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Stranger Things 3 - Episode 2: The Mallrats

July 16, 2019

 

     Billy escapes from the basement of the steelworks and takes off in his car. Finding a phonebooth (remember those?) he calls 911 but ends up in the Upside Down. Several people walk towards him and he asks, "What do you want?" Clearly becoming more frightened until he's looking at himself. Opening Credits.

     Eleven is impatiently walking around the porch, clearly waiting for Mike. She calls him, and Mike lies about not being able to see her. This is awkward and annoying. El can tell he's lying, and Mike can't tell her the truth for whatever reason. Probably because Hopper threatened him. El goes to her room, clearly upset, and this makes Hopper HAPPY. He's literally happy that his daughter is miserable, and then like a jackass, drives to Joyce to tell her the talk worked. Which is also a lie. And he's singing "You don't mess with Jim" in the car. He tries to get Joyce to go out for dinner and he's REALLY pushy about it. Hopper gets a call and leaves to go deal with a protest outside city hall, Joyce notices that the magnets have once again fallen off. I was already hating Hopper after episode 1, but this took his character to downright unlikable for me. Although why Mike doesn't just tell El the truth right away I can't figure out.

     At the Hawkins Post, Nancy manages to get out for the day by telling her boss she's having "girl problems." She grabs Jonathan to go along and interview the lady who called in the previous episode.

     Cut to the mall, where we get a short montage of 80s mall culture and rampant American consumerism. Dustin arrives at Scoops Ahoy for a reunion with Steve. The enthusiasm with which they greet each other is funny and heartwarming, continuing their big brother/little brother "bromance" from last season. They catch-up over ice cream, and Steve doesn't believe Dustin when he claims his new girlfriend is hotter than Phoebe Cates (expect her to have a sudden resurgence in popularity), although he does believe Dustin has a girlfriend. Dustin brings up that he intercepted a Russian communication. Dustin being Dustin, he ends up yelling it, and the scene is hilarious. However, he does manage to rope Steve in to helping him translate the code.

Max is skateboarding at home when Eleven shows up and asks to talk. Max immediately figures out Mike is lying. Mike, for his part, is ranting to Lucas and Will about the whole situation. He's mad at Hopper, and rightfully so. Max and Lucas both give Mike and Eleven terrible advice. But in its own way, it's both sweet and funny, especially when Lucas brings up that Max has dumped him five times. Max decides to take El to the mall for a day of fun, Lucas and Mike go to try and find an "I'm sorry gift" for El while poor Will just wants to play Dungeons & Dragons.

     At the pool, the Hawkins housewives are waiting for Billy to show up. Karen (Mrs. Wheeler) goes to explain why she didn't show up. Billy tells her to stay away from him. I honestly think at this point Billy is fighting to stay in control so that he won't hurt her. The sun hurts him now, so it's obvious he's the host for the Mind Flayer.

     Back at the mall, Erica, Lucas' obnoxiously bratty sister that everyone except me loves, is abusing the free samples at Scoops Ahoy and being a brat. In the backroom, Steve and Dustin are working on the translation. Steve mentioned that the background music sounds familiar, which Dustin blows off as unimportant. It's actually a really good bit of foreshadowing, and it shows that Steve is actually more observant than he's given credit for. Robin invites herself into the code-cracking because she's bored, but she's good with languages and the boys accept her help.

     Jonathan and Nancy arrive at the Driscol house, the home of the lady who called about the diseased rats. She leads them to the cellar where she shows them bags of fertilizer that rats have eaten. Mrs. Driscol also managed to catch one.

At City Hall, people are protesting the mayor. Hopper is waiting to talk to him when a biker walks out of his office. We only see him from the back, but it's very obviously the Russian Terminator. Mayor Kline (played by Carey Elwes) wants Hopper to remove them. They have a bit of a back and forth. It turns out the protesters didn't secure a permit, so he's able to force Hopper to get rid of them. It's so fantastically sleazy. Carey Elwes is one of those actors who I believe should have been more popular than he is, and I never understood why he wasn't, because he's one of my favorites and I'm always happy to see him.

