Here are my updates with the season-4 episodes. See also my updated rankings of the four seasons as well as the 50 best scenes in the four seasons.
1. Season 2, Episode 9: The Gate. 5+ stars. The sophomore finale is the series’ crown jewel. It starts on Mike’s strongest moments, finishes on his earned reward, with each involving the re-entry of Eleven into his shattered life. It’s everything I hoped for in his story arc for this season, and the right place to reconnect El with the main cast. Any earlier than the finale would have cheapened her sacrifice in season 1. In a particularly heart-rending scene, Mike attacks Hopper for keeping El hidden in his cabin for the past year. Will’s exorcism is a ripper, as Joyce proceeds to burn the Mind Flayer out of him by shoving three electric heaters near him, cranked up full blast. El’s closing the gate is the moment of glory, but the Snow Ball epilogue is the series’ best scene, as the four boys each end up with the “right girl”, dancing to the creepy ’80s stalker song, “Every Breath You Take”. It’s so moving, so right, and more than I dared hope for in the sequel season.
2. Season 4, Episode 7: The Massacre at Hawkins Lab. 5+ stars. Feature-film length episodes run the risk of bloat, but I wouldn’t trim a single minute of The Massacre at Hawkins Lab. It has a threefold climax, the most crucial one being the slaughter teased in the prologue. It’s easy to see what’s coming, though no less dramatic in impact: El isn’t the slayer, but rather One, the first lab child. El remembers her eight-year old self banishing One to the Upside Down, turning him into Vecna, and thus making the pivotal connection she needs to get her powers back. Meanwhile Hopper gets the showdown of his career, battling the demogrogon in the Russian gladiator pit. Then there is the long trek through the Upside Down, ending with Nancy trapped in Vecna’s mind, and the way she “sees” what Henry Creel/One/Vecna is explaining to Eleven in the past adds up to a genius montage. Usually the finales are the best episodes of each season, but for the fourth season, The Massacre of Hawkins Lab reigns supreme, and is a masterpiece of modern television.
3. Season 4, Episode 4: Dear Billy. 5 stars. I never had any use for the Sadie-haters, and loved her as a newcomer in season 2. But in Dear Billy she unquestionably cements Max’s status as a full equal with the other kids as she barely escapes a gruesome death, with a lot of help from Kate Bush. The episode is a smash on all sides of the story and has a flood of homage, to films like The Shining and Shutter Island and Silence of the Lambs. Even the California events made my heart stop when the government thugs crashed the Byers house and began shooting. It says something about how good this episode is when Eleven isn’t even in it. (That hasn’t happened since season 2, episode 6.) Oh, and just as I was ready to curse the Russia story for making things too easy on Hopper, his escape plan backfires miserably. What really makes this episode work is the time clock everyone is on as they rush around trying to save Max, knowing she only has a day to live. It gives Dear Billy a sense of non-stop urgency.
4. Season 1, Episode 8: The Upside Down. 5 stars. The first season’s finale has the right payoffs and surprises on all sides of the story. At the Byers’ house, Jonathan and Nancy bait the shadow beast, and when it appears (on top of a visit from Steve), hell breaks loose. Steve is used brilliantly here; I was sure he was going to be killed as a convenient throw-away villain, but he turned out to be the surprise hero in a way that really worked. Meanwhile at the lab, Hopper and Joyce enter the shadow realm and find Barbara’s corpse and Will barely preserved alive, facehugger-style out of Alien. Hopper’s flashback to his daughter flatlining is a powerful juxtaposition over Will’s resuscitation; all along saving Will has been about him coming to terms with the daughter he could never let go. Finally at the school, El’s sacrifice is heartbreaking, and devastates poor Mike, who has just promised to take El in as a member of his family.
5. Season 2, Episode 4: Will the Wise. 5 stars. After the first three episodes of season 2 comes a shift in tone and blistering performances from both Noah Schnapp and Millie Bobby Brown. Possession is a scary concept to put on screen, but it’s also the riskiest because it’s hard to do right. Noah nails it with subtleties even Linda Blair didn’t pull off in The Exorcist. There are no jump scares here, just the slow creep of dread as Will alternates between being shaken and terrified, to making resolute demands (that his mother run him a freezing bath, because his possessor “likes it cold”), to stalking about the house confused. Millie also gets in her best scene of the season, as she and Hopper have a shouting match when she returns from stalking Mike in episode 3. This results in her telekinetic tantrum of hurling things at him and shattering windows. Will the Wise is a vastly underrated episode, probably because there’s not much action, but it’s almost as good as the finales for the dramatic performances.
