One month later, the lab is locked down. A half-truth about Barb’s fate (she died of exposure to an “experimental chemical asphyxiate”) gives her parents closure, and another half-truth gives Hopper a fresh start: Owens forged a birth certificate for Eleven. Terry is still listed as her birth mother, but based on El’s official name — Jane Hopper — it looks like the chief is on record as her dad. Owens suggests they let things cool down for another year before El comes out of hiding, which is either well-intentioned caution or another attempt at controlling her. It’s still hard to trust the good doctor; how did he escape the demodogs with just a flesh wound, anyway?
In any case, Hopper negotiates one night of leniency so El can go to the middle school Snow Ball (also an apt term for how everything happens in Hawkins: It snowballs). Compared to most middle school dances, this one is surprisingly lively; all the kids are pairing off and putting their arms around each other. Lucas stammers out a request to Max (“Hey, um, it’s nice, right?”), and she leads him onto the floor while Dustin looks on.
Dustin is our lone reminder of how apocalyptic rejection feels at that age. It’s not for lack of trying — he’s even done up his hair with Steve’s favorite Farrah Fawcett hairspray — but Steve’s words of encouragement can’t make the girls say yes to a dance with Dustin, and the boy wanders the gym in a sequence that goes on so long, it starts to feel cruel. Luckily, Nancy saves the day by asking him to dance, telling the flustered boy that he’s her favorite out of Mike’s friends and promising that girls will see his virtues soon enough.
Stranger Things is still driven by that kind of act of friendship, but it’s also a show about kids who are starting to think they might want more. The season ends by pairing everyone off like, well, a middle school slow dance. Nancy and Jonathan exchange smiles. Lucas and Max kiss. In the parking lot, Hopper and Joyce share a cigarette and bond in their grief. And Eleven and Mike finally get their West Side Story moment, locking eyes across the gym. He asks her to dance; she says she doesn’t know how. “I don’t either,” Mike says. “Do you want to figure it out?” It is ADORABLE. He guides her arms to his shoulders, and this time, no one interrupts their kiss.
The season could have ended there, given that the last few seconds are implied by everything about this show, but we get those last few seconds anyway: Outside, the camera tilts until we’re in the Upside Down, where the shadow monster looms over the gym. It’s ominous, sure, but we’ll face that another time. For now, how cute are Mike and Eleven?!
Most ’80s moment: From “Love Is a Battlefield” to “Time After Time” to “Every Breath You Take,” that DJ at the dance definitely knows what decade it is.
“I may be a pretty s—ty boyfriend, but turns out I’m actually a pretty damn good babysitter” —Steve
“I’m just curious why all of a sudden you look like some kind of MTV punk” —Hopper, to Eleven
“This is a groundbreaking scientific discovery. We can’t just bury it like some common mammal, okay?” —Dustin, who had better buy Joyce a new fridge
STEVE: “Yeah, and then we all die.”
DUSTIN: “Well, that’s one point of view.”
STEVE: “No, that’s not a point of view man. That’s a fact.”
“Eleven, Doc Owens. Doc Owens, Eleven. She’s been staying with me for about a year, and she is about to save our asses. Maybe when this is all said and done, maybe you could help her out too, you know? Maybe you could help her lead a normal life, one where she’s not poked and prodded and treated like some kind of lab rat. I don’t know. It’s just a thought.” —Hopper, to Owens