The first episode of the newest Stranger Things season ended with Mike receiving a lecture from Hopper about dating his daughter, Mrs. Wheeler wrestling with her conscience, and Billy fighting for his life in an abandoned warehouse.
Does Dustin ever get in touch with Suzie? Will Nancy figure out the cryptic message of “DISEASE” and “RATS” she received at the Hawkins Post? And is Bob trying to communicate with Joyce from the Great Beyond via refrigerator magnets?
Let’s talk about “The Mall Rats.”
Spoilers ahead! Consider yourselves warned!
The episode starts in the abandoned warehouse, final resting place for a lot of rats and the last place we saw Billy as he was being dragged into darkness. Billy suddenly reappears, thrown back into this world from the Upside Down (presumably), and he runs like hell out of there to his car outside.
He eventually makes it to a phonebooth down the road and rushes inside to call 911. But while he’s waiting for the operator to pick up, he suddenly finds himself back in the Upside Down, just like Will used to. Billy walks into the street and sees a mob of people walking toward him. Screaming at them to tell him what they want from him, a single figure steps out from the mob and walks up to him.
It is him — Billy is faced with himself.
After the credits roll, we see El at home, pacing back and forth and looking terribly upset. She calls Mike wanting to know why he hasn’t shown up yet for their date. Mike lies to her (!!!) and tells her he can’t come over, because his Nana is sick. He embellishes the story and says that she is in a nursing home on the brink of death. At that point, his mom, who’s been listening in this whole time, is shocked to hear that her own mother is sick. Mike hilariously screams at her to get off the phone and tells El that his mom is so sick with worry, she isn’t making any sense. He then abruptly tells El he has to go and hangs up on her.
Clearly, Hopper’s lecture from the last episode got through to Mike. And Hopper can’t hide his smile when he realizes that Mike’s just told El that he can’t meet up with her.
Hopper races into town, singing at the top of his lungs to Jim Croce’s “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim,” and rushes inside Joyce’s work to tell her the good news: that he single-handedly has kept Mike from seeing his daughter for the first time in six months. Joyce is proud of him, and Hopper uses this opportunity to ask Joyce to dinner again. (He asked her in the last episode, but she declined.) This time, Joyce agrees to dinner, and Hopper rushes off to handle a work call.
As he leaves, Joyce notices a pile of decorative magnets in the floor. She tries to put them back on the magnetic display, but nothing sticks. She recalls her own fridge magnets at home not working, finding Bob’s drawing on the floor several times recently. Is it just a coincidence?
At the Hawkins Post, Nancy can’t let go of the weird message she received and lies to leave work early to investigate, knowing the old fogeys at the paper won’t give her permission to do so on the record. She and Jonathan leave in a rush and head off to Mrs. Driscoll’s house.
At Starcourt Mall, the team of Harrington and Henderson is back together again! Dustin rushes to Scoops Ahoy in search of Steve, and their reunion brought tears to my eyes. They are thrilled to see each other again, and Dustin fills in Steve on his summer, including news of his Phoebe Cates-esque girlfriend. (Steve understandably has some trouble believing his friend, but he’s too excited about their reunion to care.) Dustin then shares with Steve the weird Russian transmission he received via Cerebro the night before (that he wisely captured on tape) and asks Steve for his help with translating the message.
Max runs into a distraught El outside her house. El needs advice on how to deal with a lying Mike, and Max is more than happy to help. She tells El that boyfriends lie and that she should “dump his ass.” Spliced with this interaction, we see Mike telling Lucas and Will how Hopper forced his hand to lie to El, because he threatened him. Lucas tells him that things are going to be bad, but if Mike just simply follows Lucas’s tips, he’ll help him win back El. After all, as Lucas says, Max has dumped him five times, but he’s always won her back…
At the Hawkins community pool, Mrs. Wheeler and friends are awaiting their daily dose of Billy. Mrs. Wheeler sees Billy arrive and leaves her chair to talk to him. She explains to him why she didn’t meet up with him at the motel. (Good on you, Mrs. Wheeler!) But while she’s talking to Billy, he seems… off. He has trouble concentrating and can’t stop sweating. He even imagines hurting Mrs. Wheeler. But instead of hurting her, he turns around and tells her to stay away from him. He stumbles to his lifeguard chair, unable to look at the sunlight.
Billy is no bueno.
At Scoops Ahoy, everyone’s favorite little sister Erica (Lucas’s nemesis…er, sibling) is asking for samples of every ice cream flavor ever and is driving employee Robin crazy. (Robin is a new character to the series, played by Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman’s daughter, Maya.) In the back of the store, Steve and Dustin are trying to decipher the recorded Russian message and are remarkably unsuccessful at it. Steve seems hung up on the music playing in the background of the recording, but Dustin wants him to focus on the spoken words only. Robin bursts in, demanding that Steve handle Erica, while she gives the translation a go. She says that she is fluent in four languages (Russian isn’t one of them), and Steve reluctantly agrees to trade places with her.
