Season three of Stranger Things has been a wild and emotional ride for sure. Each episode has been packed with action, suspense, goo, and feelings — all culminating into an intense 77-minute final episode that definitely lives up to its name.
“The Battle of Starcourt,” indeed.
The episode opens with Joyce, Murray, and Hopper racing through the night, trying to get a hold of the kids via radio. They can’t get through to anyone though, and all they know is that they need to get to the food court STAT.
At the food court, El is writhing in pain, and the kids are trying to come up with a way to get rid of the Mind Flayer parasite that has taken up residence in her leg. Jonathan tries to remove it with a knife, but El decides to just remove it herself using her powers. Either way, it’s painful and her screams literally shatter a glass window. She flings the parasite onto the floor, and lo and behold, it meets its end by the heel of a boot that belongs to none other than Jim Hopper himself.
The exciting part about this episode for me was that this is the first time this season that the entire gang is actually together, albeit briefly.
Now that they’re all together, they concoct a plan. They decide to break off into their respective groups to finally put an end to this. The Griswold Family (Eleven, Mike, Will, Lucas, Jonathan and Nancy) sets a main goal of getting to safety at Murray’s hideout. Team Bald Eagle (Hopper, Joyce, and Murray) will infiltrate the Russian base to shut down the drill that’s being used to open the gate to the Upside Down. The Scoops Troop (Steve, Robin, Dustin, and Erica) will head for Dustin’s Cerebro radio tower so that they can coordinate communications to guide Bald Eagle through the bunker.
It’s a foolproof plan, and Team Bald Eagle heads down to the Russian bunker, and The Scoops Troop makes their way to Dustin’s tower as everyone else tries to escape from the mall. Once outside, they realize that Flayed Billy is waiting for them, and he has disabled Nancy’s getaway car. Nancy, Jonathan, Will, El, Max, and Mike are forced back into the food court to avoid Billy who is sitting in his car nearby, revving the engine menacingly at them.
Meanwhile, Team Bald Eagle have successfully infiltrated the Russian bunker. Hopper takes out a bunch of Russians with a machine gun, even though Murray probably had it all under control. The team steals the Russians’ uniforms in order to blend in more.
At the food court, the kids realize that they just need a new ignition cable for Nancy’s car, and there happens to be a car inside the mall that El used to throw at some Russian bad guys earlier. But, now El can’t move the car with her powers for some reason. Using teamwork, they manage to get the car flipped over. This is when we realize that El’s powers are gone and she can’t even crush a Coke can. (I feel like this could be troublesome for everyone.) As they’re retrieving the part that they need from the car, Will suddenly senses the Mind Flayer, and it bursts through the glass roof, joining our heroes in the food court.
Back at the bunker, Grigori the Russian Terminator knows the Americans are there and starts to hunt them down, as Joyce and Hopper have a sweet moment while they wait for Murray to cause a distraction so that they can get to the drill. Joyce recommends that they go out to Enzo’s for dinner on Friday night if they make it out of this alive. Looks like Hop might get his date after all.
The Scoops Troop is guiding Murray through the vents and then notice that something is going on back at Starcourt. They make a radio call to Team Griswold, but no one answers them. They’re all too busy hiding from the Mind Flayer. The lack of communication makes Steve worry, so he heads off to go check on everyone, Robin following.
Murray finally sets off the distraction, allowing Joyce and Hopper to make their way to the vault without anyone noticing. But, Team Bald Eagle is suddenly at a standstill when the code to open the safe to get the keys needed to turn off the drill doesn’t work. It’s just too bad Murray didn’t actually know Planck’s Constant — the code that Alexei (R.I.P. Smirnoff) told them they needed for the vault room. Overhearing the conversation between Hopper and Murray about the wrong code, Dustin realizes that he might know someone who can help them.
Jonathan is trying to get Nancy’s car started, now that they’ve replaced the part. Billy tries to run them down with his car, all while Nancy is shooting at him. Steve and Robin save the day, ramming into Billy’s car to stop him from hurting anyone. The Mind Flayer is now huge and on the roof of Starcourt. Finally, Jonathan gets the car to start, and he, Nancy, Steve, Robin, Will, and Lucas drive off with the Mind Flayer hot on their heels. At least they’re leading it away from El, Mike, and Max.
Cut to Salt Lake City, Utah; Dustin is finally able to contact Suzie. Yes, Suzie: Dustin’s intelligent and perfect girlfriend that no one believed existed. She does exist, and she’s absolutely adorable. Suzie is happy to hear from him finally and is ready to share Planck’s Constant with “Dusty Buns” under one condition. Much to his embarrassment, Dustin agrees, and the two break out into a surreal, yet surprisingly cute musical number, belting out the theme to the 1984 film The Neverending Story. I have to admit, I smiled like an idiot during the entire thing and felt a moment of nostalgia as I possibly sang along with them. Also, I gotta hand it to “Suzie Poo”: even though the world is ending, she knows what she wants and won’t take no for an answer. When their musical number ends, Suzie keeps her promise, giving the numbers up and Hopper immediately enters them in, instantly opening the safe. They finally have the keys to the drill and head to the control room to shut it down.
