This was the return episode I was looking.
‘The Mall Rats,’ the second episode of Stranger Things Season 3, feels like the genuine start of the hit Netflix series’ third season. The season premiere, ‘Suzie, Do You Copy?‘ absolutely came off like a prologue. Maybe it’s because a number of scenes from the episode (Billy walking passed the moms, Dustin’s surprise, etc.) were shown online prior to the season’s release. That episode did a perfectly fine job of reintroducing us back to the world of Hawkins and the Upside Down, and Russia — but it just felt like a primer. Something that might’ve worked better chopped into the reintroduction reel you got when you started Season 3.
‘The Mall Rats’ works so well because it not only combines the nostalgia and nightmare the series is renowned for, but also because we get our ‘teams’ for the season. These teams are (yes, I’ve watched ahead) are: Hop (David Harbour) and Joyce (Winona Ryder), Steve (Joe Keery), Robin (Maya Hawke), and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Max (Sadie Sink) and Eleven (Millie Bobbie Brown), Nancy (Natalia Dyer), and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), and Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), and Will (Noah Schnapp).
‘Getting the team together’ episodes or scenes in films usually aren’t the most enjoyable. That’s usually because the audience, like the characters, are just getting to know each other which leads to some awkwardness and a lot of the time you’re sitting around waiting to get the plot rolling.
The benefit this series has is all these characters know each other extremely well (as does the audience), and have worked together under the wildest of circumstances. So this episode was more about the characters and establishing their relationships for the season. The great thing about the set up was that it was done through a series of nostalgic romps, and genuinely funny, insanely enjoyable moments.
Shock of shocks, the reunion between Steve and Dustin is everything you want it to be. It’s the best. However, what makes their relationship even better is the addition of Robin to the group. Maya Hawke is absolutely fantastic injecting this fun blend of eye rolling reality, and wide-eyed eagerness to the team.
However, it’s the Eleven and Max team-up that gives this episode all the joy and life. Millie Bobbie Brown and Sadie Sink have an undeniable chemistry, and their “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” mall montage feels like it was snipped from a John Hughes movie, and I mean that in the best possible way. Stranger Things has always been “the boys and a girl” now we’ve got two fun, strong girls teaming up as a friends and eventual mystery solvers. Their relationship in regards to “the boys” is much more fun to watch — as Lucas and Mike have turned into your typical clueless doofs, and Will is the guy stuck holding onto childhood.
I’d be remiss in not mentioning that David Harbour probably gets some of his best comedic moments of the series in this episode. His celebration of Eleven and Mike not seeing each other is a hysterical call back to Season 2, and his drunken scenes at a restaurant — decked out in a “cutting edge” Hawaiian shirt is tremendous. Harbour is definitely having a ton of fun in this episode, and any dad will definitely feel “seen” in multiple parts of the episode.
‘The Mall Rats’ is not without its sci-fi/horror moments (especially with Billy), and the plot of Nancy’s struggle in her chauvinistic newsroom is a great storyline. So if you’re looking for things to ground this lighthearted episode, you’ve got it.
This episode was just an absolute joy to watch. It was so much fun, yet it didn’t forget to establish a ton of storyline — both immediate and down the road — and develop our characters in such a natural, relatable way.
Stranger Things Season 3 Episode 2, ‘The Mall Rats’ is now streaming on Netflix.