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Stranger Things Season Three Episode 8: “The Battle of Starcourt” Is Loud, Heartwarming, and Hollow

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“The Battle of Starcourt” is not just the end of Stranger Things 3‘s wildly uneven third season: it intentionally marks the end of an era for the series: with the Russians cemented as part of the larger narrative, and the Joyce family moving out of Hawkins, it feels like the end of the small town, suburbia-in-a-snow-globe storytelling the very show it built on. The mall is destroyed, the mayor disgraced, and Dustin gave up the group’s Dungeons & Dragons books to Erica – and yet, on the precipice of great change, the end of Stranger Things 3 feels like an underwhelming conclusion of the story so far, and a less-than-intriguing tease of where the series may head.

For all its loud, dramatic moments and expensive special effects, “The Battle of Starcourt” feels like a lumpy, undercooked conclusion to Stranger Things 3.

Part of the problem is the inconsistent crescendo to Stranger Things 3: many of the stories teased in early episodes – the slow dissolution of the group, Mike and Hopper’s emotional maturity, the effect of the mall on Hawkins – are simply waved away as the season continues on, and begins to drill down on the Mind Flayer 2.0 Meets Vague Russian Subplot that compromises the central story. Though it only takes place across the space of a week, many of these beats are completely forgotten by the end – especially when it comes to non-El females, like Nancy’s interest in journalism, Max’s familial conflicts, or Karen Wheeler’s mid-life crisis.

Stranger Things The Battle of Starcourt

It also didn’t help that so many of these stories felt undeniably familiar: El struggling to find her identity outside of her powers, Joyce chasing threads down rabbit holes, and the Mind Flayer hanging on the edges of the narrative all felt like repeats of what came before: which would be interesting, if there was some sign Stranger Things 3 really wanted to push its characters.

What becomes clear across “The Battle of Starcourt” is that Stranger Things 3 is not really a definitive season of the series: taken as a whole, it feels more like an intermission, barely able to register any of its external dramas as something meaningful. The closing montage about Hawkins and its changed identity is the most potent of these: a series of newspaper stories (not written by Nancy, of course) detailing the fallout of the Flayer/Russian presence are about as close as Stranger Things 3 gets to offering something intriguing (a brief shot of Paul Reiser reprising his role from last season is another, but fades when it means the oppressive American institutes from early on are bound to return in a big way next season).

Stranger Things The Battle of Starcourt

All of this makes “The Battle of Starcourt,” for its loud, dramatic moments and expensive special effects, feel like a lumpy, undercooked conclusion to this third season. Save from the (obviously fake) “death” of Hopper and the Joyce family leaving Hawkins, Stranger Things 3 carries no weight in its final episode, hoping the adrenaline rush from the very busy scenes of its titular setting can obfuscate the absolute lack of depth at the heart of its story.

Look at characters like Max and Jonathan, who leave season three as husks of the people they once were: Max is seemingly unaffected by her brother’s death, and Jonathan mopes from scene to scene, his only speaking dialogue coming when he needs to tell Nancy that everything’s going to be ok (I could probably count the number of lines he spoke to non-Nancy characters this season on one hand). These characters existed in this season as empty vessels of plot – for a story that really goes nowhere, strangely refusing to sit in the aftermath of the big event it spent all season building to.

That’s not to say “The Battle of Starcourt” is a completely empty 75 minutes: be it Curtis’s latest heroic moment, Joyce’s strength under pressure, or the resilience displayed by everyone when Eleven’s life was on the line, “The Battle of Starcourt” utilizes its grand showdown well, as an effective barometer for how much these characters mean to the audience. But it is clearly running on fumes by the time it gets there, only able to repeat itself (Will rubs his neck, El fights through pain, Curtis saves the day, Hopper survives a fight, etc.) rather than deliver something exciting, and different.

Stranger Things The Battle of Starcourt

Stranger Things 3 posited itself as a story of maturity, of diving into the complications of personal, professional, and societal evolution: and it effectively delivered on none of those promises. It’s really a deft little trick it pulls: it introduces ideas it never intends to develop, pushing characters away from each other until the very last minute, when it’s too loud and too late for anyone to notice the rug’s being pulled from underneath them.

