After watching two amazing seasons of Netflix’s Stranger Things, the bar has definitely been set high by the Duffer Brothers for their brainchild. Season 2 has aptly hyped up the presence of the Mind Flayer looming in the Upside Down in their cliffhanger ending. Season 3 introduces a different flavor to the series — adolescence.
Synopsis: While the gang in Hawkins move on from the demogorgon attacks, a secret team from Russia has been hard at work trying to open the doorway to the Upside Down to use the Mind Flayer as a weapon. When this fails, they move their operation to Hawkins to try their luck and use the new Starcourt Mall in town as a cover for their nefarious activities.
From the onset, fans will feel a disconnect in Stranger Things Season 3 from the previous two installments of the series. There is something unfamiliar about the show in the sense that the kids are now dealing with adolescent issues like their first love, making out and for the better part of eight episodes, relationships. Don’t get me wrong, but this was my least favorite parts of the show. I felt like it felt out of place given the magnitude of the threat that the squad was about to be faced with.
Unlike in previous seasons, Dustin was separated from his best buds Mike, Lucas and Will for the most part. Instead, he was teamed up with his buddy Steve, his co-worker Robin and Lucas’ little sister Erica as they go off on their own mission to discover the secret Russian base hidden underneath Starcourt Mall. This was, for me, the strongest arc of the show this season because Steve and Dustin’s bromance is super entertaining to watch. I was also low key shipping Robin with Steve but the surprise twist really came out of nowhere.
While Dustin and Steve and their Scoop Squad go after their lead, Mike, Lucas, Will, Eleven and Max come up with their own clue that the Mind Flayer may be closer than everyone thinks. As they discover Billy’s role in the meat suit operation, they join forces with Nancy and Jonathan, who, while working at the local paper, also discover something alarming (and disgusting) happening to the citizens of Hawkins.
Holding the final piece of the puzzle is Hopper and Joyce, who, after checking out a red flag at the Hawkins Lab find themselves investigating a conspiracy surrounding the town’s corrupt mayor and a tough Russian mercenary. In order to crack the code, so to speak, Hopper enlists the help of the paranoid conspiracy nut Murray and their hostage — Russian scientist Alexei aka Smirnoff.
This is the bulk of what makes the show different this season. The main cast members are split into teams and discover one element of the mystery separately. They go off on their own adventures and hold different parts of the puzzle that need to come together in order to come up with their final battle plan against the Mind Flayer, who has outdone himself in his bid to escape the Upside Down and dominate the universe. While watching these teams make their own painful breakthroughs, fans figure out the missing links of the mystery and grow even more excited for them to put the pieces together.
While the first two seasons were inspired by fantasy adventure tropes like ET, there was no doubt that Season 3 was channeling 80s horror tropes like Body Snatchers, Alien and the The Thing. They even make a reference to the John Carpenter film in the movie. There were also touches of Terminator in the series with the badass Russian who was Hopper’s arch nemesis for this season. One thing’s for sure though, the show remained faithful to its main appeal, which was serving up plenty of pop culture references from the 80s that audiences can’t seem to get enough of.
In terms of action and intensity, Stranger Things 3 does take its sweet time building up to its climax, only putting together they key elements of the conflict in Episode 7.
The “real” villains
I was also majorly annoyed at Nancy and Max because Nancy (even though she turned out right) really felt like a know it all for the most part and bossed around Jonathan so much. Jonathan spoke the truth when they had that major fight but of course, that went down the drain when he backed down and apologized. Max, while she was being helpful to Eleven in finding her own individuality, was equally annoying when it came to issues surrounding the battle against the Mind Flayer. She was always quick to pit El’s powers against the Mind Flayer without understanding the risks. With her limited experience in dealing with monsters, I wondered why it was that everyone listened to her all the time. And while her relationship with Billy was fragmented at best, I hated her general lack of concern for her brother until the last minute when it was basically useless.
Stranger Things Season 3 MVPs
On the flipside, the MVPs for this season was Steve Harrington, who despite not being a super genius nerd embraced his dorkiness and risked his life countless times to protect his little bro and his extended family in the mission. He still had great hair despite being beat up, by the way. Number two is Hopper, who, even despite the new weight and the daddy issues, has risked life and limb to keep his daughter and his town safe all these seasons. He is also responsible for a very emotional scene this season. Another hidden MVP this season was Billy. Say what you will about of Season 3’s villain but I liked the depth of acting that Dacre Montgomery showcased this season. It wasn’t something big but the subtle nuances of the real Billy hidden underneath the mind controlled one and his expressive eyes were what really illustrated Billy’s inner conflict and kept him from being a full on villain compared to his previous iteration of the role.
All in all, Stranger Things Season 3 seemed a tad detached from the first two seasons because this time, it introduced adolescent conflicts into the mix of its storytelling. Teen rebellion, angst and first love also played a huge role in this season’s arcs which helped the show transition but took away somewhat to its general ET-like appeal. With the kids growing up, it can’t be helped. A friend even observed that the destruction of Castle Byers was the show’s symbolism of goodbye to childhood. Makes sense, right?
Stranger Things experimented a lot in their storytelling approach this season and I felt like it still paid off in delivering a solid and entertaining installment to the franchise. Stranger Things Season 3 was an exciting, emotional ride but it stuck true to its core at the end of the day — family, friendship and a common sense of heroism. This is why it is still familiar even though the show has already evolved in so many ways. I think I’ll stick around for a season or two more to see what happens next.