Warning: Friends don’t lie, so we’re gonna give it to ya straight — the following contains spoilers for the Season 3 finale of Stranger Things.
Ho. Ly. Crap. The epic Season 3 finale of Stranger Things first made us feel like our hearts were going to beat right out of our chests, then it up and broke our hearts and, ultimately, it made our exhausted tickers go, “Hey, wait a minute, are you just messing with us?” How did “The Battle of Starcourt” manage to do all that as well as destroy the mall and upend the entire series? Read on…
‘YOU’RE JUST GONNA WALK IN THERE LIKE IT’S COMMIE DISNEYLAND OR SOMETHING?’ | As the episode began, Joyce, Hopper and Murray arrived at the mall just in time for the chief to squash the bit of spider monster that El painfully removed from the wound in her leg. (Cue the goosebumps — this show sure as hell knows how to stage an entrance!) After filling in the grownups on the plus-sized creature that had demolished Hopper’s cabin, the group theorized that the fleshy spider thing was actually a weapon that the Mind Flayer had fashioned out of, er, melted people. But if they closed the gate again and cut the brain off from the body, it’d die. When Murray presented a diagram of what Alexei had called the hub, Erica shot his plan of attack right down. “Why is this 4-year-old speaking to me?” asked Murray. Of course, neither was Erica 4, nor was she wrong — his plan was going to get them killed. Eventually, it was decided that Dustin and Erica would use Cerebro in order to communicate with and guide the adults as they maneuvered through the Russian facility beneath the mall. Since Dustin and Erica had to get to his radio tower fast, Steve and Robin would take them in the Todfather convertible. Jonathan and Nancy, meanwhile, would drive the other kids to safety in her mom’s station wagon. El gently argued with Hopper that she could fight. But “this thing is after you, it’s not after me,” he reminded her. So he wanted her safely out of harm’s way. As the group broke up, Hopper even called after his daughter’s boyfriend. “Mike,” he said, “be careful.” Which I thought in a funny way kinda counted as the equivalent of a heart-to-heart.
Though the chief believed that he was setting off on a two-man operation, it turned out to be three since, as Joyce and Murray pointed out, they’d need a third in order to not just shut down the gate opener but blow it up. While Murray set off an alarm to distract the Russians, Hopper and Joyce were to retrieve the keys to the gate opener from the vault, follow a map to the observation room and kaboom! “If it all goes right, they’ll never even know we were here,” said Murray… just as they were found sneaking into the compound by guards. Murray defused the situation by speaking Russian, but Hopper quickly went Rambo on the enemy, gunning them down and stealing their uniforms. (Good thing they didn’t bleed much when shot, I suppose.) Once in disguise, it was smooth sailing for the trio, though there was some grousing that Murray did too much chitchatting with the guards. Meanwhile, Nancy, Jonathan & Co. discovered that the ignition cable had been torn out of the station wagon — they weren’t going anywhere. What’s more… oh, s—. Billy was a few feet away, revving the engine of his car like a bull about to charge. Needless to say, the gang hightailed it back into the mall. At the same time, talk in the Todfather turned to Suzie. “She sounds made-up to me,” said Erica. Steve did his best to act as if no, Suzie sounded totally real, but Steve isn’t half the actor that Joe Keery is. Anyway, the car conked out before they’d reached the top of the hill, so “Scoops troupe” didn’t hear the SOS that Mike sent out from the mall, where things were quickly going from bad to worse to whatever comes after worse. As Max fretted that Nancy might be loading a rifle to kill Billy, El found herself unable to un-flip the car that she’d hurled at the Russians an episode earlier so that Jonathan could put its ignition cable in the station wagon. Ruh-roh!
‘IT’S A DATE’ | While the kids at the mall used physics to turn over the car, El dug through the trash to find a can of New Coke to crush like she used to for “Papa.” Only she couldn’t do even that! Double ruh-roh! Just then, Will got a telltale tingle, and the spider monster came crashing through the glass ceiling of the mall. Ready or not, it was go time! Below, in the Russian compound, while waiting for Murray to make his way through the vents to set off the alarm, Hopper admitted to Joyce that “despite the arguing, I think we make a pretty good team.” So… she asked, “Did I get the job or what? Detective Byers… ?” When he pointed out that it would be hard to serve in a town she didn’t live in, she responded with five fantastically, if cautiously, optimistic words: “We’ll see how it goes.” And it got better. If they survived this ordeal, they deserved to celebrate, she added. With that, she asked him out. “I hear Enzo’s is pretty good.” Dunno about you, but at this point, I was in tears. Not sure I realized how much I was rooting for those two crazy kids. Aaanyway… while Dustin and Erica were giving directions to Murray via Cerebro, Steve spotted the chaos at the mall from the top of the hill. And when he couldn’t get a walkie-talkie response from the “Griswold family,” he took off with Robin to investigate. When at last Murray set off the alarm, Hopper and Joyce couldn’t get into the vault with the number he’d given them as Planck’s Constant. Since neither Dustin nor Erica knew the digits, either, they had to call in an actual genius: Suzie!