That may be a slightly incendiary phrase to use for a perfectly competent season of television: but that fear or disinterest in engaging with the most powerful moments of conflict it presented – those that would come after the dust settles from the monster’s attack and Billy’s death – it completely skips over, in favor of setting up the next set of extremely-familiar mysteries, the most interesting of which (El with no powers) is easily the most predictable move Stranger Things could’ve made.

Admittedly, I’d held out hope Stranger Things would finally be able to take its insanely gorgeous production values, and marry them with some developed storytelling and character work: but Stranger Things 3 just wants to be popcorn entertainment, which makes its suggestions of being something more nuanced (and ultimately rewarding) even more disappointing, in a way. The miscalculation of my expectations aside, it’s hard to see how anyone could find “The Battle of Starcourt” a satisfying conclusion to this season – or more importantly, as a culmination of the entire Hawkins arc across 25 episodes, which effectively comes to an end when the Joyce family leaves town, and the post-credits scene moves to a prison in Russia.

Stranger Things The Battle of Starcourt

Where Stranger Things goes in its already-confirmed fourth season is an absolute mystery: but as its eyes get larger, “The Battle of Starcourt” proves that its stomach is not necessarily up to the task. While I’d love to see this show morph into a Steve/Robin buddy comedy, that’s just not what Stranger Things is, or wants to be: unfortunately, what it reveals itself to be in its season finale is much smaller, and more superficial.

Stranger Things 3 is a classic case of story first, character second: on a series that took such painstaking care in early episodes to reverse this formula, it makes these eight episodes particularly disappointing. Especially because the building blocks are right there: look beyond the thin plotting and annoying brand synergy (hey, New Coke again!), and there are hints of a really strong coming-of-age series.

Those threads, unfortunately, feel lost by the end of “The Battle of Starcourt,” which plays a Paul Simon cover while the gang says goodbye to the Joyce family, and we get a particularly empty, self-serving monologue of Hopper reading a speech he never delivered (more about him in the observations below). It pulls at the heart strings, yes – but for characters and friendships we’ve seen backgrounded in season three, with its multiple mysteries chasing down Russian translations, electromagnetic manuals, and Starcourt blueprints. Somewhere along the way, Stranger Things lost a bit of its soul in “The Battle of Starcourt” – and I’m not sure whether it’ll be able to find it again, in the rubble left behind from this explosive finale.

Other thoughts/observations:

  • Ok, so Hopper’s disappearance is obviously being played, and an obvious thread for season four to pull. To which I say: who fucking cares. I don’t believe Joyce really wanted to go on a date with him at the end of the season, and the whole “I’m just a rugged guy out of touch with my feelings” letter we heard the text from was pandering, at best. I’m just about over Hopper’s self-destructive tendencies, and his incessant asshole-ishness.
  • Boy, Billy’s character really didn’t pay off in any way possible (and his death feels so utterly weightless by the time the credits roll). Such a waste of an enigmatic personality, and easily the most affecting introduction of a character into the narrative.
  • Mike can’t express his feelings to El: he does not deserve the sendoff he gets.
  • My hot take on the whole Neverending Story thing? It is Stranger Things in a nutshell: drama undercut by the need to poke the audience to say “HOLY SHIT – REMEMBER THIS?”
  • Nancy and Jonathan should be the show’s most important couple: but their characters were both completely wasted this season.
  • that’s a wrap on Stranger Things 3! Thanks to everyone who watched, read along, complimented, and complained.

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.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. farlm

    July 27, 2019 at 7:20 am

    You say it’s “wildly uneven and hollow” and so have others apparently and yeah not everything is explained but did we even watch the same season? Definitely doesn’t sound right. Probably isn’t.

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The Boys Season 2 Episode 3 Review: “Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men”

The Boys’ marks an improvement and pays big dividends in an explosive, violently revealing hour.

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The Boys Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men

Half bottle episode and half coming out party, “Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men” is a sneaky little showcase for The Boys, and just how big its world’s suddenly gotten in season two. Though ostensibly an episode designed around two events – the boys getting stuck on the boat, and Stormfront revealing her inner racist sociopath – “Over the Hill” navigates a number of brewing conflicts in fascinating ways, building and building until the violent explosion at the episode’s conclusion. With a nimble script and a game group of performers, The Boys‘ second season is turning out to be a distinct pleasure – albeit one heading down a gruesome, dark path I sure hope it’s capable of navigating.

“Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men” navigates a number of brewing conflicts in fascinating ways, building and building until the violent explosion at the episode’s conclusion.

It does take a little while for “Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men” to get going; beginning three miles offshore with The Boys and the reunited super-siblings, the first quarter feels like it’s simply restating the stakes. It’s a nimble trick, though; led by Kimiko and Kenji, The Boys begins to feel like it is approaching a true moral quandary for the group. Which door descending into hell will they choose?

The Boys Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men

While The Boys often likes to posture its presenting characters with complex dilemmas, the show’s unnerving nihilism often upends any sort of nuance it looks for in its debates around “necessary” violence. Here, Kimiko’s presence throws a fascinating wrench into the proceedings; with most of the group’s members clinging to whatever mirage of family they have left (save for Hughie, who has… forgotten his dad exists?), even Butcher can’t deny having conflicting feelings about what to do with Kenji, and the deal that’s been offered to him if he turns him in.

Elsewhere, “Over the Hill” throws the brazen personalities of The Seven into their own little blenders, as Stormfront begins to sow discord through Vought, and abuse her powers to casually murder a lot of people – nearly all of them minorities, in a way that feels like an explosion of character, rather than an unpeeling of some complicated identity. Stormfront simply doesn’t give a fuck; and with her supernatural ability to manipulate feminist views (her speech to the reporters is magnificent, both in how it develops Stormfront’s character and nods to the simplistic ways in which the evilest people in society disguise themselves among the “good”).

While she’s kicking up tornadoes and electrocuting everyone that gets in her way, characters like The Deep and Homelander continue to benefit from the much-improved writing of season two. The show is still struggling to make Becca something more than the Ultimate Mother Protector trope, but Homelander’s warped sense of responsibility to his son is interesting, surely a bad sign for the upbringing of this world’s Superboy (will he also don a cool leather jacket and weird cyberpunk sunglasses? Who knows!). It’s clearly not going well; even he seems to recognize the danger in bringing his son’s powers to the surface, as its the first time in his life he’s facing a challenge as the world’s strongest hero (that is, until Stormfront doubles that total later in the episode, further frustrating Homelander’s attempts to hold domain over everything in his grasp).

The Boys Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men

It’s not going well for The Deep, either, as his slow descent into cult life is bringing his desperation for acceptance further to the surface. Like with Homelander’s stories, I wish The Deep’s story was a little tighter and more thoughtful (some of the body image stuff seems to be treated trivially, in a way that borders on insensitive and uninformed for the sake of easy jokes), but there’s no denying his character is infinitely more interesting this season, a test case for what a superhero trying to learn their own limits would struggle with. The Deep works best as a pathetic character, but not when it’s a pathetic character The Boys just kick around with bad punchlines; when he’s treated as a byproduct of a deeply flawed human being trying to find a path to good intentions, his fumbles and weak-minded rhetoric is much more amusing – and at times, the tiniest bit empathic (his sadness over Billy’s, well, butchering of his whale buddy was such an earnest, raw and twistedly funny moment).

The Boys has needed to accelerate its internal stakes for a while; the introduction of “super terrorists” to the world by Homelander, and Compound V’s reveal to the public might make the show’s world feel a bit smaller than intended – I think a lot about the “big” fight scenes at the end of Arrow‘s third season, where the ‘entire city’ is fighting, but there’s never more than six people around – The Boys does that on a narrative level sometimes. But as the stories of the show dig a little deeper into its characters – Maeve’s disillusionment, Homelander’s failure to emulate paternal behavior, A-Train’s desperation, it’s beginning to feel like the writers have a deeper understanding of its characters and world, and how to wield its inherent sadistic cynicism to more interesting ends. “Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men” benefits massively from that, setting up a number of intriguing dominoes for the back half of season two to knock over (in bloody fashion).

