Okay, so this is going to be a little different. When I reviewed the final season of Game of Thrones I did its episode by episode. Stranger Things however is on Netflix and the whole thing drops at once. But, after watching it as God intended, in one sitting using my brother's account, I don't think I can do this as a complete review. This season is so good and so full I can't fairly evaluate it as one thing. So, I'm going to go through this episode by episode, partly because I woke up super late, and partly to point out all the Easter eggs, but mostly because it gives me an excuse to re-watch it. So, this is going to be eight posts, otherwise it would go on forever.
A couple quick initial thoughts before we jump in:
Likes - Way too many count. But the top three are Mike and Eleven, Dacre Montgomery's acting, and Comrade Alexei. #JusticeForAlexei
Dislikes - Hopper, Erica
It's hard to top Season 1, it's just something special. Season 2 wasn't as good, but it was damn close. Season 3 I liked better than 2, and I think is objectively better than season 1, even if it's not as special. It's the funniest, darkest and most heartfelt season all at once, and that's one hell of a juggling act to pull off. It's an incredible piece of writing and something everyone can learn from. I'm looking at you Benioff and Weiss.
We start on June 24, 1984, four months before Season 2 starts, in a lab that mirrors the one in Hawkins, in what is obviously the Soviet Union. They have a machine that starts to open the gate into the Upside Down before it explodes, disintegrating several soldiers in the process, but they're clearly making progress; that's not good enough. A General has a man, whom I shall from now on refer to as Russian Terminator, kill the lead scientist. He then informs the next in line, who has just been promoted Darth Vader style, that he has one year. The scientist, whom we eventually learn is named Alexei (that will be important later) has one year. General and Russian Terminator walk out of the base into snowy mountains. And just in case it wasn't clear enough yet, we get ominous sounding Russian singing as the camera pans to the flag of the Soviet Union. This opening mirrors so many 80s Cold War films that I can't even begin to tell if it's a specific shout-out to a piece of work, or just a general one. But it fits with the era to an almost hilarious degree. This is not a complaint mind you, I really miss the Soviets as Hollywood villains. I even bothered to look up the song that's playing during the scene, it's not just some random chanting. It's a real song called "Red Army is the Strongest," sung by the Red Army Choir, which is so insanely 80s that I'm certain my friend Kirk could write a thesis paper on it. Say what you will about the Commies, but they sure can sing. Most likely because anyone who went off key got shot mind you, but still. Opening Credits.
One year later we're back in Hawkins inside El's room. We see cassette tapes of Corey Hart and Bryan Adams on her desk along with the book "Using Good English," something she is still clearly learning. It's blink and you miss it, but she also has Mike's name plastered all over the place, which probably isn't doing any favors with Hopper. Speaking of which, El and Mike are making out, while Hopper, in total dad mode, is grumpily watching Magnum P.I. He catches a glimpse of the kids kissing through the door and freaks out. El closes the door and Hopper starts to bang on the door, demanding to be let in, "THREE INCHES!" he yells. When the door opens, Mike and El are innocently sitting on the bed, reading. Mike has a magazine and El has a TV guide. Mike asks, "what's wrong?" Complete with a shit-eating grin. The look on Hopper's face is priceless, something Mike lampshades. El says "it was like a tomato." Mike replies, "Yeah, a fat tomato." A very clear indication that he has little to no respect for Hopper, which is going to cause some problems later. That said, considering what Hopper put him and El through last season, I can't really blame Mike for this. Respect is earned, not given. Hopper has done nothing to earn Mike's respect, just the opposite. Also, there's still the fact that Hopper sold the kids out at the end of Season 1 (even if they don't know it yet), something everyone but me seems to have forgotten.
