manages to block the closing door behind them for Scoop Troop to escape. Well, sort of. While they’re out of the elevator, they’re still underground, and at the end of a very loooong hallway.
Nancy relays to the gang, who I will henceforth be referring to as the Rat Pack, Mrs. Driscoll’s condition, and says it’s the same thing that happened to Will. Will calls it being “flayed,” and not only did it happen to Mrs. Driscoll, but also Billy. Heather, too. They decide to go to Heather’s house to check on her, as well as her father, Tom.
Having abandoned the exploded car, Joyce and Hopper are at each other’s throats, leaving a clear path for Alexei to escape to...7-Eleven. This ends up being a welcome sight for all three of them, and they take a break to guzzle Coke. Alexei washes it all down with his new favorite treat, a cherry Slurpee. Their good luck continues when Hopper manages to commandeer a car, and they’re off.
As the Scoop Troop wanders the maze that is the secret Russian facility under Starcourt (serious question: how did they build this intricate tunnel complex without anyone noticing?), they begin to put together the puzzle pieces. The weird green liquid is used to make or power something, their initial theory being a nuclear weapon. However, when Robin asks why this facility would exist in Hawkins of all places, an unfortunate light bulb goes off for Dustin and Steve. There’s one thing that makes Hawkins unique, and it’s the portal to the Upside Down — which may just be worse than nuclear war. The only good news is that they are now close enough to a radio tower for their walkie-talkies to pick up more Russian messages, which means if they can find where the messages are coming from, they’ll be able to send their own message out into the world for help.
Having arrived at Heather’s house, the Rat Pack learns of Heather and her parents’ fates thanks to the blood on the ground, and realizes Mrs. Driscoll might be the only one with the answers. They have to go back to the hospital.
With the help of a car, Hopper takes Joyce and Alexei to see a familiar but irritating face: Murray Bauman (Brett Gelman). Murray, the private investigator previously in charge of Barb’s case, was the first person to mention the possibility of a Russian presence in Hawkins. Turns out, he was right on the money. He’s also the only person who speaks Russian and can help Hopper and Joyce communicate with Alexei.
While the Scoop Troop has located the comms room from which they can transmit their cry for help, they’ll have to wade through a whole lobby of Russians to do it. When they’re caught, it’s up to Steve “Never-Won-A-Fight” Harrington to save the day — and he does! He knocks out a Russian officer with a phone, but Erica’s discovery of the giant machine trying to laser its way through the portal somewhat overshadows it.
The Rat Pack has made it to the hospital. Their mission starts out promising enough, with Mike and Eleven making up as Nancy and Jonathan also smooth things over while in the elevator to Mrs. Driscoll’s room, but their luck ends there. Mrs. Driscoll isn’t in her room, but you know who is there? Tom, Jonathan and Nancy’s former boss and Heather’s dad, and he’s flayed to hell. In fact, this whole thing was a trap. Bruce, another Hawkins Post employee and member of the flayed army, is also there as backup, resulting in a tense and bloody fight. In the end, Nancy and Jonathan are victorious, but there’s no time for celebration. Tom and Bruce’s bodies may be dead, but they melt into autonomous goo that joins together into one gruesome, very much alive Mind Flayer.
Chapter Six: E Pluribus Unum
Scoop Troop and Rat Pack’s missions have officially been compromised. Steve and Robin get captured by Russians as Dustin and Erica escape, and now Jonathan and Nancy have to outrun this new goo monster. Luckily, Will was able to sense the Mind Flayer’s presence down below, and Eleven arrives to save Nancy with moments to spare. El sends it flying out the window where it seeps underground to join up with more goo, as Billy and Heather watch on.
So, obviously, it’s the perfect time for Mayor Kline’s jubilant Fourth of July celebration. The games and food and flashing lights being set up in the square could almost make you forget about the town’s imminent peril, but don’t worry, Grigori shows up as a reminder. He tells Kline that he has one day left to locate Hopper, who is still hiding out at Murray’s with Joyce and Alexei.
