The Mall Rats
Things get weird in Hawkins when everything from rats to magnets starts misbehaving. Meanwhile there’s espionage and heartbreak at the Starcourt Mall, and poor Jim just can’t catch a break.

On Stranger Things Season 3 Episode 2, the story begins to fracture into its familiar subplots. Jonathan and Nancy are investigating one story, while Joyce runs a science experiment which will later turn out to be part of the same problem. We get a deeper look at some of our new characters, such as Steve’s coworker Robin, and all that young love we saw last episode? It’s already being put to the test.

Divide and Conquer

One of the most interesting things about Stranger Things is the multifaceted plot. It’s a science fiction show at heart, but it also has elements of fantasy, conspiracy, and straight up horror. In the past, the show’s kept the balance by having characters work in teams to explore these elements, only combining everything they know at the end. For example, in Season 1, the kids were exploring a fantasy world with superpowers, the teens were hunting down a movie monster, and the adults were investigating the government lab. The next season they swapped, with the kids hunting the monsters, the teens taking down the lab, and the adults focusing on the unnatural disease that was affecting Will. Yet in the end, it all fits together.

Stranger Things Season 3 Episode 2 sets up the same kinds of teams for us. Nancy and Jonathan are back to investigative journalism, looking into the freak infestation that has rats behaving wildly around town. We’ll call that the monster plot, due to the rat which exploded and crawled away, in that order. Joyce enlists the help of Mr. Clarke to understand the malfunctioning magnetic fields around town. And the Steve and Dustin dream team reunite so they can look into the Russian spies they believe to be plotting the downfall of the country.

The added bonus this season is that we have Billy — an inside line to the monster’s plans. The previous seasons have restricted our knowledge to what the heroes know. With Billy’s subplot, we now know a lot more about what’s going on and what’s going to happen than we might have in the past. It should be all the most satisfying when the characters start working together.

Steve, Dustin, and Robin Unite

Possibly the most anticipated moment of Season 3, Steve and Dustin’s reunion did not disappoint. It’s comical to see how far Steve’s character has come, from King of Hawkins High to complicated secret handshakes in an ice cream vendor hat. Gone is any hesitance to be friends with Dustin. Steve lends a willing ear as Dustin talks about camp and his friends, and agrees to help Dustin translate the secret Russian message without much persuasion.

Unfortunately, Steve is not very gifted in translating foreign languages — which is where Robin comes in. By Episode 2 she has already cemented her place as a quick-witted, scathing but good-hearted character. For all her teasing, she does encourage Steve to be honest with girls if he wants to make a connection…even if she is keeping score of how many times he strikes out. Her induction into the group goes about as smoothly as one could hope for a new character in the third season of a show. I’d go as far as saying I really enjoy the cynical yet genuine way she’s written, and the way she balances Dustin and Steve’s somewhat chaotic energy.

With Dustin’s technical know-how and Robin’s well rounded skill and logic, this would have been an opportunity to poke fun at Steve for being a bit slow. In the scene where they’re all leaving the mall at the end of the night, I thought that was exactly where the writing was going. Instead, Steve brings his own game-changing revelation to the table by recognizing the music in the background of the Russian recording. I thought that was a brilliant addition, and a great way to show how each one of these characters has their own unique worth. This could easily be my new favorite group dynamic on the show.

Eleven and Max Mayfield

Max and Eleven

In Episode 2, we find out that Hopper’s stern talk with Mike has sent him running for the hills. Fearing a harsher punishment, Mike has begun avoiding El, even if he has to lie to do it. And as we all know: “friends don’t lie.” Knowing something is wrong, but having nowhere to turn, Eleven goes to Max for advice. After some wise words about how stupid boys are, Max treats El to a girls’ day of shopping and fun at the Starcourt Mall.

Hands down, my favorite part of this episode is the mall montage with Max and Eleven. Really, all of the moments with Max and Eleven. In Season 2, the girls were anything but supportive of each other. Or rather, El was too busy feeling threatened by Max to accept her attempts at friendship. Words cannot describe how glad I am that attitude didn’t carry over into Stranger Things Season 3. We’re finally getting a storyline about women and girls helping and loving each other, instead of several isolated stories about strong women.

Also, the comedic timing of Lucas and Max counseling Mike and Eleven respectively was just too good to pass up. Yes, there’s trouble in paradise for everyone’s favorite couple. But it’s almost worth it to see the platonic bonds on the show grow stronger.

Hopper’s Bad Night

Jim Hopper definitely went through the wringer this episode. He started on the unbeatable high of a father who got his way. He asked Joyce out to a “strictly platonic” dinner, and took colorful fashion advice from Magnum P.I.’s Tom Selleck. By the end, he was drinking himself silly and blowing raspberries in a waiter’s face after he was stood up for his date. (Which, again, was totally not a date.) I think we saw more emotion from Hopper in this one episode than the previous two seasons combined.

That’s not to say Hopper’s not an emotional person. We saw him grieve for his daughter, get angry with the doctors at the lab, become furious with Eleven for breaking the house rules; however, besides the occasional outburst, Hopper doesn’t often wear his heart on his sleeve. We know that he still has trouble voicing his feelings, as shown by the failed heart-to-heart last episode. Still, this much expression is rapid character development. I wish we’d seen a more casual progression from the surly police chief of previous seasons, but I can’t deny that Hopper’s scenes have been of my favorites thus far. Let’s hope he doesn’t judge Joyce too harshly for missing their definitely-not-a-date.

What did you think of Stranger Things Season 3 Episode 2? Do you have a favorite subplot? Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to share your thoughts with us on Twitter!

All three seasons of Stranger Things are available for streaming on Netflix.