You’d think after fighting off a demi-gorgon, an army of demi-dogs and a giant shadow monster, the residents of Hawkins might have earned a break – well think again because Stranger Things is back in all its horrifying glory with new monsters, new characters and new levels of shameless 80’s nostalgia.
Netflix’s flagship show got some stick for season 2, with many saying it’s just a repeat of 1, understandable but personally, I didn’t mind that. I enjoyed spending more time with these characters, wallowing in the nostalgia (even though I was born in ’91) and the unflinching horror elements that have become synonymous with the show, even if the story wasn’t as daring as some hoped it would be. So when season 3 came around I was exited for more of the same – if it ain’t broke, why try and fix it right? Well fortunately there’s good news all round. Stranger Things 3 not only brings back the usual traits we’ve come to expect, but it’s underlain with a fresh, alternative story that has wide-reaching consequences, bigger stakes, some truly gruesome monsters and, most importantly, brand-new character arcs. So if you weren’t the biggest fan of season 2, give this one a go, it might just win you back.
This time round we start off in Russia, seeing some questionable looking men in white lab coats creating a doorway to the upside down. Quickly followed by a hell of a lot of what can only be described as snogging between the youth of the show, making the most of every minute of their summer holidays, a bit weird but, we were all teenagers once. So right away we know that this season is going places we’ve not been before, both thematically and contextually.
After two seasons of getting to know these characters, we start to see some stronger, deeper threads develop between certain fan favourites. Hopper and Joyce continue their ‘will they? won’t they?’ games which, admittedly, is getting a little tired but with the added complication of Eleven and Mike playing tonsil tennis every chance they get, there’s room for some tender scenes between them. Hopper refers to Eleven as his daughter and we see some of his overtly protective characteristics (tying back to the loss of his biological daughter) straining their relationship. Everyone’s favourite former-asshole Steve is back, reluctantly working an ice-cream parlour for the summer with the bromance of the century back in full force once Dustin returns from science camp. Newcomer Maya Hawke enters the cast as Steve’s abrasive yet likable colleague Robin who I expect will be many viewers’ top female character this season. We see the return of Billy taking on an unexpected new role with occasional, though badly executed, insights into his past. Sadly Jonathan and Nancy feel pretty redundant this time. Though they’re both taking on summer internships at the local paper which provides a new environment for their characters, it does feel like the Duffer Brothers don’t know what to do with them at this point and their arcs are certainly the weakest.
The general tone of season 3 is a balance of darkness and levity. A moment of sincerity or joy may be juxtaposed with scene of sudden horror so you’re often caught off-guard when some of these shocks are delivered. Each episode has plenty of both and the season as a whole moves at a quick, driving pace, with characters finding themselves in serious peril as early as episodes 2 and 3. The lighter moments become less frequent in the latter part of the season as the intensity of the threat grows and the last couple of episodes are as exhausting as they are thrilling but the comic relief is still present enough throughout the action to maintain that signature Stranger Things tone. The finale plants some seeds for season 4, could we be leaving the small town of Hawkins behind?
Ruling – In all, Stranger Things gives us its strongest season yet with characters that we’ve come to adore taking on monsters, bad guys and, possibly most difficult of all, love. All of this done against a backdrop of uncompromising horror and gore to an extent we’ve not seen before – after all, this is a horror show remember?