Netflix Review: Stranger Things (Season 3) **SPOILERS**

Fresh off of finishing the last two episodes of Stranger Things Season 3 and a good night’s sleep, I feel like I’m ready for this review. My teaser thought: I really liked this season; It is definitely my favorite yet for many reasons. The Duffer Brothers have established these characters, the town of Hawkins, and the Upside Down in a way that solidifies the Netflix hit in a time when they really need one (they released quarterly results on Wednesday and it was so bad that stocks dropped over 10%, and they will soon be losing the streaming rights to both Friends and The Office…ouch). Before I get in depth with this review I want to re-iterate that this post is chock-full of SPOILERS because how could you discuss a show like this on a surface level??? “There are some kids…and some slightly older kids…and some much older adults that all work together to, um, fight dark and slimy monsters.” Yeah that’s just not gonna do it for me, so full spoilers ahead!
Season three picks up ~6 months after the events of the previous season. It’s the first season to feature summertime, and they really take advantage of it. Many of the scenes are brighter, people are swarming to the public pool and the new Starcourt Mall, and there is even a 4th of July carnival to enjoy. What could go wrong? Well the kids are back, but so are the monsters. At the end of season two, Eleven managed to seal the portal to the Upside Down in Hawkins Lab, effectively killing (nearly) everything that originated in that realm which had crossed over into our world. They saved the “world” for a second time (but really, just the small town). But in season three it is discovered by Will’s neck tingles that the Shadow Monster/Mind Flayer which had inhabited him for most of the previous season is somehow still lurking in the town, and it’s up to no good. At the end of season two, we saw it looming over the kids’ school in the Upside Down, presumably keeping a close watch on Eleven. Turns out that since then, Russians have built a secret underground lab beneath the mall and are effectively re-opening another portal to the Upside Down. So once more, the kids and the slightly older kids and the much older adults must work in a three-pronged approach to defeat the Mind Flayer and close another portal. It’s basically the same underlying plot of season two, except this time they fancy it up with a new monster, some new faces, and more 80’s references. As Eleven says: Bitchin’.
The new season leaves me with a lot of questions, so I’m going to proceed with this next part of the review in light of these, which I assume that many of you who have watched the season also have floating around in your brains.
1) HOPPER BETTER NOT BE DEAD!!! Oh wait, in question form…IS HOPPER DEAD?!? Seriously, I’ll be super upset if he got vaporized. Many of the characters in this series have come a long way, but I really like where they have brought him. When we first met Hopper (David Harbour, 2019’s disastrous re-make of Hellboy) he was a sad and lonely drunk, who also happened to be the police chief of Hawkins. During the first two seasons, he sobered up, started playing an active role in the safety of the town, and even adopted Eleven so that she could stay in Hawkins. His character in the third season takes a step further to show that he is ready to be romantically involved, particularly with Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder, Beetlejuice, Alien: Resurrection) and he has what it takes to provide more than just a home for El. He shows that he can be a father: loving, sacrificial, protective, and willing to show his emotions and have difficult talks. Hopefully he just jumped into the seal before it closed and holed up in there for a while before being caught by Russians, because he could be the one referred to as “the American” in that Russian prison and it would be interesting to see where that leaves him for next season.
2) Are Eleven’s powers gone for good? Why did they disappear? Were they somehow absorbed by the Mind Flayer by that mind slug in her leg? Whatever the future holds for her powers, I actually like that they went bye-bye because it provided a chance for others to step up and save the day. Eleven’s powers have been a “deus ex machina” most of the time when it comes to solving Upside Down problems: they work as much as the show needs them to in the moment. Without them, the other characters were able to prove themselves in their smarts and sacrifices. Mike used physics to help everyone flip over the car in the mall when Eleven couldn’t make it budge. Lucas’ idea of throwing fireworks at the Mind Flayer’s monster was a good distraction that bought them some time. Steve was able to save the day by crashing his car into Billy’s in the mall parking lot. Eleven used her previous encounter with Billy and his memories to remind him of the love he once felt and it was able to give him enough clarity to stand between the monster and El long enough to give the adults time to close the seal. And even after the seal was closed and everyone was safe, Mike was able to use his puberty height to reach the stuffed dog in the closet. He then comforted Eleven by telling her that her powers would come back, but we just don’t know that for certain Mike.
