After the relaxed, almost too comfortable, the opening of the season, Stranger Things starts to hit its stride. Most of the residents of Hawkins are oblivious to the danger that is afoot (and the Russian thug that seems to be taken out of a Soviet handbook), but there are signs which a select few seem to be heeding.
The last episode ended with Billy being dragged by an unknown being into what is now revealed as the Upside Down. This time he across something weird but rather than demons, what he sees is his self. Or what you call a doppelganger. Mostly in fiction, doppelgangers represent the worst of humans, and this does prove right here, although the effect of Billy is shown to be rather vague. What it does prove is that Mike and the rest of the gang must soon embrace the possibility of facing the horrors of another world again.
Speaking of monsters, the episode is titled “The Mall Rats” and sure as anything there are rats. Well, at least one rat. Nancy works on a lead she got which points towards some rather strange occurrences in Hawkins, and after being met with humourful disdain by the staff of the newspapers, she works for, enlists the aid of Jonathan. They can find a woman who has caught a rat which ate a whole bag of fertilizer. The rat, however, appears to be acting strange, and it disappears by imploding into fluid while no one is looking.
Perhaps the best moment of the episode was the return of everyone’s favorite friendship, Steve and Dustin. Their elaborate greeting method solicited quite a few chuckles from me whereas the on looking Robin (Steve’s Co-worker) can only look on in annoyance. However, she is only too happy to help Dustin along with Steve when he tells them how he intercepted a signal in Russian and the discovery that the message is local only adds to their suspicion.
Hopper also gets stood up by Joyce although the reason when revealed appears to suggest that she only fears the return of what haunted her family in the last season. What was the most significant moment in the episode was the development of the relationship between Max and Eleven who spend their time in true 80’s fashion by going to the mall? However, there is a moment where Eleven breaks up with Mike, which I find was a little too predictable. However, the Duffer Brothers do play with our expectations so it would be plausible to see this play into something big.
The episode does feature one moment of impending doom where Billy abducts his fellow lifeguard Heather and drags her to the same place where he ventured into the Upside Down.
I found the episode to be satisfying yet a little too slow for the size of the series. The gradual progression may be deliberate but expect the following episodes to increase the pace. The return of Nancy and Jonathon as the investigative duo of Hawkins was welcome, but I found the entire rat ordeal to be a little weak on plot. Steve and Dustin continue to steal the show together, and the association with Robin shows that we may have another exceptional trio in our hands albeit the encounters revolving around relationships which include Joyce and Hooper and Mike and Eleven could have been fleshed out more. Overall I find this to be a decent episode which lays a solid foundation for the show to start accelerating.