6. Season 1, Episode 3: Holly, Jolly. 5 stars. A widely-praised episode for every good reason. Hopper and the kids see Will’s body dragged from the river, and they have no reason to think it’s a fake. Mike’s furious reaction as he accuses El and runs home enraged, to the scoring of Peter Gabriel’s cover for David Bowie’s “Heroes”, is a rare piece of cinematic art. The whole episode builds to this climax in one strong scene after another: the opening sequence of Barbara killed in the shadow realm; the scene in which El relives her killing two guards at Hawkins Lab, when she was dragged back to her cell for refusing to kill a cat; Joyce’s breakthrough with Will, as she communicates with her son through the use of Christmas-tree lights, and he tells her to get out of the house as the demogorgon bursts out of the living room wall. It was this episode that fully hooked me into Stranger Things. I binged the rest of the episodes from this point and have never looked back since.
7. Season 2, Episode 7: The Lost Sister. 5 stars. Judged by many fans and critics to be the worst episode of the series, it’s in fact one of the best, and gets better every time I see it. It aligns with season 2’s over-arching theme of estrangement and alienation, as we see Eleven traveling to Chicago and joining a street-gang led by her long lost “lab sister”. Kali and her gang hunt down and kill scientists who worked for Doctor Brenner, and the episode focuses on Eleven coming to terms with her power and ultimately rejecting the use of that power for homicidal revenge. The atmosphere evokes The Dark Knight, as El goes on a vigilante tear by night with her new friends, and it’s a crucial part of her character arc. With Kali’s gang she tastes the thrill of cold blooded murder, until she realizes that’s not what she is. Kali warns her that her friends in Hawkins can’t save her, and El says, “No, but I can save them.” It’s a brilliant episode and essential to Eleven’s growth and story arc.
8. Season 4, Episode 8: Papa. 5 stars. The epic farewell to Papa exceeded my expectations, but the other storylines are strong too. Will and Mike’s scene is especially heartbreaking — Will assuring Mike that El needs him, but really talking about his own needs, with Mike still utterly clueless. The Hawkins storyline is one of massive preparation for invading the Creel House to slay Vecna, and there are touching moments between pairs in the “Hawkins Army” (Eddie and Dustin, Steve and Robin, Lucas and Max) before the finale showdown. But El’s story dominates, as she confronts Brenner for his monstrous manipulations, and then kills her would-be assassins — spinning the helicopter in the air tauntingly, before smashing it to the ground in a massive explosion. El loves Papa to the end, but she is strong enough not to absolve him for the horrible things he did to her and her mother. The scene in the above pic makes you proud of her like never before, and that’s saying everything.
9. Season 3, Episodes 8: The Battle of Starcourt. 5 stars. The lame comedy season has a socking finale that justifies its existence. The opening scene of El’s self-surgery on her leg is excruciating to watch. By stripping the hero of her powers, everyone is left to face down the Mind Flayer without the usual El-ass-poundings. The poundings come from fireworks (“Satan’s Babies”) and the spectacle is staggering. And yet fireworks only go so far: the way El reaches Billy and saves him is transcendent. The epilogue inverts the fairy-tale ending of season 2, where the Snow Ball paid off nine dark episodes of alienation and estrangement; it was the happy ending we earned. The Farewell to Hawkins caps off a sunnier season most sadly, and the farewells between everyone, especially Mike and El, are played with affecting honesty. It genuinely hurts to think of these friends being separated again, after all they’ve been through together.