Back at Starcourt, Billy emerges from his car just as El, Mike, and Max are attempting to leave the mall. When they see him, they turn right back around and the Mind Flayer suddenly stops chasing the others and heads back to the mall. Billy makes his way into the building, tracks the trio down and knocks out Max and Mike and brutally takes down El to hand her over to the Mind Flayer. Meanwhile, the kids are setting off Lucas’s arsenal of fireworks, successfully confusing the Mind Flayer as El taps into Billy’s memories, reminding him of that day at the beach with his mother. This snaps him out of his trance, and he then sacrifices himself to the Mind Flayer to save his stepsister and her friends.
This gives Hopper, Joyce, and Murray more time as they attempt to close the gate to the Upside Down. But, just as Hopper and Joyce are about to shut down the drill, Grigori pops in and he and Hopper begin to fight, deterring the plan yet again. The long fight with the Russian ends in the Russian’s death as Hop throws him into the spinning drill. Meanwhile, Joyce is struggling to reach both keys, which need to be turned simultaneously in order to close the gate. When she can finally reach both, she looks up and waits for Hopper, but he simply nods at her, letting her know that he’s not able to get out and that she needs to do what has to be done.
I am devastated.
Making a painful choice, Joyce turns the keys and the drill explodes, taking out everything in its presence. The gate closes, and the Mind Flayer back at the food court suddenly keels over and dies. Honestly, I’m just surprised there wasn’t more goo involved.
Just then, Dr. Owens arrives at Starcourt with the U.S. military. As they work their way through the bunker, they find absolutely nothing. The remaining Russians are gone. Nice job guys. Outside the smoldering ruins of the Starcourt Mall, Joyce finds Will and they have an emotional reunion. As they hug, she spots El. The look that Joyce gives her is enough to let her know that Hopper is gone. Did I mention that I am devastated?
The episode doesn’t end there. We are brought to what happens three months following the entire fiasco. We are first treated to a short news montage that basically covers the horrors of everything that has ever happened in Hawkins. Also, we get to see Mayor Kline being taken away in handcuffs. Good riddance.
The mood is lightened up by a fun scene with Robin and Steve getting jobs at a video store. Luckily, Robin convinces Keith that Steve would be a good contribution to the store, regardless of his lack of knowledge in movies. I have to admit, I’m really loving this duo.
The Byers family is also, understandably, leaving Hawkins. The family is packing up, El in tow now that she’s lost Hopper. The epilogue cuts back and forth between the different characters, letting us see what they’re feeling and going through during this time. We see that El still doesn’t have her powers and Mike says he’s sure they’ll come back eventually. The two make plans for the holidays and Mike has an awkward moment where he can’t really talk about his feelings for El, so El just tells him that she loves him. Awww.
Yes, the team is splitting up and growing up. Will leaves Erica his D&D gear, Jonathan and Nancy part ways, El and Mike do as well with a parting kiss. There’s a lot of emotion and a lot of tears as everyone says goodbye.
In an even more painful scene, Joyce then finds the speech that Hopper left behind — the heart-to-heart that was meant for El and Mike that he couldn’t bring himself to deliver. Realizing that Hopper never actually recited the speech to them, Joyce gives it to El to read. El wanders off to a vacant room and begins to read the letter, complete with a super sad voice-over from Hopper himself.
But I know you’re getting older, growing, changing. I guess, if I’m being really honest, that’s what scares me. I don’t want things to change.
All in all, it’s a genuine, heartfelt wish for El and Mike to take chances and lead good lives; and more importantly, it’s about how much El means to him. FEELINGS.
So you know what? Keep on growing up kid. Don’t let me stop you. Make mistakes, learn from ’em. When life hurts you, because it will, remember the hurt. The hurt is good. It means you’re out of that cave. But, please, if you don’t mind, for the sake of your poor old dad, keep the door open three inches.
I’m not crying, you’re crying.
The episode ends with Joyce stopping to take one more look back at her now empty home. She pauses briefly before closing the door.
But wait. There’s more. If you stayed tuned in, you might have caught the post-credit scene where there’s an unknown American that the Russians are holding as a prisoner somewhere. Instead of taking the American, the guards drag a different prisoner away and toss him in another cell. That prisoner is greeted by the Demogorgon as it attacks, ending the final scene.
Who is the mysterious American that’s being kept prisoner? What does the reappearance of the Demogorgon mean for our heroes? That small scene definitely makes it feel like the story could continue for another season at least (and that maybe Hopper is still alive and being held in a Russian prison). The finale could also easily be the end, and I wouldn’t feel cheated of a story if it were the end. Still, I’m holding onto hope that perhaps Hopper is still alive somewhere and that we don’t really have to say goodbye to these characters just yet.
Hey, a girl can dream.