Max and Eleven arrive at the mall. Eleven is a bit nervous at first since being in a place with this many people is "against the rules." Again with the rules Hopper you psychotic control freak. She quickly becomes enamored with the mall, having never been shopping before. It's actually really wonderful to see El get to do something as normal as shopping with a friend. Just as she and Max rush into the Gap, Mike, Lucas and Will walk past looking for a gift for Eleven. Neither group noticed each other (yet).

Downtown, Joyce is trying to figure out what's wrong with the magnets and getting nowhere. So, she drives to someone (we don't know who's) house. We hear them listening to Weird Al's "My Bologna." The garage door opens, and it turns out to be the kid's science teacher, Mr. Clarke. Scott Clarke is an absolute boss, and I really wish he was in on the groups secret.

     Jonathan tries to take pictures of the rat and is unsuccessful because it won't stop moving. Nancy makes some phone calls to find out if anyone has heard about rats with rabies. Jon gets called away by Nancy and the two leave just before the rat explodes into a pile of goo. The good then starts to move, exiting the cage and running across the floor.

     Billy gets a Flashback to the Upside Down where a copy of himself says to build something. There's a really bad burn on his elbow and he rushes to the showers only to see some black infection spreading throughout his arm. A lifeguard, whom we later learn is named Heather, comes to see if he's okay. The scene cuts away before we see Billy do anything, but it's implied that he knocks her out. Or at least that's how it came off to me.

     Back at the mall, the kids continue their shopping spree while Madonna's Material Girl plays. Personally, I'd have gone with "Girls Just Want to have Fun," by Cyndi Lauper, but it still works. The girls are clearly having fun while the boys are not. Eleven buys some fantastically 80s clothes, complete with bright colors and shoulder pads. A couple of times the boys and girls nearly cross paths. Will keeps asking to play D&D, the answer is always no.

With Robin's help, they manage to crack the first sentence of the code. "The week is long." Max and El purchase ice cream from Steve who asks if El can be there. Outside the mall the boys and girls finally bump into each other. The girls press the boys about Mike's lie. He doubles down, and rather than explain, Lucas also doubles down. He tells Eleven he's trying to find a gift for her, and that much is true, but El is mad about Mike lying. So, she dumps him. The way she says it, "I dump your ass!" is actually pretty funny. Will again asks to play D&D, the answer is still no.

     Hopper is wearing a very Magnum P.I. style Hawaiian shirt he bought and heads to his date with Joyce, who doesn't show up. She has to learn how magnets work. Luckily, Mr. Clarke saves the day and is able to explain how electro-magnetic fields work. Even better, while he says he thinks Joyce is seeing coincidences, he does entertain her question seriously when she asks if a field big enough could knock down her magnets.

     The Mall is closed, and the Scoop Troop has managed to translate the communication. It says "The Week is long. The silver cat feeds when blue meets yellow in the west." Dustin and Robin believe it's a code, because Russians wouldn't just say what they were doing. As Dustin and Robin are talking, Steve puts a quarter in a horse ride. The song that plays is the same as the recording, just like Steve noticed earlier. So, the recording came from the mall, which means the Russians are in Hawkins.

Hopper gets stood up and drunkenly exits the restaurant, bumping into Russian Terminator who is sitting at the bar.

Billy returns to the abandoned steel mill with a tied-up Heather. He sets her down and tells her not to be afraid. In the shadows, we see the outline of the Mind Flayer. Heather screams, end episode.

     Thoughts: another fun episode. It's nice to see El getting the chance to have some normalcy. This episode does a great job of balancing the fun and humor while still getting darker. This episode also hints strongly that this season is actually going to have a much more Red Dawn vibe to it than a Back to the Future one like the Duffers said. It's a great fake out. I love seeing Steve catch something important that everyone else missed. And finally, this is a wonderful callback to season 2. Last season Murray Bauman tells Hopper there's a Russian spy presence in Hawkins. Hopper (and the audience) blows him off when he mentions the psychic child because we all know that's Eleven. But it turns out, there IS a Russian spy presence in Hawkins, literally beneath their feet. Murray was right the whole time.

 

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