Review: Stranger Things Season 3

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I do not own any of these images - via IMDB.com

Stranger Things S3 released on Netflix July 4th 2019 Starring Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Millie Bobby Brown, Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLoughlin, Noah Schnapp, Sadie Sink, Natalia Dyer, Joe Keery, Maya Hawke & Dacre Montgomery Created by The Duffer Brothers

Official Synopsis:

It’s 1985 in Hawkins, Indiana, and summer’s heating up. School’s out, there’s a brand new mall in town, and the Hawkins crew are on the cusp of adulthood. Romance blossoms and complicates the group’s dynamic, and they’ll have to figure out how to grow up without growing apart. Meanwhile, danger looms. When the town’s threatened by enemies old and new, Eleven and her friends are reminded that evil never ends; it evolves. Now they’ll have to band together to survive, and remember that friendship is always stronger than fear. Via Netflix

Brief Summary:

Season 3 of Stranger Things is surprisingly lighter in tone but the horror, suspense and 80s nostalgia remains.

Following the same narrative structure as the previous seasons (2-3 different team-ups who eventually reunite in the penultimate episode) may seem a little risky, but ultimately this pace works really well with the 8 episode arc. The first 3 episodes follow a slower pace, focusing on characters instead of action: it’s summer in Hawkins and the majority of the Nerd gang are now loved-up teenagers. Nancy & Jonathan are interning at the local Newspaper company and Steve works in an ice-cream shop alongside Robin, the newest addition to the cast portrayed by Maya Hawke. By Chapter 4 : The Sauna Test, the action is in full swing with impressive visuals and action sequences as the Hawkins crew battle monsters and Russians against a fire-works filled 4th of July back-drop.

Once again, Stranger Things succeeds in expanding its mythology whilst tying up a few loose ends from the previous season: instead of introducing solely new narrative elements, it allows pre-existing ones (such as The Mind Flayer and The Gate) to evolve, granting the creators of the show a chance to further develop their past creations.

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Changes

Season 3 highlights the profound psychological and emotional changes that each character is experiencing, as childhoods end and paths naturally begin to diverge. The most heartbreaking being the Dungeons & Dragons team whose dynamic begins to change as they hit puberty, an often sorrowful life hurdle that everyone can relate to. These group divisions do however allow for some welcome team-ups (such as Eleven + Max and of course Dustin + Steve) and like the two previous seasons, these teams eventually join forces towards the end of the season to fight The Big Fight - together. While many of them embrace these changes, there a few who fear it:

“[…] Meanwhile, Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) — who spent most of season 1 trapped in the horrifying shadow realm known as the Upside Down and season 2 being possessed by the villainous Mind Flayer — is desperate to get his friends to stop obsessing over girls and get back to playing Dungeons & Dragons in the basement. It’s a stand-in sentiment for audience members who are pining for the purity of the group’s first-season dynamic, but it’s also an emotional lifeline for a deeply traumatized child who’s desperate to return to some sense of normalcy.” - The Verge

This fear of change can be considered the central theme of the season: whether it’s about living circumstances, financial security or friendships, change can be a scary thing. The opening of Starcourt Mall is at the root of many of these changes as this new, successful flashy commercial centre has a negative effect on the local economy, forcing small businesses to close with many losing their jobs. The Mall also proved to be the ideal new playground for the characters and story to inhabit: with its secret, hidden depths and capitalist decadence, it allowed for some truly entertaining scenes to unfold within its walls.

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The Bad Guys & New Additions

Although we still have the Main Bad Guy (A.K.A The Mind Flayer monster from the Upside Down), we have a few new additions to the cast - many of them pawns being controlled by the Monster itself. Season 3 introduced some Russian characters who were ultimately stereotyped and frankly camp bad guys, such as the Arnold Schwarzenegger dupe. Fortunately, the other main Bad Guy turns out to be Billy, Max’s older brother, whose story-line was one of the highlights of the season: his character arc showcased Dacre Montgomery’s impressive acting range and turned out to be the emotional stake of season 3. Ultimately, Bill’s arc redeemed the weaker elements of this season’s story.

The newest addition to the team is Robin, who works alongside Steve in Starcourt Mall's ice-cream parlour Scoops Ahoy!. Played by Maya Hawke, this new character slotted in to the team flawlessly, adding an extra dose of wit and humour to the pot. Her kind spirit and self-assured-non-arrogant demeanour offered a welcome breath of fresh air to the existing ensemble of complex female characters.

Erika, Lucas’ bright younger sister had a larger role this season as her frequent visits to the ice-cream parlour lead her to the ‘Scoop Troop’ ‘s adventure alongside Steve, Robin & Dustin. Both of these characters benefited and enriched the story without the creators having to sacrifice other characters’ screen-time.

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A sci-fi blockbuster in a television medium

Minor spoilers ahead. The final episode, appropriately titled Chapter 8 : The Battle Of Starcourt, is the boldest and most ambitious episode of Stranger Things yet. The standard of production was akin to a summer sci-fi blockbuster, with an epic Team Hawkins vs Monster showdown extravaganza in Starcourt Mall. Once again we witness the boundaries of television being pushed to new heights in terms of visual effects and cinematography (although we may need to find a new term for shows in the streaming category?). Not only was the finale visually impressive, it also successfully conveyed the emotional weight of the story: a balance not always easily achieved when it comes to action sequences.

The Future of Stranger Things

Season 3 shows the audience that although it continues to embrace the narrative structure first introduced in season one (and rightfully so), the show, much like its characters, is evolving. However the post-credits scene begs the question: how many times can Stranger Things recycle various story elements and 80’s tropes before it feels stale and repetitive? How can they hope to hold the audience’s attention, if they continue with the same enemies season after season? This formula has worked thus far because it values the character-driven scenes as much as the action scenes. However it is a risk, it may not be sustainable in the long-run.

We can only hope that as the characters continue to grow and change, as they have this season, so will the show’s formula.

Summer & Holly