‘Stranger Things 3, Chapter 2: The Mall Rats’ recap and analysis – boyfriends do lie, rats do turn into meat patty monsters and magnets do stuff

THERE ARE OBVIOUSLY MASSIVE SPOILERS FOR EPISODE 2 OF STRANGER THINGS 3 IN THIS AND YOU WILL EXPERIENCE ANGER THINGS IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN IT YET

Written and directed by series creators The Duffer Brothers, Chapter 2 of Stranger Things 3 features all the hallmarks of a great episode – endless ’80s references, great music, classic Hopper-bants and a creepy new creature. 

The big talking points

Billy is changed

Now, I’ve seen a few horror films in my time, and were this not Stranger Things, I’d be saying Billy is showing the classic symptoms of demonic possession and be booking an exorcist to pop round lickety split.

After being dragged away by the Blackburn barn in Chapter 1, Billy encounters a mysterious man (more later) and becomes a different person. Gone is the silky-tongued, ultra-groomed charmer; in his place is a sweaty, bloody, brooding psycho.

Some of the women still seem to think he’s fit, but Billy’s urges have changed from sexual to violent. He’s also affecting electrical items and is sensitive to light. Methinks he got a sniff of the ol’ Upside Down.

Stranger Things

Boyfriends do lie

Because Will was scared snogless by Hopper in Chapter 1, he makes up a story about a sick nana to excuse himself from another day stuck to Eleven’s face. She quickly sees through this, and hits him with her classic, heart-string-tugging catchphrase: “Friends don’t lie”. Max sets her straight: boyfriends do lie – ”all the time”. 

Read more: Stranger Things 3, Chapter 1 review

Lucas thinks he knows about women

Lucas tells Mike that he messes it up with Max all the time, but “I’ve launched back into battle and I’ve won her back every single time”. His solution? Buy Eleven a gift at the mall. Shame Mike only has $3.50 to his name. Special mention for the scene where they’re frozen rigid at the lingerie store. 

Mayor Kline (Cary Elwes) is a total arsehole

The business owners of downtown Hawkins are protesting against the mall ruining their community outside the Town Hall with the quite wonderful slogan “Mayor Kline’s a swine”. Kline’s response? To set a reluctant Hopper on them for not obtaining the correct permits first. Corruption runs deep in Hawkins. 

Nancy is taking her career into her own hands

Pissed off about not being taken seriously, Nancy takes it upon herself to investigate a call about rabid rats plaguing a sweet old lady’s home – and drags Jonathan along to shoot it. But those rats are behaving awfully strangely…

Dustin and Steve have a big reunion

One of the pure joys of Stranger Things 2 was the blossoming bromance between Dustin and Steve, which is rekindled in the time honoured fashion – a play swordfight – when Dustin heads down to Scoops Ahoy to find him. 

Dustin wants Steve to help him translate the Russian message he picked up in Chapter 1. “We could be heroes,” he tells him. “True, American heroes.” The problem? Steve is not so smart, unlike Robin, his co-worker and (we hope) future girlfriend. ““My ears are little geniuses, trust me,” she tells them. She and Dustin translate the phrase first heard in Chapter 1.

The big questions

What the flipping-flip was that rat-meat creature?!

After Jonathan leaves the cellar, the angry power-rat the old lady trapped explodes and turns into a sort of sentient meat patty, which smushes itself through the bars of the cage and escapes to freedom. We don’t know what it is, but we would check it was thoroughly cooked before eating one at a barbecue. 

Who is the man Billy met and what does he want?

That’s what Billy asks him after being dragged away at the barn. Later, in Billy’s possibly hallucinatory encounter with a young woman, she asks to be taken to him – and ends up in his car boot. We also find out the answer to Billy’s first question: “To build. I want you to build what you see.”

Fucking magnets, how do they work?

Yes, the Insane Clown Posse would approve of this subplot – that’s a lyric from their mind-bogglingly stupid 2010 song ‘Miracles’. 

Joyce, keeper of a tidy home, is noticing that her fridge magnets keep falling off, and the same thing is happening at the (now customer-free) downtown grocery store where she works. After struggling with a pile of textbooks, she enlists the help of Scott Clarke (Randy Havens), the science teacher. 

He explains that an artificial electromagnetic field could cause the odd behaviour in her household nick-nacks, but that it would require a massive AC transformer and “billions of volts of electricity” to reach both her house and the grocery store. Which couldn’t possibly happen in sleepy old Hawkins, could it?

