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Stranger Things Season Three Episode 7: “The Bite” Is A Blur of Exciting and Disappointment Moments

With a Russian assassin and an enormous monster running amok around Hawkins, “The Bite” smartly posits itself as a Stranger Things episode about movement, confidentially stating its presence when Mayor Kline yells “are you ready for some fireworks?” To its credit, “The Bite” largely delivers on that promise – but in a surprising twist, it is the quietest scenes of the hour that leave the greatest impact.

On a minute by minute basis, “The Bite” is a pretty thrilling endeavor; examined as a component of a larger whole, it sells the promise of Stranger Things 3 a bit short.

Though Robin and Steve’s extended drug trip becomes a bit cumbersome during the early scenes of “The Bite,” their scene in the mall’s bathroom is the best scene of the season, hands down. While many of Stranger Things 3‘s more outlandish plot notes have drowned out characters like Will and Nancy, the Russian subplot’s provided an avenue to build out a powerful friendship between Steve (once the show’s thinnest character) and Robin (a complete wild card), in easily the most well-crafted arc of the season.

It’s rather impressive how much weight “The Bite” is able to give their conversation: though they spent “E Pluribus Unum” being beaten and drugged by Russians, this scene feels like the true climactic moment of their arc, Steve confessing his love for Robin, and her confiding in Steve that she’s a lesbian. Robin’s vulnerability in that moment is so powerfully captured, in a welcome reversal in tone from Mike’s “You don’t even like girls!” comment earlier this season.

Unlike Mike dismissively chiding his younger brother, Robin confiding her truth in Steve serves a powerful moment of character for both her and Steve. For Robin, it is a blossoming of her true self, something she’s finally able to express around someone she truly trusts: how much care is put into her dialogue in this scene is commendable, completely re-engineering what I previously considered one of the season’s more disappointing elements.

Robin wasn’t staring at Steve in class: she was staring past him to a girl in their class, an expression of desire and lust she’s never been able to express, much less even talk about. Her realizing she can confide this information in Steve – right after he confesses his feelings for her, no less – builds a powerful bond between them, supplementing Steve’s moral transformation, while still using the moment to serve her character first.

That scene stands in stark contrast to the other relationship scenes of the hour: both Mike’s stammering apology and Murray’s wink, wink monologue (repeating his creepy speech to Nancy and Jonathan from last season – lest we forget, he encouraged them to fuck in his house) lean too much into the awkwardness of their moments, without considering that the underlying stories behind these moments are underdeveloped.

I can believe Hopper’s desperately in love with Joyce, just as I can believe Mike truly loves Eleven: but the legwork needed to establish these relationships as meaningful, dynamic components of Stranger Things 3 hasn’t been done. Mike and El’s conflict immediately dissipates when Mike realizes he loves El (which… he probably already knew?), and there’s never been any inclination Joyce has any interest in Hopper; Stranger Things is asking us to invest in these romances, but they’re built on much flimsier foundations than the Steve/Robin friendship in the very same episode – to say it is emotionally dissonant is an understatement.

When “The Bite” turns its attention away from these less-engaging subplots, and focuses on the dual terrors of Flayer Monster 2.0 and Grigoli, it finally feels like the stakes are being raised, for perhaps the first time in the season. At least, it feels a lot more concrete than in previous hours: Eleven gets infected by a Flayer bite (whatever the hell that means), and poor Alexei’s American dream dies when he realizes the game was rigged against him after all.

El’s latest fight with the Flayer is a moment of unification for Stranger Things 3, reforming her relationship as protector of her friends, when they instead have to save her from the monster and tend to her injuries. Unfortunately, there’s just not a lot to cling onto: Mike’s not-decleration of love falls flat, and as often is the case, El’s character gets a bit lost amongst the exposition dumps and sci-fi flavor text she’s so closely entwined with.

Does El feel she’s in mortal danger? How does this threat inform her character? These fundamental questions – questions earlier seasons painstakingly depicted through flashbacks and emotional swellings of music – are all but ignored here, instead her dilemmas giving voice to the other characters of the show (except Nancy and Jonathan; Stranger Things 3‘s completely lost the thread on those two at this point), rather than continuing to inform her journey of growth. Sure, she’s learned a sense of fashion and the word “bitchin'”, but it feels somewhere in the last few episodes Stranger Things 3 ditched the arc of maturation and self-discovery it hinted towards.

Ultimately, that renders the more exciting moments of her story, eventually leading them to the mall where Steve, Dustin, Robin, and Suzie seemingly haven’t left all season, less effective than say, poor Alexei’s brief Americana experience, which stands alongside the bathroom scene as the season’s highlights. While the foreshadowing is obvious (Murray explaining the rigged economics of fairs is a neon sign of danger for our communist friend), it’s still heartbreaking to see Alexei murdered at Griogli’s hands, reducing the character to a Russian version of Bob, a character sketched out just long enough to serve their plot purpose, then ripped out from under the audience as an emotional device.

It’s effective, but oddly familiar to the broader strokes of Bob Newby last season: once again engaging the theory Stranger Things 3 is remixing the first two seasons to lesser effect. We’ve got a final showdown with the monster looming, Joyce and Hopper dealing with shady government shit, and all meaningful human conflict erased from the narrative just in time for the finale: on a minute by minute basis, “The Bite” is a pretty thrilling endeavor. Examined as a component of a larger whole, “The Bite” sells the promise of Stranger Things 3 a bit short as it neatly arranges its pieces on the board for the (apparently extended-length) finale.

It’s a tale of yin and yang: where Stranger Things 3 has soared with characters like Robin and Alexei, it’s completely failed with Jonathan, Will – and even Eleven at times, whose character development’s been completely forgotten in recent episodes, as Hopper went off on her own adventures and she became a delivery device for the show’s more showy, supernatural moments. I’m sure the finale has a few tricks up its sleeve, but I left “The Bite” feeling underwhelmed Stranger Things will achieve any of the emotional resonance found in its first two season finales.

Other thoughts/observations:

  • RIP Alexei – we’ll pour out a Slushee for you.
  • The Hall of Mirrors scene with Grigoli and Hopper is like so much of Stranger Things: evocative of films that have done the very same thing, just better. plus: how do you not shoot him in the head?
  • It is 37 and a half minutes into episode 7 before Joyce finally wonders what her kids are up to.
  • Poor Mr. Wheeler – poor guy is a good father, and this show chastises him for being a nerd, a wimp, and apparently a big sexual nothing.
  • Remember New Coke? Because Curtis has a long fucking monologue explaining the product placement for you.

Written By

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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