Netflix helped us celebrate the 4th of July by giving us Stranger Things season 3. And we held our tongues out of respect for the folks that didn’t get a chance to binge it so they didn’t get spoiled. Well it’s been over 2 weeks and all eight episodes were released at once so guess what?
THE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS TO CARE HAS EXPIRED. It’s game time, kids.
I’ll start with this – season 3 was definitely better than season 2, but I don’t think the first season will ever be dethroned in my mind, just by being the original back when all of this was new. After 2 seasons down, this one had a bit more leeway to incorporate some more fun and humor in addition to the jumps and scares coming from the upside down. There’s a lot of content and honestly I could write something this length for each of the eight episodes (maybe that’s an idea for next year), but for now I think time would be better served carving out what we thought was awesome about season 3, what we thought wasn’t, and some miscellaneous feelings along the way.
What was Awesome #1: The massive lens of the 1980’s
A lot of you reading this were likely too young to remember the time, and for those folks this show is part documentary. Having the 80’s as my first decade of conscious life, I (as well as the rest of us aged people) likely tried to nitpick the hell out of the show’s temporal backdrop, but couldn’t really find anything wrong. The music, fashion and pop culture references were all on point. The best example of this was the grocery store scene, in which while El is trying to get into the zone, literally everyone else in the gang is judging Lucas for his love of New Coke, with that fact taking momentary importance over the threat of a mindflayer trying to destroy them. And even better, it was expertly made a tangent to a conversation on John Carpenter’s The Thing, a film focused on a shape shifting alien. Other movie references included Terminator and The Shining, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to have to give season 3 another playthrough to pick up on the dozens of other easter eggs embedded in the scenes.
Outside of those specific moments, the whole feel was perfect. Starcourt Mall, which was actually a reworked dead mall rather than a soundstage, was complete with stores like Orange Julius and Waldenbooks, staples from a bygone time that I’m sure the young had no recognition of.
The fact that this took place in the 1980’s is also the prime reason the show works as well as it does. Mounting Cold War tensions with the USSR and what must seem like archaic communication tools mixed with the rising popularity of Dungeons and Dragons kind of meld together to make it believable. I mean imagine the show taking place now in the internet age with smartphones and the internet. None of the MacGyver style tactics or codebreaking would really be needed. I mean come on, they’d have FaceTime and Google Translate.
That huge backdrop is what allowed so many things to be happening at the same time – otherworldly beings, portals to other worlds, a Russian conspiracy, a Government conspiracy, super soldiers, a secret base, decently scaled action and battles, young love, and growing up. It was a massive undertaking that they weaved together well, and ultimately paid off.
So in short, if you grew up in the 80s, you loved this show for the same reasons you loved The Goonies. For those not old enough to remember the golden age of shoulder pads and neon, the backdrop’s not as unbelievable as you likely think.
What was Awesome #2: Billy Darkside
Billy was always an asshat, ever since he was introduced with Max in season 2. But in season 3 he goes full evil under the control of the Mindflayer. We love this for 2 reasons. First is that Billy Hargrove is basically Stranger Things’ Arthas Menethil. Much like Arthas from the Warcraft series, the pseudo-loveable asshat that goes full evil, Billy is the new host for the Mindflayer, with the ability to turn others and help him fulfill his evil plans. Sounds a bit like the the Lich King’s first Death Knight, no?
The second is that this turn, while pushing him deeper into the “bad guy” path, really let the audience see him for all of his trauma and all of his emotions and other layers of the character, ultimately ending in a surprisingly gut-wrenching sacrifice for redemption by giving his life for El’s.
What was Awesome #3: Steve and Robin
With the crew scattered all over the place, new character Robin joins as Steve’s unlikely partner in crime, forming what is likely the show’s best dynamic duo (do not even start with me on Dustin and Suzie right now, just do not).
Steve was my favorite character from season 2, given the tremendous character development he went through over the first 2 seasons, going from the bully that used to pick on Jonathan to Hawkins’ favorite dad to all of the kids in the crew. With the introduction of Robin, not only did we get to enjoy the great chemistry between these two actors onscreen, but the best non-monster subplot season 3 had to offer.
