“Chapter Eight: The Battle of Starcourt,” the finale of the third season of Stranger Things, is super-sized in length and has a little treat hidden after the first round of credits. Plan accordingly…
Finally, everyone is under one roof. Of course, that doesn’t last long.
The grown-ups join the kids at Starcourt and everyone takes time to explain in detail what they’ve experienced. Using Alexei’s plan, Hopper (David Harbour), Joyce (Winona Ryder) and Murray (Brett Gelman) work through how they’ll save the day while the kids all leave in the station wagon to take shelter in Murray’s bunker until the whole thing is resolved. Fortunately, Erica (Priah Ferguson) and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) are no shrinking violets and speak up assertively to let the adults know how inevitable their deaths are if they try to do it without their insider info.
The adults are adamant about the kids not staying in the mall, but the kids are right, so they split the group into three teams.
- “Bald Eagle” and The Lovebirds: Murray, Joyce and Hopper. These three will infiltrate the Russian base, execute Alexei’s plan and blow up the “key” that is opening the gate.
- Scoops Troop: Dustin, Erica, Steve (Joe Keery) and Robin (Maya Hawke) will go to Dustin’s ham radio setup and act as remote navigators for the subterranean mission.
- Griswold family: Everyone else is supposed to get in the station wagon and get far from Hawkins, especially Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown). She’s injured from cutting out the remnant of Mind Flayer that was infecting her wound, and she’s what it’s after.
Hopper throws Steve the keys to their stolen car so he can drive Scoops Troop up to Dustin’s ham radio. Then he, Joyce and Murray follow the kids’ instructions to get down to the base via the elevator off the loading dock. When the door opens, they’re greeted by armed Russians. Murray tries to talk their way past them, but Hopper steps in and assassinates them with the assault rifle he took from one of the Russians Elle killed with the car upstairs.
Hopper instructs his crew to change into the uniforms of these dead Russians, and they make their way to the room full of acid tubes where they can access the duct that leads to the control room. Murray manages to talk his way past the next Russian they meet, then they’re successful in dispatching him into the duct to set the plan in action.
Steve gets Scoops Troop safely to the ham radio, and Dustin and Erica effortlessly guide Murray through the duct system to the panels that manage the key.
Despite the surprise of the soldiers at the elevator door, everything goes pretty smoothly for these teams, up to this point.
Meanwhile, nothing is going smoothly for the Griswold Family. When they get in the station wagon, it won’t start. Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) looks under the hood and can tell immediately that the car has been tampered with. Just then, headlights hit them and a car revs to life across the parking lot. Billy (Dacre Montgomery) is watching them, threatening them with his vehicle and clearly responsible for the car trouble. And if he knows where they are, and is keeping them there, then his master knows where they are as well and is coming.
The Griswold Family runs back into the mall, unable to reach Scoops Troop by walkie for help. Jonathan realizes that he can salvage the part he needs to fix the station wagon from the car Elle threw at the Russians– if they can flip it back over so he can open the hood. The kids try unsuccessfully to push it away from the counter it’s resting against, and Elle steps up to offer to do it herself. She’s freaked when her powers aren’t strong enough to do more than wiggle it. Fortunately, these are nerds, so Mike (Finn Wolfhard) suggests the powers of physics to get the job done, and everyone uses the stanchions that once roped off the car to lever it off the counter.
Before they can get outside with their salvaged part and get away, the Mind Flayer arrives. They hear it on the glass roof high above the food court before it crashes through and sends them scattering for shelter. They do their best to evade it, and thanks to Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) creating a distraction with his slingshot, they’re all able to get through stores into the service corridors behind them and out of the mall.
Nancy (Natalia Dyer), Jonathan, (Noah Schnapp) and Lucas get to the station wagon, and Jonathan quickly fixes it– although maybe not quickly enough. Billy is still there, and this time he hits the gas and drives madly towards them. Nancy tries to hold him off with a pistol she took from a dead Russian, but it’s Steve who saves the day! Scoops Troop saw the mall’s lights going crazy from their high vantage point, and Steve and Robin raced there in the convertible just in time to plow into Billy’s car and save the Griswolds.
They all pile into the station wagon and drive away, with the Mind Flayer on their tail and baskets of fireworks strapped to the roof.
Back at the mall, Elle, Max (Sadie Sink) and Mike exit a different way. Unfortunately, Billy is just staggering out of his wrecked and flaming car when they do, and as soon as he sees them, the Mind Flayer abandons the station wagon and heads back to the mall.
Billy overpowers Max, Mike and Elle, knocking all three unconscious behind The Gap. He leaves Max and Mike where they are and takes Elle back to the food court to lay her out sacrificially for the Mind Flayer. He leans in close to her, advising her to try to stay still. The Mind Flayer approaches, ready to do add her to its collection.
