“E Pluribus Unum,” despite its dramatic first act and ominous final moments, is a rather formless episode of Stranger Things 3, stuck in narrative purgatory between the beginning and end of its story. Smartly, “E Pluribus Unum” tries to bide its time by digging into the various relationships and conflicts its built underneath the external dramas of Russian scientists and the Mind Flayer’s (second) return: however, its execution of this idea is surprisingly unremarkable, an uneven script ultimately limiting its own dramatic and emotional impact.
There are moments of “E Pluribus Unum” that are exciting, hilarious, and dangerous: but those moments are frequently undercut by Stranger Things 3‘s continued issues with pacing and character.
It’s a major disappointment, because there are a number of moments in “E Pluribus Unum” that offer a sense of tension much of Stranger Things 3 has lacked: especially with characters like Nancy and Steve, who are pushed to their absolute limits at various points in the episode, their reactions helping reiterate their defining traits. Sure, much of this is retreading old water – Steve is a lovable doofus, and Nancy’s persistence is her power – but how Stranger Things incorporates these moments into its larger, more dramatic scenes is wildly satisfying (particularly with Steve, whose transformation from dickhead to lovable dumb ass has proved to be a surprisingly rewarding character arc).
Steve sacrificing himself to make sure Erica and Dustin can escape is a profoundly familiar dramatic moment – but in the context of Stranger Things 3, seeing Steve make a logical decision to protect his friends takes on powerful weight about the shared responsibility of friendship and community. Stranger Things 3 has struggled to convey a lot of things – emotional maturity, a sense of progression, a nostalgic sensibility not completely fueled by advertising dollars – but as a conduit to explore more fundamental ideas about the power of shared experience, “E Pluribus Unum” finds fertile ground with a character like Steve.
However, this idea strangely isn’t applied evenly across the episode: look no farther than the arcs of Robin and Erica, to see the chasm in how Stranger Things struggles to find consistency in this realm. On one side is Robin, who’s quickly grown into one of the show’s richest, most rewarding characters: she spits in the face of the angry Russians, and breaks into laughter when she realizes she might die with the very same asshole she had a crush on back in high school. Maya Hawke’s been an absolute boon for Stranger Things, one of the few concrete examples of the show’s growth over the years – both in how it develops its female characters, and by proxy, to Steve’s transformative arc across three seasons.
(Of course, Stranger Things 3 can’t have a good moment without shoving its foot in its mouth at some point – it’s not long before Robin is telling Steve she just wanted to be a popular kid, like all the “loser” kids want to be, a laughably inauthentic moment for a character we all know would see Original Steve, and laugh at what a superficial asshole he was.)
Erica unfortunately represents the other side of this very coin: treated more as an intrusion on the group dynamics than an integration, Erica’s presence is a working counterpoint to everything this show’s done well this season. Her only definitive traits are her brash arrogance, and her relation to the only other black character on the show: the former of which feels poorly constructed in the presence of someone like Robin, and the latter of which is embarrassingly revealing of Stranger Things and its clumsy, occasionally damaging whiteness.
This inconsistent approach to theme plays out all across “E Pluribus Unum,” and leads to some seriously strange dynamics, led by the kitchen conversation between Nancy, Jonathan, and our gang of adolescent protagonists. While Eleven searches through the Water Zone (official name change) for any signs of Billy or the other Flayed in Hawkins, Mike is getting into an argument with Max over a number of Eleven-related subjects: her autonomy over her powers, the forming of her “new” identity, and Mike’s over-protective instincts to protect the first girl he ever loves. In a single breath’s worth of dialogue, Mike is an asshole, an empath, and a disgruntled, horny teenager: while it is easily forgotten in the mix of the larger dramatic beats of the scene, it only amplifies the struggles of Stranger Things 3 to keep its plot in sync with its characters at times.
