Growing Pains in 'Stranger Things 3' Episode 3 (RECAP)
[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for the Stranger Things Season 3 "Chapter Three: The Case of the Missing Lifeguard"]
You’d think after all the craziness that’s gone down in Hawkins, Indiana over the past couple of years that people would be more willing to believe each other, no matter how outlandish the story. A missing lifeguard? Mutant rats feeding on chemicals? Evil Russian spies at the mall? Weird electromagnetic activity? Sure, why not? Seems like just another day in Hawkins. But nope, people still want to plug their ears and go on pretending.
“We’ll decide what’s a real story and what’s not,” says Tom, the a**hole editor of the Hawkins Post. Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer), who believes she’s onto something big with the rat story, is berated for continuing to pursue her leads. As it turns out, Doris Driscoll isn’t the only person in town who has experienced rodents stealing her chemical supplies. And it’s not only the rats on a feasting frenzy, as Nancy and Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton) find out when they walk in on Mrs. Driscoll chowing down on a bag of fertilizer. But no matter how much evidence Nancy presents, her bosses laugh her off. The newsroom is a hive of narrow-minded misogynists, who refuse to believe that a young woman is capable of doing anything other than pouring coffee.
It’s beautiful irony then that the douchey editor-in-chief becomes victim to the rat problem. Tom and his wife are attacked and kidnapped by their daughter Heather (Francesca Reale) and her new “boyfriend” Billy Hargrove (Dacre Montgomery). That’s right, Billy and the missing lifeguard are now both under the command of the Mind Flayer and have embarked on some sort of Bonnie and Clyde killing spree across Hawkins. It wasn’t entirely clear before what the Upside Down wanted Billy to build, but now it makes sense — he’s building an army.
Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) senses something is wrong with Billy during a game of spin the bottle. Not the standard spit-swapping spin the bottle, this is psychic spin the bottle, where whichever name the bottle lands on, Eleven enters The Void to spy on them. She tells Max Mayfield (Sadie Sink) she saw Billy on the floor with a girl. Max initially plays it down, assuming it’s just her gross brother getting freaky with a date. But Eleven hears screams, and not "good screams." Her suspicions are further confirmed when they find Heather’s blood-smeared lifeguard bag and whistle in Billy’s bathroom. They can’t prove anything though with Billy and Heather playing the perfect cookie baking couple.
Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder), meanwhile, is trying to get to the bottom of the great fridge magnet conundrum of 1985. She thinks it could have something to do with the Hawkins Laboratory; that maybe it’s back up and running. Jim Hopper (David Harbour), still steaming about being stood up, brushes Joyce’s theories off as crazy talk as he stamps around the house in a towel (pleasing dad-bod fans everywhere). He’s mostly just mad that she went to see Scott Clarke (Randy Havens) instead of going to dinner with him. But Joyce is undeterred, and so Hopper reluctantly follows her to the lab, if only to prove to her that she’s worrying about nothing. As he said, the portals are all sealed shut. “It’s over,” he tells her.
There’s a sweet moment where Hopper admits to being scared too. He confesses to Joyce that he almost shot a neighbor’s dog, thinking it was a Demogorgon. But he assures her that he is keeping an eye on things. He wants her and her family to feel safe and like they can still call Hawkins home. That's the bombshell Joyce has been keeping secret. She's apparently thinking about putting her house on the market and moving out of town, something she hasn’t even told her kids yet. It’s hard to blame her, especially knowing that she’s right about something still going on in Hawkins, which Hopper finds out first hand when the Terminator-looking Russian thug ambushes him at the lab.
Moving away would probably do the world of good for Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), who is having a tough time adjusting into his early teens. It’s easy to dismiss Will because he can be kind of whiny and annoying, but you have to remember he’s been through some s**t. When the rest of his friends were hanging at the arcade and just being kids, he was possessed by a demonic force from the netherworld. He basically had an exorcism performed on him last season. It’s no wonder then that he just wants to play D&D with his friends and be Will the Wizard again. It takes him back to a simpler time, a world of fantastical fun, where the only monsters were make-believe.
But Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard) and Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin) have moved on. Puberty has struck, and the boys have grown out of playing silly games in the basement. They’re more interested in hanging at the mall and chatting to girls; not that they’re having much luck in that department having annoyed both Eleven and Max. Little Will doesn’t want to grow up yet. It’s this which is causing tension between the boys and leads to a big bust up. "Did you expect us to sit in my basement all our lives and play games?" Mike shouts at Will. "We're not kids anymore. It’s not my fault you don’t like girls." It's heartbreaking to see but a well-realized truth of growing up and moving on. Will storms off into the woods and destroys Castle Byers (his secret den) with a baseball bat. RIP childhood innocence.
I do wonder though, wouldn’t Will be having a much better time if he was hanging out with Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo)? Why doesn’t he ditch Mike and Lucas and their girl problems and go and play spy games at the mall? Because Dustin, Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) and Robin (Maya Hawke) look like they’re having a blast with their code cracking and binocular snooping. Though we’re probably soon getting romance here too; it’s obvious Steve and Robin are destined to end up together, despite what Steve says about her being a dorky weirdo. “It’s time to stop thinking about popularity and start dating someone you actually like,” the surprisingly wise Dustin tells his gloriously-haired friend.
And let's face it, Robin is pretty awesome; she once again makes the major breakthrough of the episode. While Dustin and Steve are hilariously mistaking Jazzercise coaches for Russian spies, Robin figures out the coded message relates to places and objects in the mall. The code then leads them to a supply warehouse surrounded by Russian armed guards. If this means we're going to get some Die Hard-style action in my Stranger Things, then count me in!
-"Women are a different species... they act on emotions not logic." Probably not the best thing for Mike to say when Eleven is listening in. It's also funny because it's the men we see acting on emotion this episode. Mike and Hopper especially are hot-headed and irrational.
-Jonathan isn't much better than Mike and Hopper. He tries telling Nancy to drop the "stupid story" because it's not worth getting fired over. But he should know better, having seen what kind of madness goes on in Hawkins.
-It seems that Billy noticed Eleven while she was in The Void. That can't be a good thing!
Stranger Things, Streaming, Netflix