B6B: Stranger Things: Season 3, Episodes 5-6 Review

By JASON MARTIN (@JMartZone – July 16, 2019)

It turns out Mike Wheeler might have been right to worry and show extreme concern for Eleven’s safety in the sensory deprived, mind bending world behind the blindfold, because now what wasn’t seen is on full display. The Mind Flayer, and by proxy, all of its zombified human subjects, have a visual on the one person powerful enough to stop the destruction not just of Hawkins, Indiana, but potentially the entire planet. That said, it was a trip El had to take in order to try and talk to Billy Hargrove, something she hadn’t done since she communicated with her birth mother earlier in the series. In fact, that was the ONLY other time she had ever attempted it.

Max was more than mildly irritating as she accused Mike of trying to control El and not letting her think for herself, because as usual when this complaint is lodged, the one issuing it forgets that they’re doing the exact same thing. Everyone has an agenda, and often the most damaging are the ones that hide themselves from the one engaging in the activity or pushing the thought in the first place. While Max and El’s friendship isn’t out of place for two young girls, it’s annoying to watch, which again makes it very similar to a lot of real life teenage relationships.

As we get to the end of “E Pluribus Unum,” we see all the Flayed collapse into their own portion of the grossest version of Voltron ever seen and coagulate into a larger and more powerful monster. This leaves a question, however, that we hopefully will get an answer too before the season concludes. It’s likely the same idea that’s been rattling around in your brain as well.

These people – now under the spell of the Mind Flayer and basically no longer human – are still alive, or are they? Are they already dead, or if Eleven and the merry band of nerds and outcasts succeed, do they return to Hawkins unaware of what they went through? And, those that became goo…is that a wrap for them? How about Bruce and Tom in the hospital when their skulls are caved in and they’re stabbed. Are those two guys dead or can their consciousness return to their body once the proverbial head of the snake is destroyed or defeated?

My prediction would be that IF they’re still alive, some remnant of what they went through will lie dormant within them, but it could result in some brand of rebirth or complications down the line. Also, when the townsfolk just walk away from the freedom festival and leave friends or family or other familiar faces behind to go to the steel mill, we see just how many foot soldiers the Mind Flayer has assembled, all beginning with Billy, who turned Heather, and then those two turned her parents and it just expanded and exploded from there.

One thing the season has done an exceptional job with is making the Mind Flayer out to be almost indestructible, even when El is involved. She can use her mind and throw it across a room or send it flying out of a fourth story window, but it doesn’t look worse for the wear. It’s as if she can delay it or force it to flee and regroup, but just as it was when she faced off with Billy outside the sauna, how exactly is she supposed to kill it? That’s a good problem to have for the show, because we’re interested to find out how she does it…if she does it.

Interestingly, the Mind Flayer’s power and influence, unbeknownst to the vast majority of the town, is similar to the Russians working underneath Starcourt Mall to open the gate to the Upside Down using Dr. Alexei’s machine. It’s all about domination and control and it’s a monolithic entity with personnel beneath doing the dirty work. The plan is to end the United States and end up supreme authority in the world, built off the Cold War (and the cold temperature loving monster.)

Speaking of Alexei, the sequence and basically the entire visit with Joyce, Hopper, Alexei, and Murray Bauman was fantastic, especially the strawberry Slurpee that wasn’t and how Jim just had enough. In fact, as soon as they got into the woods, before ever getting to Brett Gelman, it was a ton of fun. Hop rocking the Magnum P.I. shirt is making his detective work feel more 1980s than ever, but David Harbour is doing his best work in the show right now, because he’s free to just be a borderline crazy person, or a hotheaded sheriff playing by his own rules. It sounds like a movie trailer because Jim Hopper in Season 3 basically IS a walking movie trailer.

And it’s outstanding.

Mayor Kline might not be as evil as we thought. He’s just concerned for his life, which we can understand when Grigori threatens him for allowing Hopper to get involved at all. Grigori in these two episodes, but earlier is well, seems very intentionally to be an homage to The Terminator, perhaps with a little of Robert Patrick’s T-1000 cyborg thrown in for good measure. He reminds me of Anton Chigurh from No Country for Old Men as well, just because of his relentless nature, but we haven’t seen if he can take a punch yet.

Dustin figures out and tells Erica Sinclair she’s a nerd after listening to her first speak eloquently (for her age especially) about communism and political theology and then do fairly complex math in her head. Plus, she likes My Little Pony, which he points out to her (and to me, I had no idea about all the magic and castles) is riddled with classic nerd tropes. She doesn’t accept it, but she sells it like she knows it’s probably true. That character has become much more intriguing and fully realized, featuring snark and adolescent brattiness, but also she now fits with everyone else we know on Stranger Things, and her banter with Dustin, Steve, and Robin all works.

Steve and Robin get captured and beaten, then injected with truth serum, where we find out she was obsessed with him when they were in high school, particularly in a sophomore class where she knew his tendencies and even what would be in his lunch. He sat directly in front of her, was the cool kid, and didn’t even know her name or realize she was in the class. He admitted what she said about him, namely that he was a jerk, and he said he wished he had known her then, because she could have helped him in school and maybe he’d be in college right now instead of the loser that works at Scoops Ahoy. These two are good together and on screen, there’s a relationship that matches up and feels right. Where it goes, we’ll have to wait and see. They care about one another. That much is now for certain.

It wasn’t surprising that Billy had a tough upbringing and that his father was abusive, while his mother ran away and left him, despite him begging her not to leave. Visually, the trip into Billy’s brain and into his memory was one of the more impressive feats the show has pulled off, and it built from the serenity of a quiet beach into the maelstrom and the unquenchable storm at the other end of the sand. And that storm is where we leave Episode 6, with El in legit danger and the Mind Flayer saying everything it’s done, it’s done to get to her, to finish her off, to end her friends, and to end everybody else once that’s accomplished.

Oh, is that all?

Meanwhile, the Russians, in a quest for global domination, don’t realize they’re opening a portal to their own doom. The explanation of the gate being under Hawkins in the past and Dr. Alexei laying out the history was well structured, and although I felt like these two episodes were just a little bloated, it’s because we have an eight episode season, so each installment has to be overflowing with content. There’s not much room for waste. As such, I’d rather it be too busy than too empty. I’m extremely pleased with the season as we enter the final couple of hours…not perfect, some irritants, but the entertainment value is strong and it’s on very solid footing.

Now, let’s see El go take this MFer (get it?) down.

I’m @JMartZone. You let me in. Now you have to let me stay.