Stranger Things – Season 3: Episode 6 – ‘E Pluribus Unum’
E Pluribus Unum is, per my research, not just a fancy Latin name for the sixth episode of the season, but it’s the motto of the United States! Cultured folk like you reading this would have known, but my sheltered, uncultured swine of a human self was completely unaware. Its meaning? “Out of many, one.” Perfect for an episode in which our main characters, for the first time, come face to face with the Cronenbergian Sentient Slime that is one thing made, you guessed it, out of many.
Let’s get one thing straight: this seasons monster is absolutely disgusting. The Demagorgon of Season 1 was nice and horrifying in its own right with its Venus Flytrapian face; the Demadogs of Season 2 had the same Venus Flytrap elements but there were more of them which made the prospect even more difficult. Season 3 has done away with the Dema creatures and has given us this complete monstrosity that is by far the best monster the series has seen yet. It’s disgusting, genuinely scary, and has that relentless undying quality that all of the best TV or film monsters have. In the early scene in which the Sentient Slime chases Nancy and traps her into a room, the way it melts itself down, seeps through and under the door, and then reforms itself was equally horrific as it was cool. One of the main challenges any sci-fi or horror series faces is how to ramp up the big bad, and Stranger Things has nailed it.
With the main crew finally confronting the endgame of the series, episode 6 sets itself up for the finale. It’s the sort of episode that TV shows try their hardest to avoid, but they’re always inevitable. All 3 of the separate main storylines are manoeuvred into position that brings them all within touching distance of each other without truly bringing them together. I can feel the big reunion happening, we’re almost there, but we just need to wait that little bit longer.
Joyce and Hopper continue their assault on the very concept of good police work, but they somehow wangle their way into success as they inform the government that Russians are, in fact, building a portal to the Upside Down below Starcourt. As ever, the Joyce and Hopper story line has a few moments of gold, once again, from Joyce. Upon hearing Hopper’s secret code to contact the government is “Antique Chariot” but fails, Joyce rings them back and labels herself as “Wheelbarrow” in one of the biggest laughs of the season. Thanks to Brett Galman’s Murray, Joyce and Hopper are well and truly on the way to beating this thing, but they of course need Murray’s help as a Russian speaker to work with Alexei.
Brett Galman has a knack for that awkward, kind of over-bearing comedy and he’s a great fit for Murray and his nosy nature, but I have never really warmed to him as a character. He’s just too much for me to handle on a consistent basis because, let’s face it, he’s a gigantic arsehole. I have nothing against Brett Galman, I thought he was hilarious in the short-lived Matthew Perry comedy Go On, and he had a successful stint as the arsehole boyfriend of Fleabag’s sister. Galman has found himself a niche in comedy, but it just doesn’t work for me.
Back with the Scoops Ahoy! gang, they’re dealing with the repercussions of being caught at the end of episode 5, but mercifully, Dustin and Erica escaped, leaving Steve and Robin to be interrogated by the Russian army. There is something very funny about Steve and Robin handcuffed to chairs with bloody noses and black eyes, dressed in sailor outfits that, as far as the Russians can tell, are their biggest threat to their mission on planet Earth. It’s kind of a shame that this plays less a role in the grand scheme of the episode than expected, because there is some good stuff in here. Steve being a snarky dick to a Russian sergeant, the two of them trying and failing to escape when they topple their chair over, and the brief bit of human-on-human violence sees one of the most cringe-inducing torture techniques – the removal of fingernails. The pliers are attached to the nail but thankfully it doesn’t get removed, to save us all our breath. Dustin and Erica save the day, rather predictably, but this is an example of, sadly, this episode being the weakest of the season so far.
Finally, with the main crew, Elle takes centre stage as they use Elle’s Under the Skin vision room to try to find Billy and where his Upside Down operation is based. As weak as the episode is, relatively speaking, this last 15 minutes saves the episode from being a total dud.
The scenes in Billy’s mind are genuinely stunning. We get an idea of Billy’s life when he was growing up and his difficult relationship with his mother, and the closer Elle gets to the eye of the storm in Billy’s mind, the more stunning the visuals become, drenching Elle and the environment in red. Cinematographer, Tim Ives, the effects department, the production designers, the lighting crew, the director, Uta Briesewitz, I doff my cap to you on your efforts in this sequence. It’s as visually enthralling as anything I’ve seen on TV this year.
This final scene finally allows the main crew to see what’s up with that dastardly Steel Mill, and once again, what’s happening is absolutely disgusting. The Mind Flayer is approaching its final form, and absorbs Hawkins resident after Hawkins resident in a procession line as it grows in size and bursts through the roof of the Steel Mill. Seeing all of these innocents wilfully give themselves to The Mind Flayer, and then to watch them all be melted horrifically in front of it, is vile. What we’ve been waiting for is here, and while it may not be the Day of the Dead ending I was anticipating, The Mind Flayer a big chunky boi for our heroes (see: Elle) to fight.
A little stumbling block on the path to the ending, sure, but that last 15 minutes was spell-binding stuff, with great performances, plot momentum, and visual treats all working to let us know what has arrived in Hawkins, and what’s about to go down.