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Stranger Things Season Three Episode 2: “The Mall Rats” is an (Overstuffed) Delight

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Stranger Things Season Three Episode 2: The Mall Rats

Between the exploding rats, ominous Russian scientists, and failing magnetic fields, shit is already going down in Hawkins in “The Mall Rats,” Stranger Things 3‘s montage-laden second episode. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg: there’s a pack of rioting locals,  a semi-possessed lifeguard, and a lot of hormones flying around the Space Court Mall – just in terms of sheer plot, “The Mall Rats” might be the single busiest hour of the series. But with a careful cinematic touch and a lot of fantastic montages, “The Mall Rats” manages to stay afloat in the Sea of Vague Narrative, in one of the show’s most effortlessly fun hours.

The construction of “The Mall Rats” suggests Stranger Things is truly striking out on its own this season, developing its own sense of identity beyond the melange of 80’s film references it built its foundation on.

At least Hopper’s enjoying a moment of peace (and some Jim Croce): despite being an episode with a breakup and a dramatic translation of secret Russian communications, much of the drama in “The Mall Rats” is more (FILL IN). Whatever happened with Billy and this new face-sucking Mind Flayer-esque creature clearly didn’t go well – but we don’t really know what that means, just as the vision of his doppelganger and his abduction of Heather aren’t really grounded in much of anything. These moments are appropriately ominous and weird, of course, but they feel immaterial to the more grounded elements found in its characters.

Stranger Things Season Three Episode 2: The Mall Rats

When “The Mall Rats” does take time to push things forward in meaningful ways, Stranger Things feels surprisingly light on its feet, nimble in a way it often doesn’t afford itself. The parallel montages of Eleven and Mike (reacting to his own lies) on the phone are a particular highlight: though it is a thoroughly ludicrous, manufactured bit of drama, it does effectively capture that weird of aura of young dating, where honest communication takes a back seat to make out sessions and rampant emotional misinterpretations.

It’s still fun in a way other relationship dynamics haven’t been so far: Lucas and Max’s (apparently tumultuous) romance is more background dressing, and let’s not even talk about Nancy’s love dramas back in the show’s first fifteen or so episodes. Plus, we get a bunch of great footage, much of it set to Madonna’s “Material Girl”: the boys trying to figure out how capitalism solves relationship problems, and Max convincing Eleven to begin finding her own sense of identity, something beyond being a supernatural being, Hopper’s daughter, or Mike’s boyfriend.

These inter cut sequences are Stranger Things’ strongest assets: with so many competing story elements, it can be easy for the friendships of the increasingly-large central crew to lose the nuance that makes them such a fun group of characters to watch. Some of this is intentional: each season pushes the boys a bit further away from each other, to the point where Will’s left alone at the Dungeons & Dragons table while everyone runs off to chase girls at the mall in this episode. But as Stranger Things gets larger and larger, some of the complexities of these relationships disappear: “The Mall Rats” is a perfect example of why it’s worth investing these characters, giving some texture to the inner workings of the group dynamic, an ever-changing monster in its own right.

Stranger Things Season Three Episode 2: The Mall Rats

A blossoming friendship between Max and Eleven instantly sends a shock wave through the group: her incendiary language propels Eleven’s drastic change in attitude, while furthering Mike’s own paranoia about Hopper (and, by proxy, giving Lucas space to vent his dramatic relationship with Max). This seismic shift leads to Eleven nonchalantly dumping Mike in front of everyone, a moment I’m sure Hopper will relish after Joyce fails to show up for their not-a-date at Hawkin’s fanciest Italian restaurant (the one that doesn’t have a waiter named Enzo).

Most of Stranger Things‘ vague allusions are intriguing; the possibility of Hopper and Joyce together is not a particularly exciting one, especially knowing how much Joyce is still struggling with the loss of her hero, Bob Newby (the shuttered doors of his Radio Shack are featured once again this episode). Thankfully, the result here is doubly entertaining: a disappointed Hopper gets drunk and tries to re-assert his sense of self-worth after eating shit for cigar-chomping Mayor Kaline all day, while Joyce learns about magnetism from a thoroughly excited Mr. Clarke, a wonderful scene all to itself (“My Bologna” is a rather weird, but fitting, introductory song for the teacher leading the Hawkins AV club).