The low light, of course, comes when El steps into Billy’s mind in an attempt to find the source of all the mind flaying and body melting in Hawkins. Billy’s been an enigma Stranger Things cannot seem to figure out: their attempts to built out a more intimidating, cool version of Daniel Desario have been flat and uninspired, too focused on the abuse-fueled sense of masculinity he is defined by. “E Pluribus Unum” offers a hint of something more emotionally ripe – he was abandoned by his mother to live with his abusive father – but the brief series of tritely-written flashbacks El sees don’t really give voice to Billy’s character in an evocative way. It feels desperate and pandering, in a way that exploring Eleven or Will’s major life traumas never felt: the emotional space those occupied were vast and powerful, while Billy’s struggles are reduced to a single sympathetic bullet point in a scene with other priorities.
The other major component of “E Pluribus Unum,” is remarkable in both its pointlessness, and its strange presence as a comedy sequence in an otherwise dramatic, ominous hour: Joyce and Hopper spend nearly the entire episode trying to get information we already know – and more importantly, information Joyce would learn if she fucking checked in on her children once in awhile! Though Mike turning into a douchebag has been a relatively weird flip (teenagers are often dickheads, after all), seeing Joyce suddenly drop the protective barrier she keeps around her children’s been wildly disconcerting.
On one hand, it’s great to see Joyce released from her constant anxiety around Will’s mental state: but that space has just been occupied by an obsession with magnets, a detail whose lack of importance is revealed during Murray’s translations (… of information we’ve already had explained to us twice, begging the question of why the writers just didn’t find ONE SCENE for these two groups of people to communicate in the past four episodes). Isolated in their little corner of Murray’s makeshift apartment, Stranger Things has completely unmoored Joyce from the main narrative of the show, frustratingly pairing her with the increasingly obnoxious Hopper (whose behavior is somehow fucking justified in this hour when Alexei doesn’t run away and disappear, “Pine Barrens” style).
There are moments of “E Pluribus Unum” that are exciting, hilarious, and dangerous: but those moments are frequently undercut by the season’s continued issues with pacing and character, culminating in the odd amalgamation of images conveying El’s trip into Billy’s head. As Stranger Things moves into its home stretch, it may be too late for it to deliver on the more enticing elements of early episodes – but with the various groups around Hawkins finally set to collide with each other in the final two hours, there’s still hope for this season to finish gracefully.
- there’s also a scene where Grigoli threatens the mayor inside a festival ride. Does anybody care about this plot? The show certainly doesn’t seem to, given how there was one (1) riot about the mall before everybody forgot.
- I’m sorry, but even though “E Pluribus Unum” is a solid nod to the Flayer’s newly formed body, it is a bad Stranger Things episode title.
- Yes, bring in the US government to shut down the secret Russian facility! That’s going to go well!
- I really want to like Max as a character, but it feels like Stranger Things has no idea who she is (especially now that she’s not skateboarding anywhere).
- I’ll ask again: where the fuck are Curtis and Erica’s parents???
- why do the Russians have A) a cattle prod, and B) a torture doctor who looks like a knockoff Batman villain?
‘Mr. Robot’ Just Changed Everything with a Shocking Reveal
There have been a lot of moving parts put into place over the course of Mr. Robot’s fourth season. Several of them just came together, in devastating fashion.
There have been a lot of moving parts put into place over the course of Mr. Robot‘s fourth, and final, season. On Sunday night, however, several of those pieces came together for one of the best episodes of the entire series in “Proxy Authentication Required”.
The reveal of a trauma so intense and horrific allows the character of Elliot to make so much more sense – so much so it almost warrants an entire series rewatch, to search for other hints.
Staged like a five act play, and utilizing a cinematic aspect ratio, “Proxy Authentication Required” immediately lets viewers know that it’s doing something a little different. While this may not be a huge surprise for fans (Mr. Robot just did a dialogue-free episode two weeks ago, among other experimental efforts throughout the series) the reason for it is fitting.
Essentially a bottle episode, “Proxy Authentication Required” takes place entirely in the apartment of Elliot’s former therapist, Krista. As such, the five act structure makes it even more like a play than it already is. Moreover, the episode is very dialog heavy, with almost no action.