Will Hopper and Joyce ever get it together?

To celebrate his parenting revolution and her part in helping him (even if he completely ignores her advice), Hopper invites Joyce for a fancy “not date” meal which is definitely a date – he even buys a too-jazzy (“cutting egde”, as he puts it) shirt. But she stands him up cos she’s so engrossed in her lesson about electro-magnetics from the science teacher. Come on, Joyce, the big fella loves you. 

Hopper and Joyce in Stranger Things

What’s gonna happen on Independence Day?

Mayor Kline plans to win the favour of the townspeople back with a big Fourth Of July celebration, which is in four days time. You cannot help but suspect that the events of Stranger Things 3 are going to come to a head with the first firework bang. 

What’s going on with Will’s neck?

As per Chapter 1. Still wanna know!

Who is the man giving Hopper the shit-eye at the restaurant?

When a drunk and dejected says “I can do anything I want, I’m the chief of police”, a shifty fella at the bar gives him a suspicious look. Who he?

Are the Russians in Hawkins?

Billy seems to be onto something – the song playing in the transmission is the same as a carousel horse ride in the Starcourt.

What is Billy going to do with the woman in his trunk?

We suspect it’s not what the women at the pool want to do with what’s in Billy’s trunks.

What does the coded Russian message mean?

“The week is long / The silver cat feeds / When blue meets yellow / In the west”. Those crazy commies, hey. 

Will Will ever get to play Dungeons & Dragons?

How many times does he have to ask?

The best bits

Best scene: Jim celebrates being the world’s most aggro dad

In Chapter 1, Hopper scares the bejesus out of poor, lovestruck Mike – and it works. When Eleven calls Mike in the morning to enquire why he hasn’t clocked on for his daily snog-a-thon yet, Mike makes up a story about a sick nana and says he can’t see her. Jim is beyond delighted, and drives to work bopping along to the strains of ‘You Don’t Mess Around With Jim’. “Getting to Mike, that was the key,” he tells Joyce. 

Best ‘80s homage – the mall makeover

The mall makeover is a staple of ‘80s teen movies, and Eleven and Max get stuck right in at the Starcourt. They try on ludicrous clothes (best outfit: Eleven’s yellow beret, braces and patterned blue shirt) and immediately wear them out of the shop; they have a photo session at the mall photo studio,and they get their own back on some mean girls thanks to Eleven’s telekinesis, all to the soundtrack of – yes – Madonna’s ‘Material Girl’. Molly Ringwald herself couldn’t have done it better. 

Stranger Things

Best line: Robin to Steve

“How many children are you friends with?”

It’s a fair question, Steve

Other best line: Dustin on his girlfriend

“She says kissing is better without teeth”

Other other best line: Jonathan to Nancy

“Why would rats want to eat a poor old woman’s fertiliser?”

It’s a fair question. But that fertiliser comes from Blackburns Farm Supply, which is the barn Billy broke down at, right?

Best ‘80s movie Easter Egg

On the wall in the old lady’s house is a Kit Cat Clock (the cat-shaped one with the wagging tail and shifty eyes), as featured in the demon-in-the-wires ‘80s classic Pulse, and a bazillion other films – including Back To The Future

Best ‘80s movie reference

Anyone else think Billy is acting remarkably like Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) and Louis Tully (Rick Moranis) in key keeper mode in the original Ghostbusters? Someone check if Zool is in the fridge, quick. 

Best blindingly obvious reference: The Rats, by James Herbert

A 1974 novel about a plague of super-rats, which was translated into 1982 film Deadly Eyes. 

Best new word we leaned: Apophenia

“Patterns that aren’t there. Coincidence.” Thanks, Clarke. 

The best songs on the Chapter 2 soundtrack

‘You don’t mess around with Jim’ by Jim Croce

Yeah, he’s big and dumb as a man can come/But he’s stronger than a country hoss” – Hopper’s theme song comes into its own.

‘Get Up And Go’ by The Go-Gos

Massively under-rated ‘80s power-pop group fronted by Belinda Carlisle. 

‘Cold As Ice’ by Foreigner

What else could soundtrack the moment where Eleven tells Mike: “I dump your ass”?

‘My Bologna’ by Weird Al Yankovic

Yes, it’s a food-based spoof of ‘My Sharona’ by The Knack, and it’s what Scott Clarke is listening to in his science garage/nerd cave.

‘Material Girl’ by Madonna

For that classic mall scene. 

Check back for our Chapter 3 recap, coming soon.