It’s time to take a closer look at Hawkins’ two major problems: the brainwashed zombies of the Mind Flayer, and the alarming number of secret Russian science labs.
On Stranger Things Season 3 Episode 5, Nancy and Jonathan join the party to investigate the possible return of the Mind Flayer. Dustin, Steve, Robin and Erica continue to explore the secret base under Starcourt Mall, while Hopper and Joyce find their own lab out in the farmlands. When they take one of the scientists captive, they turn to a familiar face for help.
Beneath Starcourt Mall
Last episode left off with our Mall Misfits plummeting to certain death at the bottom of an elevator shaft. Once they puzzle their way out, they find themselves in a vast network of tunnels deep beneath the mall. Unable to return to the surface, or call for any sort of help, they resort to exploring the tunnels and looking for more information. This is how they discover the Russian’s main hub, where they are slowly drilling a whole in the Gate to the Upside Down.
The entire plot of this episode made me anxious. Four inexperienced teens sneaking around a government base of vicious Russian scientists and soldiers? Surely they would be seen. But yet again, things go unreasonably well for the group. As a fan of the characters, I’m glad they didn’t get caught. But as a viewer, watching them sneak across a busy room full of trained Russian spies while being completely undetected was unbelievable enough to pull me out of the plot.
Along the same lines, we get to watch Steve win his first ever fight. He might not have been able to fight off his high school peers, but a trained Russian soldier? The element of surprise is apparently enough to sway things in his favor. I’m torn between the hilarity of the actual scene and the leaps of logic this subplot has to take to get there.
Teens and Kids Unite
The first thing we see Nancy do in Episode 5 is call the Byers house. Not because she wants to talk to Jonathan, but because she needs to check on Will after the scene she observed at the hospital. This detail alone was enough to melt my heart. The episode goes on to combine Nancy’s subplot with the party’s, and they begin working the case together.
After two full seasons of science fiction shenanigans in Hawkins, Indiana, it’s nice to see that the kids are finally getting a handle on it. The seven of them work seamlessly as a team—from Nancy and Jonathan gesturing for Eleven to use her powers on the door, to Will suggesting the ingenious plan to use Mrs. Driscoll as bait. Nancy and Jonathan also give a detailed analysis of the crime scene at Heather’s house. They notice all the important details and coming to all the right conclusions. I suppose it could be marked up to plot convenience to some degree, but in-universe it simply reads as more experience.
The convenience is also explained away by the next scene at the hospital. Nancy and Jonathan came to those conclusions because it was exactly what the Mind Flayer wanted them to do. They walk right into a trap, and the two are chased around the hospital by their undead boss and the misogynistic coworker who has been hounding Nancy. The teens manage to fight them off, but just when it seems they’ve killed the men, the worst happens. As we’ve seen with the rats, the men’s bodies liquefy and combine into an even bigger monster. That was one hell of a cliffhanger.
I loved the choreography of Nancy and Jonathan each fighting their opponents. Killing the men in unison shows there’s still a twisted harmony between them. Despite their differences, they were able to save each other. However, the things Jonathan and Nancy have killed in the past have been faceless. Now they must face the guilt and horror of killing someone they used to know. I hope the show doesn’t shy away from that trauma in the later episodes of the season.
Investigating the land purchases made by Mayor Kline, Hopper and Joyce find another secret lab on the edge of Hawkins. Before they can properly communicate with either of the scientists they find there, they are interrupted by the motorcycle man, Grigori. His timing seemed suspiciously good, until I remembered a scene from last episode. Bound in his home, Mayor Kline tells his wife he needs to make a call. It certainly seems like he was the one who called the hit man. If he can contact and issue instructions to the Russians, it makes me think he’s a lot more involved in their plans than he’s let on.
Hopper and Joyce manage to escape, forcibly taking one of the scientists with them. Considering that they’re being hunted by a Russian hitman, the rest of their episode is pretty light-hearted. Hopper dubs the scientist “Smirnoff” when met with the language barrier. There is a heavy dosage of married-couple sniping between Hopper and Joyce as they fail to fix the sheriff’s truck and hike their way through the woods. And when they finally get to a 7-11, Hopper pulls another Magnum P.I. move and commandeers the vehicle of a random civilian. It’s all passingly humorous stuff.
Smirnoff himself, or Alexei as Joyce corrects, doesn’t appear to be as ill-intentioned as his coworkers. Observant fans will recognize him from fleeting shots in the premiere episode of the season. While he has no dialogue in Episode 1, there are quite a few lingering shots that try to establish his compassion and his doubt about the mission he is completing. Presumably this lighthearted episode is setting up to make Alexei a sympathetic character. He will probably be Joyce and Hopper’s inside man in the episodes to come.
To get away from Grigori, Hopper and Joyce retreat to Illinois to find Murray Bauman, the journalist Nancy and Jonathan worked with in Season 2. In their previous scenes together, Hopper seemed to regard Murray as more of a paranoid nuisance than anything. In this season, he passingly calls him a friend who used to be a journalist.
I find this setup to be a little confusing. Not six months prior, Murray helped Nancy and Jonathan publish the exposé that shut down Hawkins Laboratory. From what’s shown in Season 2, the article got a lot of media coverage. It seems a stretch to call him an ex-journalist, a farther stretch to call him Hopper’s friend, and an even farther stretch to suggest that Joyce wouldn’t already know who he is. This was the article that shut down the lab that hurt her son. She’s made it her business to follow up on everything about Hawkins Lab except the journalist responsible for closing it?
This logic is all passed over for the humor of watching the irate and tired group deal with Murray’s eccentricity and paranoia. And it was indeed very funny to watch Joyce go off on Murray like he was a spoiled child. But however annoying he may be, he also serves the narrative purpose of being able to translate Russian. This will undoubtedly be helpful in the coming episodes.
What did you think of Stranger Things Season3 Episode 5? Did it leave you with questions, or were you confident in your answers? Let us know in the comments, and share your thoughts with us on Twitter!
All three seasons of Stranger Things are now available for streaming on Netflix.