Still, with a meaty chess match between Elliot/Mr. Robot and drug dealer Fernando Vera making up the majority of the episode, the dialogue is weighty enough to justify this structure. The first round goes to Vera, who obviously has Elliot over a barrel, having kidnapped both he and Krista. However, Mr. Robot turns the tables in the second round, pointing out the lack of originality or planning in Vera’s drug-fueled, mystically-advised bid to take over New York City.
Finally, the third round comes: the tie breaker. As Fernando orders Krista to have an impromptu therapy session with Elliot, the most shocking reveal in the series is laid bare. After a tense build-up, and against the protests of both Krista and Mr. Robot, Elliot finally digs up the truth behind his alter ego. Mr. Robot wasn’t created after Elliot had an accident, he was created to protect Elliot from a series of traumas that came before it.
In an emotional moment sold gloriously by Rami Malek, Elliot accepts the truth: his father molested him throughout his childhood. In one fell swoop, so much of what we know about Elliot suddenly makes sense – and the fact that Mr. Robot looks like his dad is just the beginning. There’s also the details of the trauma that we’ve had up until now: that Elliot told Darlene to hide when he heard his dad coming; that he grabbed a bat to defend himself – and, finally, that he threw himself from the window when he feared he couldn’t best his father in the altercation.
The reveal of a trauma so intense and horrific allows the character of Elliot to make so much more sense – so much so it almost warrants an entire series rewatch, to search for other hints. Certainly it’s more logical that Mr. Robot was created out of these terrible memories rather than materializing after the injuries sustained during Elliot’s fall. It also lets the viewer know that Mr. Robot had a history of altering Elliot’s perception and memories long before the events of the series.
Even more disturbing is that the creation of false narratives and fake memories is actually a real-life coping mechanism used by survivors of sexual abuse, especially children. As such, the reveal fits naturally into the character of Elliot – but it’s a huge shock to drop on the audience a mere three episodes before the end of the show.
Of course, the reveal will no doubt ignite debates as to whether Mr. Robot creator and showrunner Sam Esmail planned this backstory from the start, or whether it was concocted as a wrench to throw in the gears at the last minute. Either way, questions remain as to how this new information will affect the remainder of the series.
Will Mr. Robot be back or is he gone for good, now that his job of protecting Elliot from the truth has become obsolete? Did/does Darlene know? Will this affect the plan to hack the Dark Army that has been building all season? All of these questions and more will be answered in the next three weeks but in the meantime, we’ll be waiting with baited breath.
Watchmen Podcast: Breaking Down “Little Fear of Lightning”
This week, Watchmen delves into Looking Glass’s past and revisits one of the biggest events from the comic: the “interdimensional” squid attack on New York that kills over three million people and psychologically damages millions more. “Little Fear of Lightning” the finest hour yet, a focused character study that connects past and present in fascinating ways. And as always, there’s a lot to digest.
Our Watchmen podcast will see Simon Howell and an assortment of guests tackle the entire series (or at least the first season). In this fifth episode, Simon Howell, Sean Colletti, and Randy Dankievitch, take a deep dive into “Little Fear of Lightning” and note some of the more astonishing facts of the episode you might have missed.
And for those of you wondering, in order to keep things simple, we’ve decided to upload each episode to the same feed as our other podcast, Before the Internet.
The Career of Seth Rollins: From Face to Heel at Lightning Speed
It wasn’t that long ago that The Shield debuted on Survivor Series, setting the main event careers of three talented wrestlers in motion. Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns, and Seth Rollins all came to the WWE through NXT. In and out of The Shield, each man has held multiple championships and has had great success.
These days, look a lot different for the former Shield members. Dean Ambrose left the WWE for AEW to wrestle again as Jon Moxley and Roman Reigns took a step back from the spotlight after warring with cancer. Meanwhile, the career of Seth Rollins has taken a turn of its own.
