It’s 1985. ‘Back to the Future’ is in cinemas, Coke have just launched a new drink, malls are popping up across America… and the ‘Stranger Things’ gang are back for their third outing. Does it live up to its first two seasons, which were lavished with 80s glam with a dash of classic horror? Not quite. But it’s not far off.
(Note: This review will contain spoilers for all seasons of ‘Stranger Things’. If you haven’t caught up yet, take a trip to Hawkins, and then get back to me).
The plot is… kinda basic
Season 3 of ‘Stranger Things’ has the weakest plot of the series. There, I said it. It leans on stereotypes and tropes waaaay too much, and it feels like a story that wasn’t even necessary to tell. It’s like a sequel for a sequels’ sake, as opposed to there being depth and world-building to explore.
The annoying thing is that Season 1 and 2 of ‘Stranger Things’ set up this world building to be explored perfectly. The lore leaks through from episode to episode, leaving the audience with more questions than answers. What about the other kids that were being tested on, similar to Eleven? What exactly is the Upside Down? What do these demons want – and how do they work? Do we get any answers to these? Nope. What we get is a Russian military group reopening up the portal between realms, painfully tearing it open like the Duffer Brothers painfully trying to justify creating the simplest third season possible.
But does that mean that season 3 is bad? Hell no. I enjoyed every single minute of it. Stereotypes and all.
The characters evolve, for the better
The characters are the pillar that hold season 3 together. They’re fully formed, fully functioning people who you feel like you actually know. You’re routing for El to use her badass powers to fuck shit up. You’re whooping when Dustin’s questionable girlfriend is proven to exist. You’re living your best life Mike admits his feelings for his beloved.
There’s a lot of down time in Season 3 which allows for the show to breathe a little, and it benefits from it. We get to spend more time with the characters we’ve come to love over the past few years, and any time spent with my favourite band of misfit nerds is a-okay with me. Each of them are so fully realised, each so crafted with care and devotion that it’s a pleasure to watch whenever they’re on-screen.
Season 3 relies on comedy a lot. Like, a lot, a lot. Which is fine – there’s nothing wrong with lightening in the mood; especially now that the show’s shifted from an Upside Down franchise based around children’s nightmares to a teenage coming of age story. But sometimes, just sometimes, it relies on it like a crutch, hinting that perhaps the Duffer Brothers used it as a means to draw attention away from their sub-par plot. The storyline relies on a variety of tropes in order to chug to its eventual conclusion.
Season 3 suffers with a slight identity crisis. Is it a coming of age story, a supernatural thriller, a satirical comedy – or a strange combination of all three? It’s unique, don’t get me wrong, but at times the ridiculousness of it all was hard to swallow.
As I mentioned, the stereotypes and tropes are blindingly obvious. From The Super Evil Russians™ (who want to open up the veil because… wait, why did they wanna open it up again?) to a character ripped right out ‘Terminator’, there’s little to no depth to be had here. Perhaps that’s the point – ‘Stranger Things’ gives us a glimpse into the mindsets in America at the time period – but it borders on being satirical. Thankfully, Alec Utgoff gives an alternate view on the otherwise stereotyped villains, with his sweet-hearted nature so pure he was practically a walking, talking puppy dog. (Okay, he wasn’t that pure, but I loved him, okay?).
The characters are divided into groups this season, and it works well in order for the plot to move along at a reasonable pace. While at times I did miss certain character interactions, and it did feel a tad fragmented, it lays the groundwork for a glorious crescendo when all of our faves are reunited in the latter part of the season.
Steve Harrington, aka Hair God aka Mom of the Year, doubles up with newcomer Robin, a realistic and down-to-earth gal pal who works at Scoops Ahoy. She gets scooped up (see what I did there?) into the demonic drama, along with Dustin, who find themselves hurtling down into the depths of Hawkins and at the mercy of those pesky evil Russians. Robin is a brilliant addition to the cast, who’s witty, smart and vulnerable, all in one.
Eleven also branches out from the group of hormonal boys to have some down time with Max – who, bless her – desperately wants her brother Billy to repent the evil demon and return back to chillin’ at the pool. Sigh, we all wished that Max, we really did. RIP Billy and your weirdly beautiful mullet. It was nice, though, that El got to spend some time away from DnD and demons and lab testing, and have fun with Max gossiping about boys and shopping at the mall. Again, it’s the little moments like this that let season 3 shine.
Hopper and Joyce are wrapped up in their “we have feelings for each other but don’t wanna admit it” vibe, which is cute. Besides, it makes sense that both of them would have issues with commitment given their dark pasts. The two of them get wrapped up in the Russian conspiracy vibe; being hunted by someone who totally isn’t the Terminator.