10. Season 1, Episode 4: The Body. 5 stars. This chapter is a major turning point in season 1, of slow-burns and revelations, in which Hopper and Jonathan, along different paths, come to realize that Joyce isn’t crazy and that Will may still be alive. Hopper finds the fake body at the morgue, and Jonathan hooks up with Nancy, who has also seen the creature without a face in searching for Barbara. Mike realizes that Will is alive right away (despite his tragic certainty at the end of episode 3), when El channels Will’s voice over the radio. There is the classic sequence of the boys dressing up El, basically making her over into the “ideal girl” as imagined by twelve-year old boys, with rather ghastly results. But the best scene is Joyce ripping down her wallpaper and seeing her terrified son shouting to her in a flesh-encased portion of the wall. That last gave me a nightmare and goes a long way in counting for my very high esteem of this episode, which is intensely emotional from start to finish.
11. Season 2, Episode 6: The Spy. 5 stars. There’s a heavy Exorcist vibe running through this season, but it becomes most blatant in the medical scenes of The Spy. The opening scene (above pic) is clearly inspired by Regan McNeill’s hideous PEG procedure, and Will Byers is having it even worse, convulsing under the doctors who ask him where it hurts, to which he can only scream “everywhere”. Winoda Ryder, for her part, plays the hysterical mother as convincingly as Ellen Burstyn did, and Joyce even shouts down a table of doctors for their incompetence as Chris McNeil did when professionals tried explaining Regan’s possession as mental illness. The episode is a ripper in other parts too, notably Steve and Dustin’s, who are now joined by Lucas and Max in a rather foolish attempt to bait Dustin’s demogorgon into the open and kill it. As if that weren’t enough, the bonding between Steve and Dustin has become the fan favorite pairing of season two, and for good reason. Their moments together in this episode are among the best in the season.
12. Season 1, Episode 6: The Monster. 5 stars. There are so many defining moments in this episode: Mike jumping off a cliff, El’s telekinetic rescue, Jonathan beating the shit out of Steve, and our first look at El’s mother, Terry Ives. The title “The Monster” works on multiple levels. The demogorgon is the monster, of course, but it’s just a creature that just feeds according to its nature. El thinks of herself as the real monster, because she brought the creature into the world to begin with. But that award should go to Doctor Brenner, someone who recruits college kids for his nasty experiments which result in catatonic lives (like Terry Ives) and child abductions that turn kids into numbers for grand-scheme lab experiments. Steve could be a monster too; his jealousy triggers life-threatening fist-fights. Or kids like Troy; his bullying is carried to the extreme of holding Dustin at knife point and almost making Mike kill himself. The reconciliation between Mike and El, with Dustin overshadowing, has become one of the series’ most iconic moments showing the power of friendship.
13. Season 4, Episode 5: The Nina Project. 5 stars. In this episode we get inside two important places: the Silo Lab in Nevada and the Creel House in Hawkins. And we are gobsmacked by the reintroduction of Dr. Brenner, who is actually in cahoots with Dr. Owens, as both of them are working against a government faction that wants to abduct El. Owens and Brenner want El to regain her powers — Owens because he believes El can save Hawkins (and the world) from an impending shadow invasion, Brenner because… well, because he’s Brenner and misses his Stockholm sessions with his precious lab-daughter. Millie Bobby Brown conveys all the appropriate mental anguish and her resentment for Papa that she’s been repressing for years. There are great character moments in the side-stories: Hopper pours on the self-recriminations after his botched escape plan, while Mike and Will have one of their best moments in the series. Will is clearly in love with Mike, can’t say it, but the things he does say show him to be Will the Wise indeed.
14. Season 2, Episode 1: Mad Max. 4 ½ stars. A massively underrated episode. What this premiere establishes is the cost of last year’s events, and that the sophomore season will do everything a proper sequel should do. The innocence of Hawkins has been lost. Everyone is estranged, from others and themselves. Mike still pines for Eleven, calls out to her every night in vain on his walkie talkie, and shits on his friends; Nancy hasn’t gotten over Barb and is crushed by guilt. This all adds up to a superb way of reintroducing us to the old characters who will never be the same. Will’s plight is ominous: he won’t become possessed until episode 4, but he’s in a bad way suffering post traumatic stress on top of receiving hellish visions from the Upside Down. His exam with Dr. Owens offers the first taste of the season’s Exorcist vibes; subdued and sinister. By the end of this episode, it’s clear that season 2 is in excellent hands, and will be the kind of sequel most directors avoid in favor of pandering to the mainstream.
