Synopsis – In the summer of 1985 in Hawkins, the new Starcourt Mall has become the focal point of the town, driving other stores out of business. However, strange power fluctuations trigger Will’s awareness of something otherworldly, and Eleven and Max sense something is off about the town’s residents, and despite having closed the portal to the Upside Down, fears that they are all in danger from it still.
Episodes – S03E01 to S02E08
My Take – Back in 2016, upon arrival on Netflix, the Duffer Brothers created series, Stranger Things, skyrocketed expectations with its daring themes, legitimate scares, a brilliant soundtrack and most importantly its tribute to the great slasher films, monster movies, and Stephen King stories of the 1980s.
It not only managed to sidestep the 80s nostalgia but also drew on the magnetism of Steven Spielberg and John Carpenter films, resulting in a warped, gripping, supernatural horror story that engaged audiences on multiple levels, all building up to a wholly spectacular finale that belonged on the big screen.
However, there’s a pressure to this season that the other two didn’t really have. For some reason, Season 2 missed the sequel-itis phase and instead basked in the success of the first, almost with the same power, by neatly wrapping up. But Season 3 is the make-or-break of the show, and it’s kind of obvious that everyone knows it. Mainly as the kids we once saw playing Dungeons and Dragons in their club house are now teens with real teenage problems.
Also while Stephen King’s influence is felt in every stroke of angst on screen, the actual scares have fallen short in the last two seasons, but this time around, the scenes are made of pure gross out horror, gooey, bloody, and wrong, that made me gag out loud. The battles now are bloodier, the supernatural creatures more monstrous, and the jump scares are far scarier.
Yet, the whole eight episode arc is also equally fantastically good.
In fact, it is the first season that actually lives up the show’s monster-sized, zeitgeist-consuming, blockbuster hype. Season 3 is a bananas summer delight, full of grisly scenes, hilariously absurd set pieces, and a sauntering confidence in its own storytelling.
While this third installment of the series inevitably pays homage to cult classics, the show’s biggest draw has been the blockbuster magnetism injected into eight hours of slick, fast-paced action. Beyond feeling like a Stephen King adaptation, Stranger Things hits on a deeper level, processing the grief that comes with a loss of childhood innocence. This theme is explored at length throughout the third season, offering the darkest vein of satire, horror, and sci-fi of all three seasons.
Without a doubt, Season 3 is an epic step forward for the accomplished and thrilling series which even after seasons is better than it’s ever been.
The story takes place precisely a year after the events of the second season, a group of evil Russians have begun working on re-open the gate to the Upside Down, which Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) previously used her telekinetic powers to close. Meanwhile, back in Hawkins, Indiana, Eleven, who mostly goes by El now, is doing her best to live the life of a normal teen, which means constantly making out with her new boyfriend, Mike (Finn Wolfhard), despite how uncomfortable it is making police chief Hopper (David Harbour), who himself is struggling with his feelings for Joyce (Winona Ryder).
Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) is still as cool-as-ice, and is trying to keep everyone in the group happy especially his feminist-in-the-making girlfriend, Max (Sadie Sink), who now prefers to be more of a best friend to El, while her brother Billy (Dacre Montgomery) begins to cause havoc as the eye candy lifeguard of bored housewives at the local pool.
Then there’s Steve Harrington (Joe Keery), whose days of being Mr. Cool are well and truly over as he puts on a sailor suit daily to scoop ice cream at the local Starcourt Mall, while his co-worker Robin (Maya Hawke) berates him constantly.
But trouble begins when Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), who has just come back from a month at science camp with a long-distance girlfriend of his own (or so he says), ends up picking up on a Russian transmission coming from the Mall itself, and convinces Steve, Robin and Erica Sinclair (Priah Ferguson) to help him further investigate.
Elsewhere, Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), who have picked up work at the local paper, with Nancy in particular struggling against the misogyny, decide to find retribution in a story about mice behaving strangely. While, Joyce forcefully takes Hopper on a road trip as she insists on finding out the reason why her magnets keep falling off her fridge.
But it is Will (Noah Schnapp), who despite resenting the fact that everyone’s growing up without him, is convinced that the Mind Flayer is back with a new host, and is more powerful than ever.
There were a lot of varying reasons to criticize Stranger Things Season 2, but the vast majority of viewers seemed to agree that Eleven’s field trip to Chicago in Season 2, Episode 7, “The Lost Sister,” was the low point.
