Last Time on Stranger Things 3: Billy don't lose my number.
Cold Open: Last seen being dragged to his presumed death, Billy (Dacre Montgomery) is ... alive. The town's resident bad boy escapes whatever dragged him screaming into the bowels of the local abandoned steel factory and drives away in a hurry, finding a phone booth to call 9-1-1. When the operator picks up, Billy goes (upside) down. As red lightning cracks in the background, Billy finds himself face to face with ... himself. Cue thunderclap and the credits! (No, Netflix, I will never skip the intro, why do you even bother asking?)
Mike and Eleven and Lucas and Max and Will: Mike (Finn Wolfhard), spooked from his threatening chat with Hopper (David Harbour) the previous night, stands up Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) — leaving her nervous and confused. When she calls to confront him, Mike continues the charade about his grandmother being ill. "Do you lie?" Eleven asks, knowing the answer but hoping for a better outcome. Pissed, she decamps from the House of Hopper to see Max (Sadie Sink) and the pair immediately bond over Mike and Lucas being terrible partners. "Friends don't lie," says Eleven. "Well, boyfriends lie," answers Max. "All the time."
Max takes Eleven to the mall and while it's "against the rules" because there are too many people around (yes, we're still keeping up that charade), El takes to consumerism like a typical '80s teen. Serendipity: Mike, Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), and Will (Noah Schnapp) are at the mall too, looking for a gift Mike can give to Eleven to apologize. All that's missing from this storyline is a montage, but wouldn't you know it? Stranger Things 3 has got us covered on that front as well: cue up Madonna's "Material Girl" and watch as Eleven and Max have some totally awesome fun. This entire sequence — the girls, the boys, the music — is amazing. I give it a 150 out of 10.
As they're leaving the mall, Max and Eleven run into Mike and Lucas, who proceed to stumble through more lies. Eleven has had enough of his crap: "I dump your ass," she says as cold as ice, as, obviously and fittingly, Foreigner's "Cold As Ice" kicks in on the soundtrack. Maybe the mall stuff is 160 out of 10. Legendary.
Dustin and Steve and Robin: Speaking of the mall, no one is happier that Dustin's (Gaten Matarazzo) back in town than Steve (Joe Keery). Their reunion is effortlessly adorable — a special handshake! A violent, pantomimed lightsaber fight! — and it leads to Robin's iconic question for her co-worker: "How many children are you friends with?" (In a short amount of time, Robin is an early MVP of Stranger Things 3 and Maya Hawke is kind of an amazing mix of her parents' best traits.) The thing I love about Dustin and Steve is ever-present in their early scenes together here: Steve not only loves Dustin, but he takes the boy seriously. When Dustin is talking about his girlfriend, "Suzie with a Z," whom his young friends aren't sure even exists, Steve is supportive, excited, and genuinely happy. So it tracks that he immediately accepts that Dustin intercepted a secret Russian communication and needs help translating it into English.
Too bad no one speaks Russian. In the back room at Scoops Ahoy, Steve and Dustin try in vain to make heads or tails of what's being said. There's music in the background that Steve thinks sounds familiar but that doesn't really help right now (cue: foreshadowing!). Fortunately, Robin has heard everything because "you two are really loud," and she proceeds to lend her services to Dustin and Steve in exchange for Steve dealing with the customers.
It takes a bit, but Robin cracks the first part of the code: "The week is long." Later, long after the mall is closed, the rest comes into focus: "The week is long. The silver cat feeds when blue meets yellow in the west." As the trio walks out of the mall trying to ascertain what the secret message means, Steve sees a coin-operated kiddie ride and fumbles to put in a quarter. He does, enduring much mockery from Robin and Dustin, until his reasoning becomes clear: That song on the recording matches the music coming out of the ride. The call is coming from inside the mall!
Hopper and Joyce: Thrilled with how his hack parenting work has kept Mike and Eleven apart for the first time in six months, Hopper goes to see Joyce (Winona Ryder) and celebrate his bad moves — not that he tells her about threatening Mike and all. A dinner date is set — *whispers* I don't care that much about Hopper and Joyce and whether or not they're endgame. Anyway, Hopper is called away to City Hall to help with a town protest against Mayor Kline. At the general store, Joyce notices more magnets have fallen. Hmm.