Other thoughts/observations:

  • Look, I’m bummed how the Kenji character played out; he was such an interesting character, an examination of everything horrible about what power and war can do to a human being. It’s sad to see The Boys dispose of such an intriguing presence, especially as its a death of a minority character in service of mostly white-related stories – however, with such a hateful, nasty character like Stormfront waiting in the wings, it is easy to see how the writers found their way down that path. (like, she could’ve killed Black Noir and this show would’ve literally lost nothing… just sayin’).
  • Can A-Train just collapse or whatever, so we can get this storyline moving? We’ve been doing this since the second episode!
  • Why haven’t we seen any reaction to Becca seeing Butcher in person at the end of season one? She hasn’t mentioned it or even had a longing look off-screen to violin music.
  • Man, I’m so glad they cast Aya Cash as Stormfront.
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The Best Golden Girl is Sophia Petrillo

Sophia Petrillo was a legend in her own mind who always had her way and like Mighty Mouse, always won.

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Sophia Petrillo The Golden Girls

A seemingly harmless little old lady with curly white hair, oversized glasses, and an innate ability to tell a great story shows up on her daughter’s doorstep when the retirement home she was put in by said daughter burns down. With a simple, “Hi there,” the world meets Sophia Petrillo. For seven years on NBC’s The Golden Girlsa show about the senior set—Sophia lived with her intelligent and extremely sarcastic divorced daughter Dorothy Zbornak and her two roommates, sexy, eternally horny southern belle Blanche Devereaux and sweet but dim-witted Minnesotan Rose Nylund. Each is memorable in their own way, but it’s Sophia, “feisty, zesty, and full of old-world charm,” that stands out the most.

When TV was full of generic, sweet grandma types, Sophia was anything but. Sure, she looked the part with her bifocals, pearls, and now iconic straw and bamboo-beaded handbag, but Sophia was always trying to make a quick buck. She conned Rose into going into a sandwich-making business that pit them against the mob, faked being paralyzed to try and collect insurance, and constantly “borrowed” money from Dorothy’s purse. Instead of helping Dorothy, Blanche and Rose get out of jail when they are mistaken for hookers (don’t ask, just Youtube it). She stole their tickets to go to a party and meet Burt Reynolds. She also stole Rose’s car, worked at a fast-food restaurant, and won a marathon. Not bad for a woman in her eighties. Sophia had a sharp wit and an acerbic tongue, blaming her stroke for leaving her without the ability to self-censor. She was always ready with a zinger or a comeback, some of which she saved for her very own daughter.

Sophia Petrillo The Golden Girls

Sophia Petrillo is the Secret Star of The Golden Girls

That’s not to say she’s all schemes and insults. Beneath her tough exterior is a kind woman with a big heart who loves her family and friends. Viewers don’t often get to see her softer side, which makes the moments they do seem that much more special. One of the best Sophia episodes showed her reaction to the death of her son, Phil. She put up a wall of anger which Rose was finally able to break down in the final moments of the episode, revealing Sophia’s true feelings of guilt over Phil’s cross-dressing as she bursts into tears. Another favourite was when Dorothy expressed concern about her mother not doing enough with her days. We then get to see exactly what she gets up to sticking up for her friend and causing a scene at the grocery store while claiming to represent a fictional senior citizens union, volunteering at a sick kids hospital and later, conducting a senior citizens jazz band. Meanwhile, Dorothy, Rose, and Blanche do next to nothing except sit around and eat. When she’s asked what she did all day upon her return, she simply says she bought a nectarine, and Dorothy, Rose, and Blanche are none the wiser.

But if Sophia has one claim to fame, it is her colorful old-world tales about Sicily, which often as not, contain a pearl of wisdom or embellishment of some kind. We would have loved to have known her during her “picatta period (a wedge of lemon and a smart answer for everything),” when she was the most beautiful girl at a resort and all the men fought over her (so beautiful, in fact, that she had “a butt you could bounce a quarter off of”). She was also once painted by Picasso and was best friends with Mama Celeste. But I digress. Sophia Petrillo was a legend in her own mind who always had her way and like Mighty Mouse, always won. Her hunches were never wrong, and rarely, if ever did she meet her match. Sophia was, in short, a one-woman show. And thanks to re-runs and fan appreciation, that show will never be gone.

  • Dasilva

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published under our old brand, Sound On Sight.

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30 Years Later: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

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30 Years Later: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
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