Things get real in Hawkins as all our characters’ subplots take a turn for the worst. Tensions run high within the party, and Nancy finds proof she was looking for in the town’s rats. Hopper and Joyce return to Hawkins Lab, while Robin makes a breakthrough in the Russian code.
On Stranger Things Season 3 Episode 3, things are getting dark quick. While every character is dealing with their own mysteries, danger is punching back in equal time. It’s time to say a brief goodbye to the lighthearted love plots, and start worrying about life and death in Hawkins, Indiana.
While Steve and Dustin are out on spy duty, Robin takes the lead interpreting the code that the group has worked out from the Russians. Translating is one thing, but figuring out cryptic riddles is another matter altogether. Thankfully, Robin is up to the challenge. She decodes the passage using landmarks in the mall, and discovers that there is some sort of special delivery to be made later that night. The three stake out the mall in the rain, and while they don’t get a glimpse inside of the packages, the heavily armed guards are all they need to see to know they’re moving in the right direction.
During the last episode, I was still warming up to Robin. With this contribution, I can now confidently say that I love her. She was able to prove her intelligence, creativity and initiative all on her own, without lauding it over Steve and Dustin at all. Which she would’ve been well within her rights to do if she found out they’d been spying on an aerobics class while she was working.
The only thing I’m hesitant about is the show’s hints at a romance with Steve. While I’m a big fan of Dustin’s philosophy that you should date someone you enjoy spending time with, I don’t love that the show may be pushing Steve into another relationship so soon after his split with Nancy. Yes, there’s been a six-month time jump we didn’t get to see, but I think it’s all the more important to show how his split with Nancy really hurt Steve’s self-image. Robin is awesome, but I’d like to witness Steve taking the time to work on himself before he gets sucked into another romantic subplot. The guy just needs some real friends.
Nancy and Joyce’s Journeys
When Nancy presents her compelling story about rat infestation to the Hawkins Post, she’s met with patronizing jeers from her male colleagues. Jonathan asks her to drop it to save her job. But as Nancy’s shown in every season, she’s far too determined to let a few incompetent men stand in the way of her answers. She tells Jonathan that he’s like his mother, that he worries too much. Ultimately, despite the career risk, he goes with her to look for proof of the story.
The most interesting part of this scene to me is that Nancy chooses to liken Jonathan to Joyce. While both of them are worry-warts, I’d say Joyce’s story arc parallel’s Nancy’s more than anyone’s. In every season, they are the solitary woman who believes the unnatural explanation, who tries again and again to prove it despite protests from those around them. And more often than not, both of them are right.
In Episode 3, Joyce’s storyline follows Nancy’s almost exactly. She visits Hopper to explain her theory about the magnetic field, and tries to convince him to visit Hawkins Lab for proof. But Hopper only has time for his own problem—the fact that Joyce stood him up for dinner. His accusations that she’s making up problems to push him away do nothing to stop Joyce. She leads her own march on the laboratory looking for proof and, much like Jonathan, Hopper follows to ensure her safety.
Yet again, both women prove to be right. Hopper and Joyce are attacked by an unnamed man at the lab, one of the Soviet soldiers we saw in the pilot. Meanwhile, Nancy and Jonathan return to Mrs. Driscoll’s house to collect the sick rat they’d seen earlier. Instead, they’re greeted with the haunting sight of Mrs. Driscoll, shoveling fertilizer into her mouth and leaving us with a terrible cliffhanger.
Eleven sees some concerning things when using her power to spy on Billy. She and Max inadvertently stumble upon the bloody belongings of one of Billy’s coworkers, Heather. Apprehensive, they track Billy all over town to confront him. The trouble being that when they do, they find Heather alive and well, eating dinner with her family. A normal situation to the untrained eye, at least.
After the girls leave, Heather attacks both of her parents in an emotionless trance. The audience is left to fill in the blanks, but it suggests that Billy did kill Heather, or at least mortally wound her at the end of the last episode. Whatever is using her body now is not the real Heather, merely a vessel to help the Mind Flayer collect more bodies.
It’s important to note that while Heather seems powerless to stop the mind control, we’ve already seen Billy overpower the Mind Flayer once. When Karen first corners him at the pool, he envisions himself smashing her head into the wall. The scene cuts back to normal, and instead of following through on the vision, Billy warns Karen to stay away from him. It’s unclear if this tells more about Billy’s personal strength or the strength of his attraction to Mrs. Wheeler, but it could be a vital detail later in the season.
More worrying than the Mind Flayer’s overall plan is the reaction to seeing Eleven. Through a series of cutbacks, we see the Mind Flayer recognize Eleven from the pit. Flashing images replay the moment where she closed the Gate and shut the Upside Down. And while the Mind Flayer does not speak, there’s a bone-chilling animosity in Billy’s expression. This will most likely launch the Mind Flayer’s vendetta against the party, as teased in the Season 3 trailers.
It’s not strictly related to the high-stakes plots of the other characters, but my favorite scene in this episode was Will’s breakdown. For the past three episodes he’s been desperately trying to convince his friends to play Dungeons and Dragons, to stay safe in the basement and go back to the way things were. This is met with a certain reluctance from Mike and Lucas, who are preoccupied with their girl troubles. When Will cannot get them to cooperate with his campaign, he storms out, inciting a very delicate argument with Mike.
“It’s not my fault you don’t like girls,” Mike finally shouts at him. Will freezes, and Mike immediately regrets his words, but hearing them as a viewer filled me with bittersweet relief. Fans have been speculating about Will’s romantic preference for years, though nothing has ever been confirmed in canon. This season is no different. But between Mike’s offhand accusation and Will’s offhand comment to his mom that he “will never fall in love,” it definitely shows us that there’s something about Will he has yet to explore or discover about himself. Whether it’s some aspect of sexuality, or his personal trauma slowing his maturity, I’m enthralled with the story choice for Will.
The fight with Mike causes Will to breakdown completely. He storms into the woods in the rain, and in a fit of frustration and pity and rage, begins tearing up pictures of his friends and dismantling Castle Byers. It’s a truly heart-wrenching performance from Noah Schnapp, and one that was so easy to relate to. With everything falling apart around him, Will directs his hatred at himself, chanting about how stupid he is as he breaks his own sanctuary apart. With the additional revelation that the Mind Flayer is awoken, I doubt it will be getting easier any time soon. And so I repeat: Please let Will Byers have a good day someday soon.
All three seasons of Stranger Things are now available for streaming on Netflix.