3) Why does everyone want to open portals to the Upside Down? And how did the Russians know so much about it? Nothing good has presumably come out of the other dimension thus far, so other than research it really holds no value. But I have a theory about the Russians’ knowledge and working with it. As an introduction to season three, we saw a glimpse of Russians working with a similar key to open a portal in Kamchatka just a year before they moved their operation to Hawkins, Indiana. With the CIA’s MKUltra (mind control) program that gave Eleven her powers being a response to similar operations being held in Russia, it is possible that the Russians also stumbled upon similar things as the CIA did in America. They obviously had their own machine to open a seal and from the looks of things in Indiana, they were prepared to capture anything that came out of the seal. In fact, they had already captured a demodog in Kamchatka, as evidenced by the end credits scene. But maybe there is more going on. My thought is that Dr. Brenner, El’s “papa”, is behind the scenes working with the Russians now, having fled Hawkins after the events of season one. Therefore, maybe the MKUltra side-plot that was seemingly abandoned in season two will pick back up in season four with the mad scientist as the final villain. What do you think?
4) Will season four be the final season, and will it go global? The series has previously been confirmed by producer Shawn Levy to have story material for at least four seasons, but it has not officially been renewed for it’s fourth season yet. Given that at the end of season three, “the American” is in Russia and the Byers and El have moved out of Hawkins, the next season could include a much broader scope. However, the Byers are visiting over Christmas (presumably the holiday setting of the next season) and it would make more sense for things to once again return to Hawkins. I actually really enjoy that they keep the action in one place. It would feel too much like a movie for the Mind Flayer to flee to a new location and start wreaking havoc. I would rather that the broader scope include new characters like the few we got in this season except spread around outside of Hawkins. Hopefully they bring everyone back for this next season (including Hopper), and I would even be okay with it being the last one…a final showdown between The Party (D&D term) and The Upside Down.
Those are most of my questions about the show and where this season took us, but I also want to quickly discuss the amazing acting of this season. Of course, David Harbour and Winona Ryder and Cary Elwes (oh I’m so glad he joined the cast for this season!) have been in Hollywood for decades, but some of the kids have really proven themselves too! Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) is phenomenal. Aside from her trademark nosebleeds and screaming, her acting is really really good. She was given some more emotion in this season and watching her in interviews outside of the show, I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s an A-list celebrity in the next 10 years. The same thing goes for both Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Steve (Joe Keery). The friendship between these two characters was by far my favorite part of the season. We had an introduction to it in season two when they were looking for Dustin’s pet demodog Dart and then again in the final scene as Steve drove Dustin to the school dance, but they got to spend the majority of the season together this time around and it was fantastic. They are both so funny and very heartwarming, and those are some of what makes Stranger Things a show worth watching. The other-worldly things are visually cool (or revolting, your choice) and keep tension in the show, but the characters are what continually drive the show forward and ultimately bring fans back. I also liked to watch Steve’s character continue to evolve this season. He was just a big jerk in season one, but really redeemed himself by helping to kill the Demogorgon at the Byers’ house, and we started to see a change in his character by the end of the season when he replaced Jonathan’s camera. Even though his relationship with Nancy ended, he still cares for the kids, and he continues to step up into a hero role despite his flaws and mistakes. Mike (Finn Wolfhard, IT) is also starting to prove himself as an actor, and while I don’t think he is a standout among the younger cast, he has a lot of potential. His character keeps everyone grounded and he does a great job showing his struggles with young love and trying to respect Hopper’s wishes for personal space.
I could probably keep going but for fear of having lost most of you reading by now, I’ll wrap things up. This show provides so many 80’s callbacks and so much nostalgia, but what it really does well is blending together some of the best sci-fi movies and themes from the 80’s while maintaining it all as background noise to the characters. Family and friends take center stage (with a hint of romance) and the humanity of each of the characters comes through in a way that compels us to keep watching. So I hope you enjoyed this season as much as I did! The summer movie season is a little over halfway over, but there are still plenty of big releases hitting theatres soon, including The Lion King opening tonight. I’m probably waiting until next week to see it, but keep an eye open for other upcoming reviews too. Cheers!

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