Now that they have a translator, it’s time for Alexei to start talking. Bribed with Burger King and a Slurpee, Alexei is about to comply, only to discover the worst has happened: Hopper got him a strawberry Slurpee, not cherry. He refuses to speak until he gets the treat he requested, but Hopper calls his bluff. When he gives Alexei the opportunity to escape, the sweet scientist can’t follow through. He knows if he arrives back at the Russian base unscathed, they’ll think he squealed on them, and then he’d be toast.
As Dustin and Erica escape back through the vents, they try to settle the important debate of which of them is the biggest nerd. While Dustin loves inventions and science, Erica is an expert on math, politics, and sociology. This is great, guys, but down below, my poor Steve is getting beaten to bits.
The Russians don’t believe that a lowly Scoops Ahoy employee would have figured out how to get into the fortress and are convinced he works for a greater power. Steve doesn’t have the answer they want, and after giving him a good walloping, they tie him up with Robin and leave.
Alexei is finally ready to come clean. With the help of Murray, he explains that they are trying to break through a barrier that opens a doorway between worlds. The mission failed in Russia, so they went to the source. The Russians are stealing power from the town’s power grid to open back up the door in Hawkins. It’s halfway open right now, which is why all of this stuff is happening. While Alexei cannot turn the machine off because he’s now exposed, Hopper can — but he’ll need help breaking into the fortress.
While it’s technically possible, it didn’t turn out great for one half of the crew that first tried it. Steve and Robin are still tied up, and topple over in their efforts to get to a pair of scissors. As they lay on the ground, Robin reminisces about their time in high school. She sat behind Steve in class and he never noticed her. But she noticed him, she was obsessed with him, she says. He admits that he wishes he paid her more attention. However, this sentimental moment is cut short when the Russians return and inject their prisoners with a mysterious drug.
While El uses her powers to determine Billy’s location, Mike accidentally admits to the rest of the gang that he loves her. They can’t dwell on it, however, because El succeded. Billy is waiting patiently in his room — a clear trap. Instead, she wants to communicate with him a different way: by touching him in her mind and, it turns out, falling into one of his memories. In this hazy sequence, we see all of Billy’s life up until this point. His childhood turned sour thanks to his violent father, and after his mother left, this violence began manifesting in his own personality. The deeper El gets into Billy’s memories, the closer she gets to the source, until she wakes up back in her living room with all of the Rat Pack mission. Instead, she’s joined by Billy, who says everything they’ve been building has been to end her, as well as all her friends. One by one, all the flayed begin melting and joining forces until they make up one giant monster, and El snaps out of her vision — for real this time — and warns everyone of what she saw.
Before Hopper, Joyce, Murray, and Alexei (let’s call them Team Cherry) begin their mission, Hopper makes a quick, casual call to the military requesting back up that Joyce then makes again in order to convey the urgency. Perhaps if the military were a bit more prompt, they could have saved Steve and Robin from the drugs that have now rendered them drunk and useless. However, if the Russians thought this would get them closer to answers, they thought wrong. Instead, all they learned was that they had been broadcasting their code all over town, and to add insult to injury, they’re outsmarted by a child as Dustin comes to the rescue.
Chapter 7: The Bite
Eleven relays her vision to the gang, who realize that if Billy was in Hopper’s house in the vision, then the Mind Flayer knows where they are. Not only does it know, it’s there. As they flee the house, they come face-to-face with the giant mass in the forest, prompting them to turn back to the house to board it up and grab weapons. The most effective weapon they have, however, is El, despite the fact that Mike thinks they’re using her powers too much. At one point, one of the tentacles' jaws grasps El’s leg, and it’s only through sheer determination that she’s able to stay focused and burst its face apart so they can escape.
