Stranger Things 3 The Sauna Test Billy pleading Television 

Five Thoughts on Stranger Things 3‘s “The Sauna Test”

By | October 22nd, 2021
Posted in Television | % Comments

Welcome to this week’s installment of the TV Binge of Stranger Things, looking back at season three, episode four, released July 4, 2019:

“Chapter Four: The Sauna Test”
Written by Kate Trefry
Directed by Shawn Levy

On this episode, the kids concocted a plan to lock Billy in a sauna and drive the Mind Flayer out of his body; Joyce and Hopper confronted the mayor for information about the man at the lab; Dustin, Steve and Robin recruited Erica to help them get into the Russians’ storeroom; and Nancy and Jonathan were fired from The Hawkins Post.

1. Hopper Broke the Mayor’s Nose, Hip Hip Hooray

Hopper and Joyce pay a visit to Mayor Larry “Lar” Kline, since Jim remembered Grigori visiting his office two days before. Kline’s a sleazy slimeball, who threatens to expose Jim’s struggles with pills and alcohol after he brings up all the times he’s covered for him, leading to a fight where Hop breaks the mayor’s nose, and nearly chops off his ring finger forcing him to admit the “maintenance guy” works for Starcourt Mall. It’s a brutal scene, but Kline’s such a scumbag that you can’t help but enjoy Jim knocking him around, and it fits well with the more action-oriented approach of the season — it’s also amusing how he and Joyce work separately but in tandem to make sure his secretary can’t do anything about it. (“Who you calling? The police?”)

Hopper holding the mayor accountable

2. Joyce and Hopper’s Relationship is the Real Sauna Test

When Jim wakes up on his couch at the start of the episode, he’s naked with only a towel to cover his modesty, and to keep him warm. When he sees Joyce, he starts realizing she’s his guardian angel, but before anything gets too mushy, he throws up, and nearly embarrasses himself getting up, not realizing he’s naked (though it’s probably nothing Joyce didn’t see the night before.) Later, after marching Kline over to his mansion to get the deeds to the land he sold to the Soviets, Joyce notices many of the properties are near the power plant, making it easier for someone to siphon enough energy to depower so many of the magnets across town, and Hopper responds that he wishes she’d come work at the police station: it’s easily the closest he’s come to saying he wants to marry her. Jim and Joyce: work spouses.

3. Nancy vs. Sexism

After calling the authorities to have Mrs. Driscoll taken to the hospital, Nancy and Jonathan are fired by Tom Holloway — who’s visibly delirious after being infected by the Mind Flayer — for breaking into her home, disobeying his orders to ignore the story, and supposedly angering Doris’s family. Nancy knows something is off, but Jonathan is too angry to notice, and bitter that she wouldn’t drop the case. He points out it’s easier for her to pursue her dreams because she’s from a rich/middle class family, making her feel like disobeying her editors was solely a matter of pride, instead of a necessary stand against sexism.

Nancy and Jonathan's world is thrown into disarray as they get fired

Nancy eventually tells her mother what happened, and Karen acknowledges how sexist the world is: in a touching moment, she comes close to admitting she was once as ambitious as her daughter, until she became so exhausted that she chose the security of having a lazy but wealthy husband. “People are always saying you can’t. That you shouldn’t,” she says. “That you’re not smart enough, not good enough. This world, it beats you up again and again until eventually, I… Most people, they just… they just stop trying. But you’re not like that. You’re a fighter. You always have been.” She tells Nancy she’s proud of her, and suggests selling her finished investigation to a bigger paper — perhaps spite can be a good thing.

4. Erica the Patriot

After Robin gets the blueprints to the mall and uncovers the air ducts leading into the Soviets’ guarded storeroom, the Scoops trio are faced with the conundrum of fitting inside the ducts, which even Dustin has outgrown. Erica rings the bell on the counter, filling Robin with glee at a new idea: bribing her with all the ice cream she wants if she infiltrates the storeroom. Despite recognizing how dangerous the idea is, Erica is happy to play along, especially as it lets her indulge her patriotic side: we’re treated to an amusing speech, where she espouses the values of American capitalism, which demonstrates that as much as this show is a love letter to the ’80s, it’s also happy to make fun of it for things like Reaganomics.

Continued below

5. Mike and El Will Always Be There for Each Other

Mike, Will, Lucas, El and Max all reunite after deducing the Mind Flayer has returned through Billy, and work together to lock him inside the swimming pool’s sauna after dark. El is still angry at Mike for lying though, and mocks him for the sexist comments he made while she was spying on him in the Void. Later, when the Mind Flayer/Billy rams through the door, he grabs El by the throat, which is incredibly alarming, as we’ve never seen her be this helpless after her experiences with Dr. Brenner. Mike risks his life to step in and hits Billy with a barbell, and El summons all her strength to throw him through a wall before he can harm him, an unexpectedly touching reminder of how, despite everything, these kids will always be there to protect each other — something the Mind Flayer will never understand.

Other Things:

– At the start of the episode, Max introduces El to Wonder Woman after offering to read to her “Wonder Woman” #326 or “Green Lantern” #185. (And on that note, happy 80th Wonder Woman!)

– Dustin and Steve are such a close knit duo now their two stooges act is as sweet as it is funny, a prime example being the scene in the storeroom where Dustin tells Steve, “If you die, I die,” and Steve just responds, “OK.”

– Billy looks like Marlon Brando in The Island of Dr. Moreau, trying to protect his skin at the pool with a white sweatshirt and towel. (His hands are also unusually pale here.)

The kids probably suspected Billy simply from everything going on here

– Kline sarcastically refers to Grigori as Arnold Schwarzenegger, in case it wasn’t clear whose movies the character is modeled on. Similarly, the Mind Flayer is shown explicitly facehugging Tom and Janet Holloway, as if he didn’t resemble the Alien Queen enough.

– Speaking of Tom, when he fires Jonathan and Nancy, the camera angles are tilted, emphasizing the sickness he’s trying to hide from everyone else.

– I know it’s the ’80s but boy does no one know what anyone else is doing: Nancy would’ve probably advised the kids to hold off on burning the Mind Flayer alive before visiting Doris in the hospital.

See you all next week for “Chapter Five: The Flayed.”


//TAGS | 2021 Summer TV Binge | Stranger Things

Christopher Chiu-Tabet

Chris is the news manager of Multiversity Comics. A writer from London on the autistic spectrum, he enjoys tweeting and blogging on Medium about his favourite films, TV shows, books, music, and games, plus history and religion. He is Lebanese/Chinese, although he can't speak Cantonese or Arabic.

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