Becoming Seth Rollins
Colby Lopez joined the WWE in 2010 as part of Florida Championship Wrestling under the name Seth Rollins. He was there when it was re-branded in 2012 as NXT and became their inaugural champion. Seth Rollins turned heel in epic fashion by betraying The Shield and embarking on a huge singles career after his main roster debut.
Rollins hitting his Shield brothers with a steel chair still rates as one of the most shocking turns in WWE history.
More recently, Rollins had two wars against Brock Lesnar over the Universal Championship. Rollins won the Royal Rumble, using the title shot he earned to beat Lesnar at WrestleMania. Then, Lesnar somehow won a Money in the Bank match he wasn’t technically involved in. He used that shot to get his belt back. Rollins would then reclaim the title at SummerSlam.
It was a repetitive feud.
Rollins vs. Lesnar Into Infinity
The back and forth between Rollins and Lesnar became exhausting to fans. Not shockingly, WWE viewers were already sick of Lesnar being an absentee champion by the point that Reigns finally took him down. When he reclaimed the belt after Roman’s cancer announcement, the focus turned to Rollins hunting Lesnar.
Even when someone else like AJ Styles or Baron Corbin got in the mix, fans knew they wouldn’t win. It was always going to be about Lesnar and Rollins so fans started to turn on Rollins. His Hell in a Cell match against ‘The Fiend’ Bray Wyatt was the final nail.
Top Face or Top Heel?
There was a time long ago that fans over the age of eight cheered for John Cena when he came out to the ring. At some point, it became cooler to boo him. The same is true of Roman Reigns, who had to go through a traumatic personal experience to get fans to ease up on him. In both cases, they were the corporate champions chosen to lead the brand.
In reality, fans didn’t really care if they were good wrestlers or not. It’s just something they chafe against.
The boos echoing through the arena are growing louder and louder for Seth Rollins for similar reasons. That’s due in no small part to the long, tedious promos he’s sent out to give to personally connect with the audience. Play that card too often and the opposite becomes true. WWE was frequently guilty of the same thing with both Cena and Reigns.
Watch the video from the night when Reigns made the announcement of his hiatus to fight cancer. Fans were reflexively booing him because they figured they were in for another long promo. The mood changed quickly when Roman started talking about leukemia.
Things Go Wrong at Hell in a Cell
All of this was already building to a head when Hell in a Cell came along.
Universal Champion Seth Rollins was set to defend his title against ‘The Fiend’ Bray Wyatt in the titular main event. Unfortunately, WWE had painted themselves into a corner. They wanted Seth to retain, which he did, but couldn’t use the traditional DQ or count out to do it. Instead, WWE went for some weird finish where Seth hurt Wyatt so much so the ref stopped the match.
Essentially, a DQ in a no DQ match.
Rollins became the focus of much of the rage for the bad finish but the feud between him and Wyatt would continue. Wyatt finally won the Universal Championship and took it back to SmackDown. The side effect of this would be Lesnar returning to Raw with the WWE Championship.
It’s inevitable that Rollins and Lesnar will cross paths for the WWE Championship. Unfortunately, fans will have to choose between the two. They’ll end up cheering Rollins on as the lesser of two evils from their perspective.
The main miscalculation that WWE made at Hell in a Cell is the same one they made with Reigns and Cena. They assumed that being the top face in a match makes you the fan-favorite. Bray Wyatt is, by far, the most over wrestler in the company. People love Firefly Fun House and they love ‘The Fiend.’ Rollins simply couldn’t compete as any ending that wasn’t Wyatt with a belt would not be satisfactory to fans.
Seth Rollins’ Next Phase
Now, Rollins is stuck in a weird limbo. The top face on Raw for management that’s morphing into a heel based on fan opinion. His heel run alongside Triple H was some of his best work and he is still a superb in-ring performer. WWE should let what’s going to happen by letting Rollins perform to his strengths.
Let Rollins burn it down as a heel one more time.
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