Mike still has to leave, but he and El promise to meet back up tomorrow over the walkie-talkies. Mike seems far happier than last season, so does El. Mike bikes to the new Starcourt Mall to meet-up with Will, Max and Lucas and we get more of that glorious 80s style synth-music. Mike is late, and his friends give him crap for it, afraid they'll be late. They manage to make it to the theater in time because Steve Harrington, 2017s Mother of the Year, is working at Scoops Ahoy and lets the kids take a shortcut through the back. This is where we get our introduction to Robin, who has her character establishing moment when she says, "Hey Dingus, your children are here." Steve pops out of the back and says "Again? Seriously?" implying they've been doing this throughout the summer. This whole scene at the mall made me smile. They're almost dead now, but throughout my childhood (the 90s) malls were a major part of Midwestern life. Even throughout high school, the local Mall is where my friends and I would hang out during the summer in between gaming, swimming and watching movies. This show is just so good at bringing back happy feelings, which is one of the things that makes it such a joy to watch.
The kids sneak into the theater successfully, and into a sneak peak of George A. Romero's underrated masterpiece Day of the Dead, which wouldn't actually hit theaters until July 19th. Kids sneaking into R rated movies is of course a classic coming of age trope in movies. Granted, it's not like my brother and I didn't do the same thing when we were that age. The power cuts out at the mall and ominous synth music plays (this is going to happen a lot) as we get a panning shot that reveals the power is going out everywhere. In an old abandoned steel mill, we see the part of the Mind Flayer that Will expelled last season. The power comes back, and Will senses the creature, almost like a kind of spider-sense. He obviously still has some kind of psychic connection to it.
Cut to Nancy sitting straight up in bed and realizing she's late for something. A shirtless Jonathan then pops up next to her and asks what's wrong, sees the time and starts to panic as well. Nancy jumps out the window and sneaks around the back of the Byers house. I don't know why because as Jonathan runs out, Joyce rubs the lipstick off of his cheek and doesn't freak out. So, she clearly knows Nancy spent the night. Joyce notices that all the magnets have fallen off the fridge. I realize this seems unimportant, but it will be later on. Meanwhile Jonathan and Nancy speed off to their summer jobs at the town newspaper. Nancy is upset (and rightfully so) because the Newspaper is very much a boy's club and the men running it don't respect her. Jack Busey's character, Bruce, stands out as a sexist douchebag in a room full of sexist douchebags. Jack Busey is the son of Gary Busey and looks just like him. Honestly, the only thing I can remember him from is Starship Troopers (WOULD YOU LIKE TO KNOW MOAR!?), a gloriously shlocky move from the 90s.
Dustin comes home, and we get the scene from the trailer with the prank that ends with Dustin spraying Lucas in the face with Farah Fawcett spray. Then we cut to the other scene from the trailer, Billy as the popular lifeguard that all the middle-age moms have a crush on. Mrs. Wheeler is reading a romance novel with someone on the cover who looks almost exactly like Billy.
Downtown Hawkins has become a ghost town, most places having gone out of business due to the new mall. Joyce is still working at the same store, but even they're having a 60-70% off sale. So, it's a good bet that store isn't long for this world either, the Market taketh no prisoners. Hopper walks in to vent to Joyce. He hates Mike dating El and is incredibly angry about it, even going so far as to say, "I need for them to break up." Joyce wisely says, "that's not your decision." She tries to help Hopper come up with a way to calmly talk to the kids and set some boundaries. We as the viewers know this won't work, but it does establish Joyce as the level-headed one this season. Which is nice since she's often been "the crazy one." I mean she's not crazy, and is ultimately proven correct, but she still has that reputation, as unfair as that may be
Nancy has to bring lunch to the crew at The Hawkins post, and they continue to be sexist pigs. I get that's part of the 80s, but I'd have liked for there to be one person working there who isn't an unlikable jackass.
Dustin is showing off his creations to his friends, which are mostly unimpressed. But his prize creation is a Cerebro (named for the computer in X-Men), an unassembled HAM Radio Tower that lets him talk to his girlfriend Suzie, with a Z. She's from Utah, and absolutely no one believes him.
At the mall, Steve is striking out with the ladies and feeling like he doesn't have a future. Robin has a whiteboard with one side that says, "You rule" and the other that says "You suck." There are no marks under "You rule" and six under "You suck." It's hilarious, and incredibly awkward.
