B6B: Stranger Things: Season 3, Episodes 7-8 Review

By JASON MARTIN (@JMartZone – July 19, 2019)

I’ve just got to say…I really enjoyed how this season ended, and for the most part, despite a slow start, the entire year as a whole. One thing we had not seen were the “big” deaths, meaning the exits for the most important characters or ones with key roles. Bob Newby’s death wasn’t minor, but it also wasn’t the same as losing, for example, Hop.

Oh, well we just lost Hop.

With Jim’s death, sacrificing it all to save El, to save Joyce, to save Hawkins, we say goodbye to David Harbour, who has become a superstar because of his work on this series. He’s already got another Netflix property and he’s popping up everywhere. The character, as flawed as it might have been, was so very human and relatable. Even when we weren’t exactly rooting for his success, like with Eleven and Mike, we still could see his perspective. While he had to deal with a little too much alcohol at times and maybe even a minor pill addiction, he was never a bad man.

And it’s that last phrase that I want to use to talk about what this season proved about Stranger Things. Season 2 gave the original bully, Steve Harrington, legitimate redemption as he let his own selfishness and egotism fall to the side for friends he began to care about. Bob Newby could have been a jerk, because we wanted Joyce and Hopper, but he was just a nice, smart, helpful man that ended up giving his life to protect those that mattered in his world. Although it was predictable, Billy Hargrove’s final breaths were spent apologizing to his sister, Max, for letting her down, for becoming the kind of guy he was, and for not being a better brother.

Remember, this is someone who was on his way to sleep with Mike Wheeler’s mother, a tryst he set up. He was a villain. He was everything we’re supposed to hate. His life was tough, which we got to see, but watching Dacre Montgomery’s face soften and melt as El described his mother to him and what that day at the beach was like, how pretty she was, you saw a human being for the first time. Someone who just loved his mother. Someone who wished things were different. Mind control couldn’t trump that level of real.

And yes, even Billy Hargrove got redemption.

If Stranger Things 3 showed us anything, it was a reinforcement of the concept that these characters, El, the four boys, Max, the teenagers, the key adults, all cared deeply about one another. They all, at different times, were willing to put their own skin on the line to help the others escape. Look how often it happened in the first two seasons and then stop and think about how many times it happened in these two episodes alone. From Lucas with the slingshot to Nancy with the gun to Hopper battling Grigori by the machine to Steve and Robin tearing off to go save those that were trapped at the mall.

You survive together. You die alone. And in Hawkins, it appears the Mind Flayer and the Upside Down picked the wrong town, because this collection of people flat out refuse to leave anyone behind, and if they have to die to keep the others alive, that’s what they’re going to do. The Mind Flayer never had a chance in the end, because the message of Stranger Things 3 (just as it was in 2) is that the love inside us, when unleashed, will destroy any monster or any force threatening it. As the creature was the antithesis of the humans, always using everyone for his own ends, willing to kill anyone he had to in order to become larger, stronger, more menacing.

Extrapolate from the sheer monster movie portion of the show and consider it was a subtle depiction of love conquering all, particularly self absorption, arrogance, and perceived strength. Even with its quirks, Robin revealing her secret, Dustin’s selfishness upon returning from camp, Karen’s dissatisfaction with her marriage (while maintaining its sanctity by the tips of her fingers), Erica going from brat to nerd, these people banded together and all played a role. Notice that at some point during the season, whether the peril was physical or emotional, every single character had at least one moment of selfless heroism. Is it any wonder Peter Gabriel’s version of “Heroes” played as El read Hopper’s notes?

Brett Gelman is awesome and the Murray Bauman character was even better this time around. His interactions both with Alexei as well as Erica were highlights, but he fit seamlessly as the guy that finally had enough of Joyce and Hopper’s frenemy mating ritual and told them what was what. In that sequence, which was outstanding, he said what every viewer probably has had in their minds for three seasons. Unfortunately, they decided on Enzo’s about ten minutes or so before Jim’s death, but he died happy. Both Harbour and Winona Ryder played the look through the glass perfectly, giving off every needed emotion. He told her with the grin and the nod that he loved her and that he would miss her, and she looked back with a similar expression.

Poor Joyce was still getting over Bob… and now she has to deal with Jim’s death? Yikes. Maybe pick a dude with more than a three letter first name. It could be a bad omen for some reason.

Actually, I probably should stop here. I originally wrote this on Friday but received a few reader responses that made me think I needed to jump back into things a bit. Is Hop dead? There’s absolutely a possibility, especially in TV where you can make the rules, that he survived the explosion by jumping THROUGH the gate into the Upside Down, somehow surviving whatever he found inside, and then he climbed back out of the gate. How though? It was sealed? Right, well it was sealed on the United States side, but the mid-credits sequence shows that a Demogorgon is in Russia, which means there’s also a gate THERE, as if the energy beam experiment was actually happening in both locations.

