‘Stranger Things’ Season Three, Episode Three Recap: “The Case of the Missing Lifeguard”

17 Min Read
Image courtesy of Netflix.
Image courtesy of Netflix.

Given the title of this episode, you know one thing that will happen. However, there’s more spoilers inside this recap, so consider yourselves warned.

We open chapter three with something every reputable 1980’s show should open with: a poster of Ralph Macchio!

El stares longingly at Ralph as Max, dancing to ‘Angel’ by Madonna, speculates on whether or not he’s a good kisser. This prompts Max to pose the ultimate question to El: “Is Mike a good kisser?” El wants to say yes, but since he’s her first boyfriend, she’s got no other comparisons. Max reminds her that Mike’s her ex boyfriend, since they dumped the boys (at the mall, no less!) Max and El wonder what the boys are doing – they assume the boys are lamenting the break-ups and planning to come crawling back. If only there was a way for the girls to know for sure…  Oh wait, there is!

El goes mindscape spying. Technically, not illegal considering how nobody else on the planet can do it. Images courtesy of Netflix.

El’s “mindscape” spying reveals the boys are, basically, being boys: lying on the couch, stuffing their faces with nacho cheese Doritos, and farting. Well, Mike and Lucas, anyway. Will’s begging them to play Dungeons and Dragons, but the boys are too busy talking about the demise of their relationships to worry about dungeons or dragons.

Hopper arrives home, drunk and depressed from his failed attempt at a date with Joyce. He storms into El’s room, expecting to find her making out with Mike again, but finds El and Max reading teen mags instead. Hey, at least his night will end on a more pleasant note. As he reclines in his chair, the girls play Spin the Coke* bottle to determine who El will mind-spy on next. You know, the Stranger Things version of prank calling! Mr. Wheeler, they say, is too boring to even attempt, but the next spin lands on a spicier (according to Mrs. Wheeler, anyway) choice: Max’s step-brother, Billy.

(*COKE bottle: they paid good money for that product placement, so I’m going to acknowledge it.)

After a warning from Max (Billy could be doing gross things!) El goes on the prowl in her mind. She discovers Billy hunched over someone and tentatively approaches, mortified at what she’s seeing and hearing. She may not be the only one seeing things, however. In her mindscape, Billy senses someone is there. He turns to find a shadowy El watching him. In the real world, El panics, ripping off her blindfold. Her nose is bleeding and she’s terrified.  Did Billy actually see her in the mindscape? That would be a first (for a human that is. The Demogorgon was able to see El in the mindscape back in Season One). For now, we’ll all just have to wonder who saw what.

Morning breaks across town and Will has gone full-tilt D&D. He wakes Mike and Lucas up from their post-breakup stupor and forces them to address him by his rightful title, ‘Will, the Wise.’ He declares this to be a day “free of girls” and full of rapturous D&D gameplay! The boys balk, but eventually give in to ‘Will, the Wise.’

Also waking up, but from a different type of stupor: Hopper. He emerges from his post-hangover shower as Joyce arrives with a purse full of magnets. Hopper tries to berate her for standing him up, but it goes over her head. She’s obsessed with the non-magnetic magnets.

Magnets–the new Christmas lights!   Images courtesy of Netflix.

She explains that, instead of meeting for their date, she went to Scott Clark, the gang’s old Science teacher, for a lesson on magnetism. Hopper is immediately jealous, but Joyce is too busy spouting magnetic science to notice. Mr. Clark thinks a large-scale magnetic field could be built using a machine or experimental technology. But, they would need funding, technology, equipment, etc… With that, Joyce assumes it must be “Them,” (capital T)–the lab that started all this mess in the first place. Hopper argues that the lab was shut down, but Joyce is adamant about going to check it out. Hopper mocks Joyce by saying he’ll meet her at the lab at 7:00 tonight–the time for the date they didn’t have! Burn! They argue and as Hopper gets dressed, he relays his theory to Joyce. He thinks she’s found something else to focus on because she got scared when he asked her out. He yells at her, but soon discovers she’s not listening. She’s out in the shed borrowing tools to help her break into the lab. She breezes past him as she heads to the lab alone. He has no choice but to follow her.