Dustin and Erica use a golf cart and a stolen key card to get Steve and Robin back to the surface, but in addition to drugging them, the Russians also stole Steve’s car keys, meaning they have no way of leaving the mall. That wouldn’t be a problem if the Russians weren’t hot on their tails, so instead they go through the back hallways of the building into a movie theater showing Back To The Future to blend in with the audience. While Erica babysits Steve and Robin, Dustin goes looking for a ride out of there.
Meanwhile, Alexei, Murray, Hopper, and Joyce are taking their ride back to Hawkins in hopes of finding their kids and closing the portal for good. Obtaining the two keys needed to turn off the machine combined with Alexei’s instructions for messing with the wires should ensure that the whole thing explodes while they’re a safe distance from its blast.
The Rat Pack has left Hopper’s destroyed cabin and made their way to a convenience store to get medical supplies for El’s injuries. It’s there that Lucas convinces them to stock up on fireworks as a possible weapon, and that Mike comes so close to telling El he loves her before being interrupted. However, it’s for a good reason. Dustin has finally managed to get in contact using his walkie-talkie, but its low batteries prevent him from being able to fully explain the situation. Luckily, El uses her powers to find Dustin’s location, and the Pack heads out to find him, leaving behind her bloody bandages. The blood, however, starts moving.
Steve and Robin have escaped their theater seats, but luckily they haven’t wandered into the clutches of Russians — just into the bathroom where they puke up the last of the drugs. You may think this is when they finally acknowledge their true feelings for each other, and Steve does kind of do that, but he’s cut off with a turn of events. Robin explains that she wasn’t obsessed with him in class because she liked him, but because she liked Tammy, who would always stare at Steve. Robin couldn’t figure out what made him better than her. This allows her and Steve’s relationship to blossom into the friendship it was always meant to be. There’s no time for these sentimental moments, however, because they still need to find a way out of the mall, which now has Russians monitoring its every exit.
I don’t quite understand how these Russians manage to be all over Hawkins at once yet still be undetected, because they’re also at the Fourth of July carnival after Larry tipped them off to Hopper and Joyce’s arrival. The two stopped at the celebration before heading to find the fortress to get eyes on their children, but Mrs. Wheeler says they haven’t arrived yet. So while Alexei discovers the joys of carnival games, Hopper and Joyce are trying to outrun Grigori. There’s a promising moment when Hoppers appears to shoot down their Russian pursuer, but this is not Grigori’s first rodeo. He’s wearing a bulletproof vest, which I hate for many reasons, because this means Hopper can’t exact justice for what happened moments before when he shot and killed Alexei — sweet, perfect Alexei who had just won himself a carnival prize — for being a traitor.
However, they don’t have long to mourn him, because their interest is piqued by a Russian radio transmission that says they’ve located children on the lower level of the mall, which Joyce and Hopper know have to be the very kids they’re looking for — who, little do they know, have all just reunited for basically the first time all season. In classic Eleven fashion, she arrived just in time to save Scoop Troop from the Russian officers, who she takes out in one fell swoop by lifting and throwing a car with her powers. Frantically, the two groups explain everything they’ve been through this past week, but their reunion is damped by a truly horrifying sight: Something is growing inside Eleven’s wound.
Chapter Eight: The Battle Of Starcourt
The season finale begins with one of the grossest scenes in Stranger Things history: Jonathan cutting a bit of the Mind Flayer’s monster out of El’s leg. Here’s what you missed if you had to turn away from the screen: Jonathan sliced open Eleven’s wound and rooted around in there for the bit of monster. He was unsuccessful, though, so El had to do it herself with her powers, and it takes so much energy that she bursts the glass behind her. Luckily, however, the lil monster tentacle is removed — and stomped on by Hopper. Now it’s a reunion, baby.
After one more team catch-up, they realize how each of their journeys comes together. If Murray, Hopper, and Joyce want to get down into the Russian fortress and destroy the machine, they’ll need the Scoop Troop’s guidance to do it. And for the Scoop Troop to be able to transmit messages that far underground, they need Dustin’s giant radio tower, Cerebro.
