With any Stranger Things 3 review, there’s a built-in understanding that the author is probably a fan. At this point in the plot, there’s no real reason for someone to suddenly jump in and start critiquing. If you’ve watched the latest episodes and you’re reading this, chances are you’re already down with what the show offers. I’m a fan too, of course, so it was my pleasure to consume the entire third entry over 4th of July weekend. Here are my thoughts:
Some Like It Hot
Season 3 begins with a light summer vibe that is really captured well. Everyone is hanging out at the pool or the mall, the sun is shining, and pop music is always playing. I think they captured the related nostalgia really well here. The feeling of being off for the summer as a kid with nothing to do but have fun was special, and the vibe of the show is in time with that feeling. It also captures the feeling of post-graduation, where you’ve become a small fish in a big pond. Nancy and Steve have separate, particular struggles adapting to the working world (in the case of Nancy, it is far more external than internal).
The younger gang seems to be having a ball, though it’s clear they’re changing. No one is interested in playing Dungeons & Dragons with Will anymore. They’re now interested in girls instead. Generally, the group seems somewhat broken apart while still maintaining a tenured bond. Mike and El are in the midst of a puppy love romance that drives Hopper crazy and alienates some of the other group members.
I really enjoyed the tonal shift that begins this season. It changed things up while also nailing the familiar nostalgia that the show has done so well in other areas.
Separate Lives…..kind of
What about the conflict though? Well, I’m a little disappointed to report that there are quite the similarities to previous seasons. Now for every similarity there are a handful of differences. That’s why this is not going to be a bash-fest review. However, we are still presented with gates needing opened or closed, monsters with vague motives, and Eleven being the key to everything.
It turns out that Eleven closed the gate last season, but actually trapped the shadow monster/mindflayer in our world with us. It ends up mind-controlling a ton of rats, exploding them eventually, and melding their blob-like corpses into its own physical form. It’s as gross as it sounds, and is just the start of the gore that definitely surpasses previous seasons.
The mindflayer ends up capturing and controlling Max’s brother Billy, who acts as a sort of surrogate that goes out and captures other humans to add to the monster’s physical form. It takes these humans and unceremoniously attaches a tentacle to their mouths, effectively taking control of them. If it wasn’t for it being CGI, I would be wholly unsettled. All the effects look pretty good though.
Most of the kids spend their time wondering aloud how to stop this all from happening, just like previous seasons. Thankfully, Dustin, Steve, Lucas’ sister Erika, and newcomer Robyn are involved in a new plot involving Russian scientists. It splits up the group with mixed results, but it’s something different I suppose. I’m still not sure how I feel about it. I welcome the idea of giving these characters something else to do, but these scenes also wore on me later in the season.
Back in Time
As mentioned above, we all know Stranger Things does a great job of appearing authentically ’80s. I think the third season probably does it best though. All three have the appropriate look and feel to be sure. I think this one gets it just right though. It blends everything without feeling too ham-fisted. The first season did this pretty well too (other than the blatant E.T. homage), but I think season three packs more in without feeling too purposeful like season two.
I actually didn’t have a problem with season two in this regard. I lapped it up and let the ’80s silliness wash over me, but it was a little much for some people. Season three adds flair from the decade every chance it gets, but it doesn’t feel forced in my opinion. The mall is an awesome recreation straight out of 1985, with all the appropriate stores. They all seem very authentic too, if a little more shiny than they ought to be.
The show also manages to blend in Back to the Future, The Neverending Story, Magnum P.I., Atari, and so many more. It’s a real treat that, to me, feels like it’s steeped in kid culture from the ’80s instead of a blatant tug at the heartstrings. Well, most of the time at least.
I would say that I like all seasons of Stranger Things about equally. I think they all do a different list of things really well and a few not so well. One thing they definitely have in common though is that they’re all pretty damn good and are saturated with nostalgia for the period setting. I don’t know that the Duffer brothers have challenged themselves too much over the course of the show’s run, but it’s all good really.
The show is everything you might want if you enjoyed what movies and TV had to offer in the ’80s. Everyone will have their own favorite moments or small complaints. The overall experience is still a warm, endearing, and often thrilling ride.