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There's something I need to get off my chest: I haven't stopped thinking about the rats. You know the rats I'm talking about. They're the rats we were introduced to in the Stranger Things 3 trailers, the ones a lot of theorists thought might come together to form the season's monster. Those theorists were (partially) right. I really wish they hadn't been.
Since it first premiered in 2016, Stranger Things has been a goldmine of WTF Moments; clandestine experiments on children, psychological superpowers, possession. Season 3, which premiered on the Fourth of July, upped the game like never before. In between pubescent angst, secret Soviet experiments under a shopping mall in smalltown Indiana, and Billy Hargrove's move from barely-legal seducer of bored suburban mothers to deeply sympathetic villain, there are a few short-but-important scenes in which hordes of rats explode onscreen.
Granted, the rats in Stranger Things 3 don't so much explode as they do shake apart at the seams of their tiny rat pelts and melt into a viscous sludge of blood and bone, but, uh, "explode" is just easier and doesn't make me want to lose my lunch.
The first such moment comes surprisingly early on in Episode 1, "Suzie, Do You Copy?" At this point, we've seen the rats of Hawkins (there are, apparently, a lot of rats in Hawkins) move in tandem to meet up with a swirling entity of black smoke. They seem inexplicably drawn to the smoke; they don't turn back even when the approaching rats see and hear their rat brethren who were ahead of them in line screeching in pain and melting before their very eyes.
Just 30 minutes into Season 3 and we already have gory close-up shots of sacrificial rat sludge being slurped up by demon smoke. And that's just the beginning.
In Episode 2, "The Mall Rats," we get a moving heap of rat sludge valiantly hobbling its way to its master. This is the same episode in which we see a mind-controlled Billy kidnap Heather and turn her into the first of the Flayed, and it's not long before the two of them recruit countless other unfortunate souls to share the same dark fate.
That fate, in case you forgot, is first explored in Episode 4, "The Sauna Test," in which Billy and Heather deliver Heather's parents to a heaving mass of goo that's started taking on the Mind Flayer's distinct shape — long, spidery limbs, an elongated head, and rows of sharp teeth. This upgraded, extremely goopy Mind Flayer is supposedly made up of nothing but rats at this point and still manages to be alarmingly huge. The humans it begins to absorb in Episode 4 just help it grow to the size of, well, the Starcourt Mall.
Before that, though, we see the power the Mind Flayer has over its human victims. Two of Jonathan and Nancy's coworkers attack them in the hospital in Episode 5, "The Flayed," and then at the beginning of Episode 6, "E Pluribus Unum," their respective heaps of goo merge to create a miniature Mind Flayer. And just like its predecessor, this thing oozes and throbs like every inch of its body is covered in sores.
Notably, Episode 6 also marks the point at which we see the army of Flayed humans lining up to be liquified and sucked into the larger Mind Flayer, which stands there dripping sludge and growling its approval. In short, it's the most disturbing thing Stranger Things has ever done. WTF. I'll never look at raw meat the same way again.
But, hey, if anything, at least the town's apparent rat infestation is over now. That's something. Right?