Remember Darth Drago, the Russian first introduced at the beginning of the season? Hopper sees him walking out of the mayor's office. But before we can consider what that means, we meet the mayor himself: Cary Elwes, hello. Westley from Princess Bride has gone full Evil Spader and wants the protesters, who are mad that Starcourt Mall has stolen their jobs, to go away. Hopper scoffs at the notion — it's a free country and all — but Mayor Kline flexes on the police chief by bringing up permits, or the lack thereof. (Nothing says peaceful and spontaneous protest like a need to get a permit first!) Hopper begrudgingly breaks up the protest and leaves to get ready for his big date with Joyce.
If only Joyce were as committed to the bit. She's still concerned about the magnets and, finding no help from the various library books she's taken out on electromagnetics, heads to Scott Clarke's house. The Hawkins Middle School teacher is rocking out to Weird Al and happily explains to Joyce how electromagnetic fields work. It seems that the only explanation besides coincidence is that someone is spending a lot of money and using a lot of power to generate an electromagnetic field the likes of which Hawkins has never seen before.
At dinner, Hopper is alone and drunk — but wearing a dope Hawaiian shirt right out of Magnum P.I. The police chief stumbles out of the restaurant and the camera lingers on ... our old pal Darth Drago.
Nancy and Jonathan: Nancy (Natalia Dyer) fools the Hawkins Post editor, Tom (Michael Park), into giving her the afternoon off so she can track down the Driscoll lead with Jonathan (Charlie Heaton). When they arrive at Driscoll's run-down home, it's set up like that scene in the trailer for It: Chapter 2 with Jessica Chastain and the creepy old lady. But this one ends better? At least slightly: Mrs. Driscoll leads them into her basement to show off half-eaten bags of fertilizer she claims the rats ingested. She also caught one, and we see it flipping out inside a cage. After Jonathan takes its pictures, the rat stops moving and starts writhing in pain. Good time for Jonathan and Nancy to leave! Lights flicker and soon the rat is pure goo. But no goo is goo for good? Because the corpse rat goo starts heading out to better circumstances.
Billy: The town moms are waiting for Billy to emerge for his daily Magic Mike routine, but Mrs. Wheeler (Cara Buono) leaves to intercept the teen beefcake before he comes out for the show. Mrs. Wheeler wants to explain why she didn't show up last night and finds Billy in the chemical storage area. As she talks, he whips around and smashes her head into the shelf. Uh-oh, she dead. Or is she? Billy snaps back to some kind of reality, dripping with sweat; Mrs. Wheeler is still alive. The vision of violence didn't happen. Billy tells Mrs. Wheeler to steer clear of him and then stumbles into the light like he just left the local strip club after an all-nighter.
When we next see Billy, it's actually the past. We're back at the cold open and the bully's doppelganger from the Upside Down tells himself that he wants Billy to build "what you see." Billy doesn't understand.
Back at the pool, Billy finds himself literally burning up in the sunlight. He takes a cold shower and when Heather (Francesca Reale), a fellow lifeguard, comes to check up on him, he attacks. It's nightfall now, and he takes Heather to the basement of the factory. "It'll all be over soon," he threatens and reassures. Soon, Heather is screaming as a monster comes out of the dark.
Burning Question: Uh, WTF Billy?
Movie of the episode: Max isn't Molly Ringwald and Eleven isn't Ally Sheedy, but that makeover montage scene was The Breakfast Club cosplay. Here for it. (Stream The Breakfast Club on numerous digital platforms, including Amazon.)
Quote of the episode: Mentioned this one above, but you'd have a hard time coming up with something better and more iconic than, "I dump your ass." Pity teen boys who scorn their girlfriends this summer and will likely hear that as retribution.
TV Guide Episode Rating: 4/5
Stranger Things 3 is now streaming on Netflix