Aptly titled ‘The Battle of Starcourt’, Episode 8 of the series sees most of the action focused in the mall or underneath it. Just like any other battle, it is explosive and there are heavy losses on both sides. The choice to launch this series on the Fourth of July makes sense from the narrative point of view since the final battle for the freedom of Hawkins, and humanity takes place on Independence Day. All throughout, this season has been a roller coaster of emotions and has seen a lot of character development and changes. It is unsurprising that the finale ties all this in and drives home the point that childhood is effectively over for everyone and neither the town of Hawkins nor the group is ever going to be the same again.
However, this one last battle they fight together, is a team effort through and through, especially with El mostly out of the action. As is characteristic of ‘Stranger Things’, the battle is crucially coordinated from three locations and they all have to come together to win the high stakes, that is the safety of the human race.
Okay, firstly, ‘Stranger Things’ Season 3 Episode 8 is almost 80 minutes long, so there is a lot to unpack here. Remember in the previous episode we saw that El’s leg was infected and that she might be benched for the final battle? Well, our worst fears come true when we realize that she has lost her powers and cannot fight. However, as the song associated with this show goes – we can all be heroes, just for one day. So everyone else gets into position and comes up with a plan to thwart the Russians, thus thwarting the monster from Upside Down.
By this time, of course, Hopper, Joyce, and Murray have joined up with the rest. These three go down to the Russian facility to destroy the key and shut the gates to the Upside Down. Dustin, Erica, Steve, and Robin go and man the radio tower Dustin set up to contact Suzie. They plan on using this to communicate with Hopper’s team and help them navigate the ducts of the facility so their mission is stealthy. The rest of the group are supposed to go with El to Murray’s place, so as to be off the radar of the murderous monster. However, this plan hits an immediate snag since Billy has disabled their vehicle, preventing a getaway, and is waiting outside for them. Thus, they are forced to retreat to the mall and are cooped up there when the monster attacks. Unarmed, and without El’s powers, the gang is defenseless. Since fighting is not an option, they decide to hide and flee at an appropriate time.
Hopper’s team does not seem to be doing too well either, since they lose their element of surprise almost immediately, after having to shoot four Russian soldiers, and we soon see that the Russian Terminator has arrived, tracking them. To top this off, they need a password to open the safe which has the two keys which can be used to shut down the machine trying to open the gate to the Upside Down. This password is the Planck’s Constant, but Murray gets it wrong, so they are in a jam.
Meanwhile, part of the group in the mall manages to escape Billy, thanks to some smooth driving from Steve and Robin, who make good use of the stolen convertible. They draw the monster onto them, but Billy tracks Mike, Max, and El, and grabs El. Naturally, the monster goes back to finish the job, but the rest of the group also tails it back to the mall to see if the others need assistance. While all this tense action is going on, Suzie, Dustin’s girlfriend from Utah (who does kind of look like Phoebe Cates) finally gets the radio message and is able to help Hopper’s team with the password, since this little nerd knows Planck’s Constant. Right before Hopper turns the key, Russian Terminator shows up for a final fight. Things go badly for Hopper, though he lands a few shots, the trained assailant is a far superior fighter.
The mall group lands into trouble too since Billy offers El as a sacrifice to the monster. However, El’s certain demise is stopped by Lucas’ brilliant plan of using dangerous fireworks as explosives. While they keep the monster busy, El reminds Billy of some of his good memories from childhood, awakening humanity in him. He sacrifices himself trying to stop the monster, allowing El to get away to safety. Hopper too supposedly sacrifices himself when Joyce destroys the machine, but not before he sends Russian Terminator to hell. The gate to Upside Down is successfully closed, and the monster is destroyed as a result. The US military flies in fashionably late, after the day has already been saved.
The plot then fast-forwards to three months later, as we see the Byers family moving away from Hawkins and El going with them. There are tearful farewells, and promises of love, but deep down we know that the Hawkins gang, as we first met them, is officially over, and everyone senses that a part of their childhood has effectively died. This has been by far an impactful season, and the show does not let up on this emotional note.
We are treated to a post credit scene in Kamchatka, Russia, where we see another of our theories pan out since the Russians do have a Demodog in captivity. There is always something to look forward to, and now that the Upside Down issue has gone global and the group has split up, we have to wait and see how the Duffer brothers structure the mystery in Season 4.
The entire season has been leading to this mega battle, and it is as enthralling as we had expected it to be. Fourth of July in Hawkins brings its own kind of fireworks that are unleashed upon the monster, and we have to say that the way the showrunners managed to pepper in moments of human affection and emotion in between all this action, is truly masterful. Think of how Joyce asks Hopper on a date while they are standing guard at the Russian facility.
Anyhow, I have been saying this for a long time, Dacre Montgomery has been splendid this season, and it is very nice to see Billy get a redemptive arc, from a douche to a hero. Unfortunately, Max will not get to spend time with her reformed brother. Murray and Dustin, and Erica to some extent keep some moments of comic relief in this intense finale. One of the most unexpected and best moments of this episode was when Dustin and Suzie broke out into a duet of the theme song of ‘The Neverending Story’. It shows how wonderfully the Duffer brothers can handle different spectrums of emotion in their narrative.
Hopper’s sacrifice obviously stings, and David Harbour deserves applause for a stellar performance. It is bound to have you reaching for the tissues, especially, the way his death affects those close to him, like Joyce and El. However, we never really see Hopper get obliterated like the other people, and in the post-credit scene, there is a mention of an American in the Russian prison. Did he somehow survive? Only Season 4 can answer that, though we personally feel, his letter to El would lose a lot of emotional impact if he were to return.
Overall, this has been a wonderful finale, balancing action and emotions, with a large part devoted to mourning the fallen heroes, and the end of childhood. As a whole, Season 3 is the strongest yet, because it strikes the perfect balance between the humanity and character arcs that made Season 1 a success, and the scale of monsters and battles, that was the best aspect of Season 2. However, there is always scope for improvement and we hope Season 4 outdoes itself. The Duffer brothers have already proved that splitting up the group can still make the story just as interesting, so having the Byers and El leave Hawkins is a bold but appealing move. Now that the situation of the Upside Down has gone global, the major characters can still be in play without being confined to the small town. This might allow El’s mutant family from Season 2 to make a reappearance, and we really hope Suzie somehow manages to be closer to Dustin. The rest is up to time, and the Duffer brothers.
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