Later, the girls approach Max’s house, discussing what El saw in her mindscape. Max downplays it, but El is concerned about the screams she heard. Max tries to explain the difference between ‘screaming’ and ‘happy screaming,’ but El doesn’t get it. (Don’t worry, Max will lend her a Cosmo so she can learn). Inside, they find Penthouse magazines, a tub full of melted ice, and blood on the cabinet, but no Billy. When they find a lifeguard fanny pack and bloody whistle, things start looking bad for Billy (and the titular lifeguard in our story)!

Meanwhile, Jonathan and Nancy are combing over his photos of Mrs. Driscoll’s rat. Though he warns her it’s a bad idea, Nancy takes the photos sand story idea to the sexist, boys only, press room. They laugh her out of the room, calling her “Nancy Drew” and dismissing her entirely. Even though Jonathan tries to console her, she storms away, humiliated.

*Ding, ding, ding* Everyone’s favorite, feisty, little sister, Erica Sinclair, is ringing the bell at Scoops Ahoy. She’d like to try the peanut butter chocolate swirl sample. Please. Robin denies her ice cream. Unfazed, Erica asks for Steve. But no can do. Steve is busy doing spy craft.

“Also look for cameras, ear pieces, duffle bags, that sort of thing.” Images courtesy of Netflix.

Steve fails to find evil Russians, but does find a cute girl from school. Only, she’s talking to a loser and Steve has a fit about it. Dustin reminds him there’s a perfectly good girl right in front of him every day: Robin. Steve pooh-poohs the idea. “She not my type…and still in school, a weirdo, hyper…and in band!?”  Methinks he protests too much. So does Dustin. Steve reminds Dustin that he is supposed to be taking dating advice from him. Dustin is optimistic about ‘Stevin’ (or ‘Rob-eve’, whatever their ship name will be).

The sky is growing dark at the Wheelers and Will is still into playing D&D. Mike and Lucas want to call the girls, and Will denies them, Mike ends the D&D battle angrily. Will storms out…into the storm. He accuses Mike and Lucas of destroying their group. Mike reminds him they weren’t going to stay kids and play D&D in the basement forever. Ouch. Low blow. It causes Will to ride off into the storm on his bike.

As the rain falls, El and Max question off-duty lifeguards at the pool and discover that the missing lifeguard’s name is Heather. El goes into her mindscape to search for her. She sees a red door. When the door opens El hears Heather screaming for help. She approaches to find Heather inside a bathtub full of ice. El reaches out, but Heather slips from her grasp.

Across town, the rain beats down as Hopper and Joyce arrive at the lab. Inside, Joyce has a flashback of Bob being eaten by demodogs. Hopper assures her there is nothing there. They set off to explore the abandoned lab, but is it really abandoned? Are they really alone?

The red blinking light on the security cam says, nope, not alone. Images courtesy of Netflix.

Back in the mall, Steve and Dustin spy a blonde man in sunglasses carrying a duffle bag. It must be an evil Russian! They track him…up the escalator, past the Radio Shack and all the way to…JAZZERCISE!  He takes off his shades, and in the most non-evil Russian way possible, leads an aerobics class.

“Who is ready to sweat?” Images courtesy of Netflix.

While Steve and Dustin ogle the leotard-clad ladies, Robin is back at Scoops Ahoy pondering the secret Russian code. (The week is long, the silver cat feeds when you tread lightly…) She’s interrupted by a delivery from Lynx Transportation, and as she signs for the package, a thought occurs to her: Lynx = Silver Cat. Voila! Secret Russian code, decoded. The boys arrive as she for whizzes by  and positions herself in the food court. There she works out that the Lynx driver will deliver a package between Imperial Panda Chinese food and Kaufman’s Shoes at 9:45!

You know what? Steve could do worse.

Speaking of Steve’s love-life…ex-flame, Nancy is currently the brunt of several rat jokes back at the Hawkins Post. She’s determined to prove herself and eventually goads Jonathan into going with her to get proof that her rat story is legit.

