There are few things in life that get me more excited than what is happening in Hawkins, Indiana, so when I awoke early on premiere day for Stranger Things 3, I took full advantage of my day off and binged it quickly. But I can assure you that even though I watched it quickly, I experienced every single emotion to the fullest while I was entrenched in the latest supernatural drama in Hawkins; it was quite a rollercoaster. The third season had all the qualities of the previous seasons that has made us all fans of the show: excitement, terror, humor, love, anger…but at the center of it all is the heart and soul: the family and friends who have now become our own.
**This review contains minor spoilers for Stranger Things 3**
Don’t let my positivity fool you, Stranger Things 3 is the scariest of the seasons, and the monsters are absolutely disgusting which makes it more horrific. We had been getting glimpses of what might be next in the trailers, but I really wan’t expecting them to go quite so far with the gore factor. However, I will note that the whole tone of Stranger Things 3 is definitely darker, more grown-up, and it makes sense the monsters would be just as dark (and literally grown-up) to follow suit.
But I don’t really want to talk about the monsters; I want to talk about our beloved characters because that has always been the best part of the show for me. And I want to start by talking about El. She is one of the most important characters, and it was an absolute pleasure seeing her get to be a normal teenager. Obviously the hormones are raging, but watching her connect with Max and really opening up herself to becoming her own person was really special. I love the friendship that has blossomed between El and Max, and after the brief time they spent together last season, I am glad the writers went forward with a better direction with their relationship. For me, this was probably the best part of Stranger Things 3–the emergence of El.
I was also pleasantly surprised by the addition of Robin to our group of friends. I was a little worried from the promos that she would be a little bit too much of a plot device by way of being a romantic possibility for Steve. Luckily, Robin (just like the late arrival of Max before her), is a solidly written character who has a lot of depth, and was critical to the story. And making her queer (but not revealing it till toward the end) was a nice touch of getting over that preconceived notion of being only a love interest for Steve. I wish we had gotten a little more depth, but it was definitely nice to see her fit right in and get down with saving the day just as easily as anyone else. I think she was also one of my favorite elements of the season (and I was really not expecting that).
The other character arc that really surprised me in a good way was Billy. I found his character to be annoyingly unnecessary last season, but he plays a much bigger role in this season, and he was actually likable for me. Sure, I think that the writers took a bit of the easy way out with making him the horny jerk, but I am glad that they gave him layers. I also think that a large part of what makes him more relatable in season three actually has less to do with the memories that El infiltrates (which I think was the intended purpose) and more to do with Max’s reactions to him being in crisis. There is always that one annoying person that you just can’t stand, but someone you care about truly cares about that person and you sometimes find yourself weirdly drawn them–that is Billy for me via Max. I was sad about Billy when Max was sad about Billy, and that made me care about Billy more.
Poor Will–I really felt for him. His character was a standout last season, but he had a much more subdued role in season three (but not any less important). I liked that he was the only one still desperately trying to hold onto childhood, and I really believe that a lot of that has to do with possible lingering questions about his sexuality. Mike even quipped at him that he didn’t like girls, and let’s face it, getting older means that you have to deal with those feelings head-on, mostly due to raging hormones and peers going through the same things. Will was frustrated that his best friends all have girlfriends, and I don’t think he is quite ready to combat those emotions and divulge the results. It was important to him to latch onto those last few moments of childhood, and I think it makes for stronger storytelling.
Hopper is one of my favorite characters in the series, and this season was no different. He is still gruff, but really trying to find his way as a dad. I think that having both El and Joyce in his life has really softened the edges in a lot of respects, but has also made him a lot more aware of the evil in the world, thus making him more volatile. And I think that volatility is a good way to describe Hopper in season three. I wanted him to always be doing the good thing, but that just isn’t who he is. He will fight, scratch, and kill his way to protect his family, and it doesn’t matter what obstacles may get in the way. I really wish we could get more backstory on Hopper because I want to know more about why he is the way that he is. (We had a good start there in previous seasons, but got very little in season three.)
I promised myself that I could not delve too deep and talk at length about every single character, so I have a few honorable mention moments to bring up. I loved loved loved Dustin and Suzie’s rendition of The Neverending Story song (and I sang right along with them), it was great to see Lucas trying to teach Mike how to be in a relationship (and actually giving decent advice for being that age), Erica was annoying, but cute and important, Steve was an attentive babysitter (as always) and will stand up for his young friends, Karen is great being a good mom with hugs and heartfelt talks, Alexei and his slurpees and being adorable at the carnival, I always like when Murray brings out the vodka, and I am happy to see that things are working out for Nancy and Jonathan (and they fight like real couples!). I also really enjoyed the flashbacks of Bob, even though it made me extremely sad to think about him and the grief that Joyce was experiencing.
As for the story, let me say first that the Duffer Brothers run a tight ship with storytelling. The eight episodes flew by and it felt like every scene, character, and moment was integral to the overall story. There weren’t too many plot devices, and every character in the story had a true purpose (not something I can say about prior seasons). This is how you do a miniseries–something that feels like a film, but lasts multiple hours without getting boring. It is very easy for television storytelling to get monotonous and fall down into forgotten plot holes and veer into the unnecessary, but there was really very little of that in this season.
A surprising element in Stranger Things 3 was the Russian angle. Although let’s be real here, anything that took place in the 80s would inevitably have the USSR mingling in the story in some way. I liked the effort, but it was the weakest part of the entire season. How in the heck did they build that underground lair so quickly without anyone noticing? I can suspend reality for most things, but this just seemed a little too random for me. I sort of liked it, but I didn’t love it. Perhaps if we had more information on why they were in Hawkins doing the things they were doing, it would fit better for me.
Without giving too much away (because I promised only minor spoilers!), I hated the ending because it wrecked me. I suppose it was the only sort of ending that it could have had, but it was raw. Part of it probably has to do with the fact that the eight episodes were already over, but mostly because it just felt so final. I felt an emptiness after it ended that one shouldn’t really feel after a mere television show, but I almost liken it to grief. I cried. A lot. I am not ready to let go of our friends, and will need lots of time to decompress. Luckily, they gave us a mid-credits scene which really helped fill the void following the final scene.
Overall, Stranger Things 3 was really great for me. It had everything that I hoped it would by way of the monsters and the overall dread, but also picking up right where we left off with our characters. After all, the storytelling on this show has always brought us back to what is the most important: our family and friends. As I have mentioned previously, the best part of this show is the realistic depictions of relationships and how fighting evil together makes us stronger and do things we could never imagine.
Erin has reviewed many shows over the years including Orphan Black, iZombie, Penny Dreadful, and Killing Eve. She has a keen eye for on-screen chemistry, and loves to tackle the subject of casting. She is also our horror aficionado. She live tweets shows, and loves to share her feelings. Erin has a BA in History, and likes to analyze the lore behind historical fiction. She attends San Diego Comic Con every year and has also attended C2E2 and WonderCon.
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