Stranger Things 3, Chapter 3: The Case Of The Missing Lifeguard recap and analysis – it’s getting darker

DO YOU KNOW WHAT REALLY RUIN STRANGER THINGS 3? SPOILERS. THIS ARTICLE HAS LOADS OF THEM. TURN BACK IF YOU'VE NOT SEEN THIS EPISODE YET, COS IT'S A REALLY GOOD ONE.

Chapter 3 of Stranger Things 3 is the one where the plot strands really start coming together.

True to the show’s title, each season features a few strange things that turn out to be linked. So it’s worth a recap on what’s going on so far. 

We have the magnets – household magnets behaving strangely, which suggests the influence of an unnatural magnetic field, possibly caused by a giant electromagnet. We also have the rats, eating fertiliser and fleeing and – as we saw – turning into meat goo things. Then there’s Billy, Max’s brother, who had an encounter with a mystery man one night and seems to be acting under the influence of an evil entity. One of his actions was to kidnap Heather, his fellow lifegurd from the town pool, and who gives this chapter its title. 

But while this is going on, we’re also seeing a sensitive story unfold, one about adolescence and friendship and a growing rift in the central group of friends, some of who are in couples and others who are feeling left behind. Meanwhile, the effects of the events of Stranger Things 1 and Stranger Things 2 are finally becoming clear, as Hopper, Joyce and Will are showing PTSD-like symptoms. Joyce, we learn, has even put her house on the market – to Hopper’s great sadness. Here’s our breakdown of this dark and rain-sodden episode.

The big talking points

Eleven is becoming a proper teen

She and Max have formed a splinter group from the boys, and have discovered the world of teen magazines, fashion and Madonna.

The Robin / Steve romance looks likely

Well, Dustin has spotted it, even if Steve won’t admit it yet. “Man, she’s not my type, she’s not even in the ballpark of what my type is,” Steve tells his pal. “For your information she’s still in school, and she’s weird, she’s a weirdo. And she’s hyper. I don’t like that she’s hyper. And she’s in band? No.”

Stranger Things

Eleven is now a master of her powers

So far this season we’ve really only seen El use her powers to cause mischief, whether slamming the door on Hopper or handing out soda-based retribution to mean girls at the mall. In this episode, she uses them to turn detective, snooping on the boys, then Billy, then trying to find Hanna via her psychic projections. There’s an innovation too; where previously she needed white noise from a radio, she uses the sound of running water to access the meditative state while at the pool. 

Feminism is a strong theme

As well as Nancy’s professional struggle, Max and El are learning a lot about the way men think about women, not least when Lucas and Mike refer to women as “a totally different species”. This does not go down well with El. 

Will is not OK

The most human story in Chapter 3 is that of Will, who tries (pitifully) to engage his friends in a Dungeons & Dragons quest, even playing special music and dressing up for the role of Dungeon Master. He just wants “a day free of girls” but his friends are no longer interested. By the end of the episode, he’s sobbing, ripping up photos of his friends and smashing up their clubhouse, all while other stirrings in the Upside Down are coming to a head.

Interestingly, there’s also a hint that Will might be gay, as Mike says to him “It’s not my fault that you don’t like girls,” and Will runs off. 

Dungeons & Dragons foreshadows the plot again

Way back in the first season of Stranger Things, the boys were battling a boardgame monster known as the demogorgon, a name they borrowed for the petal-mouthed, razor-toothed entity that emerged from the Upside Down. In Will’s tragic campaign, he has his disinterested friends fighting zombies, only for Nancy and Jonathan to later find Mrs Driscoll, the old lady from Chapter 2, chewing on rats (or fertiliser? It’s dark) in a zombie-like state in her basement.

Stranger Things

There’s finally some acknowledgement of the events of the past

“After everything that’s happened, this is no joke,” Joyce tells Hopper when he poo-poos the magnet theory as her seeking out trouble. Finally. 

There’s something going down at the scene of the original Upside Down portal

Hopper and Joyce go to investigate the sealed-up facility and Hopper is attacked by a man. It’s difficult to tell in the dark, but is it the man who gave him a funny look at the restaurant in Chapter 2?

Robin cracks the Russian code

Well, it was never gonna be Steve was it. The “silver cat” is a Lynx delivery truck, the “trip to China” is a Chinese food concession, the “blue and yellow in the west” is a giant wall clock and “tread lightly” refers to a shoe store. Yup, the mall is a hub of some kind of nefarious activity. 

The big questions

What has Billy done to Heather, the lifeguard?

We’ve witnessed her in Billy’s boot, we’ve heard her screaming, but by the end of the episode, Heather, the missing lifeguard, is having dinner with Billy and her parents and behaving like a Stepford Wife. She appears to have poisoned her mother, who collapses, and attacks her father, Tom – editor of the newspaper where Nancy and Steve work, when he goes to help. 

What’s with the fertiliser, diesel and pesticides being consumed by rats?

While her arsehole colleagues (particularly looking at you, unnamed man with the Boris Johnson hair) mock “Nancy Drew” for chasing the story about the rats, cub reporter/office doormat Nancy knows there’s something in it. 

How is Billy seeing visions about Eleven?

Billy has a vision of El shutting down the Upside Down, and catches her when she’s snooping on him telepathically. There’s definitely a touch of the Upsies about him. 

When Will tells his friends “He’s back”, who exactly is he referring to?

At the end of the episode, Will comes clean about the Strange Things he’s been experiencing, but phrases it oddly: “He’s back”. Who? The demogorgon? Cos there were loads of them in Stranger Things 2. The Mind Flayer? Is that a he? Is it who’s been talking to Billy?

The best bits

Best new idea for a hangover cure – Hopper drinking shower water

Then orange juice straight from the carton. It doesn’t seem to work. 

STRANGER THINGS

Best ‘80s phrase for kissing: “swap spit”

Medievel D&D hats-off to Will.

Best ‘80s insult: “dickwad” 

Man in mall. Context “Watch it, dickwad”.

Best quote: Mike after burping: 

“Dude, you can smell the nacho cheese”

Other best quote: Max, to Eleven, on Billy

“When Billy is alone with a girl, they make really crazy noises – like happy screams. I’m just going to lend you my mom’s Cosmo.

Best ‘80s reference: Ralph Macchio’s swoonsome hotness

El, browsing Superteen magazine, stumbles on a picture of heartthrob Ralph Macchio. “Oh, you found Ralph Macchio,” says Max. “He’s the Kararte Kid – he’s so hot, right? I bet he’s an amazing kisser too…”

Other best ‘80s reference: Rick James, bitch!

The article about ’80s funkster and ’00s memester Rick James in the magazine that lifeguard is reading. Superfreaky!

Best ‘80s movie Easter Egg: the ubiquitous yellow rainjacket

As seen in all ‘80s films, but particularly It. Seen here on the bloke mowing the lawn, Max and on the guards at the mall depot. 

Other best ‘80s movie Easter Egg: two kids, one bike

Eleven and Max ride around on one bike (see: ET, Goonies etc) and there’s nothing more ‘80s than a backie.

Best stereotype: Russians are blonde and carry duffel bags

Thanks, Dustin.

The best songs in the Chapter 3 soundtrack

‘Things Can Only Get Better’ by Howard Jones
Soundtracks the spy scene.

Angel by Madonna
Madonna – the go-to soundtrack for the Eleven/Max gal-palship. 

‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’ by Wham
Playing at the exercise class, with its parade of Erick Prydz-approved activewear.

‘American Pie’ by Don McLean
Plays at Heather’s home, juxtaposing the violence. 

Check back for our Chapter 4 recap, coming soon.