Here’s a very minor spoiler to get you hyped for Season 3: The events of that episode, including all those wonky characters, are never mentioned or referenced a single time throughout this season. One of the best parts of this show has always been watching various characters interact and bounce off each other, but Season 3 keeps them separated until the very end.
What the show does well this season is bring to the surface emotional elements that have been bubbling under the surface for the two years prior. However, it is Eleven who might have the most delicately beautiful emotional arc of the season. The girl who started off as an experiment gets to learn the strength in vulnerability, and in doing so, finally becomes fully human. Like the show itself, its central star gets something of a level up.
Things like the addition of Lucas’ sister Erica, played by Priah Ferguson, could easily have backfired, but the precocious child from season 2 makes an excellent sassy pre-teen in season 3. And the addition of Maya Hawke as Robin, Steve’s co-worker at the mall, is simply delightful to the point where we have to wonder how we ever enjoyed Stranger Things without her.
Even elements like Will’s desire to recapture the innocence of the party’s D&D days or Jonathan’s arguments with Nancy about the value of having a job are perfectly dropped in to flesh out the full context of the overall adventure. Max’s older brother Billy is also fleshed out here, a strategic maneuver that suddenly puts his actions in the second season into perspective.
It shows forward thinking on the part of the Duffer Brothers, who clearly had a plan for him since then. Season 3 also throws the events of the first two seasons into relief, raising the stakes from a juvenile chase to a sickening deconstruction of humanity akin to The Fly and They Live.
But with all the horror comes the comedy. One of the reasons the show is so popular is the way it remixes the most popular clichés of ’80s genre flicks and gives them new life. Last season, the show reveled in the oddball pairing of jock Steve Harrington and the adorable geek Dustin Henderson. Season 3 not only doubles down on this bromance, but shows off a comedic ease we haven’t seen before.
This season has the sharpest jokes, the most laugh-out-loud moments, and one insane sequence that feels like nothing Stranger Things has dared do before. Hopper, Joyce, and Murray (Brett Gelman) toy with the comedy troupe as well, and their segment is as enjoyable to watch as it is bemusing to the Russian engineer Dr. Alexei (Alec Utgoff), who tags along for the ride. But beneath their capers are stronger undercurrents.
The show’s biggest surge forward is in how Hawkins, Indiana gets weirder than ever before in the show’s third season, and it’s to the show’s benefit. It lets jerk characters like Billy shine, while allowing Will Byers to spend his first season not completely incapacitated.
It also takes an innovative approach by focusing on how the new Starcourt Mall will affect the businesses downtown and the social lives of our teenaged protagonists, and the series does an amazing job of tying the culture of the mall directly into the central conspiracy, although viewers may have to stretch their sense of credibility a bit on that score.
The other best thing about the series, however, has always been the monsters. The Duffer Brothers have an uncanny talent for creating terrifying new creatures, which is particularly impressive in an industry where the only clear path to success is to adapt something that’s already popular.
The big bad of this season is particularly gruesome in its execution, so much so we would cast a warning now for those of the weak-stomached, without giving away spoilers. You can tell that the brothers really enjoyed pinching certain elements from 80s classics and embedding them into the show’s plot.
On the downside, there are some truly bizarre moments that as funny as they are, seem a little out of place and jar you out of the story. You’ll know exactly what I mean when you get there. It’s these desires to pick comedy or shock value over substance that does the show a disservice at times, and goes against what we know of the characters. If they stopped that, the show would be near perfect.
However, one of this should dissuade you from diving straight into Season 3. For such young actors, the cast completely blows other performances out of the water.
For all the emotionally intense sequences, the younger actors show a natural flair and maturity in their performances. Brown, in particular, suffers some of the most excessively traumatic sequences — perhaps it’s unfair that she should do all the heavy lifting when others are left to the sidelines or are even tempted to exploit her character’s powers.
Guest stars Cary Elwes and Jake Busey are also passable antagonists, but their value lies mainly in their ability, through roles they played in the past, to evoke decades gone by as Matthew Modine, Paul Reiser, and Sean Astin have done in prior seasons.
Also, the finale has to be some of the finest television I’ve seen in a long time, shattering all my expectations. On the whole, ‘Stranger Things’ Season 3 is simply thrilling and more than lives up to the legacy its predecessors have established.
Status – Season 3 (Completed)
Network – Netflix