Stranger Things Season Three Episode 2: The Mall Rats

Long-term, the prospects for a relationship between the two isn’t quite as exciting: maybe it is just romantic fatigue from all the burgeoning teen drama, but a desperately lonely Hopper and a reluctant Joyce does not portend a compelling love story forming between the two. If anything, it feels that time has passed for Stranger Things, their co-parenting coming through beautifully in the platonic relationship over the years. Then again, these two have been sharing suggestive cigarettes with each other or over 30 years, so maybe it is inevitable – but I think it’s that inevitability that makes the story so disappointing (especially in a season with so many other intriguing things going on).

That being said, “The Mall Rats” does give us a drunken Hopper in a Hawaiian shirt, so it’s not like their little back-and-forth isn’t devoid of some humorous moments. And those bits of humor are essential: be it Nancy’s disregard for the Hawkins Post‘s dark room, or the way Steve and Dustin excitedly greet each other, Stranger Things is unexpectedly lighthearted, a welcome change from the dark, dreary opening hours of season two.

Unfortunately, with so many different things happening at once, “The Mall Rats” is only able to advance its larger narrative forward a few inches, itself a mixed, familiar bag of bread crumb storytelling. Each scene is fairly long, but essentially boil down to a couple important bullet points: Nancy and Jonathan discover the rats are losing their shit, Billy’s clearly fucked up (and kidnapping lifeguards as sacrifice), and Robin makes herself known by translating Dustin’s secret Russian recording from “Suzie, Do You Copy?”. Save for the last scene, which neatly folds Robin into the ever-growing group of characters, “The Mall Rats” dispenses bits of story without actually moving the needle on these stories in any meaningfully coherent way, which undercuts the tension they’re trying to build a bit (the Aliens-like appendage on that monster is pretty dope, though).

Stranger Things The Mall Rats

On some level, I respect it: the less Stranger Things feels the need to explain its phenomena, the better I think the show is for it (unlike The ExpanseStranger Things is not an investigative show that needs to explain its complex/theoretical sciences). But add up every little strange element of The Upside Down and its creatures over the years, and it can be quick for the whole science fiction segment of this series to feel like a merry-go-round of bullshit. “The Mall Rats” doesn’t aggressively tip the scales towards the latter assessment, of course, but the troubling signs of Stranger Things is overstuffing its narrative early on, leave little room to coherently develop whatever the fuck is going on, in whatever the fuck parallel world the Mind Flayer and the Demo Dogs live in.

Despite the sheer amount of stuff packed into this hour, “The Mall Rats” shows a lot of promise: the arrival of puberty in the group is particularly potent, introducing some interesting emotional topography for the series to explore. There’s a surprising lightness to Stranger Things in these early hours, an effortlessness that often isn’t felt in the painstaking recreation of the cultural atmosphere of its setting (boy, does this show like looking at retro mall store logos!). The construction of “The Mall Rats” suggests Stranger Things is truly striking out on its own this season, developing its own sense of identity beyond the melange of 80’s film references it built its foundation on. That is the most exciting prospect of these first two episodes, and something I hope the show doesn’t lose as its primary story shifts to its more supernatural elements.

 

Other thoughts/observations:

  • I didn’t even talk about the debut of Cary Elwes as Mayor Larry Kline, an absolute caricature of a corrupt politician, right down to him chewing on a cigar. Not a particularly exciting character, but another headache for Hopper to deal with, which always make for fun material.
  • Speaking of Hopper, there’s something loose and comedic to David Harbour’s performance I don’t remember from earlier seasons. Maybe he’s finally moving beyond mourning his family, or maybe Stranger Things realized David Harbour’s one of their most popular characters, and wanted to unwind him a bit. Either way, it’s great – especially when he’s playing the villain in Eleven and Mike’s relationship (as gross and manipulative as it is).
  • Robin speaks four languages fluently, which must really make poor Steve feel like the dumb guy in the room whenever her and Dustin are talking (leaving him to man the front of the ice cream shop, no less). His reaction to seeing El at the mall? Absolutely priceless.
  • I really don’t get what this show is trying to say with Mrs. Wheeler’s character. Hopefully this goes somewhere interesting?

 

 

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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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