The penultimate episode of Netflix’s ‘Stranger Things’ Season 3, titled ‘The Bite’, lives up to its name and does carry a sharp nip of its own. In Episode 6, we saw that the Mind Flayer had made its way to the surface, so obviously it was inevitable that this monster would show up in this episode. However, the monster seems to have a specific plan rather than attempting to unleash random havoc. The plan is to get the only worthy adversary, El, out of the way, before killing her friends and all of humanity. Really, the monster must have been royally displeased when El shut the gates on it at the end of Season 2.
Anyhow, with the odds stacked against the Hawkins gang, they cannot rely on anyone else for help, since our Starcourt Squad is busy making a getaway from the Russian lab, and then trying to find their way past the mall’s security guards. Hopper and his clique, too, have their hands full with Russian Terminator and his death squad at the fair organized by Mayor Kline. We are done with the mysteries and puzzles, and lurking about with theories for now. Hereon, it is an all-out action on all fronts.
This episode is all about the juxtaposition of the celebrations going on at the fair, showing how oblivious Hawkins is to the approaching threat, along with the battle being waged against the Russians and the Mind Flayer, to keep Hawkins and humanity safe. These battles take place on three fronts and make up the bulk of the episode.
First off, we finally see the Mind Flayer face off against the Hawkins group in their secluded cabin. While this monster attacks from inside and out, the group bands together wonderfully to defend themselves and thwart the creature. There has never been any doubt that El is the most powerful member of the group, but the Duffer brothers make use of this opportunity again to prove that she cannot do everything by herself. Thus, when the monster has a hold of her, it takes a team effort to free her, with some great shotgun shooting from Nancy and vigorous ax swinging from Lucas. Momentarily thwarted, the group heads to a closed departmental store to tend to El’s injuries. This is where Dustin finally manages to make contact with Mike via radio and relays his situation.
Having somehow managed to escape from the base, the Starcourt Squad still finds it impossible to escape the mall, past the heavily armed security guards who are looking for them. To complicate matters, there is a hilarious reversal in responsibilities since Robin and Steve are still hopped up on the truth drugs and Dustin and Erica have to take care of the two. If you are looking for 80s nostalgia, you can catch glimpses of ‘Back to the Future‘ playing on the screen as they hide out in a movie theater. However, they soon find themselves cornered and are saved when El and friends make a grand entrance, with El tossing a car to take out all the armed men. Finally, Dustin is reunited with the gang, though we thought for sure that Hopper and his clique would team up with the Starcourt Squad first since they were both examining the Russian angle.
However, one can’t really blame Hopper’s clique since they go looking for the kids at Kline’s fair, on Joyce’s insistence. The fun-filled fair turns deadly for them since Kline spots Hopper and calls in the Russian Terminator, who seems to have actually heeded Kline’s advice and has gotten some backup this time. A Russian death squad versus Hopper, who would win? Well, Hopper seems to hold his own, beating one member, and almost getting the drop on Russian Terminator. This sequence takes place in a hall of mirrors, and though the setting has been used in several films like ‘Enter the Dragon‘ and ‘John Wick‘, it still has a particular intensity. However, Russian Terminator’s bulletproof vest saves him, and it seems he will live to fight another day, which will come soon in the season finale. Their encounter has severe repercussions for Hopper’s clique, though, as Alexei is shot and killed by the Russian Terminator.
The list of worries keeps increasing as it seems that Billy is tracking the Hawkins group using El’s blood which seems to be infected. This is confirmed by the end of the episode, and perhaps El might be taken out of the action due to the Mind Flayer’s infection. With their best player benched, can our heroes of Hawkins fight and win a battle on two fronts? It will all come to a crashing end in the season finale.
The best thing about this episode has to be the action sequences, especially the first one where the group faces the monster ( a word of praise must once again be given to the CGI team for making it so terrifyingly real), and the sequence at the fair where Hopper takes on the Russian squad. It is also great to see the storylines converging and the group getting united, setting up for the big finale. Alexei’s death was handled with nuance and a degree of poignancy. It is also ironic that Murray, someone who claims to be a true American and consequently considers Communists like Alexei to be enemies of the state, delivers a scathing criticism of the American system as represented by Kline’s fair.
However, one of the finest moments of the show comes when Robin and Steve have the conversation in the washroom while still drugged up. Steve confesses his feelings for her, but Robin comes out as gay (we did not see this twist coming). However, it is so sweetly and sensitively handled that the moment will remain etched in your memory in an episode where there is a lot more going on. Instead of overreacting to her sexual orientation, Steve just carries on the conversation, once again proving why he is such a great guy, and it looks like he finally has a friend of his own age in Robin.
Overall, the penultimate episode has all the perfect elements, including kicking the action into top gear and introducing the worrying element of whether El will be fighting the final battle. With the Mind Flayer and the Russians on the loose, Hawkins needs all hands on board as ‘Stranger Things’ Season 3 heads towards an explosive finale.
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