'Third Time's a Charm?' - Review of Stranger Things 3

Niamh Brook - Writer

The morning of the 4th July 2019, I raced down the stairs like a child on Christmas morning to join my mother and my boyfriend to start the first episode of Stranger Things 3. Ever since I binged the first season during a sick day in October 2016, I have loved the show. Almost daily I listen to a piece of music from the score; I have a T-shirt with the shows logo on (and is the only film/ tv shirt I wear out the house), and I have re-watched the first season numerous times. The first season, I think, is a brilliant example of the potential of television. It is wonderfully crafted. Characters are well defined with clear arcs, each with a purpose to drive the story. The pastiche that the show is most famous for has so many layers from costume and set design, shots and the overall story within the show. Season 1 is great. Okay?

When the second season came along in October 2017, it changed the course of the show. It was no longer the case of a missing child. A whodunit? Of sorts. The show now has a larger scale  production and story. The budget was bigger, the story was expanded, and we were introduced to new characters, all of which were received in different ways. Personally, I feel like this season is the weakest of the three. Whilst enjoyable, I found myself wanting more from each episode. The characters felt less defined, the pace was clunky, and most of the important aspects of the season were crammed into the last few episodes of the season. It was okay but compared to its predecessor, it felt lacklustre. To be fair to the season, I didn't hate the punk Eleven episode; it was weird and jarring, but not as bad as fans who have hopped aboard a hype train of criticism.

Understandably, I was nervous that morning in July. I had been waiting almost two years for this day, but the fear that this season would; be shit was real. Stranger Things 3, I feel, is a mixed bag. I enjoyed it more than season 2 the pacing was better, each character felt more fleshed out and overall, I preferred the story of this season. However, it is not without its flaws. This season is, eloquently put by YouTuber Taylor J. Williams,  “fucking bonkers”. The inclusion off the body snatching mind flayer and a secret underground Russian base underneath Hawkins’ newly introduced ‘Starcourt Mall’ was just superbly entertaining but  absolutely bizarre. Starting with the Red Army of Indiana, we are introduced to the idea that the now closed Hawkins Lab was not the only place attempting to open the gate to the upside down. The introduction of this plot line was a welcome change to the usual monster chase the viewers had grown accustomed too. However, the way it was handled was just silly. The scientists and their secret bunker were cartoonish and completely juxtaposed the darker elements of the rest of the season. Whilst it was enjoyable to watch the Scoops Troop uncover the Russian secret plan and I enjoyed the subplot overall, the constant switch between the lighter and darker storylines was just plain distracting. One aspect of the Russian Subplot that I truly hated, was the not so subtle Terminator reference that lingered in the final episodes like a bad smell. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love me some classic movie pastiche. But this was so ridiculous it was actually jarring. One plus of the Russian invasion is the short addition of Alexi. This season’s Bob, Alexi was a loveable Russian scientist who sacrificed himself for the greater good.  Alexi was not the only new character introduced this season; we were also introduced to Robin, Steve’s ice cream scooping colleague. Ignoring the worrying signs of the Mary Sue aspects of her character, Robin and Steve’s developing friendship during their adventure is one of the highlights of the season. What is hinted at a romance turns out to be a story of pure friendship and acceptance and furthers Steve Harrington’s redemption arc.

Moving on to the recurring characters on the show, these core characters this season were handled strangely (pardon the pun). Though recognisable, most of the characters this season felt like a cartoonish version of themselves. Mike, Lucas, Max and Hopper falling victim to this new form of writing in the most drastic way. When we first met Hopper in season one, he was a grouchy chief of police, lived alone and wasn’t particularly a people person. During season two we watched him develop and grow relationships with Eleven and Joyce. In season 3, he is a goofy magnum PI knock off complete with a Hawaiian shirt who is controlling, loud, and jealous of any man who gets in the way of the women in his life: El and Joyce. This somewhat drastic change in character makes me ask the question: Is fatherhood really treating him that poorly?

Now, please understand I loved this season. A huge leap from season two, it was funny, emotive and gave me 12 hours to spend with characters and a story that I love. As per usual, visually, this season was stunning. Gorgeous visuals mixed in with neon lighting, some absolutely grotesque CGI. With even more pastiche and easter eggs that are littered throughout. It lived up to its legacy of visual excellency. This season also lead us into a new age for the show, leading us away from Hawkins and expanding the world of Stranger Things for the better. We are beginning to learn that more people than just the residents of Hawkins are aware of the upside down, and we could possibly learn about even more with the seasons to come. If the post credit scene at the end of the final episode is anything to go by, I am excited to see in what direction the show will go next. To see how it will expand. How the characters will develop. And perhaps most importantly, who the American was.


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