'Stranger Things' Season 3 has equal doses of fun and fear. It's much more emotionally complex than the earlier instalments as well

Stranger Things 3 brings back familiar faces with a fantastic larger than life climaxScreengrab
Flix Review Saturday, July 06, 2019 - 16:43
Written by  Saraswati Datar

Three years ago, Stranger Things burst onto the streaming scene quite like the Demogorgon emerging from a wall. A completely unexpected success that wowed audiences, Season 3 of the show just dropped on July 4 and all 8 episodes are now streaming on Netflix. The show is created by Matt and Ross Duffer, known professionally as the Duffer Brothers. They also serve as executive producers along with Shawn Levy, Dan Cohen and Iain Paterson. 

 Set in the 1980s in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana, the first season focused on the disappearance of a young boy Will (Noah Schnapp), and the appearance of a young girl, Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), who uses her psychokinetic abilities to help Will’s friends to find him. Season 2 saw the characters coping with the incidents of Season 1 as Will, haunted physically and mentally by the entities from the Upside Down, battles them from taking over his body and mind. The season ended on a happy note with El closing the doorway to the Upside Down and romance blossoming within the group, but not without the hint of the evil to come.

Season 3 starts off in 1984 with a mysterious group of Russians plotting against America, but we don’t quite know what it is yet. Cut to the summer of 1985, and the lead players of the show, formerly kids, now have more teenage preoccupations. Dungeons and Dragons have given way to lovers’ quarrels much to the annoyance of Will and Dustin, who feel left out by their friends Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and Eleven, and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Max (Sadie Sink) – who are now dating. They have a new hangout though, Starcourt mall, where their friend Steve (Joe Keery), a former high school heartthrob, is now scooping ice cream with his sassy co-worker Robin (Maya Hawke), a new entrant on the show. Everyone is enjoying the summer and a buffed up Billy (Dacre Montgomery), Max’s brutish half-brother seen briefly in earlier seasons, is raising temperatures with his well-exercised form.

 All is seemingly well, but the makers start seeding in the scares from episode one with scurrying rats who soon start exploding like popcorn, a power outage, and the customary rustling leaves and spooky noises. Will starts feeling the evil presence again, because he now shares a connection with the creature, much like Harry Potter had with Voldemort. In Harry Potter, there is a burning scar, here, it’s a tingling behind his neck. Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) intercepts a Russian code message using the device he built to speak to his girlfriend and joins hands with Steve and Robin to translate it, and Will’s mother Joyce (Winona Ryder) notices that the magnets in her home and shop have fallen off and have stopped being magnetic. While the kids embark on adventures in separate groups, Joyce turns to Jim Hopper (David Harbour), who ridicules her claims initially but changes his mind when they get attacked during their investigation.

Is the Mind Flayer really back, and if so, how did the gate that El closed open again? How can the children and their parents work together to save Hawkins, and possibly the entire country, from the creatures of the Upside Down?

Season 3 has been made on a large scale with the most number of characters the show has seen so far and a larger-than-ever monster who has increased in size by feeding off the residents (and rats) of Hawkins. The makers bring together familiar elements from the previous seasons but also make some welcome changes. So while Castle Byer, Eggos boxes, discussions in Mike’s basement and plenty of cycle and car rides all find a place, it’s wonderful to see more female characters populating the show. Winona Ryder and Millie Bobby Brown played crucial roles in the first two seasons, but Season 3 sees former supporting characters like Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Max step into more crucial roles. There are also new entrants, Robin and Erica (Priah Ferguson), who bring humour and chutzpah while seamlessly blending into the fabric of the show. The whole office sexism angle involving Nancy seems a bit forced and unrelated to the larger plot, but this is a minor problem in an otherwise complex narrative. The makers build up multiple storylines simultaneously and it's wonderful to see all the characters and subplots come together in a fantastic, larger than life climax. 

As the characters have grown, so have the issues surrounding them. So setting boundaries in romantic relationships, accepting one’s sexual orientation, dealing with the harsh realities of the real world outside high school for the older kids, and balancing friendships and romance are all concerns that the makers address. David Harbour is in great form as are Millie Bobby Brown and Gaten Matarazzo who stand out amongst the younger bunch of actors. Dacre Montgomery also steps up and does justice to his role as the lead antagonist. It’s sweet to see the group of actors who were little kids in the first season now playing teenagers who are as tall as their parents and speaking in deeper voices (for the boys). 

Stranger Things, while unique in its choice of making kids the protagonists in a show that is not a kids program, also became popular for how cleverly the makers combined science fiction, horror and humour. The show also has great nostalgia value with its many references to 80’s popular culture. Shiny eyeshadow, big hair, chunky jewellery, and even on set props like cassette players, telephone directories and coke cans are all well researched and authentic to the time period. I particularly liked a Russian hitman who seems clearly inspired by Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character in the movie Terminator which first released in 1984. It also doesn't seem to be a coincidence that a loud obnoxious politician is involved with the Russians who are using Hawkins as a base to wage a possible proxy war. These are clever touches that both add a flashback feel but keep the show relevant in current times. 

Stranger Things Season 3 has equal doses of fun and fear. It's much more emotionally complex than the earlier instalments as well, and once you watch the first episode, it's hard not to binge-watch the rest.

Saraswati Datar studied screenwriting and filmmaking and worked with mainstream TV channels in Mumbai as a writer and producer. She now freelances as a columnist and scriptwriter working with digital publications in India and Singapore.

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