Things come to a crescendo in Hawkins as the main villains close in. The Mind Flayer confronts El and the party, while the Russians are catching up to Hopper and Joyce.
On Stranger Things Season 3 Episode 7, Steve and Robin take some time to recover from their drug-fueled interrogation. Meanwhile Eleven sustains a peculiar injury, and Hopper’s team loses a valued member. But that’s not the only plot twist on the way.
Battle at Hopper’s Cabin
When Episode 6 ended, the Mind Flayer had just told Eleven that he and all the Flayed could see her, and that they were coming for her and her friends. Somehow, Stranger Things Season 3 Episode 7 does not start with any characters worrying about this. It actually takes the group several minutes to decode this none-too-vague message. No one begins preparing for battle until the Flayed Monster is within sight on the hill.
The whole pacing of this scene irked me more than the action could make up for. I do not understand why the teens were sitting around for so long after Billy’s message, or how Eleven could not understand the implications of it. I do not understand how the Flayed Monster could be at the top of the hill, barely a mile away, and the party still had time to collect weapons, move furniture, barricade the house and square up before it arrived. And as much as I love an arc shot of our favorite characters preparing for battle, I do not understand why the writers don’t make more use of Will Byers.
Will has been a key player up until this point in understanding the Mind Flayer’s movements. His previous trauma of being host made him a great inside man, and gave us a lot of useful insight. However, when that feeling flairs up in this episode, he only serves to tell everyone what they already know; the Mind Flayer is coming, and he’s close.
I’d love to think about the extent to which Will’s makeshift powers could have been used in this scene. We could have had Eleven and Will back to back, with Will sensing the monster’s movements and shouting warning before they came. It would have been a chance to really develop Will’s role in the group, have something more constructive come out of the struggles he’s experienced the last few seasons. That would have been especially poignant after the Castle Byers scene, which shows how much he fears being left behind. Instead, we watch Eleven take down the monster with some help from Nancy’s gun and Lucas and Jonathan’s axe. I love watching Eleven use her powers, but as far as this scene was concerned, I was really hoping for more.
Back at Starcourt Mall, Dustin and Erica are doing their best to herd a very drugged Robin and Steve out of the Russian lab. The “Dad Steve” trope is reversed as Dustin frantically tries to get Steve to behave and answer his questions. They attempt to lay low in the Starcourt Cinema, where Back to the Future does a good job of keeping the Scoops employees occupied for a while. Dustin leaves to radio Mike for help and, inevitably, Robin and Steve sneak out to amuse themselves elsewhere. This leads finds them stumbling to the restroom so they can throw up the bulk of the truth serum, and have an incredible heart to heart.
Testing out whether or not they are still under the influence, Robin asks Steve if he’s ever been in love. He begins by talking about his relationship with Nancy, then uneasily segues into his growing crush on Robin. We see Robin looking conflicted and mortified, but don’t find out why until Steve joins her in her stall. Hesitantly, she reveals to Steve that she never had a crush on him in high school. She had a crush on Tammy Thompson, another girl in their class who did not give Robin the time of day.
This is quite possibly my favorite scene of the season. I love almost everything about it, from the representation, to Maya Hawke’s acting, to Steve’s continued character development, to the easy banter between these two great characters. It feels like such an honest interaction, especially as both Robin and Steve sit on the floor at their most vulnerable. Steve is taking a great leap by admitting his feelings for Robin, considering the last time he was in a relationship it ended in defeat and heartbreak. Robin takes an even greater leap by coming out to him, something that clearly terrifies her as he thinks it over. And though it takes him a few seconds, Steve takes it in stride.
I also loved the conclusion to this scene. It felt fresh to skip the entire “gay is okay” conversation and go straight for Steve dunking on Tammy Thompson as a terrible choice for a crush. The way the two of them argue lightheartedly, the way Robin bursts into giggles that are clearly fueled by relief, really just shows how much closer this scene has brought them to each other. It cements what was already a really great friendship, and I’m excited to see more of it in the future.
The End of Alexei
The ride from Murray’s home back to Hawkins isn’t an easy one for Joyce and Hopper. They bicker and argue, prompting Murray into an outburst about their lovers’ quarrels and how they should just get together already. This, of course, is a fabulously comedic scene which calls back to Murray’s role in Stranger Things Season 2. Last year he was playing matchmaker for Nancy and Jonathan, and this year he’s moved onto Jopper. Clearly, the man hasn’t lost his touch.
But what we see out of Joyce and Hopper for the rest of the episode is fairly standard. They run around the Fun Fair looking for “their children” and end up running from the Russian assassins who have been pursuing them all season. While this is going on, another friendship is being cemented between Murray and Alexei. They put the finishing touches on their plan to close the Gate and take down the lab, then talk a bit about American culture. Not wanting his new friend to miss out on the fun, Murray escorts Alexei to the Fun Fair so he can explore.
Again, the plot devices felt a little heavy-handed here. Murray is without a doubt the most cautious and paranoid character on the show. I don’t see him letting a wanted Russian scientist wander around unsupervised while there are assassins hunting him down. Especially considering that Alexei is a Russian man who does not speak any English, loose in a small American town that has already proven suspicious of Russians and communists. But again, it’s a plot device that has to be used to Alexei can have his moment of naïve optimism.
Most could probably guess how this episode was going to end for Alexei before it even started. It’s heartwarming to watch him dive into this bright and colorful new world he’s been missing out on. He ignores Murray’s cynicism about rigged games and capitalist nature, and succeeds in beating all the odds. It’s why it is so heartbreaking when that success is ripped away from him and Grigori finally takes him out. Watching Murray scream and attempt to save him only makes it more emotional. Even though it was not a surprise, it was a very moving scene that made things feel bleak as we head into the final episode.
While Dustin’s message to Mike on the radio did not come through all clear, it was enough to let the party know there was a problem. Stocking up on supplies at the local Big Buy, Eleven uses her powers to find Dustin. Her leg is still heavily injured, a bite she sustained from the Flayed Monster back at Hopper’s cabin, but she assures Mike that it doesn’t hurt all that badly. Lucas steals an entire display case worth of fireworks as weapons, and they head to the mall find Dustin.
Their arrival could not be better timed. Dustin, Erica, Robin and Steve are unable to escape the mall without drawing the attention of the Russian soldiers. They’re cornered in the food court, but just before they can be captured, Eleven takes out the Russians with a signature flying vehicle. The two groups collide, equally relieved and confused by each other. But before they can finish explaining their respective adventures, El collapses in pain. As it turns out, her leg injury is not as benign as it seems.
The title of this episode was “The Bite,” and somehow I still managed to be surprised and disgusted by the end of the episode. That’s partially due to the continually incredible work of the Stranger Things graphics team, who made Eleven’s leg look simply horrifying. It’s also because it adds to the growing feeling that none of this has been an accident. It’s almost as if the Mind Flayer knew that Hopper’s cabin wouldn’t be the final battle, and decided to delay things a little longer to get everyone in one place. Though our heroes have been preparing, they’re not as far ahead as they’d initially thought. It’s a very nerve-wracking note to end on.
All three seasons of Stranger Things are now streaming on Netflix.