Just then, the Griswolds launch an attack on the monster from the second floor, throwing bundles of lit fireworks at it and creating space for Elle to try to escape. Billy won’t let her get away that easily, though. He pins her down with his body, his face close to hers. Suddenly she flashes back to his memories that she saw when she was searching for the source, and she reaches out to him with the one of him surfing in front of his beautiful mother.
This breaks through to the Real Billy. His tears fall on her, and she reaches up to caress his face. When the Griswolds run out of fireworks and the monster returns its attention to her, Billy stands in its way and sacrifices himself to save her. Bittersweetly, he does this just as Max and Mike rejoin the fight and Max watches her brother die.
Beneath the ground, and completely unaware of what’s happening above them, Bald Eagle and The Lovebirds are doing great. Murray causes chaos amongst the Russians by yanking wires out of panels beneath the key, giving Joyce and Hopper the opening to get the literal keys that will shut it down.
They hit their next snag when the code Murray’s given them for the safe in which the keys are kept is wrong. Murray admits over the radio that he may have misremembered Planck’s constant, the code, and Dustin springs into action. He switches channels on the ham radio and calls out for Suzie (Gabriella Pizzolo). She answers, and he feigns a reason for her to switch to the channel where everyone will be listening when she clarifies Planck’s constant. She’s real!
Unfortunately, she also has a condition. Dustin has been MIA for days, and she’s been waiting for his call. If he wants her help saving the world, he’ll need to give her what she wants before she gives him anything. He knows they’ll have an audience, so he tries to get out of it, but the need is too great, and he finally concedes to a duet of the theme from The Neverending Story. This is awesome.
As soon as the song ends, she tells him the digits that comprise the number and Erica ends the transmission before he can get any more embarrassing.
The new digits work, and Joyce and Hopper proceed to the control panel with keys in hand, ready to end the whole thing. But nothing goes that smoothly in Hawkins, and Hopper’s nemesis Russian thug appears as if on cue. He and Hopper have a knock-down, drag-out fight that moves from the control room down onto the catwalk next to the key (ray gun, which is still operational at this point and getting increasingly unstable).
The fight seems to go on forever, but Hopper eventually prevails. While the boys are scuffling, Joyce figures out a way to turn both keys simultaneously by herself. She’s ready to go as soon as Hopper dispatches the Russian by tossing him into the ray-gun key. This creates a field of energy so crazy between Hopper and the control booth that he and Joyce silently acknowledge with their eyes that the date they’ve finally made for the following Friday night will never happen. She turns the keys, the ray-gun key explodes and Hopper is gone.
Armed Russians come pouring into the control room, and Joyce and Murray dart out to escape the way they came in as the gate closes and the tool that opened it settles into smoldering wreckage.
When the gate closes, the Mind Flayer dies, and the extended Griswold family is safe.
And just then, in the moment that the crisis is resolved, the cavalry arrives in the form of American military choppers flying low over Dustin and Erica before encircling the mall. Soldiers stream from them, accompanied by Dr. Sam Owens (Paul Reiser). He received Hopper and Joyce’s messages and took them seriously.
By the time he and his troops infiltrate the base, though, there’s nary a sign of a Russian. Just room after room of abandoned equipment and one glowing scar on a particular wall.
Three months later, it’s time for Joyce and her boys… and her new daughter, Eleven… to move on from Hawkins and its many bad memories. She’s sold their house, and all of the friends have come to help them load their moving truck. It’s teary and difficult for all of the friends to say goodbye to each other, but they do.
While she’s packing a shirt of Hopper’s that she’s kept, Joyce discovers the speech he worked on with her for Mike and Elle. Elle walks in at that moment, and Joyce gives her the speech to read. It turns out we’d only heard the intro before, and the full text is a meditation on feelings and appreciation for how healing his role as Elle’s dad was for him.
With promises of visits between Elle and Mike (and her telling him she heard him say he loved her and she loves him, too) and teary kisses between Jonathan and Nancy, and many soppy hugs amongst the rest of the gang, the Byers-plus-Eleven drive off into a new chapter.
And as they do, somewhere in darkest Russia, a captive is taken from a cell in a gulag and shoved down myriad flights of stairs until he is in a cage deep underground. He begs for mercy, but instead a door opens in the wall behind him and a Demodog emerges and pounces. This prisoner is done for, but as the guards said to each other when fetching him from a row of cells, “Not the American.”
And that’s about it! Sure, I skipped the exposé a news program is going to do about the possibly cursed town of Hawkins and the downfall of its disgraced Mayor. And I skipped that Steve and Robin get jobs at a video store since the mall burned down. And I skipped that Max is sad about the death of her brother. And that the kids gifted Erica all of the D&D stuff Will left behind so she can blossom into the full flower of her nerd identity. And that Elle’s powers still hadn’t returned by the time she left town. But I just told you there, so we’re good! What did you think of the season??