At Mrs. Driscoll’s house, Nancy and Jonathan arrive and ask Mrs. Driscoll questions about the message she left at the Post. Mrs. Driscoll explains that something in her basement started causing a ruckus, and upon further investigation, Nancy and Jonathan learn that some animal (or animals) have broken into Mrs. Driscoll’s supply of fertilizer, ripping open the bags and spilling it everywhere. Mrs. Driscoll suggests that the rats that are causing these problems might be rabid and the townspeople should know about it.
At that moment, a crashing sound interrupts their conversation, and Mrs. Driscoll excitedly exclaims that she caught one of the “little bastards.” Nancy and Jonathan look on with horror at a covered animal trap that’s moving way too much to be holding just one rat.
In town, Hopper is at the Mayor’s office. Outside, people are protesting the presence of the Starcourt Mall, which has run all the mom-and-pops out of business. Mayor Kline (played by The Princess Bride‘s Cary Elwes, in a role that is nothing like Prince Westley) has called Hopper in to remove the protestors, but Hopper resists, thinking that’s unwarranted. While the men argue about who’s in the right, Max and El step off the bus in front of the Starcourt Mall. El is concerned about there being “too many people,” which is against one of Hopper’s rules for her, but Max persuades her to relax and have some fun. As the girls run around the mall in a fit of glee, we see the guys (Mike, Lucas, and Will) just a few feet away, unaware of the girls’ presence. The guys are there to purchase something pretty and shiny, to persuade El to get back together with Mike. Lucas seems to be the resident expert on What To Buy, and Will seems bored and would rather be playing D&D.
At work, Joyce is swamped in textbooks about electromagnetic theory, trying to figure out what is going on with the magnets of Hawkins, Indiana. Unable to make sense of anything, she drives off in her Gremlin and rushes to the one person she knows who can help her: Hawkins Middle School science teacher Scott Clark.
At Mrs. Driscoll’s, Jonathan is taking photos of the captured rat for the story, while Nancy is calling local businesses, trying to determine if anyone else has had the same trouble Mrs. Driscoll has. The imprisoned rat is acting very strangely, almost seizing. Nancy gets a lead, and when Jonathan and Nancy leave the house, we see the rat meet the same demise as all of his cohorts in the previous episode: he bursts into a lump of goo. But it then proceeds to make its way out of the animal trap and form into something that looks decidely un-rat-like.
Back in the Upside Down, we see UpsideDown!Billy tell Billy that he must “build what he sees.” Billy screams that he doesn’t understand, and suddenly Billy wakes up at the pool, still in his lifeguard chair. His skin has burned while he’s been asleep and his vision is still screwy. He heads inside to the showers to try to cool off. Fellow lifeguard Heather checks on him, and in a brief moment of confusion (or perhaps it was a message), Billy sees Heather say, “Take me to him.”
At the mall, Max and El are living out every 80s-girl’s dream: to try on all the coolest clothes in all the coolest stores. While Madonna’s “Material Girl” plays, the girls hold their own fashion show, while the guys search for the perfect please-forgive-me gift. The guys aren’t having nearly as much fun as the girls, who take a break from their high fashion tour to use El’s powers to explode random cups of soda all over unsuspecting mall teenagers. “See?! There’s more to life than stupid boys!” Max exclaims.
Back at Scoops Ahoy, Robin and Dustin are still working on the translation. After some time, Robin excitedly tells Steve that they’ve cracked their first sentence: “The week is long.” Steve is unimpressed.
Outside Starcourt, the girls finally run into the guys. Mike continues with his lying, telling El that he’s there to buy a gift for his ailing Nana. But El knows better: she calls out his lying and asks him why he does it. He has no response. So she does what any self-respecting girl of the 80s would do: she dumps his ass on the spot.
That evening, Hopper shows up to the restaurant where he’s meeting Joyce for dinner (wearing his finest Hawaiian shirt). But Joyce is still at Scott Clark’s home, learning about Electromagnetism 101. Joyce learns that the only thing that would cause magnets to lose their magnetism is an unstable electromagnetic field. And the only thing that could cause magnets all throughout town to lose their magnetism at the same time would require a very large A/C transformer — a machine, really — that would require billions of volts of electricity and millions of dollars to fund.
Now, where in Hawkins could a machine of that magnitude be supported?
It’s closing time at Starcourt, and the Russian Translation team of Dustin, Steve, and Robin has cracked the code. Or they think they have… but what a weird code it is:
The week is long. The silver cat feeds when blue meets yellow in the west.
Steve thinks it’s nonsense, but Dustin and Robin think it’s sooper-seekrit Russian spy speak. As they’re leaving the mall and arguing about what they have or have not found, Steve realizes where he’s heard the music on the recording before: it’s the tune that plays on the “Indiana Flyer” mechanical horse. The team realizes that the Russian message didn’t come from Russia. It came from the Starcourt Mall.
In the final scene, we see Billy back at the abandoned warehouse, this time with a tied-up lifeguard Heather in the trunk of his car. He carries her to the belly of the warehouse and tells her to lie still, that “it will be over soon.” And from the dark corner, we can hear the low growl of the shadowy monster that lives there.
Stay tuned for our recap of “The Case of the Missing Lifeguard,” out tomorrow, and watch season three of Stranger Things now on Netflix!