Yes, she was real. And she was adorable, like a tween version of Lisa Apple from Splitting Up Together. And of course she knew Planck’s Constant. But she was mad that she hadn’t heard from her Dusty Bun since he got back to Hawkins, so she wouldn’t give him the number until he let her hear it. It? Oh yeah — she made him sing “The Neverending Story” with her over the radio. And as silly as it sounds, it was one of the sweetest things I’ve ever seen/heard. Again, tears. (I may be a sucker for this show, but damn… !) Eventually, I wiped my eyes, Suzie gave Dustin the number, and Hopper and Joyce retrieved the keys from the vault. “Hey,” he said after they’d taken over the observation deck, “you ready to end this?” Back at the mall, Jonathan tried to start the now-fixed station wagon with Will and Lucas in it while Nancy shot and shot and shot at Billy as he sped toward them. But the vehicle wouldn’t start in time, and Billy wouldn’t stop. Our heroes would have been toast had Steve not arrived and rammed the Todfather convertible into the side of Billy’s car at the last second! (Gasp-worthy, I tell ya!) Afterwards, they spotted the spider monster atop the mall and left skid marks on their way out of the parking lot. But when it gave up pursuit, Jonathan & Co. turned around and went back — they knew that it was El that it was after and were going to help protect her!
‘I’LL SEE YOU IN HELL!’ | Pursuing El, Mike and Max into the mall, Billy battered away the latter two, knocked out El and laid her down in the food court as if its steps were an altar, she the sacrifice. “Don’t be afraid,” he whispered, echoing words he’d said often during Season 3. “It’ll be over soon. Just try and stay very still.” With that, the spider monster lowered itself back into the mall. It might have been “game over” for El if Lucas hadn’t started throwing Satan’s Baby at the creature. Soon, all the kids were hurling fireworks at the beast, putting on a far better show than Kline had at his Fun Fair. Downstairs on the observation deck, Grigori interrupted Hopper and Joyce, and delivered another brutal beating to his nemesis. As their fight moved out of the room, nearer to the gate opener, Dustin screamed over the walkie-talkie to hurry up and close the gate — the mall rats were almost out of ammo! As the monster reeled from the explosions around it, El stole a moment with Billy, snapping him out of his Flayed trance by reminding him of that day at the beach, when he’d ridden a seven-foot wave, when he’d been happy with his mom… (Billy has never been my favorite character, but credit where it’s due: Dacre Montgomery did great work here, shifting from possessed to free of mind control.) As down below Hopper managed to hurl Grigori into the gate opener — and c’mon, you just knew somebody was getting obliterated by that thing! — Billy stood before the spider monster and stopped its taloned tentacle from reaching El. In response, the creature hurled a series of tentacles at him as his horrified stepsister looked on.
This had to be ended. Right then. Joyce could reach both keys, but… but Hopper was in the room with the gate opener. If she turned them, he’d… gulp. He gave her a look that not only told her to go ahead, it spoke volumes, long, bittersweet volumes about what might have been. There were tears in his eyes, and unless you are completely dead inside, yours, too. Upstairs, Billy gave a final defiant roar, and the monster sent a death blow plunging into his chest. When the gate opener exploded, the creature collapsed into goop, Mike and El were reunited, and Max got to Billy in time to hear his last word: “Sorry.” As Dr. Owens arrived with the cavalry (much too late, pal), Joyce embraced Will outside the mall. Then she spotted El. All the girl had to do was look at Joyce, and she knew. She’d just lost her father. From there, we flashed forward three months. Robin managed to convince Keith to hire not just her but Steve at Family Video (by saying that chick-magnet Harrington would bring in more girls than he alone could handle). The Byers family was moving after all, and El with them. So there were a lot of extremely heartrending goodbyes. “As a wise man once said, we’ve got shared trauma,” said Jonathan. “So,” Nancy chimed in, “what’s a little more, right?” Though El still hadn’t regained her powers, Mike remained confident that she would. The two of them had big plans already, for him to visit at Thanksgiving and maybe for her to come back to Hawkins for Christmas. El wanted to get something straight, though. Reminding him of the day that she’d spied on him when he was talking about his feelings, she took the bull by the horns and confessed, “Mike, I love you, too.”
‘I DON’T WANT THINGS TO CHANGE’ | Packing, Joyce found Hopper’s notes for his heart-to-heart with El and Mike. The heart-to-heart that he’d never had with the kids, she soon learned from El. Left alone with her father’s words, El read Hopper’s admission that he’d forgotten what feelings were for a long time; he’d been stuck in a deep, dark cave till he left some Eggos in the woods. She’d made him happy. And he’d been worried, because he’d begun to feel distance between them. “But I know you’re getting older, growing, changing, and I guess if I’m being really honest, that’s what scares me,” he confessed. He liked things the way they were. Change can hurt. But even that was OK. “When life hurts you, because it will, remember the hurt,” he wrote. “The hurt is good. It means you’re out of that cave. But please, if you don’t mind, for the sake of your poor old dad, keep the door open three inches!” Finally, as Peter Gabriel’s version of Bowie’s “Heroes” played (guess Bowie’s was too expensive?), the Byerses and El drove off in their U-Haul, Mike hugged his mom, and Lucas and Dustin gave no-longer-closeted nerd Erica the Dungeons & Dragons set that Will had left behind. But wait, there was more… before Season 3 wrapped up, we cut to Kamchatka, Russia, where two guards retrieved a prisoner from a cell block whose inmates weren’t seen behind their closed doors. “No. Not the American,” said one of the guys. (Dare we hope that it was Hopper behind door No. 1?) Instead, an unfortunate Russian prisoner was taken from his cell and dragged downstairs to a cage. When a dumb-waiter type door was raised inside the cage, out came… well, hello, gorgeous! A classic Demogorgon that rose to its feet, opened its starfish-shaped mouth and screamed.
So, what did you think of the finale? Hop’s alive, right? Or is that just wishful thinking? Were you surprised Suzie was real? Grade the episode in the poll below, then hit the comments with your Season 4 hopes/fears/theories.