After nearly two years, Stranger Things is back with more mysteries, scary monsters, and — worst of all — teen drama.
On Stranger Things Season 3 Episode 1, we are reintroduced to Hawkins, Indiana. Six months have passed since the events of Season 2, allowing the characters to recover and fall back into their normal routines. Everyone has moved on from the Mind Flayer, and is ready for carefree summer of fun. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like that’s in the cards.
Couples Old and New
This first episode is every shipper’s dream. It took the time to explore the relationships between all the different characters, and offered an incredible selection of everyone’s favorite pairings. We start with Mike and Eleven, who are officially dating and nearly inseparable. This comes as no surprise after two seasons of build-up, but it’s definitely satisfying to see them together and happy for a change. Even if everyone around them already seems fed-up with their honeymoon phase.
One of the episode’s highlights is Chief Jim Hopper, now officially Eleven’s guardian, as he struggles with the reality of being the father to a teenage girl in love. He spends the entire episode a nervous wreck, going so far as to ask Joyce Byers how to handle the situation. When the heart-to-heart she writes out for him doesn’t work out, he snaps and — completely unhinged — drags Mike to the car for a man-to-man instead. This was quite possibly my favorite part of the entire episode, and I can only hope that we get more Protective Father Hopper as the season goes on.
Hopper’s conversation with Joyce also brings another relationship to light. It’s all too clear that years of battling sci-fi monsters and parenting unruly kids has given Chief Hopper quite the soft spot for Joyce. She, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to be ready to move on from Bob Newby — her ill-fated boyfriend from Season 2. Joyce declines Hopper’s invitation to dinner, which he accepts gracefully. The timing might not be right just yet, but it looks like the S.S. “Jopper” has officially set sail.
But Hawkins is in no shortage of successful relationships. Episode 1 also gives us our first look at an official Jonathan and Nancy, working together at the Hawkins Post, as well as Lucas and Max. Even Dustin claims to have a girlfriend that he met at sleepaway camp, though only time will tell if it’s the truth. The only major characters who aren’t currently paired up are Will Byers and Steve Harrington. It should be interesting to watch that change over the season.
Billy and Mrs. Wheeler
However, there is one couple that the episode showcases that I was not at all happy to see: Karen Wheeler and Billy Hargrove. Billy the Bully is spending the summer as a lifeguard at the community pool, where he is ogled shamelessly by teenage girls and middle-aged mothers alike. There was a brief flirtation between Billy and Karen last season, but I was surprised to see it so heavily featured in the trailers for this season. In Season 2, it seemed like Billy was only flirting with Mrs. Wheeler to get the information that he wanted. One episode into Stranger Things Season 3 and the writers have already established that the attraction is mutual, and Karen is struggling with the idea of cheating on her husband with a teenage boy.
Mature and handsome as actor Dacre Montgomery might be, it’s important to remember that his character Billy is still a teenager. I’m not entirely sure how the writers intend for the audience to view this relationship. It may be too early in the season to tell. Is this situation supposed to help humanize Billy? Is it another attempt at the taboo student-teacher trope we see featured so often on TV? Or is it perhaps just the easiest way to bring two side characters into a bigger role this season?
One way or another, I can’t help but hope this relationship will fall by the wayside as the season goes on. Luckily, Karen and Billy are not able to follow through with their tryst in the episode. Or perhaps not so lucky for Billy, who crashes his car and is dragged off-screen by a mysterious force at the very end.
Return of the Mind Flayer
Stranger Things Season 3 Episode 1 starts with a flashback to summer of 1945, showing a Soviet science lab which appears to be attempting to open the same kind of portal that was opened in Hawkins Lab. It’s a brief beginning, but one that explains volumes to the viewers. Already, we know exactly why things are going to start going wrong after Eleven worked so hard to close the Gate last season. The show has toyed with the 1980’s fear of the Soviet Union and the tension of the Cold War, but it looks like Season 3 will be hitting the theme hard.
Along with higher tensions, Stranger Things Season 3 is pushing the show’s graphics to a whole new level. The computer generated effects we see in the Soviet lab are astounding, as well as the mysterious effects it causes in Hawkins. They also prove to be quite gruesome and gory. I can appreciate computer graphics, but the minute-long panning shot of rats exploding was enough to make my stomach turn. One thing is for certain: Season 3 is pulling no punches.
I’m interested to see how the show explains the disturbances in Hawkins when the portal is being tested on the other side of the globe. It’s possible that the Gate leaves Hawkins vulnerable, and that the pressure applied by the Soviets reopened the dimension. The trailers clearly indicate the return of the Mind Flayer, but it’s not yet clear what its new plan for infestation will be.
Poor Will Byers
Of course, the first person to sense that something bad is happening is Will. Because of his experience with the Mind Flayer in the previous season, he appears to be extra sensitive to inter-dimensional change. Several times during the episode, Will stops to touch the back of his neck, or recalls the incident where he was possessed in the schoolyard. For now, it looks like he’s brushing off the bad feeling as normal anxiety. It shouldn’t take long to see that he’s wrong.
Will’s connection with the Mind Flayer has to be incredibly strong, which is extremely concerning. One might imagine that Eleven would be pretty in-tune with inter-dimensional energy by now as well, but she hasn’t seemed to notice anything amiss. Either she’s too wrapped up in her relationship with Mike to notice, or Will’s possession makes him especially suited for the task. This could be an asset as the opposing forces grow more powerful, allowing Will to “spy” on the Mind Flayer as he did on Season 2. On the other hand, it may make him more susceptible as things in Hawkins get worse.
I’m hoping Will really gets a chance to save the day this season. He’s been through so much on Seasons 1 and 2 between being kidnapped, possessed, and brought back from the brink of death more than once. Can’t we just let him have one good day? Please?
All three seasons of Stranger Things are now available for streaming on Netflix.