Friday, July 5, 2019

REVIEW: 'Stranger Things' - Epic Sacrifices Are Made to Protect the Heroes of Hawkins in 'Chapter Eight: The Battle of Starcourt'

Netflix's Stranger Things - Episode 3.08 "Chapter Eight: The Battle of Starcourt"

Terror reigns in the food court when the Mind Flayer comes to collect. But down below, in the dark, the future of the world is at stake.

In 2018, there were 495 scripted shows airing amongst the linear channels and streaming services. The way people are consuming content now is so different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, there is less necessity to provide ample coverage of each specific episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site is making the move to shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the next episode of Netflix's Stranger Things.

"Chapter Eight: The Battle of Starcourt" was written by The Duffer Brothers and directed by The Duffer Brothers

The inevitability of aging and change has been a powerful theme this season. At times, the show has struggled to move past the formula that has worked very well in the past. The escalation of tension and the specific plot beats that revolved around the conclusion felt familiar. The audience had the basic understanding of what was going to happen next even though the horror beats were still well executed. This finale manages to pull off a number of surprises that show the creative team has no interest in telling things the same way as before. They know that they need to do things differently in order to keep everyone engaged and to continue challenging this world and its characters. Sure, the ultimate cover-up of the massive attack this season may happen too easily. Dr. Owens and the government roll in to say that a major fire at the Starcourt Mall led to the deaths of dozens of people who all formed the Mind Flayer. It can all be blamed on the corrupt mayor who allowed his city to be sold off no matter how unsafe and terrorizing it would be for his citizens. It's a convenient cover story. But the loss of life is significant. It forever changes who these people are and if they will continue to feel safe in this world. There is always the impulse to keep things as happy and stable for as long as possible. And yet, the world is constantly changing. Friendships evolve and grow. Sometimes it's not always for the better. Will frequently thought that his friends were leaving him behind because of the girls in their lives. And now, El may potentially lose her powers. That's a stark new reality for her. It may remove the target from her back. She was always relied on to deal with any of the threats that came from the Upside Down. The government doesn't arrive until the keys have already been turned and the monster has been slain. But everything didn't once again revolve around El using her powers to protect this world from destruction. Instead, the rest of the ensemble truly stepped up. Sure, it's scary to watch as the teens are all trapped in the mall because the Mind Flayer has arrived with Billy lurking just outside preventing them from leaving. But it's just as rewarding to see Lucas' plan of using fireworks also working when it comes to subduing this beast. They aren't permanent injuries. The Mind Flayer is still capable of healing itself. But it's also enough of a distraction that allows everyone to rally together to save El. She is an innocent girl who can be hurt just as easily as her friends without her powers. That's a brutal realization as well. She is often looked at to save the world. She had to be hidden because of whatever corrupt forces may want to abuse her skills. But she's also just a teenager striving for her own identity and independence. She blends in with her friends here even though she's responsible for getting the Mind Flayer out of her leg. And yet, it's impossible for her to move even the simplest of objects afterwards. She can't crush a can as easily as she did when she was younger. This may remove a significant part of her identity. But she is still worth saving. Everyone is willing to make that sacrifice to protect her because she is their friend. Even Billy gives his own life because El sees him in a way that no one else does. That's significant and actually makes his death a moving moment.

Of course, it's even more devastating when Hopper finds himself trapped in the room with the erratic key that will eliminate everyone left standing when the machine is turned off. Sure, it may be a forced plot point that may not stick in the longterm. However, it's very effectively handled in the moment. Hopper and Joyce have been bickering all season long. Hopper may not be as charming as everyone wants to believe him to be. And yet, he does want to protect the people that he loves. He wants to be there for Joyce and El. That just means he has to be willing to sacrifice himself in order to keep them safe. Joyce has to make that decision as well. She was willing to finally go out on a date with him. She saw the opening and was willing to take a chance on love once more. Once again though, her crush is taken away from her because of this crazy and disruptive world. She turns the keys and seals the gate to the Upside Down once more. The government arrives to ensure that she and Murray make it back to safety. But they return to a completely changed world. Everything is able to go back to normal. The citizens of Hawkins can continue living in the dark about what's truly going on in their town. Some reports may label it as a portal to hell. But most people will continue to be oblivious. That may be for the best. But it's also understandable why some of these characters may want to leave in search of something even better. That has to be fine and welcoming as well. It may be difficult in the moment. Mike and Nancy don't want to say goodbye to Jonathan and El. But they understand the importance of letting them go. That love will always be strong and apparent. These friends saved the world together three times now. But the pain can be absolutely deafening. It's so emotionally crushing to watch as Hopper disappears. It's even more so when El reads the heart-to-heart letter he wrote at the start of the season to outline boundaries for their changing relationship. He knows that he can't keep her contained forever. He also knows the world can be a brutal and painful place. And yet, he wants her to walk away with the confidence that any kind of pain can lead to something better and more beautiful. It may be tough right now but the future gets better so long as she leaves the door open for that potential. Everyone is making plans to stay in each other's lives no matter what happens. Mike has a schedule for when the visits will occur. All of this is a part of growing up. The people who are important to us throughout our childhoods may not stay in our lives forever. There is always the hope that those connections will remain strong. But the uncertainty of the future can be powerful as well. No one knows what will happen next. Sure, the show is already teasing that the Russians still managed to get a deadly weapon out of all of this. They emerge with their own demagorgan. That ensures that the future will remain just as precarious. And yet, the technology exists to keep these friends together even if the world conspires to keep them apart. They may always be counted on to save the world together. That may not always be pleasant. It may get in the way of what they truly want to do. It may perpetually keep them in danger. However, it will forge these bonds for the rest of their lives no matter what happens.