15. Season 1, Episode 1: The Vanishing of Will Byers. 4 ½ stars. The opening D&D scene is precious: the boys’ 10-hour campaign is a perfect summation of my nerdy childhood and shows why the game was so fun in the early ’80s. It establishes their acting skills through great personas — Mike the group leader (and so of course the dungeon master) and the soul of Stranger Things; Lucas the pragmatic skeptic; the hilarious Dustin ruled by his appetites; and Will the sensitive kid. The chemistry between these kids is incredible, and I fell in love with them right away. Eleven’s encounter with Benny Hammond is a perfect introduction of her character. In the short space of his screen time I really loved the guy and was pissed at the goons who shot him. The Vanishing of Will Byers introduces all the other characters too (Joyce, Hopper, Nancy, Jonathan, Steve) with great economy.
16. Season 1, Episode 7: The Bathtub. 4 ½ stars. The prologue to this episode could stand its own as a short film: it begins on a tender moment, with Mike almost making a move on El, only to leave home immediately as fugitives; the road chase is intense, and El delivers her most spectacular feat of the series when she flips the van; it ends on a perfect reconciliation between Lucas and El/Mike in the junkyard. The rest of the episode centers around the plot of getting El in the bathtub to locate Barbara (dead) and Will (alive). This is the only episode in season 1 in which the three groups of characters — Hopper and Joyce, Jonathan and Nancy, the four kids — finally come together, as they get El to use a tub of water to locate Will. The shadow version of Castle Byers is creepy as hell and amounts to a very dark episode.
17. Season 2, Episode 8: The Mind Flayer. 4 ½ stars. Many would put this episode much higher, and I can understand why. The death of Bob is admittedly epic; the sight of him being torn apart by a pack of demo-dogs is almost enough to turn Joyce into a gibbering lunatic. In the second half, Mike gets the idea that Will may know how to defeat the thing possessing him, thus beginning an emotional ordeal by which Will is strapped to a chair and worked over in turns by Joyce, Jonathan, and Mike. They share intimate memories with Will, and in particular Mike’s recollection of becoming friends with Will on the first day of school is well played. The tension in the final standoff (above pic) is impressive for not a single shot being fired. I nearly had a heart attack when the demo-dog came smashing through the window.
18. Season 4, Episode 6: The Dive. 4 ½ stars. In this episode the “Satanic Panic” of the ’80s is milked for all its worth, as basketball captain Jason becomes convinced that devil-powers are at work in Hawkins. What is seldom is acknowledged is how right he is. He knows what he saw (Patrick being levitated into the air, his bones snapped and eyes gouged out by an invisible force) and he’s quite rational to assume that a demonic force of some kind is the serial killer (Vecna is for all intents and purposes a “demon”). And while Jason is wrong about Eddie and the Hellfire Club, his accusations are again entirely reasonable. (After all, Chrissy was killed in Eddie’s trailer, and Eddie has been a fugitive ever since, hiding from the police.) Meanwhile El continues her memory therapy at the Silo Lab, reliving her traumatic events at the Hawkins Lab when she was eight. The scenes between her and Brenner continue to be fantastic. I also get loads of mileage out of this episode for the Lynchian weirdness in the side-stories: Hopper shares a surreal “last supper” with fellow inmates about to battle the demogorgon, while Team California invades Suzie’s house full of demented little kid geniuses. The final act — Steve assaulted by the demo-bats after being yanked down the lake and through the Gate — is heart-stopping. A terrific episode all around.
19. Season 2, Episode 2: Trick or Treat, Freak. 4 ½ stars. The Halloween episode has tremendous rewatch value. There’s the Ghostbusters mileage first of all, as Mike bitches at Lucas for dressing up as the leader Venkman instead of (the African-American) Winston, to the latter’s indignant cries of racism. I always have a bad moment when Will is crouched behind a building and the Mind Flayer funnels its way down the stairs to grab him. The best moment is back at Mike’s house, as the two boys have a touching moment, taking comfort in each others damage. It’s almost as if Mike thinks Will is the only one worthy of his affections, on the logic that if he suffering so much (from the loss of El) then so should others suffer. There are also the initial flashbacks which pick up right after El banished the demogorgon in season 1. She returns to Mike’s house (the only place she’d ever felt safe in her life), and it’s hard to say if she thinks that Mike has sold her out or not, but her look of pain is heartbreaking as she realizes she needs to go into hiding.
