Attention: Spoilers ahead.
When the Duffer Brothers took a risk in season two of Stranger Things to follow Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) all the way to Chicago where she met a similarly powered peer, they were not met with praise. Season three of Stranger Things, which became available for streaming on Thursday, did not hold any such deviations from the show’s main action. Instead, they experimented with a two-minute long segment situated in an otherwise action-packed finale. In those two minutes the episode, “The Battle of Starcourt,” departs from its identity as a supernatural drama and dips its toe into a different genre. For a brief moment, Stranger Things becomes a musical.
The song starts at an unlikely point in the story. Hopper (David Harbour) and Joyce (Winona Ryder) are struggling to unlock a safe that contains access keys which could help them defeat the season villain, The Mind Flayer. After a couple failed attempts, Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) emerges as their final hope of figuring out the code. The boy offers to contact his girlfriend Suzie (Gabriella Pizzolo), who he met at camp and lives in Utah. Luckily for the people of Hawkins, Dustin’s summer love happens to possess math skills beyond her years, and is able to answer a math question that would provide the safe’s code. When he calls her though, she makes a sudden and surprising request. Hurt that he went so long without contacting her, she demands that her “Dusty-bun” proves his love by singing “The NeverEnding Story,” a power ballad by Limahl that doubles as a theme song to a 1984 fantasy epic.
Some lyrics of the song are as follows:
Look at what you see
In her face
The mirror of your dreams
Make believe I’m everywhere
Given in the light
Written on the pages
Is the answer to a never ending story
Reach the stars
Fly a fantasy
Dream a dream
And what you see will be
Rhymes that keep their secrets
Will unfold behind the clouds
And there upon a rainbow
Is the answer to a never ending story
This tailspins the episode into a musical number. Dustin and Suzie join their voices together over the radio, while the Mind Flayer threatens everyone they love in Hawkins, Indiana. The moment proves shockingly lighthearted amidst the violence and tension that have filled the season thus far, and it provides fans with a brief reprieve before they are forced to reconcile with the multiple tragedies to follow.
As surprising as the moment was in the context of season three, it stands in line with Matarazzo’s history as a musical theater actor. He made his start on Broadway in major productions like Les Misérables and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Pizzolo likewise debuted on Broadway in 2013, starring in Matilda the Musical. And these two are not alone. Their young co-stars Caleb McLaughlin and Sadie Sink, who also take turns singing the song later on in a mockery of Dustin, had their time on Broadway stages. McLaughlin starred in The Lion King, and Sink boasted the titular role in Annie.
Matarazzo discussed his reaction at the scene with The Hollywood Reporter. “I just read it in the script,” he began, but admits that he didn’t really understand what it meant for the show as he “didn’t know the song before.”
The surprises continued from there. When speaking on his performance with Pizzolo, Matarazo had this to say: “We ended up harmonizing together, which I didn’t expect. It just took like a day to learn all the words. Definitely by the end of the day it was stuck in everyone’s heads.”
The reference to “The NeverEnding Story” upholds the show’s tradition of referencing media of the 1980s. Season three drew inspiration from a collection of other works, including Day of the Dead, Back to the Future, and The Terminator. It also featured songs of the era, such as Corey Hart’s “Never Surrender,” Foreigner’s “Hot Blooded” and “Cold as Ice,” Madonna’s “Material Girl” and Weird Al’s “My Bologna.”
Season three of Stranger Things is now available for streaming on Netflix.