Welcome to this week’s installment of the TV Binge of Stranger Things, looking back at season three, episode three, released July 4, 2019:
“Chapter Three: The Case of the Missing Lifeguard”
Written by William Bridges
Directed by Shawn Levy
On this episode, El and Max become suspicious of Billy after spying on him in the Void; Joyce and Hopper revisit the lab after she tells him about the demagnetized magnets; Dustin, Steve, and Robin continue to uncover the Russian presence in the mall; Nancy returns to Mrs. Driscoll’s house; and Will grows frustrated over his friends’ preoccupation with their girlfriends.
1. Target in Sight
Like last time, it’s really neat seeing El and Max hanging out here, albeit in a much darker context, as they try to identify the girl El heard screaming when she spied on Billy. They eventually find Heather and Billy having dinner with her parents at their home, seemingly safe and sound, and can’t do much more about it, despite El’s vision of the frightened young woman being dragged into the Upside Down. Their meeting inadvertently gives the Mind Flayer an edge, as he didn’t know who drove him back into the Upside Down until now, as Billy had never met or noticed El before; now he knows she’s close friends with his main thrall’s sister.
2. Everyone Matures Differently
It’s a rainy summer day, and Will embraces the opportunity to pull Mike and Lucas away from their girl troubles for a new session of Dungeons & Dragons. However, despite Will’s enthusiasm — a Will the Wise costume! Backing music! — the other boys are thoroughly bored, and rudely end the campaign before realizing they’ve upset him. But it’s too late, and despite the terrible weather, Will leaves to find solitude at his old forest hideout Castle Byers. He starts to see his nostalgic memories of childish things like D&D and dressing up as a sickness, and begins smashing and tearing up his memorabilia. Poor Will, he missed out on so much because of his traumatic experiences in the first two seasons, and his friends are moving on — at least they do try to find and apologize to him.
Before they find him, Will experiences the Mind Flayer imparting its knowledge of El to Billy, and subsequently informs Mike and Lucas of his return, with a hint of anger in his voice: as terrible as his abduction and possession were, perhaps they have forged him into a Will the Wise the real world needs — and that, as Tolkien would say, “is an encouraging thought.”
3. Maybe a Little Paranoia is Alright
Hopper’s annoyed when Joyce appears to explain why she stood him up at the restaurant, and despite being a little spooked after she suggests the scientists at the lab have restarted their experiments, he angrily dismisses her, because he knows they haven’t. (We know he’s right, and that Owens hasn’t been overruled by the feds or anything like that, because the Soviets are the villains this season.) She decides to take a chain cutter from his shed, forcing him to accompany her back to the abandoned facility. After finding no one’s there, Joyce begins to have second thoughts, but Hopper once again reassures her she’s not crazy, and admits he’s been suffering from post-traumatic stress as well, having nearly shot a dog after it rushed towards him like a Demogorgon.
He also reveals he learned Joyce is planning to sell her home, and reminds her there are people here for her, who understand what she’s gone through — perhaps the real reason he was so snide over the magnets was because he knew that if the town’s paranormal history was going to continue to be an issue, it would further encourage her to leave Hawkins. Joyce finds it romantic, and breaks the tension by joking Scott Clarke might know how she feels. They hear a noise, and Jim goes to investigate, causing him to be attacked by Grigori, the tall Soviet enforcer: after beating him, the Russian leaves on his motorcycle, believing Hopper has got the message. Yeah, he’s got the message all right: someone doesn’t want him near the Gate again.Continued below
4. Boys Make for Terrible Spies
Having discovered the Russian transmissions are coming from the mall, Steve and Dustin stake out the place with a pair of binoculars, looking for any possible spies, while Robin continues to decode the messages. They bicker over whether Robin is a good match for Steve or not (amusingly causing him to list everything unique about her as reasons to dislike her), and trail a darkly dressed man with a large duffel bag and long blonde hair, only to find out he’s just a flamboyant (American) aerobics instructor; Robin, meanwhile, figures out the Russian code words refer to places in the mall, eg. “silver cat” refers to the transportation company Lynx, and “trip to China” is, well, the Chinese restaurant. That night, the trio see armed Russian guards overseeing a delivery, and are nearly caught after the boys bicker over and drop their binoculars — unlike virtually every other female character on the show, they really are terrible at the whole “spycraft” thing.
5. No One Deserves This
The running gag of men being unable or unwilling to investigate anything continues, with Nancy struggling to get the sexist Hawkins Post editors to take an interest in the rat infestation plaguing the town. (Jonathan himself is no help, encouraging her to give up the investigation so the older men will give up antagonizing her.) They plant a fake rat to scare Nancy, but it only inspires her to return to Mrs. Driscoll’s house and take the captured rat to a vet. When Doris doesn’t answer the door, Nancy and Jonathan enter her home, and find her eating fertilizer in the basement, presumably because the melted rat infected her. Still, it’s certainly a surreal sight, and not one that helps Nancy’s case.
Not that the Post‘s editor, Tom Holloway (Michael Park), will ever really have anything to say about that: it’s revealed here he’s Heather’s father, and after El and Max leave his home, he and his wife Janet (Holly Morris) are attacked and knocked out by their daughter. Janet is rendered unconscious by something in the meal “Heather” served up, and she attacks her father after he goes to her aid. It’s a disturbing and uncomfortably realistic scene of domestic violence, though it would’ve been more powerful if Tom had been depicted with some more nuance here, and in the previous episodes, instead of participating in the bullying of Nancy. I am haunted by the destruction of the Holloway family, but also feel like I’m being made to relish the violence towards Tom as well.
– It’s a fun coincidence that El and Max are basically a young, female Holmes and Watson in this episode, since Millie Bobby Brown went on to star as the detective’s sister in Enola Holmes.
– If El and Max had witnessed Will’s possession the way the audience had, they would’ve realized Billy prepared the ice bath at his house because the Mind Flayer likes it cold.
– Mike telling Will “it’s not my fault you don’t like girls” is another pointed reference to the original show bible’s description of Will as struggling with his sexuality; I recommend Brittany Vincent’s write-up on the whole scene here by the way.
– I’ve been revisiting this show for weeks now, and it’s only now that I’ve just noticed the boys’ voices have broken.
See you all next time for “Chapter Four: The Sauna Test.”