20. Season 4, Episode 9: The Piggyback. 4 stars. The most ambitious finale has so much going for it. I mean, Jesus, the villain wins and the apocalypse begins. For all the meticulous planning against Vecna, it comes to naught and Hawkins is ripped apart. Max is blind, broken, and brain dead. D&D players are scapegoated, their dead leader vilified. That’s how you do an end-game… except for some rather irritating problems. There’s too much chaos going on at once, long chunks of clunky dialogue, and Vecna gloating too much instead of tearing El apart. Mike and Lucas are given awkward monologues at terrible moments: Mike repeating his love for El as she strains to break free of Vecna’s mental prison, Lucas sermonizing about jock rage as he and Jason face off. There aren’t enough major casualties. But there are powerful moments and great teamwork from afar: El piggybacks onto Max’s mind, into a corrupted memory of the Snow Ball dance that’s brilliantly constructed. The idea of Vecna perverting Max’s memories in order to break down her defenses is inspired. And the epilogue reunion of El and Hopper is precious. It’s a very good episode on whole, but it didn’t knock it out of the park like the other Stranger Things finales.
21. Season 4, Episode 1: The Hellfire Club. 4 stars. The season-4 premiere announces a return to form, with old friends separated — El and Will in Lenora Hills, California, everyone else in Hawkins — and carrying on as best they can. El is being mercilessly bullied and her class presentation of her father (Jim Hopper) as a famous historical figure is utterly heartbreaking. The Hawkins scene also, as Mike and Dustin grow apart from Lucas, who has joined the basketball team to lose his nerdy image and be cool. The titular Hellfire Club is a D&D group run by a Satanic metal head (so parents think), and it’s nice to see the D&D game being redeemed once again in Stranger Things, as the scene we got in Season 3 was silly. And when Vecna kills Chrissy at the end — in a spectacle of extreme violence — it’s clear that season 4 is playing for keeps.
22. Season 1, Episode 2: The Weirdo on Maple Street. 4 stars. The best scenes are at the Wheeler house with El and her new friends, especially the one involving the boys’ prepubescent horror at this girl they just met who almost gets naked in front of them. Mike handles himself with the decorum fitting his leadership role, but the reactions of Lucas and Dustin are downright hilarious. (Lucas: “Do you think she slept naked?” Dustin: indignantly mimics her taking off her dress.) Another great scene is El’s flipping the game board as she tries to convey the concept of the Upside Down. The other thread to this episode is the party at Steve’s house, in which Nancy loses her virginity. I wasn’t a fan of Nancy at this stage, and obviously not Steve either; their characters are annoying in the way of entitled teens. But it’s for this reason that their story arcs pay off so well in the later episodes.
23. Season 4, Episode 3: The Monster and the Superhero. 4 stars. El and Mike have a well-earned moment here, when she accuses him of not loving her anymore, and Mike digs himself in deeper by protesting that he thinks she’s the most incredible person in the world and a superhero — which she obviously isn’t anymore, but it’s the wrong thing to say in any case. This is how their season-3 fight/breakup should have been handled; with the seriousness it deserved. Then the government goons close in on El, and Paul Reiser makes a splendid return as Doctor Owens. This is just in time to save her from jail-time for smashing her bully’s face with a roller skate, but never mind the contrivance. Meanwhile, Joyce and Murray leave for Alaska (right before El is arrested), while Nancy and Robin do some library sleuthing and learn that the 1950s serial killer Victor Creel believed that a demon lived in his house.
