Season 3, Episode 2
Lots to unpack here so let’s get started. Billy has encountered his doppelganger which has turned him into a murderous but sexy maniac which culminates in him kidnapping that bitchy lifeguard from the pool and seemingly sacrificing her to the slime Gods. Hopper is catching flak from the mayor about some hippy protesters whilst simultaneously being stood up by the hot mess that is Joyce Byers. And, finally, El has dumped that deadbeat Wheeler because he has made their relationship into a house of lies. Ultimately then, The Mall Rats is an episode of heart break, whether it be Hop and Joyce, El and Mike or Billy and Mrs Wheeler, love don’t live in Hawkins any more.
A busy episode is topped up with my boy Steve Harrington combining with Dustin and ice cream girl Robyn (another welcome addition to a fantastic ensemble cast) to try and crack the Russian code that Dustin encountered whilst searching for his (possibly fictional) girlfriend Suzie – who apparently is hotter than Phoebe Cates. I call bullshit. The bromance between Steve and Dustin is one of the shows strongest tropes and Robyn slots in nicely by basically calling Steve out on his, admittedly hilarious, nonsense.
Elsewhere, Nancy and Jonathan go off in search of rabid rats in the episode’s worst sequence that confirms that these two are now the most expendable characters. The exploding rat turning into some kind of slime monster was satisfyingly gross however. Compare this with the joyous montage of Wheeler and his band of idiots gallivanting around the mall while El and Max have a whale of a time trying on ’80s clothes and messing with bitchy girls who dare to throw shade their way. Stranger Things is perhaps never better than when it allows the kids to just do kid stuff.
The Mall Rats is a typically strong early season entry for Stranger Things and the Duffer Brothers have done a great job in making the impending invasion by mutants from another dimension feel secondary to the lives of a bunch of teenagers.
- Mr Clarke is only a minor character these days but his entrance in this episode to Weird Al Yankovic’s My Bologna was truly a sight to behold. While it was sad that Joyce stood Hopper up, it would almost be worth it to see more of this burgeoning friendship.
- The whole episode generally was brilliantly soundtracked, striking just the right balance between obscure and familiar. Material Girl. Yes.
- Even though I am a full grown up with a real job and a Nectar Card and all that stuff, part of me really wants to work in that ice cream parlour with Steve and Robyn. Is that weird?
- Will someone just play a goddamn game of D & D with Will Byers already?