So, if Hopper could get to the other side, it would have been open to climb through, avoiding the electromagnetism, and it would explain “No, not the American” from the prison guards. What’s even more interesting is this question I thought of this morning. What happens to someone that is trapped in the Upside Down for an extended length of time? Is it still Hop? Or is it someone that’s still very much Hop, but also possesses something new? Stranger Things could go all kinds of wrong if they played this incorrectly, but it’s at least fun to think about.

Consider this, El lost her powers, either because of the bite or overuse or exhaustion, perhaps a coagulation of all of the above. As Season 3 ends, she hasn’t recovered them, unable to even pull the teddy bear off the top shelf of the closet. Mike reassures her, telling her he knows they’ll come back. But, for the first time, El is powerless in many respects to help if something bad were to break out. That means Season 3 shouldn’t just END with a big death, if I were writing it, someone major should be killed before the Stranger Things 4 open ever rolls in the first episode!

But Hop, who has been a hero without powers…what if he finds out he actually has some supernatural ability that arrives just in the nick of time to save everyone late in Season 4. We’re going to see El having an identity crisis next season, because she’s not going to feel she has value without her abilities. Her friends are going to convince her otherwise, but expect that to take center stage next year.

Yes, it’s also true that Hop could be dead, but after thinking about it long and hard, I’m going to say he wasn’t. “Horror in the Heartland” on Cutting Edge, a total A Current Affair rip off that had me doing the sound effect…you know the one I’m talking about…yeah THAT one, only showed that he died. We never saw a body. We never saw a funeral or a memorial service of any kind. So the show wants us to think he’s dead, but could easily pull the swerve next year.

The Russian angle worked, it felt very 80s, but I say it worked while nodding with a “kinda” expression as I type. It made the season a little too busy for my taste, but as I say that, these eight episodes needed more than just the Mind Flayer against our crew, so I’d say it was a good inclusion. At times it could be confusing, but the fact that the gate closing actually killed the monster allowed both storylines to congeal effectively. Plus, we got Alexei, who was terrific, and it gave us a reason to bring Murray Bauman back into the proceedings.

Finally, these dopes saw Back to the Future…thank goodness. There would be no better way to hide in 1985 than in that movie as Einstein the dog becomes the world’s first time traveler. Did you see Fletch was also playing (so good), along with D.A.R.Y.L.? That took me back… I remember I told my mom I wanted to see The Black Cauldron, she drove us to a theater, but my plan was then to convince her to let me see the more adult Back to the Future. She agreed after I begged, and I’ll never forget that day.

Now The NeverEnding Story the year before in 1984? Nah, I remember some of the gals in my classes and camps going ape for that thing, but even though I’m pretty sure it was on a television I was in the room with at some point, there was no, “Turn around, look at what you see, in her face, the mirror of your dreams” hanging about in my mind space. No surprise Suzie was real, because the show wanted us to believe she wasn’t so blatantly and also let his friends believe the same. Once they were skeptical and talking behind his back about it, you knew it would come true, but it was a really well-executed reveal with the radio equipment and communications with Cerebro all playing a major part in saving their lives.

Season 4 is going to look much different. The mid-credits scene shows a Kamchatka prison where an inmate is basically fed to a Demogorgon. That means the Russians have indeed gotten themselves a weapon (or many of them), and it also represents (correct me if I’m wrong) the first ever sighting of one of the creatures from the Upside Down outside of Hawkins in this show. Also, the camera flipped 180 degrees as the prisoner was being dragged to his doom. It’s always appreciated, just a little nod to what we already suspected was coming moments later.

The timing is interesting, considering El, Joyce, Jonathan, and Will just packed up and moved out of town, leaving the group fractured and heartbroken on a number of fronts. That’s when these folks are all vulnerable, but we now know at least one Demogorgon is NOT in Hawkins, but IS murdering people.

Them leaving means either they have to come back for the holiday – which Mike alluded to right before they said goodbye, which was right after they revealed that “love” word to one another – or stuff has to go down ELSEWHERE. It represents a turning point for Stranger Things and several questions as to location expansion and whether the stakes are now going to be more dire for the country as a whole. The Cold War as background story is going to play a key role, no question about that, but as we know, all these characters we love are going to face peril and at least one has to die next year…but they’ll eventually come together and then it’ll be curtains for the monsters.

Hopper’s death was ENORMOUS. I don’t know what Stranger Things is without that character, but it also allows a new direction that will force a different brand of creativity and a change in story. This formula, like Planck’s Constant, would have continued to work, but now we get to see something that assuredly will be a little divergent from the norm. I’m excited to see what Stranger Things 4 looks like, but leave 3 satisfied and entertained. It’s not perfect, but I love the message, I enjoy watching all these people interact with one another, and I will never get tired of this score or the licensed music. Visually, Starcourt Mall really added something as well… this was a heck of a lot of fun to watch.

Farewell to Hop. I look forward to (probably, possibly, maybe) seeing him again.

I’m @JMartZone. Mornings are for coffee and contemplation.