24. Season 2, Episode 3: The Pollywog. 4 stars. Of all the episodes in season 2, this one channels the spirit of season 1 most visibly. The boys are in fine form working tightly together, and even Mike comes out of his shell to take a proactive role, as he chastises Dustin for harboring a creature from the Upside Down. Sensing hostility, the thing makes a dash for the corridor, and the boys engage in a mad chase through the school halls, and into bathroom stalls. Stand-by-Me bickering is on full display here, as Dustin is willing to defend his new pet against the others no matter the cost. Then there is Mike’s jealousy over Max; he tells her point blank that she’s not welcome in their party. It would be an amusing hypocrisy given Lucas’ jealousy over Eleven last year, except that it’s genuinely sad. The final scene announces serious business ahead, as Will (very foolishly) faces down the Mind Flayer and gets possessed for his efforts.
25. Season 2, Episode 5: Dig Dug. 4 stars. The middle episode of season two is good though I don’t care for the way Murray engineers Nancy and Jonathan’s first fuck. Hopper has become trapped in the underground tunnels spreading into the town, which allows the character of Bob to show his use, as he realizes that Will’s drawings of “vines” are actually those very tunnels under Hawkins connecting to lakes and quarries. Lucas lets in Max on the party secrets — Eleven and the Upside Down — and is scorned for his honesty. It’s Eleven who gets the best part of the episode, as she flees Hopper’s cabin in search of Terry Ives. When she finds her mother, she obtains more misery, as if that were possible; Terry has been living a waking nightmare ever since being electroshocked into a blank state. Aunt Becky invites her to live there in a very moving scene.
26. Season 1, Episode 5: The Flea and the Acrobat. 4 stars. In which the kids learn about the shadow realm, and others get a direct taste of it — Hopper at the Hawkins institute, and Nancy in “Mirkwood” forest. Now that everyone is on to the fact that Will is probably alive, they decide to take action, but things end badly for all involved. El sabotages the shadow gate’s magnetic field, ruining Dustin’s plan with the compasses, prompting a jealous fight between Mike and Lucas. She then smashes Lucas unconscious, driving a final wedge between him and Mike before running off. But the pivotal scene is at the end, with Jonathan and Nancy out in the woods, and Nancy enters the gate and gets her (and our) first full view of the shadow beast. There’s good exposition in this episode, as the science teacher answers the kids’ questions about parallel universes, and the kids do their own research on the shadow realm in a D&D manual.
27. Season 4, Episode 2: Vecna’s Curse. 3 ½ stars. With Eddie on the run, it falls to Dustin, Max, Steve, and Robin to hunt him down before the town has him tried and convicted. Leading the inquisition, even more than the police, is Jason with his basketball crew in tow, including Lucas. One senses the Duffers are enjoying the hell out of making jocks the villains and D&D freaks the good guys, and I applaud it 100%. The California story is the best part of this episode, as El snaps at the skating rink, fed up with her bullies, and gives Angela a concussion. Through it all Will’s sexual frustrations for Mike are all too clear, though Mike is fairly clueless. We see Hopper in Russia for the first time; more stage-setting. It’s the weakest episode of season 4 but still quite good.
And now for the season 3 episodes, which are in varying degrees marred by the intrusion of too much comedy…
28. Season 3, Episode 4: The Sauna Test. 3 ½ stars. Plans are put into motion here. Dustin, Steve and Robin recruit Lucas’ sister Erica to crawl though vent shafts; her reward is getting stuck with them inside an elevator that drops into a Russian hell. Hopper beats information out of the mayor, and learns that the mall owners have been buying up property in Hawkins for some reason. But it’s the kids who confront the menace heads on, in a dramatic face-off with Billy, one of the series’ most intense scenes. When they do trap Billy, he doesn’t stay trapped for long. They engage in a barbell-throwing match, which ends with him almost choking her to death before she throws him through a brick wall. Without question the best season-3 episode (not counting the finale).
29. Season 3, Episode 6: E Pluribus Unum. 3 ½ stars. This episode is sandwiched between two mighty El moments. The first is the ass-pounding she gives to the Mind Flayer, as she barely saves Nancy from joining the flayed. The grander spectacle is at the end, when she locates the source of the Mind Flayer by communing in the Void with Billy. Communing is something El has done only once before, when she tapped into her mother’s memories in season 2. When she mines Billy’s head, she finds herself on a beach bombarded by his chaotic memories, which allows Billy to latch on to her telepathically. It’s a terrifying moment when she pulls herself out the Void only to find Hopper’s cabin empty and all her friends gone. She’s still in the Void after all — in some replica version of the cabin — and Billy emerges from around a corner, advancing on her, delivering an evil speech on behalf of the Mind Flayer. Hopper’s side of the story, however, is awful; he, Joyce, Murray, and Alexei are painful to watch in their silliness.
