Stranger Things - Season 3 - Review
Netflix is becoming more and more known for their original IP. One of the biggest things to help with that identity was the launch of Stranger Things. The show was an incredible mix of 80s nostalgia, child wonder, and sci-fi horror. The second season, tried some new things with mixed results, but was overall entertaining (review here). The third season got back to basics, which resulted in the strongest season to date.
The story this time around was so streamlined and focused that it played like an 8 hour movie, instead of a serialized television series. There were many different factions at play, but they were all cohesive in working toward the same goal. Different groups were discovering different parts of the story. Think of it like this: There was a caravan of vehicles heading toward the same destination. None of them took a detour and went out of their way, but they did stop at different gas stations and rest areas, while still arriving at the same destination at the same time.
All of the veteran cast had something significant to do. All of the new cast served their purpose. Of the new cast, no one was better than Maya Hawke, who played Robin. She was instantly endearing, instantly funny, and instantly fit right into to the rest of the Hawkins crew. The legendary Cary Elwes was the perfect antagonist, it is always a joy to watch him on screen.
The Duffer Brothers, who created the show, and wrote and directed a good chunk of it, took what worked in the second season and improved upon it. Pairing Dustin with Steve and Robin was a good move, but the genius lies in adding Lucas's little sister to the mix. Priah Ferguson appeared as Lucas's sister Erica last season, but had a minuscule role. This time, her role was expanded, and she was the real MVP of the entire season. She provided some levity in the heavier moments, and the breakthrough she had with her identity because of Dustin and My Little Pony was truly a powerful moment. Millie Bobby Brown is as reliable as ever, proving once again what a talent she is. On the adult side, David Harbour was better than ever, doing masterful work at almost every turn as Hopper.
Hopper and Joyce, ironed out everything needed for their stories to be complete. Max and El found a much needed bond and friendship. Nancy found confidence in herself in spite of being consistently discouraged. Will learned to grow up, and Lucas and Mike learned how to balance girls with their friendships.
In fact, a lot of things like that made Stranger Things 3 one of the best things on TV this year. Every character was able to grow and evolve, without sacrificing any plot details whatsoever. As Thanos would say, the story was "perfectly balanced, as all things should be".
The shackles of "background information" were off, so they were able to tell whatever story they wanted, and move forward. But they didn't go crazy. The show knew exactly what it wanted to do from the moment it aired, and accomplished its goal without sacrificing anything. There was the perfect amount of character development that would satisfy fans of (almost) any character. There was a purpose to every frame, which was gorgeously shot by the way. There are a handful of gasp-inducing scenes that could be framed and hung up as a work of art. There were no weird standalone origin story episodes or anything like that. Everything shown kept the story moving forward. There were things happening outside of Hawkins, Indiana though. The story became bigger in scope, without losing focus. Hopper and Joyce went to Illinois. There was even a detour to Salt Lake City, but that provided one of the season's most adorable moments, yet they still managed to make it important to the overall plot.
In 8 episodes, the show managed to deal with the kids growing up, expanded the mythology of the Upside Down, provided an intelligent commentary on what is happening in today's world, and still manage to slide references to things like Back To The Future, The Never Ending Story, Weird Al Yankovic, and Phoebe Cates in there.
If there was a negative to the season at all, it was the treatment of Dacre Montgomery's character Billy. His character was deserving of some more redemption after last year, but never had that chance. He was used as a catalyst for the story, but never received the closure he deserved. Stranger Things has never really been about happy endings, so that is an expectation put on by no one but myself. His turn here, reminded me of Jeremy Renner's in the first Avengers movie.
The results of the season were satisfying. Some were heartbreaking, some were poignant, some were triumphant, but they were all earned. If the show ended here, that would be okay. It closed a bunch of chapters and threads that needed conclusions. But it also masterfully dangled a little cookie in front of the audience to set up what is next. I don't think this was the last season of Stranger Things. But would be okay if it was. It seems like they finally perfected how to tell this story, and season 4 is going to feel different no matter what they do.
I thought Good Omens was the best television experience I would have this year. Stranger Things said "Hold my New Coke". It is some of the best TV out there right now. Make time for it. You won't regret it.
Stranger Things 3 is now streaming, exclusively on Netflix.