After banishing the terrifying ‘Mind Flayer’ to its own warped and corrupted mirror dimension last season, what is in store for the small American town of Hawkins in the summer of 1984? Stranger Things Season 3 learns from the missteps of Season 2 and comes back bigger, funnier, scarier, and more glorious than ever before.
There’s been some growing up for the young members of the cast, continuing the path to adolescence that earlier seasons set them on. Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and Eleven (Millie Bobbie Brown) are now a fully fledged couple, only interested in make-out sessions. Their separation from the group is affecting fifth wheel Will (Noah Schnapp), who can see their Dungeons and Dragons troupe falling apart around him considering Lucas and Max have also paired off. And when the exuberant Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) returns from summer camp his return is hardly heralded as the great unification of the gang, much to his disappointment.
Without giving too much away, it’s fair to say that the sealed rift between our world and the terrifying ‘Upside Down’ may not be quite as closed at its supposed to be. The show has a heavy ‘Invasion Of The Body Snatchers’ vibe in the first half, synonymous with a Russian infiltration plot focusing around Steve ‘The Hair’ Harrington and new character Robin. They spend the series decoding secret messages and getting into increasingly serious trouble. The ‘red scare/enemy hidden within’ is very on-brand for the time period and delivered effectively.
There are some missed opportunities here. The corruption of people in positions of power is set up but then rather abruptly dropped, denying the possibility of interesting conspiracy style plotlines. Similarly, the now employed Jonathan and Nancy get rather isolated from main events, following an investigation that leads to some terrifying scenes but takes a while to blend in to the main narrative. There is an early set up of how malls came into small-town America and killed the high street business, but this is background wallpaper that doesn’t get more than a surface look.
Even though the cast segment into pairings that barely come together until the explosive 80-minute finale, the separate threads are still edge of the seat exciting. The hormonal squabbling has been dialled down and the horror ramped up this time around and there are plenty of nail biting sequences. Police Chief Hopper (David Harbour) and Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) find their hamfisted romance hampered by the pursuit of an unrelenting Russian operative with heavy Terminator vibes, leading to many a fist-swinging punch up. Mutated monsters that smash through walls are barely held back by Eleven’s psychokinetic abilities; she isn’t the get out of jail free card that she has been in previous seasons.
Stand out fun comes from the burgeoning bromance between Steve and Dustin. Separated from the main gang Dustin’s occasionally grating personality is better rounded and their comedy back and forth is both heartwarming and fun. By constantly needling Steve about his fall from popularity (he failed to get into college and is forced to work at a local ice cream shop), Robin slots in so well it’s hard to forget she’s a new addition. But the show also takes its character beats seriously. The poignant death of Bob last season still hangs heavy over Joyce, and the show respectfully uses flashbacks to punctuate her state of mind.
Words by Michael Record