30. Season 3, Episode 7: The Bite. 3 ½ stars. Things start to look bad for El when she’s bitten by the Mind Flayer and put on borrowed time. But at least she gave it a good ass-pounding (though only after almost being pulled through the cabin’s roof). Inside the mall there’s a clever reversal of roles, when Dustin and Erica assume command of Steve and Robin who are still recovering from being drugged and tortured. They duck into a showing of Back to the Future and there’s a revelation when Steve and Robin need to puke in the bathroom (Robin is lesbian). Meanwhile, Hopper and Joyce and Murray Bauman get mired at the the town fireworks party, where amusement park rides and fun houses become a hunting ground for the Russian Terminator; he kills Alexei and almost takes out Hopper too. Overall campy, like most of season 3, with some good stuff mixed in.
31. Season 3, Episode 3: The Case of the Missing Lifeguard. 3 ½ stars. This one opens on delightfully crass teenage humor, when El spies on Mike in the Void, and sees him furious at the way she dumped him in episode 2; he and Lucas are belching, farting, and denigrating the female “species” (a word El doesn’t know) as illogical and emotional; it’s a very entertaining use of the Void, which El usually uses for serious purposes. But this is ultimately Will’s episode, who realizes the Mind Flayer is back in Hawkins. This is after a long and personally hard day in which (a) Mike and Lucas mock the D&D campaign he is running for them, and to which (b) he responds by storming off in the rain, prompting (c) Mike to blast him for “not liking girls”. The tree fort scene is heartbreaking, as Will breaks down and cries, tearing up the photos of him and his friends, and smashing his sacred hideout with a baseball bat.
32. Season 3, Episode 5: The Flayed. 3 stars. Team Dustin (himself, Steve, Robin, and Erica) land in a vast underground bunker, finding the Russians working to reopen the Gate to the Upside Down. Meanwhile, Hopper and Joyce come to Alexei’s house, where they are attacked yet again by the Russian Terminator. Nancy and Jonathan join the Mike & El team, since Nancy has seen a hospital patient turn black like Will did during his season-two exorcism. Their collective sleuthing leads them to the home of the newspaper editor, littered with blood and toxic chemicals, and then back to the hospital, where hell breaks loose and ends on our first solid look at the new Mind Flayer: a gross composition of mutilated human beings. On whole The Flayed is the standard fare of information gathering for all the teams.
33. Season 3, Episode 2: The Mall Rats. 2 stars. It could be alternately titled “The War of the Sexes”. The rats who matter here are less the critters being absorbed into the Mind Flayer, and more the kids, who take a field trip to the Starcourt Mall as they declare war on the opposite gender. El is treated to sights she’s normally not allowed to see, and the shopping spree is Max’s attempt to convince El there is more to life than boys — and that El should “dump Mike’s ass” unless he comes back to her crawling on all fours. The boys finally run into them, each side slings some nastiness back and forth, and El dumps Mike indeed — a horribly comical scene that does no justice to everything these two have been through. The break-up was actually a good idea, but it shouldn’t have been played for laughs.
34. Season 3, Episode 1: Suzie, Do You Copy? 2 stars. The premiere’s best scenes were teased in trailers: Dustin’s return home from summer camp, and the heat between Billy and Karen Wheeler at the pool. Billy wants to shag Mrs. Wheeler to kingdom come, but outrageously that subplot goes nowhere. As for our hero the young Wheeler, it’s at first nice to see him and El kissing in her bedroom, to Hopper’s constant outrage — except that this three-way dynamic becomes cartoonish, and indeed these are the very worst scenes in the series. The scenes with Hopper and Joyce are equally bad: we are to believe that Hopper finds the idea of a “heart to heart” talk with his daughter unimaginable, despite the fact that he and El did exactly that in the very last episode we saw them in (their drive to the lab in Season Two’s The Gate). What a mess, and what a joke.