The rest of the gang are busy growing up. Lucas is navigating the tricky waters of a relationship with Max, while Mike is figuring out (and failing) at how not to be the most awkward person in the world around Eleven. Will – other than wanting to play D&D all day long – is the only one who’s really concerned about the reappearance of the Mind Flayer, which, y’know, makes sense. A giant spider-demon thing kinda takes precedence over girls.
Jokes aside, all of this shows that the gang are growing up. As they change, so does the show.
My sweet badass Nancy is the star of the show, for me. She’s the best character in the whole show – fight me. From dealing with asshole Donald Trump impersonators to standing her ground and firing bullet after bullet at Possessed Mullet in order to protect her babies, every scene of hers was a delight to watch. Nancy Drew my ass.
That said, her storyline with Jonathan was… questionable. While I’m always excited to get more Nancy action, the plot of her investigating mutant rats, before discovering the Flayed Army which led to… pretty much nothing, felt like filler. Hopefully they give my gal a better storyline to embark on next season.
The acting is superb
Each and every cast member knocks it out of the park. From our main gang to side characters only used in a scene or two, every single person involved in Season 3 of ‘Stranger Things’ hits each and every note perfectly. Millie Bobby Brown in particular is an actual star. Her tears in the finale when she read Hopper’s letter made my throat close up and my eyes trickle with tears – and that never happens (well, apart from that one time when ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ ended, but that’s another story). Our main group have palpable chemistry with each other, knowing when to play the role funny or badass or serious. They all hit every single beat.
Stranger Things Season 3 looks gorgeous
Seriously. The cinematography and special effects are out of this world; making you feel as though you’ve stepped through a gate into another world, a world sprinkled with 80s glam and popping colour. It’s a nice contrast to the dark and gloomy demons. Honestly, I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to pause the show and take a screenshot to make my new wallpaper. Full on 80s glam, decorated with a thin thread of horror. Perfection.
And that finale scene – where our nerds throw fireworks at the Mind Flayer? Lord above, that was so sweet to watch. Colours bursting as the Mind Flayer hunts down our heroes, all wrapped in the context of an American shopping mall. It’s so weird, putting down it down in words, but to watch it play out on the screen was beautiful.
The CGI and special effects have definitely taken a step up. From bright-red storms thundering in Billy’s memories, to Russian guards being zapped with electricity, it all looks so, so good.
That infamous song
One of my IRL pals kept pestering me about Season 3, insisting that I finish watching it so we can talk about it. (I like to savour my shows, if I can). He mentioned that there was a song in one of the episodes. My ears pricked up, I’m all about a good musical number. A song? Like, ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ style? Or, a sad, brooding song? What was it all about?
The answer finally came in the final episode, where Dustin’s actually real girlfriend demands that he sings the ‘NeverEnding Story’ theme song in order to pass along the code that’ll help Hopper and Joyce close the gate. And they don’t shy away from it. Full on split screen, loud vocals, dramatic musical stingers, it’s… something.
Honestly, I can’t decide if I absolutely adore it or positively loathe it. Or both. It’s equal parts amazing and terrible. It deflates all of the tension in the scene, enforcing that satirical vibe I mentioned earlier, but it’s also hilarious.
‘Stranger Things’ Season 3 was a mixed bag that relies on established plots and neglects to delve deep into its own lore. There’s only so many times I can see Will touch the back of his neck or Eleven wipe blood from her nose before I start to roll my eyes. Like, come on. There are so many themes the show can delve into – answers about the Upside Down, the origins of the creepy ass creatures invading Hawkins, more on El’s powers (though the show ended with her supposedly losing them, which is fun) – but instead they rely on Evil Russians and a Mind Flayer who reduces its possessed companions into gloop and slurps them up. Aaaaalrighty then.
With that said, I’m buzzing for season 4. Hopper clearly isn’t dead – I always stand by a no body, no death policy – added with the “not the American” line in the post-credits scene, it’s pretty much a given that he’s coming back from the grave. Praise the Mind Flayer. I can’t have Joyce have another lover die on her. With the Byer family packing up and leaving the demonic town behind (finally, a smart move!), El’s powers dying out and the Russians still up to something, there’s plenty of questions left to answer.
While I’ve been kinda harsh on this show in this review, I do love it, and I did enjoy every single episode, no matter how bizarre it was. At its heart, ‘Stranger Things’ is full of 80s glamour, bizarre monsters and charming characters, and it’s that combo that I’ll always hold dear. Honestly, I could watch the gang play DnD for 8 hours and I’d still be down.
There’s so much more for them to explore in the world of ‘Stranger Things’, and I, for one, can’t wait to take another trip back to Hawkins with my fave group of nerds.
What did you think of Season 3? Did you love it? Hate it? Somewhere in between? Let me know in the comments! Or, if you can’t get enough of quirky TV shows, check out my review of ‘Good Omens’, or find out what we know about the upcoming season of ‘The Umbrella Academy’. I’ve also written a whole fan-boy piece on why Nancy is my fave character in ‘Stranger Things‘!