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Stranger Things Season Three Episode 1: “Suzie, Do You Copy?” Is a Surprisingly Strong Opening

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At first glance, it can be hard to see beyond the pastiche of masturbatory 80’s nostalgia and overwrought costuming of Stranger Things‘ third season premiere, “Chapter One: Suzie, Do You Copy?”. But under the surface of the show’s now-familiar blueprint for season premieres lies one of the show’s more thematically rich hours, exploring the duality of evolution through its main characters, and the very changing fabric of American suburbia itself. For better or worse,  “Suzie, Do You Copy?” is still very much an episode of Stranger Things – but there’s an unexpected undercurrent of mature storytelling to every scene, a strong foundation for the show to build on, as it tries to recapture momentum following its 15-month hiatus.

Dustin’s makeshift device is an apt metaphor for the structure of Stranger Things 3‘s opening salvo: it is comfortably ramshackle, but surprisingly durable – and like the aforementioned radio, might just stumble across something powerful and special along the way.

There are two major new elements introduced in “Suzie, Do You Copy?,” both pertaining to the continued evolution of Hawkins, Indiana, and its young constituents. For the town, the introduction of a new shopping mall marks the end of capitalism’s golden age for small business; every business in town is closing, while the mall thrives both as a place of commerce, and the social center of every young teenager’s life. You can almost feel the rhythms of the town around the mall changing, as this monolithic, neon-adorned structure has quickly become the center of everyone’s life in town.

Stranger Things Season 3

“Suzie, Do You Copy?” reflects that dichotomy in subtle, meaningful ways: but where “Suzie, Do You Copy?” really manages to capture this idea is in the evolving emotional tenor of our beloved Hawkins crew: as the town awkwardly fumbles its way to maturity, the same is happening to the team, whose relationships are growing more complicated as romantic relationships develop, marking the end of the group’s innocent early dynamic. The group’s gotten bigger, more diverse, and experienced an exponential increase in hormones: and this leads to any number of expected conflicts and compromises, none more entertaining than watching Jim Hopper try to figure out how to talk to his supernaturally-powered teenage daughter about her constant make-out sessions with Mike.

Though “Suzie, Do You Copy?” is ostensibly an hour of checking in and catching up (bookended by two ominous scenes, because – well, duh, it’s a Stranger Things premiere), there’s careful attention to the shifts forming in its characters and its town, and the two-sided coin each of them represent. And to its credit, Stranger Things is able to convey the wrinkles these complexities throw into the fabric of the town and its relationships: while the show’s 80’s references begin to feel pandering and self-serving by the time “Suzie, Do You Copy?” gets through the last of its 1,371 brand logos, where it keeps from feeling stale is in its smaller character moments, richly textured scenes pushing the crew forward to new and exciting places.

Suzie, Do You Copy?

Smartly, the much-hyped premiere does slow down long enough to linger on a few meaningful moments – particularly with its older leads, from Steve’s disappointment in his new dead-end service career, to Joyce’s reluctance to engage with Jim romantically. The sadness in both scenes is palpable, giving the episode a much needed emotional undercurrent beyond “awww, look at the kids growing up in front of our eyes!” – and furthering the idea of evolution as a double-edged sword, in different and interesting ways.

There is still some classically heavy-handed material, though: Stranger Things doesn’t use such a careful touch with the trite material offered Nancy and her mother. While giving Nancy a job at the paper certainly makes an easier, more natural avenue to build out the underlying government conspiracies, putting both Wheeler women at the mercy of the men in their stories is a bit of a bummer, unnecessary moments that don’t really enhance the underlying drama the scenes naturally introduce. Nancy being stuck working under the most mensiest of White Men’s Clubs is one-note, if effective: Karen’s pursuit of Billy is just plain one-note, a rather unflattering portrayal of a woman unsatisfied with her husband (who, in his only appearance in the episode, is asleep on the couch with their daughter in his lap, as she gets ready to fuck the local lifeguard at the Motel 6).

Suzie, Do You Copy?

