Reviewed by Steve McGowan
Some plot details about Stranger Things Season 3 are inevitably mentioned, so watch it if you haven’t already. It’s really good!
Stranger Things is one my most favorite shows ever. One could attribute this to the blatant 80s nostalgia-baiting that they do, but it’s more than that. True, Stranger Things is a pastiche of all things 80s, a loving homage of a decade that gave birth to the things many nerds love. Now in its third season, the show can occasionally find itself veering dangerously close to parody, but it never quite becomes a farce because the series isn’t just one big 80s tribute. It’s a show about growing up, teenage angst, parental fears, and other universally relatable things.
Season 3 picks up some time after the events of season 2: Eleven (Milly Bobby Brown) has closed the gate, sealing off the monsters of the Upside Down forever… or so it seems. Turns out, over in Soviet Russia, they too have figured out that the Upside Down dimension exists and the Russians have been trying to open a doorway to that realm with a giant ray gun since 1984. The Russian effort seems to fail, and we cut back to Hawkins, Indiana a year later where our gang is happily spending summer. El and Mike (Finn Wolfhard) are busy canoodling in their newfound relationship, much to the chagrin of El’s adoptive father Jim Hopper (David Harbour). Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Max (Sadie Sink) are also a happy pair, and even Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) allegedly has a girlfriend now (a Mormon girl from Utah he met at a science camp whom he says he maintains a long distance relationship with). Will (Noah Schnapp) is irritated by all the coupling up that’s happening, even remarking at how gross it is that his brother Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) has lipstick marks on his face from making out with his Nancy (Natalia Dyer), Mike’s sister.
Meanwhile, the talk of the town is the new mall in Hawkins, where all the kids hang out all day. Steve (Joe Keery) has a job at the ice cream parlor at the mall, and has a somewhat antagonistic friendship with his sarcastic female co-worker, a new character by the name of Robin (Maya Hawke). The mall however is making all the other small businesses in town dry up, which causes mass protests in front of the mayor’s office. Nancy, who now works with Jonathan as interns at the town newspaper, thinks this is a story worth reporting on, but the sexist bosses at the paper all laugh at her when she tries to pitch the idea. So when she accidentally answers a phone call at the paper from an old lady with a problem with rats behaving oddly, she starts to investigate, dragging Jonathan along with her. And the rats, they’re just a symptom of an old monster returning to Hawkins. The monster seems to ensnare Billy (Dacre Montgomery), Max’s jerkface of a stepbrother, and through him, bad things start to happen.
However, as this is unfolding, the kids are having a tough time with adolescence, which is wrecking havoc on their friendships; El breaks up with Mike, and subsequently goes to Lucas for love advice. The constant talk of girls annoys Will, and Dustin prefers hanging out with Steve. Post breakup El and Max develop a friendship, and spends time away from the boys. This interpersonal conflict causes the kids to split up, and thus each group finds out about different pieces of the puzzle of strange goings on in Hawkins. Dustin intercepts Russian spy messages on his giant ham radio, and subsequently discovers shady Russian activity in Hawkins itself, which he investigates with Steve, Robin, and eventually, Lucas’s younger sister Erica (Priah Ferguson). Will and Jonathan’s mom Joyce (Winona Ryder) does some investigating of her own when she finds magnets in her home and store have been mysteriously demagnetized. El and Max try to do some digging on Billy after finding him behaving suspiciously. All these threads eventually come together, unravelling the mystery of the Russians and their involvement with the Upside Down.
This season crams a lot of characters into the story, and weaves the narrative around them before they all get together to fight the bad guys, which is both the Russians and the Upside Down monster. The Duffer brothers borrow ideas liberally from The Thing, Body Snatchers, cold war films, and even the Terminator. And while it seems like there’s a lot going on, the writers do an admirable job of keeping the threads interwoven nicely, and whatever criticisms they had from the previous seasons are addressed here. The female characters get more to do, and have more meaningful relationships with each other. Also, El’s powers are not used as deus ex machina (as much). The kids are growing up believably, and they put on excellent performances. However, Hopper feel like Flanderized versions of himself this season. He went from a grouchy but empathetic cop to an endlessly ranting snarly man who flips out at the slightest provocation. Joyce too, in keeping with her character, keeps finding tiny things to be suspicious about. Although, I feel the case of fridge magnets isn’t really something she’d obsess over, so that bugged me a little.
Stranger Things has grown to be one of the best shows on streaming today, and it shows; it’s broken Netflix records and even former subscribers are re-subscribing thanks to the show. With this level of popularity, it’s bound to get another season at least. There are a number of heartbreaking moments in the series, so keep the tissues handy!