As for the Rat Pack, they need to get in the car and find a safe place for Eleven to hide out. However, Billy took the ignition cable out of their car and is waiting in his car at the other end of the Starcourt parking lot to run them over. They scurry back inside to retrieve the ignition cable from the car El flung earlier, but suddenly El’s powers aren’t strong enough to turn it over.
Down in the fortress, Hopper, Joyce, and Murray immediately come face-to-face with Russians. When Murray’s sweet-talking doesn’t work, it’s up to Hopper to shoot them all down. Luckily, this means they can steal their costumes and explore the fortress undetected. With the help of Dustin via walkie-talkie, Murray makes his way through the vents as Joyce and Hopper wait for the okay to turn the keys. It’s there they put the bickering behind them, and decide that if they make it out of this mission alive, they’ll get dinner that Friday — and this time, it’s a date.
While Dustin is busy giving directions, Steve notices something funky happening to the lights at the mall. When they check in via walkie-talkie, the worst is confirmed: The monster has found the Rat Pack. At the same time, Murray has found the circuits, and after unplugging the ones Alexei told him to unplug, it’s time for Joyce and Hopper to retrieve the keys.
Thanks to Steve’s watchful eye, he’s able to rush and save the Rat Pack from the monster with his car, and they drive away. However, there’s a snag deep underground: The code Hopper and Joyce were given to get to the keys isn’t working. Alexei said it was Planck’s Constant, but Murray remembered it incorrectly. Luckily, Dustin knows someone who definitely knows it: Suzie.
Yep, she’s real, and the actress Gabriella Pizzolo is a Broadway star, which explains the awkwardly long musical number she and Dustin launch into before she finally tells him the correct Planck’s Constant: 6.626176.
At the mall, Billy has caught up with El and takes her to the food court where the monster is waiting for its final meal. Billy offers her up, but she manages to cut through his trance by relaying back to him the memories she witnessed while in his mind. Meanwhile, the rest of the gang throws as many fireworks as they can at the monster to explode it.
Thanks to the code, Joyce and Hopper are able to get the keys and put them into their respective locks. Just one turn and the machine will be toast, but Grigori has finally caught up to them. So ensues a fight scene between the two men that takes Grigori and Hopper into the room with the machine without the safety of the glass screen.
While the men fight, El has successfully managed to reach the real Billy, and at the last minute, he stops the creature from lunging at El. Unfortunately, that just makes the creature lunge at him instead, killing him brutally. Max looks distraught.
While Hopper manages to throw Grigori into the machine and kill him, the approaching Russians are a ticking clock. Joyce needs to turn the keys now, or this will all be for nothing. However, that means killing Hopper along with the machine’s explosion. Joyce ultimately makes this difficult decision, killing Hopper but saving all the kids in the mall. The portal closes, dismantling the monster and finally ending the Mind Flayer’s reign of terror.
Three months later.
Everyone is adjusting to life post-Mind Flayer. Steve and Robin, now buddies, apply for jobs together at Family Video. The Byers family is moving and bringing El with them as her new family. Nancy and Jonathan promise they’ll stay together, as do El and Mike. Mike walks in on El trying to use her still-defunct powers. He promises they’ll come back, and their final conversation is sealed with an “I love you.”
Joyce, packing up the very last of their things, stumbles upon the note Hopper wrote for the heart-to-heart that never happened. El reads it, and Hopper’s voice narrates their final goodbyes. The portal has closed — for real this time — and so has another chapter of Stranger Things.
Just kidding! For those patient enough to wait about 10 seconds, the third season ends with a very import post-credits scene that may just give you some hope about Hopper. We open on a Russian prison, with two guards walking down a row of doors. They stop at one, before one of them says “No, not the American.” Instead, they go to the next door and feed an unknown prisoner to a demogorgon-type creature. I want to feel bad, I really do, but I can’t stop thinking about the mysterious American who just has to be Hopper, somehow still alive — right? Season 4 can't come soon enough.

More from TV

R29 Original Series