Stranger Things – Season 3: Episode 2 – ‘The Mall Rats’
I knew Day of the Dead would come into play! I knew it!
After episode 2, the first thing I’ve noticed is this series has a bit of pace about it. At times during Stranger Things 2, it felt like the slow was trudging through treacle to get to the ending. Thankfully the season ended incredibly strong, but it was a bumpy road. I’m looking at you, Episode 7…
The Mall Rats starts exactly where the premiere left off, and we see exactly what happened to The Cougar Hunter. In the Steel Mill, a mysterious entity reigns supreme and sends Billy to the upside down where he meets…himself. In my notes when watching the episode, I literally wrote down the line “Concept! Upside Down doppelgangers! Yes! Love it!” and honestly that sums it up rather nicely. Given that the Upside Down has been a dark mirror of Hawkins, covered in darkness and strange, black vines, it stands to reason that this dark reflection also has mirror inhabitants. I love this idea. Billy being faced with a horde of unknown doppelgangers is a blatant Day of the Dead riff which suggests a looming attack on the town from its Upside Down neighbours. I’m all in. Concept! Yes!
We’re finally back in the saddle with our boy, our reluctant father figure, Steve Harrington. Enduring life as an ice cream scooper in The Starcourt’s Scoops Ahoy!, he shares the shop with Robin, the new character of the season played by Maya Hawke, the daughter of Uma Therman and Ethan Hawke (I can’t think of a more impressive set of Hollywood parents than those two). When Dustin rocks up with a potential quest, Steve inevitably scoops up the opportunity to Robin’s hilarious disbelief (“how many children are you friends with?”).
Using his radio tower, Dustin picked up a strange Russian message and the three spend the episode starting to decipher the transmitted message. This firmly feels like a subplot for the season, though I like the tangential nature of it to the main mystery. I hope it results in paths being crossed, because Steve looking after the Core Four and Elle last season was one of the show’s highlights.
Stranger Things 3 is so far doing a great job of steadily adding onto the mystery without overwhelming us. The rats of Hawkins have been drawn to the Steel Mill where they’re all tragically melted into an Upside Down style slime. This week, a rat that was caught by a local resident after she caught it eating her fertilizer also melts into the slime, but here’s the kicker, it’s sentient slime! It seeps out of its cage, begins to take some sort of shape, and creeps out of the basement. Sentient Slime is both a great name for an 80s metal band and a lovely, horrific enemy for the show to have because it truly does look disgusting.
I’m very much enjoying how little the main crew are involved in the main mystery of the show so far. They will likely become involved soon due to the fact that Max’s big brother is playing a major role in it and her fiercely protective nature of her friends and family will not let her go quietly into the night. That said, until that point, I love seeing them all just have the chance to be teenagers, facing all of the agony that comes with relationships and growing up. They’ve come a long way from the boys who were scared to talk to Eleven, a girl, back in Season 1. Mike and the boys go hunting for a gift for Elle while she and Max have a shopping day of their own.
This montage is played for laughs and is firmly rooted on character beats for all of them; Lucas, as the wisest and most sensible of the crew, leads the way and guides Mike around possible gift ideas; Mike, clueless, optimistic to a fault, clueless, well-intentioned, but also so very clueless aims high for his gifts but is left ultimately disappointed by an all-too-relatable declaration of how much money he actually has for a gift; and finally Will, fed up with all of this, just wants to play some god damn Dungeons and Dragons. For all of the hardship Will has faced in the last two seasons owing to his role as the Upside Down’s lightning rod, Will deserves something good. Give the boy what he wants, let him be the nerdy teenager he so desperately wants to be.
Max and Elle’s venture, on the other side of the mall, is a much-needed new pairing for the season. The two bounce of each other effortlessly and the young actresses have an evident chemistry that gives their friendship an easy foundation to work from. Their conversations feel natural, and while Max maybe brings more out of Elle than intended with Elle’s dramatic dumping of Mike for lying to her, the two continue to be close friends and have sleepovers at Hopper’s place. I’m glad both characters are getting a chance to develop together given Elle’s personality vacuum has been banished. Max has always been strong and confident in herself but she existed by those two archetypes last season; this season she’s coming into her own as the show is giving her agency and a key role to play by helping Elle adjust to regular teenager-dom. The character work for everyone in this sequence was stellar.
Two episodes into Stranger Things 3, and my major observation of this season is I don’t remember this show being as funny as it currently is. It always had funny lines and funny moments, but this year feels so much more confident in its comedy and it’s much more consistent too. Everyone has had a line or two an episode that made me genuinely laugh out loud, all of which provide a nice bit of levity relative to the Day of the Dead-level threat on the town. Let’s see what episode 3 brings!