As Stranger Things Season 3 draws to a close, the party must work together to defeat the Russians and the Mind Flayer once and for all. But victory comes at a cost.
On Stranger Things Season 3 Episode 8, Hopper, Joyce and Murray delve into the Russian base to close the Gate. Dustin gets to introduce everyone to the mysterious Suzie, and El and the party take down Billy and the Mind Flayer for good. That means saying some very tough goodbyes.
Recovering from The Bite
If last episode ended painfully for Eleven, it only got worse in the finale. The bite she sustained from the Flayed Monster is revealed to have injected her with a parasite—part leech, and part tracking mechanism. This scene was NOT for the faint of hearted, as Jonathan had to perform an impromptu surgery to remove the creature. It’s a bloody piece of body horror which I doubt I will ever watch again.
This scene really proves how far Netflix was willing to push to make Season 3 feel different. The whole point of this scene is to make the audience cringe, to make them feel squeamish and experience Eleven’s paid. That’s why it takes the characters a whole thirty seconds to realize they’re going about the surgery all wrong. Maybe instead of Jonathan running his fingers under El’s skin like he’s rummaging through her purse, she should just use her powers to extract it. It’s arguably the most painful thirty seconds of the season, and I could very well do without the shock value. In a twisted way, it’s a major credit to the actors and the incredible computer graphics once more.
The presence of this small bit of the Mind Flayer means that the party’s time is running out. However, it also has the curious side effect of draining Eleven’s powers. Removing it takes such a toll of her that she’s incapable of using them for the rest of the episode. Luckily, backup has arrived just in time.
Reunite, Divide, and Conquer
Hopper, Joyce and Murray storm the mall after overhearing the Russian soldiers’ transmissions on their own radio. With all three groups together again, we get a short lived reunion. Everyone attempts to play catch up—explaining about the Flayed Monster, the Russian base, and the machine that opened the Gate. If nothing else, the explanations go smoother this season than they ever have before. Again, it’s not their first rodeo. There’s more explaining than questioning in the scene, and everyone pretty much accepts the truth at face value.
However, just like the previous seasons, the group comes together only to break off into factions once more. El and the party will retreat to Murray’s house to hide from the Mind Flayer, Hopper and the adults will take care of the Russian base, while Dustin and the rest revisit Cerebro on the hill to coordinate via walkie talkie. The best thing about this plan, hands down, is the call signs Dustin assigns each group—Team Bald Eagle, the Griswold Family, and the Scoops Troop.
My only regret about this division is that it splits the group up in the exact same way they’ve been split all season. It makes sense, since each group already knows how to cooperate together. We get more content of our favorite pairings and a satisfying close to some character arcs. But at the same time, it would be nice to scramble the groups so we could explore some new character relationships. I really hope that’s something they explore and consider in Season 4.
Of course, none of these battle plans go according to plan. Team Bald Eagle is discovered by the Russians as soon as the elevator hits the bottom floor, forcing Hopper to shoot a bunch of soldiers and improvise. The Griswold family cannot get their car to start, discovering that Billy has found them and the Flayed Monster is on its way. Dustin misses their call of distress entirely, because Steve’s new car—the one Hopper “commandeered” from the gas station—can’t make it all the way up the hill. It’s almost too late by the time Steve and Robin rush to the rescue. But of course, saving the world is rarely easy.
Suzie, Do You Copy?
Another thing that goes wrong for Team Bald Eagle is retrieving the keys to the machine. Alexei (RIP) tells them that the shutdown is a two-man job, requiring that two master keys be inserted at the same time. They keys are kept in a safe, the code to which is Planck’s Constant. The bad news is that Murray gives Hopper and Joyce the incorrect number. The good news is that Dustin has a very smart, very real girlfriend.
It seems that all of Dustin’s talk from the beginning of the season has been true. Yes, he has a girlfriend in Salt Lake City, Utah. Yes, Cerebro’s signal can reach that far. And while she may not be considered “hotter than Phoebe Cates,” she is clearly perfect for Dustin. Her appearance is only a few minutes long, but she’s shown to be just as smart, creative and enthusiastic as he is. She’s also just as stubborn, which leads to Stranger Things’ very first musical interlude.
Suzie does know Planck’s constant, but will only give it to Dustin if he sings their favorite song for her. With the fate of the world on the line, along with his reputation, the two sing an incredibly well done rendition of “The Neverending Story” from the 1984 film of the same name. They’re so into their performance that Dustin even seems to forget he’s broadcasting on Cerebro to every single other character on the show. It’s an incredibly comical intermission as we flash between the different groups. Joyce is hiding her face in the wall of the Russian base, while Steve and Robin are more concerned about Dustin than the literal monster chasing their getaway vehicle. Regardless, the plan works, and Hopper and Joyce are able to open the safe and get the keys.
Back at Starcourt, the party has been running rampant trying to escape the Mind Flayer. Divided in the food court, Eleven, Max and Mike are split off from the rest of the group. While the others lead the Flayed Monster off in the van, they are left to deal with Billy. He is more powerful than both Mike and Max, easily knocking them out. He faces off with Eleven for a rematch, but with an advantage he did not have in Episode 4; El no longer has her powers.
