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Stranger Things Season Three Episode 4: “The Sauna Test” (Briefly) Delivers the Goods

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Stranger Things The Sauna Test

Like season one’s “The Body” and season two’s “Will the Wise,” “The Sauna Test” follows the now-established Fourth Episode rules of Stranger Things: a pair of important discoveries pull the season’s many plot threads closer together, unifying the larger narrative as it reaches its halfway point. While some might trigger this as a natural way for any drama to expand and contract over the course of a season, how Stranger Things does this in particular is fascinating: these fourth chapters often represent a larger shift in tone for the season itself, forming a clear demarcation from the fun, nostalgic 80’s hangout show into its grander ambitions as a supernatural YA horror series.

The explosive, exciting final act of “The Sauna Test” proffers hope for the second half of Stranger Things 3 to buck the trend of its predecessors, and finally embrace its full potential as a series.

Of course, this often comes at a cost of its small-town storytelling, making these specific fourth chapters great barometers for the world building and character work of the season so far, since it’s ostensibly the last “normal” episode before the Creature Feature elements begin to take over, and Stranger Things shifts to its more dramatically-formidable supernatural state. From that angle, “The Sauna Test” remains a rather mixed bag, so full of narrative twists it often feels like the smaller character bits are lost among the shadows of Hawkins’ abandoned steel mill – but an explosive, exciting final act proffers hope for the second half of Stranger Things 3 to buck the trend of its predecessors, and finally embrace its full potential as a series.

Stranger Things The Sauna Test

The many individual investigations of Hawkins come to a head in “The Sauna Test,” giving the hour a touch of thematic unity recent episodes have sorely lacked. It also gives everything a sense of momentum that’s been missing all season: from the Ice Cream Team’s discovery of a secret Russian bunker under the mall, to the reveal of The Mind Flayer’s growing shadow army, it feels like Stranger Things 3 is done playing coy, offering a number of connective threads between its mosaic of plot threads.

And not all of these moments exist strictly to serve plot: be it Will’s realization he’s still connected to The Mind Flayer, or the rampant abuse of power Hopper extracts on the town’s mayor (disturbingly paralleling “The Body,” when he beat the shit out of a state trooper for information), “The Sauna Test” has just enough moments of character to offer some intrigue beyond its foggy narrative, signs that the emotional anchors of the show haven’t been completely lost in the Upside Down.

Stranger Things The Sauna Test

These moments don’t exactly permeating every scene – Mike and El’s argument about their relationship isn’t exactly subtle, and ignores some of the more complicated implications of their behavior – but “The Sauna Test” makes a concerted effort to build out its larger themes and ideas of Stranger Things 3, often to great effect. The episode’s first act is probably the strongest of the season to this point: as Will, Mike, and Lucas put out their distress calls on the radio, Stranger Things 3 shows just how much things have changed between the group in the year since Bob Newby’s untimely death. Observing the new factions of the Ghostbusters crew and just how distant they’ve become in the last year captures the evocative nostalgia of childhood this show in a way the constant period references allude to, but are too infatuated with to channel effectively.

There’s really quite a sharp contrast of emotions offered in this short sequence of moments, driven by a reflective sadness on lost youth, the distinct feeling that things have fundamentally changed, and that they’re reaching the end of an era (besides the end of regular D&D session). There’s also the reluctant recognition that none of these characters could’ve grown emotionally or expanded their mind if the group hadn’t slowly drifted apart in the summer of ’85: we may not want to grow, but we’re often better for it, a simple, but powerful observation on friendships it often feels like Stranger Things is two steps away from evoking. For once, it feels like Stranger Things might offer itself the room to explore a more complicated relationship with nostalgia, embracing its dangerous fall backs and offering a more three-dimensional story than the contradictory reference porn/end of innocence juxtapositions it has relied on to this point.

 

Stranger Things The Sauna Test

For a brief moment, “The Sauna Test” captures a truth about childhood (and its end) in a surprisingly subtle way – and it resonates through the final twenty minutes of the hour, by far the most exciting and driven of Stranger Things 3. Led by the showdown between Not Billy/Eleven, and the Alien/Invasion of the Body Snatchers developments in the steel mill, “The Sauna Test” finishes an up and down hour with a remarkably moving series of events, culminating in the Star Court Mall storage room plummeting down to what we can assume is a secret Russian site of some sort – and of course, the reveal of the Flayer’s growing army.

The locker room fight scene is a particular highlight (despite Erica’s negotiating abilities nearly stealing the show), congregating our young adventurers at the public pool in an attempt to entrap Billy, and figure out what’s going on with him. Smartly, “The Sauna Test” takes its time developing the big scene, which finally explodes in an exciting crescendo of action, when the possessed Billy breaks out and El steps in to fight him. Though Dacre Montgomery’s performance has mostly coasted on his ability to channel Pure Asshole, “The Sauna Test” allows its least developed character to express a surprising (and slightly undeserved) amount of range: first heartbroken in a brief moment of clarity, then impressively intimidating when the Mind Flayer’s influence re-asserts itself. Montgomery manages to capture it all, begging the question of why this show’s given so little effort so far in bringing depth to his character.

Stranger Things The Sauna TestSome of “The Sauna Test” still embodies some of the less desirable traits of the last few episodes, there’s a thematic richness to the fourth chapter of Stranger Things 3 offering hope for the second half of the season, as the pieces of its homage-laden puzzle draw closer and closer together. And in isolation, it’s a rather effective litmus test of what is and isn’t working so far this season, the struggles of earlier entries only giving greater context to just how effective much of this fourth chapter is.

Other thoughts/observations:

  • Nancy and Jonathan break up, because men are from Mars, and women are from Venus? I love Nancy, but her scenes this season have been a particular struggle: I love the idea of establishing her as the Veronica Mars-esque of Hawkins, but every beat of her story’s been like a trite late-90’s rom-com. It’s not terrible, but man, it could be so much better (and have so much less Jake Busey).
  • Hopper’s on a roll again, beating the shit out of the mayor to reassert his dominance; somewhere deep in this story is a point about toxic masculinity, but Hopper’s been such a douche bag all season it’s been hard to pay attention. Plus, he clearly thinks he’s Magnum, P.I., which is perhaps his most annoying new trait.
  • “You can’t say America without Erica.” What a queen.
  • Can someone please get El a fuckin’ Kleenex? I feel like this is the easiest bit of branding (and maybe the only?) Stranger Things hasn’t cashed in on yet.
  • Mrs. Wheeler expressing her regrets for not fucking Billy doesn’t exactly play as the inter-generational discussion of feminism I think Stranger Things 3 wants it to be.

 

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.

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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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