Back at the store, Joyce is trying to help Hopper write the correct words for his "talk" to Mike and Eleven. Hopper says, "Maybe I'll just kill Mike, I'm chief of police, I could cover it up." I didn't like this. I get that it's supposed to be funny, but to me it comes off as psycho and controlling. Maybe my perception is skewed a bit because I had to deal with one too many bad-tempered control freak adults who were supposed to be "guardians" growing up, that I find it impossible to find this funny. Because this is where I actually started to hate Hopper this season. Which will be the case for most of the season. Hopper asks Joyce out, and she turns him down. He'll start to get pushy about this later, which just made me dislike him more.
The party hikes up the highest hill to set up Dustin's radio tower. During the discussion we get one of the funniest lines in the episode. Dustin mentions that his girlfriend is Mormon. When Will asks "What are Mormons?" Dustin replies "Super religious white people." It's funny without being mean-spirited or judgmental, something not easy to do with religious jokes. Props for that. Mike and El take off because of El's "curfew" at 4 (it's not at 4), but really to go get some time alone, much to the group's annoyance. Will gets another tingle on the back of his neck as we see rats swarm to the steel mill where we last saw the Mind Flayer. The rats begin to explode and die in a scene that is both gross and disturbing. It's also some major foreshadowing.
At the pool Billy continues his flirtation with Mrs. Wheeler while "Hot Blooded" by Foreigner plays. You've got to hand it to the Duffer brothers, they know exactly which songs to use. Billy invites Karen for some "private lessons," at Motel Six.
Finally reaching the top of the hill just as the sun is going down, the kids set up the radio tower. Dustin attempts to contact Suzie, she doesn't pick up, naturally. Joyce arrives home and has a leftover dinner for one, while watching Cheers and remembering Bob. Sad music that sharp-eared viewers will recognize as Eulogy from season 2 plays. It's the song that plays when Nancy breaks down in the bathroom while Mike puts away toys while missing Eleven, and that plays at Barb's funeral. The magnets again fall off of the fridge.
Sharp cut to Nancy picking up the trash at the Hawkins post where she picks up a phone call. She writes down a name, an address and the words "diseased rats."
Mike and El are making out in her room again while "I Can't Fight this Feeling Anymore" by REO Speedwagon plays on the stereo. Hopper isn't having it and decides to try and talk to Mike and El. It goes about as well as you expect. He eventually loses his temper and lies, saying Mike's grandma is sick and that he needs to take him home. When he gets Mike alone in the car he goes off on Mike gives him a talking too about seeing El too much. Again, it's supposed to be funny, but it comes off as toxic and controlling. He KNOWS what Mike and El mean to each other, and seeing as he sold them out to people who he knew were willing to commit murder… My dislike for Hopper went to outright hatred at this point.
On the hilltop, Suzie still isn't responding, no one believes he has a girlfriend in Utah, and the others finally leave. After the kids leave, Mike's tower picks up a Russian transmission. We then cut to a facility where the Soviets have successfully opened the gate to the Upside Down.
Karen Wheeler prepares for her date with Billy but backs out at the last minute when she sees her husband, Ted, sleeping in his chair with their youngest daughter asleep on his lap. Billy is on his way to the Motel six blaring rock out his car radio when he hits something in the road, spins out of control and crashes in front of the steel works. A tentacle grabs him and pulls him down into the basement as he screams. End Episode.
So, this season starts off strong, carefully setting up the plot, but mostly letting us catch-up with our favorite characters. We get to see how the romances have progressed, and all seem to be going strong. Will doesn't get a ton of spotlight, but he's clearly the odd man out, not having a girlfriend or a happy demeanor. I find it interesting that he says, "I'm not going to fall in love." There are a couple different interpretations of this line, but my theory is that on some level he's the least mature of the group. He had the last bit of his childhood stolen from him and he's trying desperately to hold onto it. And quite frankly, it can be incredibly painful to watch all your friends go on to have romantic relationships when you don't, so I think he's dealing with a LOT of emotional pain that he's not talking about.