Billy captures Eleven and summons the Flayed Monster back to the mall. On all accounts, it looks like the monster is going to devour her just as it did with the rest of the Flayed. However, this time it’s the party’s turn to save Eleven. Armed with the fireworks they stole from Big Buy, the teens create a spectacular distraction and inflict as much damage on the Flayed Monster as they can. Because he and the monster are psychically linked, it takes a toll on Billy as well. Unfortunately, it’s still not enough to allow Eleven to escape his clutches.
Using a different tactic, El tries to appeal to what’s left of Billy’s humanity. She recounts the memory she experienced back at the cabin. She describes Billy’s mother, the outfit she was wearing, and how happy they looked at the beach. Slowly, the black veins fade from Billy’s face, showing how he’s regaining control. As the party runs out of fireworks, Billy throws himself in front of Eleven to shield her from the Flayed Monster.
Billy’s death is full of complicated emotions. Despite this season’s attempts, I still didn’t feel all that sympathetic for Billy. Yes, he had a terrible childhood and terrible trauma to go through. But there was nothing redeemable about him last season, and he was possessed for most of this one. In the end, what sells the sadness of scene is Max’s heartbroken scream. While muddled in their own way, Max’s feelings ensure that the audience feels for Billy whether its logical or not.
Billy’s death is nearly overshadowed by Hopper, who makes his sacrifice at the exact same time. All things considered, his mission in the Russian base has gone fairly well up until the end. They were able to avoid the guards, pass themselves off as Russians, and he finally got some one on one time with Joyce. They talk about how they make a good team, despite all their flaws and arguing. They talk about how, if they survive this, they deserve to celebrate. And Joyce finally bites the bullet and tells Hopper he can pick her up at 7 o’clock Friday for their long overdue date.
At that exact moment, I knew Hopper wasn’t making it out of the season unscathed. I watched Captain America: The First Avenger! I know what happens when two people make a date a specific time during a life or death situation! Exactly what happens in this finale!
Hopper and Joyce do not get to turn off the machine together. They are interrupted by Grigori and the Russian hitmen, who Hopper has to fight off in another battle. He does end up victorious, throwing Grigori into the machine itself and obliterating his body. But the damage to the machine creates an impenetrable wall of electricity that Hopper can’t cross to get back to safety. With time running out, and Dustin screaming at them on the radio, he looks up to Joyce with a teary smile. And he nods.
Of course, I stoutly refuse to believe that Hopper is really dead. Joyce manages to turn the keys on her own, and the screen cuts to black for a moment. We never see Hopper’s body, or see him come in contact with the electricity, or see him disintegrate like the scientists did in the pilot. So, yes, I am sad. I was sad I had to watch Joyce cry and Eleven cry because they lost him. But I’m stubbornly refusing to believe that any of this is what it appears, and I trust all of you to do the same.
Three Months Later
Like all seasons of Stranger Things, the season ends with a time jump. Closing the gate kills the Mind Flayer once more. The military arrives to save the teens and adults from the Russians. While they were too late to offer any real assistance, they are able to disguise the Battle of Starcourt as an accidental fire that simply killed a few unfortunate civilians—Chief Jim Hopper among them. The whole thing is marked down as another Hawkins mystery, and for the most part, life goes on.
In another incredible scene, we see Robin and Steve applying for new jobs together at the video store. There’s still teasing and name calling, but they’re undoubtedly closer since the incident at the mall. Across town, the rest of the party is helping the Byers pack up their belongings. Without Hopper, Joyce has made the decision to go through with the plan to move out of Hawkins. Without Hopper, Eleven has moved in with the Byers, and is leaving with them.
Even though he’s gone, Hopper still manages to steal the scene at the end. While going through his close, Joyce finds a copy of the heart-to-heart speech Hopper never gave to Mike and El. Through a voiceover, Eleven and the audience finally get to hear everything he couldn’t bring himself to say. How Eleven helped him feel again, how he’s afraid to let her grow up in case he loses her, how he knows he can’t turn back time and has to make her let her own mistakes. While it’s all very emotional, it also left me feeling conflicted. The speech is something Hopper deliberately chose not to say to Mike and El, sabotaging their relationship and celebrating instead. It feels like another afterthought that lets him off the hook for his mistakes because deep down, he knew what he was doing was wrong.
It’s heartbreaking to watch everyone say goodbye to each other, but I really love the implications of this ending. Not just because Joyce and Eleven will be able lean on each other in their grief, but because it gives Eleven an extended family to lean on. Her arc this season has been about exploring relationships outside of the ones she had with Hopper and Mike. With a new mother and two brothers, I’m incredibly excited to see the way El develops by Season 4. I’m especially anxious to see the way she bonds with Will, since they’ve had such an important but tangential connection since season one. I hope their new brother-sister dynamic will bring him more into the limelight of the show.
Right at the end, there is one final scene that sets us up for Season 4. Back in Russia, we see two soldiers dragging a prisoner from his cell. They lock him in a cage and, opening another hatch, release a fully grown Demogorgon inside with him. The scene raises a number of questions about the future of Stranger Things. But the most important is: who is the American they’re saving in the cell? It’s unreal that we have to wait so long to find out.
All three seasons of Stranger Things are currently streaming on Netflix.