“To everything, there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1) That verse sprang to mind far too many times while watching season three of Netflix’s original science fiction hit, Stranger Things. Change is in the air, for both our protagonists as they enter the realm of teenage angst and their parents who struggle to connect with them. On top of that, the town of Hawkins is changed in the summer of 1985 as new relationships, new mysteries, and new evil to come to life.
Picking up roughly a year after the second season, Stranger Things 3 finds most, if not all the characters, in relationships. Elsewhere, tension is brewing in Hawkins. As rats start turning inside out and the residents of Hawkins go missing, our protagonists find themselves investigating the mysterious events while darkness once again looms in the town.
For one, the newly erected Starcourt Mall has driven most of the local businesses away. However, as Dustin, Steve (Joe Keery) , and Steve’s acerbic co-worker Robin (Maya Hawke) soon discover, it’s more than just bad for local business, but is a front for Russian scientists who are attempting to open a portal to the Upside Down, the alternate world that has endangered the town for two seasons.
Meanwhile, the Mind Flayer, having lost its grip on Will (Noah Schnapp) finds a new host in Max’s brother Billy (Dacre Montgomery). The Flayer intends to finish what it started last season and take over our world, and Billy’s trauma over his abusive home life makes him the perfect host for this malevolent entity.
Stranger Things season 3 is without a doubt, the best structured and best paced season of the show. Part of this comes from the decision to split the protagonists into several groups as they investigate the various threads of the mystery. Nancy and Jonathan investigate the rat problem, while Steve, Dustin, and Robin try to crack the Russian code, and Elle and Max look into Billy’s mysterious behavior.
Even Joyce (Winona Ryder) gets in on the action when she notices that the magnets on her fridge and at her job start losing their power. Having the protagonists work on these separate pieces of the case gives you more insight into how they approach certain problems and how they solve them, and it is all the more satisfying when those threads come together.
Unlike season two, which skidded to a halt with a standalone episode that was unrelated to the ongoing plot, season three keeps the audience engaged and all of its characters involved with the central plot.
Out of all these plotlines, I loved Elle and Max’s the most because it was great to see their friendship grow as the season progressed. A key example of this is in season two when Max, fed up with Mike’s lying to Elle, takes her to the mall. Elle, who obviously never had a real childhood, gets to enjoy herself, try on clothes, and use her powers for fun which is an exhilarating experience for her.
As I mentioned before, change is a constant that thrusts both characters and story forward, and it’s a bumpy ride. Most of the once young child actors are now in their teens, and their characters have been written to reflect that. With all of the teens paired off, the friend dynamics shift. Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Max (Sadie Sink), and of course Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) and Nancy (Natalia Dyer). Even Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), fresh from summer camp, has found a girlfriend while away.
All Mike and Elle want is to spend their time kissing, much to the consternation of her adoptive father Jim Hopper (David Harbour). When Dustin returns to Hawkins, he feels left out from his group of friends as they don’t believe he has a girlfriend and leave him to pursue other activities. Similarly, Will feels isolated as he is the only one in the group who doesn’t have a significant other, and the other boys would rather spend time with their girlfriends than play D&D with him. It doesn’t help that he is also sensing the presence of the Mind Flayer.
Teenage years are a confusing, turbulent time and I’m glad the Duffer Brothers captured that.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the shoutouts to 80’s pop culture. The theater in the Starcourt Mall holds screenings of Back to the Future and George Romero’s Day of the Dead, Max turns out to be a huge DC Comics fan, especially where Wonder Woman is concerned, and Dustin names his souped-up ham radio “Cerebro” after Professor Xavier’s supercomputer. The biggest shoutout has to go to the monstrous creature the Mind Flayer uses to stalk our heroes. Its misshapen form and the fact that it is literally forged from human bodies is a clear homage to John Carpenter’s The Thing.
Stranger Things 3 is not only a solid eight hours of television, but it’s also a gripping tale about the changes people face when growing up, and while those changes might be scary, they help you to become a better person. It also cements this show as the crown jewel of Netflix’s original series. Hopefully, season four will continue this streak.
The third season of Stranger Things is currently streaming on Netflix.
Final Rating: 10/10 Scoops Ahoy
Collier “CJ” Jennings is a freelance reporter and film critic living in Seattle. He uses his love of comics and film/TV to craft reviews and essays on genre projects. He is also a host on Into the Spider-Cast.