Season 3 of Netflix’s Stranger Things was filled to the brim with action, intrigue, conspiracy, and of course 80’s nostalgia. We got taken on a trip with a lot of familiar and beloved characters, along with a few new characters that really filled out the season. Characters that got to go up against a familiar evil, along with some brand new, yet pretty familiar, baddies. It was a roller coaster of a season that took place in Hawkins, but also in the brand new location of Starcourt Mall. Now, we are going to explore some of the ups and downs of that roller coaster. For those of you who have not yet watched the third season, this is probably the part that you stop reading and go finish Stranger Things.
Stranger Things season 2 ended with Eleven closing the portal to the Upside Down, effectively ending the Mind Flayer’s attempted takeover of our world. At the very end, we got the tease through a vision of Will’s that the Mind Flayer had yet to be truly defeated and that he was going to come back with a vengeance to finish what he had started. We got a sneak peak of the huge and monstrous Mind Flayer as it threateningly towered over the town of Hawkins. Part of closing the gate included our heroes bringing to light a covert government organization that was experimenting with opening the breach to the Upside Down. So with the familiar government organization being shut-down, there were questions as to how the gateway to the Upside Down was going to be reopened and release the Mind Flayer.
It’s Hawkins, so naturally as season 3 opens on the heartland town, we knew that something bad was going to happen. We find out that the Soviets have now filled the void of the previous American government experiments, and are now trying to find a way to open the breach to the Upside Down. This was a great turn for the show. We had been introduce to Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), an American government test subject in season 1, and the first two seasons were filled with government conspiracies and intrigue. Since that government organization was shut down, the writers had to find a way to keep with the conspiracy angle. The next natural enemy came instantly stepped in to fill the void. It is the 80’s, and the Red Scare was in full swing, so why not have the new human baddies be the Soviet Union.
This new enemy added a new layer to the small mid-western town’s woes, much in the same way as the most recent Red Dawn. What would happen if the Americans in the middle of the United States had to go up against the seemingly far away threat of the Soviet Union. It is very unclear how exactly the Soviets managed to infiltrate Hawkins, other than a throw-away story-line that Hawkins’ mayor had been black mailed into selling land to the Soviets. With a twisted sense of irony,the Soviets hide their new experiments with Starcourt Mall. A supreme icon of American capitalism in the 1980’s. Couple the intrigue of Soviets in middle-America with a unstoppable, Terminator-esque villain in the form of Grigori (Andrey Ivchenko), who keeps showing up to have awesome fist fights with Sheriff Jim Hopper (David Harbour).
The Soviets open up the portal to the Upside Down and release the Mind Flayer to terrorize Hawkins yet again. With the Mind Flayer taking over the mind and body of Billy Hargrove (Dacre Montgomery). This leads to multiple great horror moments as Billy brings more and more victims to the Mind Flayer to grow his army. Some of the most terrifying moments of the season come from the scenes that Billy is involved in. After his heroics in season 2, it was a gamble to have Billy become a bad guy, but Dacre Montgomery did a fantastic job playing a menacing villain. Late in the season as the climax is reaching its apex, Eleven loses her powers, and the danger escalates as she is no longer able to step in to save her friends, and it is up to everyone else to be able to close the gate to the Upside Down and stop the Mind Flayer.
The third season included a lot of great growth for characters and their relationships, while also introducing some brand new characters that fill out the cast list. Eleven has a very humanizing season, in which she joins Max Mayfield (Sadie Sink) in having a girls day at Starcourt, and is in a relationship with Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard). It was refreshing to have Eleven take on more of a teen girl role, rather than just being the telekinetic powerhouse that she has been in previous seasons. This growth allows Max to also have more of a role in the season as she becomes Eleven’s best friend and helps her enjoy the joys of being a young teenager.
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Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) got a ton of screen time this season. He is a very evolved character from the popular jock that we met in season 1. No longer being in high school, and realizing that being popular during those four years turn out to not matter at all, Steve realizes that he should have been focused on other things while in high school, such as working harder on his grades so that he could have gone to college and left the small town of Hawkins behind. We see Steve working at Scoops Ahoy, donned in a ridiculous sailor’s outfit, and getting to know a brand new character, Robin (Maya Hawke).
Their relationship seemed to be a fairly cliche one, the popular guy getting to know a girl who had been invisible because she was not popular. As the relationship builds, it takes on some romantic tones, and leads to a moment between Steve and Robin which appeared to be them confessing their feelings for each other. Alas, Steve’s growing feelings and admiration for Robin (who was an awesome character and helped Steve and Dustin uncover the Soviet conspiracy), culminate in another reveal. Robin hadn’t been obsessed with Steve in high school because she was fawning over him, but rather Robin was obsessed with Steve because she was jealous of the admiration that he was receiving from another female student. This was a great twist to add a lesbian character to Hawkins, while also dashing the typical and cliched relationship that audiences thought that they were getting.
The other great relationship that we got to explore was the one between Hopper and Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder). The season starts with Joyce grieving the loss of her boyfriend, Bob Newby (Sean Astin), as he gave his life in season 2. This leads to Hopper trying to get Joyce to finally go on a date with him, which Joyce stands him up for as things start to get wonky in Hawkins. Throughout the season we get to witness Hopper’s jealousy and growing irritation with not getting a shot with Joyce, as Murray Bauman
(Brett Gelman), chimes in with hilarious timing about how the two should just get a room while they constantly bicker in front of him. Unfortunately, Joyce’s chances for love again get dashed as Hopper sacrifices himself so that Joyce can close the gate to the Upside Down.
The Best and the Worst
We already talked about how great the addition of the Soviets was as the new human bad guys. It fits the timeline and syncs perfectly with the final battle taking place on the Fourth of July. It was also refreshing to add a new human bad guy organization, rather than having a continuing fight with the American secret organization that would have felt like a replay of the first two seasons. Unfortunately, because the Hawkins heroes are now dealing with the Soviets, we didn’t get to explore any more of Eleven’s origins and what other possible secrets could have been revealed.
Billy and the Mind Flayer turned out to be a great combination for plenty of terrifying moments in order to keep the horror elements prevalent in the series. While not totally clear, the Mind Flayer’s plan to build an army so that he could build a bigger body from their disintegrated flesh was both scary and was an awesome escalation from simply taking over people’s minds and bodies, and actually adding them to the Mind Flayer’s being. The huge Mind Flayer at the end, being beat down by fireworks was visually awesome and gave the rest of the gang a way to fight back against a monster that was far too large and powerful for anyone to take on by themselves. Billy reclaiming his mind at the end also allowed for Billy to redeem himself while also having a heroic death.
The worst part of the season was the loss of Eleven’s powers towards the end. It made sense why the writers made this decision. It took Eleven out of the fight, and gave the rest of the crew a reason to step up and take the fight to the Mind Flayer. Unfortunately, it meant that the final epic battle at Starcourt Mall did not have any supernatural powers matching up against each other. The Mind Flayer won, in the sense that he had successfully defeated Eleven, and took her out of the way of his master plan to conquer the Earth. Even though this allowed the rest of the gang to have to fight back against the Mind Flayer, it made the monster seem weaker than the monster that had been built up. They were beating the monster down with fireworks, so if the Mind Flayer had beaten Hawkins, and started his path across the rest of the world, how would he have fared against actual bombs and missiles and the like. Yes, it allowed everyone to be a hero, but it took a great moment away from Eleven to be the hero once again in a one on one with the Mind Flayer.
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