Stranger Things 3
The third season of Netflix’s monster show Stranger Things delivers the exact same fun and frights as the first two seasons did – and that is not a bad thing
The third season of Stranger Things delivers the exact same fun and frights as the first two seasons did – and that is not a bad thing. Hawkins now has a mall, the kids have all grown older (sometimes to their parents’ consternation), and there are still otherworldly goings-on underground, but the formula that worked so well in the first two seasons is largely intact. The Duffer Brothers sell this repetition on the charisma and chemistry of their cast, not to mention the colour-pop nostalgia of the mid-1980s.
The opening episode features some truly joyous re-establishment of place and re-introductions of characters, lending the series much goodwill from the start. Now that the kids are unquestionably teenagers – with greater financial and fashion independence than before – the costuming and backdrop expand in the full sentimental glory of American consumerism (this, of course, veers towards the wrong type of nostalgia – namely one that erases the long-term economic impact of Reagan’s legacy – but Stranger Things’ escapism is unaffected).
The ‘80s vibes are enhanced by the appearance of the most ‘80s of American film and television villains – yes, the Russians are in town. It might be a bit unimaginative, especially after the first two seasons delved into a more twisted governmental conspiracy, but – as with its rose-tinted nostalgia – this show has always prioritised horror chills over any intentional political statements.
What does not work in Stranger Things’ third outing is a tired insistence on heteronormativity and its worst traits. The crowbarred relationship between Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) and the forced lack of relationship between Sherriff Hopper (David Harbour) and Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) are lazy choices that weaken the season. The former would not be too bad were its framing not slightly uncomfortable, while the latter pairing’s constant bickering feels false after two seasons of their own character and relationship development. After so many encounters with the Upside Down, it feels like everyone should have moved past petty disagreements and irritations, and Hopper’s sitcom dad makeover may well exemplify some of the worst tropes of the era.
The best character growth is instead exhibited by Steve Harrington (Joe Keery). While Season Two saw his full transformation into the group’s de facto guardian, he is the best (read: most exasperated and loving) dad as Season Three starts off. His adventures with fellow ice cream seller Robin (a scene-stealing Maya Hawke) and a splinter of the main gang are the season’s highlights, giving viewers the show’s wittiest dialogue, most honest development, and highest stakes.
Stranger Things season three is currently streaming on Netflix