At the lab: Hopper and Joyce find a bunch of nothing. The gate is closed (thanks El!) and the cavities have been filled with concrete. Flashbacks of Will in peril in the Upside Down plague Joyce. She fears she’s losing her mind, but Hopper promises that he is keeping a close eye on the town so she’ll feel safe. He wants her to think of Hawkins as her her home. Oops. Cat’s (or Demodog’s?) out of the bag–Joyce consulted a (big-mouthed) real estate agent about selling her home. Hopper doesn’t want her to go. I suspect her kids will feel the same, but they don’t know about her plans to leave Hawkins yet. Joyce and Hopper have one of Joyce’s famous heart-to-heart talks. This time Hopper is honest with his feelings, but before things can go too far into the emotional territory, something bangs in another room. Hopper jumps up to investigate. We watch him draw his gun as a door creaks somewhere in the building.

Across town, Mike and Lucas head to Will’s to apologize for tanking his D&D game, but Will doesn’t answer the door. He’s out in the backyard fort reliving happy memories of past campaigns. Realizing those days are behind them, he goes extreme angsty tween and tears down the fort with a baseball bat and his bare hands.

Elsewhere, Nancy and Jonathan arrive at Mrs. Driscoll’s house to get her proof. They barge into the house uninvited, where they find Mrs. Driscoll in the basement having a meal of…fertilizer.

Fertilizer, it’s what’s for dinner at Mrs. Driscoll’s house! Images courtesy of Netflix.

Over on the mall rooftop, Steve, Dustin and Robin wait for evil Russians – who show up on time with mysterious boxes. They put the boxes inside a room with even more mysterious boxes. Steve and Dustin squabble over the binoculars, then promptly drop them. They make a loud noise. The evil Russians are quick to investigate. The three duck down, fearing for their lives. Robin and Steve are so afraid that they turn to each other for comfort. When they realize they’re holding hands, they both quickly drop them. Luckily they manage to escape before the evil Russians spot them.

Back in the lab, Hopper roams the halls. He “Chief of Police’s” at a door before he walks in. Inside, a man emerges from the shadows and attacks him Batman-style. Punch! Kick! Whack! Hopper goes down and the man escapes on motorcycle as Joyce looks on, memorizing the license plate.

Meanwhile, the rain still pours as El and Max arrive at 1438 Some Street, in search of Heather, the missing lifeguard. They’re greeted at the red door (From the mindscape!) by the obnoxious Editor in Chief of the Hawkins Post. Turns out he is Heather’s father. The girls are invited to a family dinner with Heather’s folks and…Billy. (Who is looking more like Rob Lowe in Class, as opposed to Rob Lowe in St. Elmo’s Fire. Read: he’s wearing a a button-down shirt! Granted, it’s unbuttoned almost to his his navel, but it is a button-down.)  There is an awkward conversation between the girls and Billy. Right before they accuse Billy of hurting her, Heather appears with her cute 80’s side ponytail and (only slightly burnt) cookies. Confused, the girls leave, but not before Billy shares a meaningful look with El. There’s no denying he saw her in the mindscape and there is a connection between them. Billy peers out the window, having flashbacks of the Upside Down, while the girls leave in the rain.

Billy isn’t Billy anymore. Images courtesy of Netflix.

Across town at his demolished childhood fort, Will gets goosebumps, declaring to Mike and Lucas, “He’s back.”

Chapter three ends to the tune of “American Pie” by Don McLean. Heather’s parents finish their meal. Well, until Billy poisons Mom and Heather whacks her Dad over the head with a wine bottle and tells him “It’ll all be over soon. I promise.”

Will it though? We’ve got another five chapters to go! And we have questions: Who is the guy leaving the lab on the motorcycle? Is he evil? Is he Russian? Is he an evil Russian? If so, where is his mysterious box?

Join us here tomorrow for a recap of ‘Chapter Four: The Sauna Test.’ Until then, you can stream Stranger Things on Netflix.


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Michelle is Young Adult fiction writer, professional fangirl, and card-carrying nerd. (Her mint collection of Empire Strikes Back collector cards prove it.) She spends her days expanding young minds in a classroom and her nights glued to the television, where you'll find her watching her fave sci-fi/supernatural (lowercase) shows, Supernatural (upper case) or binging an obscure show from another country. In addition to her fictional work, she’s written for a local newspaper, corporate website, and pretty much every one of her husband’s papers in college. You can follow her on Twitter @EmCeeCollins
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