Stranger Things – Season 3: Episode 8 – ‘The Battle of Starcourt’
It all comes down to this. All of Stranger Things 3’s various plot strands all converged in one place – Starcourt. The hub of so many antics for the season was always going to be the location for the finale. This finale is a worthy capper on a terrific season of Stranger Things.
Continuing the trend of most of the season before it, The Battle of Starcourt starts exactly where episode 7 finished off as the crew deal with the small issue of Elle’s bite. There’s a weird alien object squirming in her leg in a nice little Alien nod, and Jonathan steps up to the plate to resolve the issue in a manner that, in keeping with much of the season, is utterly disgusting. Using a scalding kitchen knife from a food stand nearby to cut Elle’s leg open, Jonathan jams his clumsy fingers into Elle’s leg to remove the alien object.
It’s such a viscerally graphic scene that I was squirming on my sofa, but that squirm feeling was replaced with joy. Upon throwing the alien across the floor, it begins to creep away only to meet an untimely end courtesy of Hopper’s boot. The hero shot that followed and the faces of sheer joy we’re greeted with as the main crew is finally reunited with their other, main father figure is just wonderful. You can easily forget that the main crew are still just kids, and Hopper has always felt like a bit of a safety net for them. It’s taken too long, but I’m so glad all of the original gang were back together for this terrific finale.
The Battle of Starcourt is a gargantuan 80 minutes long – the same length as most of the final episodes of Game of Thrones – and I was pleased to see the show put every minute of the finale to good use. As we’ve come to expect, it’s littered with moments between characters that are so perfectly written that they bring a smile to your face regardless of the world-endingly disastrous circumstances that surround them, we’ll get to some of my favourites throughout this final review (“Listen, Mr Bum Man!” from Erica is by far the line of the episode), but every character gets a moment in the sun. In terms of balancing character with action with plot, this finale is as good as it gets.
Despite the characters being back together, this was regretfully but understandably short-lived as there was the small matter of the Upside Down to contend with. All of our characters had their own parts to play in the grand mystery of Stranger Things 3 and they split off once again into their groups to deal with the parts they’re most connected to. Thankfully, there’s a little bit of interaction here as the Scoops Ahoy! gang joins forces with Joyce and Hopper to take down the Russians and their portal to the Upside Down.
Given the underground nature of the secret Russian laboratory, their bog-standard walkie talkies that have served them all so well since episode 1 aren’t strong enough, so they return to the homemade Ham radio Dustin built at Camp Know Where (I called it!). Joyce and Hopper head underground and, with a bit of improvisation from Hopper, sneak their way through the lab (as easy as it was for the Scoops Ahoy! gang earlier in the season), but they hit a roadblock in the form of a safe with the keys needed to shut down the portal. This, finally, finally, is where our mysterious Suzie comes into play.
The wait for Suzie was long and arduous, but my goodness, it was worth the wait. The code needed for the safe is Planck’s constant, a quantum physics equation, and Suzie knows the answer. But Suzie won’t give it to Dustin for free, and forces him to do that thing she likes for her. I’m sure, like me, you were expecting Dustin to say “I love you” or something corny, but none of us expected what we got – a perfect Neverending Story duet. I really mean it when I say it was perfect. I’ve watched it countless times since on YouTube, it’s on my Spotify playlist, it’s constantly been on repeat since I watched it. It’s such a surprising, heartfelt, hilarious moment in such a crucial situation that it alleviates the tension brilliantly. The added delight of cutting in shots of various other characters in moments of duress (Hopper in a Russian soldier outfit, Joyce accepting her fate by banging her head against the wall, Steve, Robin, Will, and Lucas’ looks of utter confusion as you see The Mind Flayer chasing them through the back window of the car) just adds to the perfection of the scene. As far as character introductions go, Suzie’s is one of the best in recent memory. Part of me hopes Suzie becomes a recurring character, but another part of me hopes she only appears in crucial situations to sing duets with Dustin.
Jumping over to The Mind Flayer Problem, every scene with The Mind Flayer is brilliant. When it lands in Starcourt, blasting through the glass ceiling, it has a brilliant villain shot showing The Mind Flayer in all its glory for the first time this season, and it looks majestically horrid. It’s such a dominating, terrifying presence that you genuinely fear for the main crew – Elle, in particular – because you wonder how the hell they’re going to get out of this one.
The Mind Flayer stuff is filled with references from horror and sci-fi that I lapped up. Beyond the The Thing references I brought up in my last review, there’s a scene where the crew are separated around Starcourt, and The Mind Flayer sends out tentacles to scout the area to find them. I can’t be the only one that felt a strong War of the Worlds homage, down to the tentacles gliding silently above the ground, coming within inches of finding someone before being distracted by something else. Tension, visuals, film references all at once in true Stranger Things fashion.
