I was originally dragged into the series Stranger Things, by some friends who claimed it was right up my alley. What I had thought was maybe some cheaply-made rip on Steven Spieberg’s Amblin Entertainment productions of the 1980’s, soon had me enamored with the mysterious story unfolding around it’s characters.
Four years later, the series is back for it’s third season, this time moving us out of the chill of late fall, and into the sun-drenched world of summer in Hawkins, Indiana.
As the Fourth of July approaches, Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard) and Eleven (Millie Bobbi Brown) are in the throes of young love, much to the ire of her adoptive father-figure, Police Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour).
Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin) and Max Mayfield (Sadie Sink) are also continuing their relationship, and Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo) has returned from camp, with news that he too has joined the dating scene (however, with no proof of this mystery girl to be had).
Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) meanwhile, struggles to feel included in his friend’s activities, as they each seem to have grown beyond the simple pleasures of Dungeons and Dragons.
As for the older kids, Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer) and Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton) are interning at The Hawkins Post, with Nancy struggling to prove her worth to the uncouth men in high places.
Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) has taken a job at the new Starcourt Mall, scooping ice cream while fending off snide remarks from his co-worker, Robin (Maya Hawke).
For this season, the Duffer Brothers seem to have decided that the two themes to focus on, are “relationships,” and “change.”
We see this in a big way with our younger cast, but not just in regards to romantic relationships. We also see relationships in regards to family and friends, and how sometimes it can be a struggle to keep connections with those close to you. This is also notable in regards to Dustin, who chooses to spend more time with Steve than his old friends.
For the adults, the theme of relationships snares Jim Hopper, and Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder). With Joyce no longer frantically looking around for her son (though still mourning the loss of former boyfriend Bob Newby (Sean Astin)), she is given the chance to be more of a person this time around, as she tries to help Hopper with his fatherly ups-and-downs.
Hopper also gets the chance to move outside of his comfort zone, and we see him doing (and wearing) things that are quite unnatural. David Harbour really gets to chew the scenery in a number of scenes, and I was quite amused by some of his reactions.
One of the stand-outs from the series, has been Millie Bobby-Brown’s character of Eleven. While she has slowly emerged into the world from her isolation, this season gives her the biggest shove yet.
This also comes in the form of Max taking a sisterly-approach towards Eleven, and helping her expand her world-view. While Mike gives her plenty of attention and Hopper gives familial care and discipline, Eleven is still struggling to create her own identity, and it’s nice to see a character like Max help Eleven figure out who she is, and wants to be.
We also see the world of our characters expanded upon, with the addition of Starcourt Mall, along with the introduction of Mayor Larry Kline (Cary Elwes). It’s a big new world that we’re seeing, and in that sense, that enlarged atmosphere feels like it causes the story to trip up in places.
We’ve been no stranger to multiple story threads weaving their way through the show, but there are times season 3’s overall storyline feels a bit too cumbersome. From Dustin building a radio tower that intercepts a secret code, to some rather mysterious business-dealings happening around town, I found myself almost having to keep a scorecard regarding what was going on, let alone a number of new characters the show was trying to make me believe were important to the plot. Heck, the show even tries to cram in characters that I didn’t even think we’d need from previous seasons (though one does have a pretty fun introduction)!
This season is also the first time that the cameras feel like they’re angling for product-placement dollars. From Eleven and Max gallivanting around the mall, to almost everyone in Hawkins having jumped aboard the New Coke craze, I could easily have sided with Will Byers, longing for a return to the simpler times of the first season.
When it comes to the supernatural element of the show, the ante (and budget) has been upped significantly. The new menace in question, hearkens back to the likes of The Thing or The Blob, while also dealing with some elements from last season. It was definitely not what I expected, and ended up taking the “horror” tones of the show, into some areas that may make some viewers feel uncomfortable.
There is also an added human menace in the background for much of the show too, that almost comes off feeling a little…cliched. Then again, given we are dealing with the 1980’s, it was probably to be expected, but it really pushed against the believability factor for me…and that’s in a show with a girl that has psychic abilities.
Aside from an overstuffed story and my gripes here-and-there, I was happy to see that the handling of the evolution of our main characters, is still a key priority in the series.
The show creators have said they could see the show lasting for 4-5 seasons, and if it can continue to grow character-wise like we’ve seen in the last seasons, it makes one wonder what will become of our characters…and, how many of them will live to see the end of the series.
Final Grade: B+