With some time and care, these stories might have time to blossom: but between the Russians trying to get into the Upside Down and whatever the shadow monster is doing with all those rat guts (can we just admit the shadow monster is just another take on the Man in Black?), it appears Stranger Things has other, more dramatic ideas it wants to focus on – which Nancy looks to be a major factor in, at the very least. With only eight episodes to work with, there isn’t a whole lot of time for this season to wax nostalgic or waste time with dead-end subplots (like Barb’s parents, who felt shoehorned into the plot of season two at the most convenient of moments).

Taken as a whole, “Suzie, Do You Copy?” is a surprisingly strong opening for the show’s much-anticipated third season: though a larger story could drown out the show’s well-developed relationship dynamics, the whirlwind of changes brought to the town and its people offers an engaging foundation for the series to build on, something more than the nostalgia porn it constantly falls back on in its emptiest moments. Like the ham radio Dustin sets up to try and talk to his (maybe imaginary) girlfriend, the structure of Stranger Things 3‘s opening salvo is comfortably ramshackle, and surprisingly durable, constructed such that (again, like the long-range radio) it might just stumble across something powerful and special along the way.

 

Other thoughts/observations:

  • whoever does the wig work for Billy’s hair should win every fucking Emmy that’s available.
  • Maya Hawke is introduced as Steve’s co-worker at the mall’s ice cream parlor, a bit of casting I’m particularly interested to see develop this season.
  • Jim Hopper smoking while hugging a pillow and trying to figure out how to tell Mike and Eleven to stop making out all the time is everything.
  • Does anyone give a shit about what the Russians are doing? I feel like Stranger Things only works on a small scale, and introducing these larger elements (like a second shadowy government) may be a bridge too far for this series.
  • Welcome to Stranger Things 3 reviews! I’ll be covering each episode over the next few days here at TV Never Sleeps, so make sure to follow us for the latest updates.

A TV critic since the pre-Peak TV days of 2011, Randy is a critic and editor formerly of Sound on Sight, Processed Media, TVOvermind, Pop Optiq, and many, many others.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Galmo

    July 6, 2019 at 4:05 am

    Okay, so all I have to say is how is the costuming overwrought? Made perfect sense to me, isn’t complicated, I watched the previous seasons, plus the “masturbatory” 80’s nostalgia, you know that the nostalgia is part of the main (subtle) theme of growth and moving on right? It’s not just moving on for one thing it’s moving on in general. Nostalgia is an element but it has a purpose beyond style, it didn’t surprise me that the start did so well, I watched prior seasons.

    • Randy Dankievitch

      July 6, 2019 at 4:56 pm

      Hey, I’m just a writer, sitting here drinking my Stranger Things-themed New Coke in my Stranger Things H &M shirt, while I kick my feet up in my official Stranger Things Nikes.

      (In all seriousness, I feel Stranger Things sometimes falls into the trap of channeling nostalgia not for the sake of evocative storytelling, but to stare at logos to sell sponsorships … I mean, this season has more tie-ins than Ghostbusters II and Frozen did combined.)

  2. Marblers

    July 6, 2019 at 4:09 am

    Criticism by itself is fine Randy but valid criticism is also preferred. Other than what is said at the start however it’s a well reasoned article usually.

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‘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.

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Mr Robot

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.

Mr Robot
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.

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Watchmen

Watchmen Podcast: Breaking Down “Little Fear of Lightning”

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Watchmen Podcast Episode 5

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.

Listen here on iTunes or listen here on Stitcher. 

You can also catch our show on Pocketcast and on Spotify, or simply listen via the player embedded below.

Before_The_Internet_Podcast-2-1024x1024

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Wrestling

The Career of Seth Rollins: From Face to Heel at Lightning Speed

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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.

Seth Rollins
The Shield stands together.

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.

Seth Rollins heel
Rollins turns heel and betrays The Shield.

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.

Rollins defeats Lesnar at WrestleMania.

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.

Rollins cuts another promo.

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.

Rollins faces The Fiend.

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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