I brought up the visuals back in episode 6 with the final 15 minutes, but the strong visuals this year continue with the finale. There are countless scenes that are gorgeous to look at, from Dustin and Erica calling in the army and seeing helicopters flying overhead, to Hopper and Joyce walking through a 2001: A Space Odyssey style red tunnel, to Lucas leading the assault on The Mind Flayer by throwing fireworks at it, I cannot underestimate how impressive this season has looked visually. Whatever the budget was for the season (there are no official numbers, but if Stranger Things 2 had a budget of around $8m an episode, you could imagine Stranger Things 3 having either equal or higher than that…), they put that budget to terrific use on a visual effects standpoint. Once again, I doff my cap to the effects department for achieving so much beauty this season.
With the inevitable victory – Joyce manages to shut down the portal at the last minute – comes some true tragedy. We’ve experienced death in Stranger Things before (most notably with Barb in Season 1 and Bob in Season 2), but this finale sees the death of some main characters – Billy “The Cougar Hunter” Hargrove and our fearless chief of police, Jim Hopper.
Having been under the influence of The Mind Flayer for the entire season, it was nice to see Billy regain control of himself for one last time in order to save Elle from the grasp of The Mind Flayer. He gets a heroic send off, despite his fairly brutal demise. I really enjoyed Dacre Montgomery’s performance this season, from the true version of The Cougar Hunter at the start of the show, to the possessed evil leader, Montgomery was terrific. There’s a brilliant shot of him in his car revving his engine towards the main crew, the look in his eyes is that of a wild animal, all the humanity of him has been stripped away as if he were smelling blood. It’s a great performance from an actor on the rise, and while Billy was generally a dick in the series, he earned his shot at redemption with his sacrifice.
After Billy, we say goodbye to Hopper. What a season from the main man. Sporting his glorious Hawaiian shirt from early on with his now iconic moustache, Hopper had more than his fair share of moments, and he gets one final glorious victory before his death as he literally eviscerates The Russian Terminator in the portal. Hopper, throughout the show, has been funny, badass, supportive to whoever needs him to be, and he gets a tear-jerking goodbye as Joyce is forced to close the portal before Hopper could get to safety. David Harbour deserves so much praise for his role in the series as a whole, given the amount of young actors in the show it fell onto Winona Ryder and himself to bear some of the dramatic weight while the youngsters grew into their characters. Harbour was brilliant from day one. I’m sad to see the back of Hopper because he was such a brilliant character, but after the season he had, he had a worthy send off.
I’ve spoken to much about the finale already and there is still so much to discuss, but I’ll condense it all into one, overarching question – where do we go from here?
After her bite, Elle gradually lost her powers through the episode and couldn’t even move a teddy bear at the end of the episode. I really wonder where Elle goes from here as a character because she could take two paths. Option one, she could go on a quest to get her powers back, or option two, she could just…be a teenager. That wildly controversial subject of just being human. Elle hasn’t had a chance to be a teenager at all until this season, and even this year her teenager life had the caveat of “oh yeah, she has super powers!”
After Joyce lovingly took in Elle due to Hopper’s death, Joyce, Elle, and Will elect to move from Hawkins and start again somewhere else. All 3 of the characters could so dearly use a fresh start – Joyce and Will have been through hell for the last few years, and Elle lost her father and her powers. They’re leaving their friends behind, but it’s for the best, I’m sure of it.
There really was a sense of finality to the finale. It felt like the end of the road, with characters dying or moving away, it felt like the show was wrapping things up. There’s even the real-life problem of the child actors becoming older as the creators are facing the problem the Harry Potter series faced with their lead actors.
As far as we know, nothing has been confirmed for a Season 4, and Season 3 saw a very satisfying ending to a fantastic series. I loved Season 3 endlessly, I thought so much of it was brilliantly written, extremely well-paced, and had terrific performances across the board. Having discussed it and now written all of these nonsense words about it, I’d comfortably say Season 3 is the best season of the show to date, putting Season 1 in 2nd place and Season 2 in 3rd. If this is the end of Stranger Things, you have a fan for life, and I’d gladly return to this series time and time again.
That said…there’s a lovely little post-credits sting for us to sink our teeth into. We return to a mysterious Russian locale that started the season off, a nice little bookend for the season, and we’re in a prison. After a very knowing, intentionally mysterious line delivery to do with an unseen American, we see the true sting of the finale to the sight of…The Demagorgan! Seemingly blown up by Elle back in Season 1, it’s back and it’s being held captive by the Russians for, I assume, a variety of terrible experiments.
I’d be amazed if we don’t get a Season 4 after that little sting. I can’t wait to devour all of the Stranger Things content between now and then, hoping to find an answer to who on earth the unseen American is. It can’t be Hopper, surely…or can it?
Thank you so much to anyone who stuck through all of my reviews of this wonderful show, I hope I did the series some sort of justice. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a Neverending Story duet to watch. Tuuuurn around….look what what you seeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee…..