Netflix’s ‘Stranger Things’ Season 3 Episode 2 ended on a rather dark note as we saw Billy kidnap his colleague from the Hawkins community pool and take her to the creature from the Upside Down, who seems to be residing in the abandoned factory for now. Well, we cannot completely blame Billy for this horrific act because he is being controlled by this creature.
When we start with Episode 3, which has been aptly named ‘The Case of the Missing Lifeguard’, it is immediately evident that there is a change of pace and tone. The Duffer brothers make that evident through the pathetic fallacy of the weather. As all traces of the sun disappears, so do the traces of playfulness in the narrative. With the looming clouds, comes an impending sense of danger, that is more prevalent than ever. Finally, the torrential rain brings to surface a lot of emotions and fears, in what is perhaps the darkest episode of the season, yet. It is clear that we are headed towards some sort of culminating event, and this episode is one of the instrumental moments when a lot of important factors come into the light.
The Duffer brothers are not playing around in this episode, and even as they show something as light as Max and El discussing how hot Ralph Macchio is, after they dump Lucas and Mike respectively, there is a sense of ominousness that looms. This is soon made evident when El uses her powers to spy on how the boys are holding up. While this provides a moment of humor, the very next time El uses her power is to see Billy do something terrible to Heather, the lifeguard. This puts Max and El on Billy’s trail. Meanwhile, Joyce approaches Hopper after standing him up. She wants to go back to the lab that shut down in Season 2. I am sure you remember the Hawkins lab, from where all the creatures first emerged? Yeah, they go back there because Joyce believes there is something there which is messing with the magnets.
One cannot help but root for Joyce and Hopper to get together as their rapport is brilliant, from Hopper’s jealous outburst to his caring and protective attitude towards Joyce, so that she feels safe in Hawkins. Another investigative thread begins to unspool as Nancy and Jonathan follow up on the rat mystery after Nancy is ridiculed again in her workspace. Their investigations now show that the old woman who reported the problem seems to have been infected by the disease, as they catch her eating fertilizer. Undoubtedly, future episodes will explore this further.
Now we come to some of the most important revelations of this episode. Firstly, the involvement of the Russians has intensified significantly. Something shady is afoot at Starcourt Mall and Dustin, Steve, and Robin are on the case. This leads to the only moments of comic relief in this episode. Hopper tangles with an unknown assailant at the lab and while he is thoroughly defeated by this close combat expert, this might only be a preface to a more thorough, and more thrilling encounter between the two men.
Lastly, the most important revelation comes when Max and El track the clues, using El’s superpowers, to Heather’s home, where they find Billy having dinner with Heather and her family. The scene is handled deftly to appear homely, with an undertone of creepiness. However, soon after the sleuths leave, Heather and Billy drug her parents, and they both seem to be working for the creature from Upside Down now, who also seems to remember El having shut the portal. Are they building a secret army? Or is something more sinister afoot? Only time and the next few episodes will tell.
However, amidst all these revelations and major mysteries, the moment that truly shows the brilliance of the Duffer brothers is the argument between Mike and Will about childhoods ending. With the rains, emotions come to the surface as Will destroys the rest of his childhood memories after coming to the harsh realization that their group has changed, and childhood is over for all of them.
In terms of pacing and plot narratives, this has got to be the most packed episode yet. The showrunners have expertly set a number of mysteries into motion, and now all we have to do is wait till they all intersect and culminate at some point. One of the best things they have handled here is the end of childhood, which is poignant and coming from Will, it is expected. Due to his early trauma, can he really be blamed for wanting to hold on to innocence a little longer? The part where he violently destroys the remnants of his childhood memories with a baseball bat, being echoed by the violence in the weather, is truly symbolic. Joyce and Hopper, too, have run into an adversary who will play a major role, and this first encounter sets up this menacing character wonderfully and brings the deserted lab back into the fold of the narrative.
Billy and Heather are looking more intimidating at the moment, especially since their endgame is unclear. Meanwhile, the mystery of the rat, though important, is until now, the least interesting of the puzzles. In an episode which does not have a lot of light moments, Dustin and Steve’s spycraft manages to make us laugh, especially when they stereotype a Russian villain and follow an individual who turns out to be a Jazzercise instructor. Robin proves to be an invaluable part of the team by cracking the code, and we hope to see this trio tackle the Russian spy angle head on.
Overall, this has been a tumultuous episode, in terms of the narratives it has set in motion, and the character developments we have seen. There have been moments of genuine bonding, including the cliched guy and girl bonding between Lucas and Mike, and Max and El. There have been moments of bittersweet remembrance from Will who lets go of his childhood and Joyce who is brought back to the site of Bob Newby’s death, which we saw in Season 2. Billy has completely gone over to the dark side, and there seems to be trained combatant on loose in the town of Hawkins. We are in for a lot more action and excitement and the Duffer brothers are done with the sunny and happy Hawkins. It is time to pick up the pace of the story, and as we head into the next episode, know this, Episode 3 is the best episode of the season, yet.