Robin was set up in a seemingly obvious way to be Steve’s love interest in the first couple of episodes, with even Dustin commenting on how awesome she was. Thankfully she was written with some more depth than that, having a background in linguistics and single-handedly breaking and deciphering Dustin’s intercepted Russian code. This is what allowed breaking into the secret base and investigating the catacombs for information that was critical to the show’s endgame. And when her and Steve both get shot up with Soviet truth serum, their trippy adventures somehow feel like Bill and Ted, in the same sense that they were most excellent.
Having built up their friendship through spying, kidnapping, and getting tortured by Soviet soldiers, Steve finally reveals his feelings for Robin through the love story she shared with him about when they were classmates in high school. She re-shares the story back with more emotional detail, silently explaining that she was attracted to the woman in the tale, and not interested in him romantically. Steve, being far more progressive than the 80’s backdrop would belie, takes a second to think and almost without missing a beat tells her she could do better, and it’s not brought up again for the rest of the season. It was one of my favorite scenes not only from the season but from the series, and really shows what being a friend is all about. Steve and Robin continued as “Bat-man” and Robin, and helped save the world as was their quest.
What was Awesome #4: Murray and Alexei’s bromance
When Hopper tries to go full commando and try to take down the Soviet super soldier (I will call him Captain USSR), he captures Alexei, a scientist working on the Key project to reopen the portal between worlds. While Hopper straight up treats him as hostile, Murray – conspiracy nut and fluent Russian speaker – develops a sort of bromance with him as they work together to solve their puzzles. Alexei is full of wonder and almost has a childlike personality, and even after being difficult with his preferred Slurpee flavor, his time with Murray at the fair can only be described as pure joy. He was so happy to be there and they were having so much fun until it was unfortunately cut short. He was also the one that told the grownups of the crew that Planck’s constant is the key to opening the door. As the memes say across the internet – Alexei, you deserved better my friend.
What was Awesome #5: Erica – A Nerd is Born?
Lucas’ younger sister Erica serves as a comedic foil over the first two seasons of the show, but in season 3 she gets involved with the “Scoops Troop” during their investigations. In addition to adding another young female character and character of color to the mix, through her actions she shows that she is extremely adept in mathematics as well as always up for an adventure. Her mental calculations and mapping make the final assault in the battle of Starcourt possible. She represents that young girls can be STEM as hell, and that nerdery and adventure aren’t just arenas for boys.
What Was Awesome #6: The End
The cliffhanger ending and epilogue were a great hook for the inevitable 2020 season 4. Eleven loses her powers, Hopper is presumably dead, and in a secret facility somewhere they are feeding folks to demogorgons / demodogs. So is Hopper dead?
Well if he is, it’s Suzie’s fault. BUT. When everything went kaboom and Joyce is watching in shock, you’ll find they showed no trace of Hopper. And what about feeding the demogorgon? Who is “the American?” Is it Hopper? My theory is pretty simple – Hopper jumped through the still healing wound between worlds to escape the explosion, and the Russians picked him up from another entrance. And now he’s the “American” the Russian soldiers are referring to. Yes. Meta-closure. Let’s see what happens next year.
And what about Eleven’s powers? Maybe it’s one of those cosmic “evil is gone so the hero’s powers are now unneeded.” Maybe they’ll come back when the threat comes back next year. Or maybe her powers went away so El could focus on finally being just a kid.
What Wasn’t #1 through 10: Dustin, Suzie, and the Never Ending Story
Yeah this one’s probably going to get me into a fight or two.
In the very last moments of the battle with the Mindflayer, when the party needs its requisite master key to unlock the door to defeat evil, the code relied on Planck’s constant. So after Dustin asks Suzie for the number from Cerebro, and describes it as a life or death situation, what does she do? She makes him sing the Never Ending Story with her.
SUZIE. SERIOUSLY. FOR F****’S SAKE.
Hopper is trying to get into the key room ASAP to the other world ASAP and damn Captain USSR is down there waiting and you want to sing a damn song before you give them the means to do their life or death job?
No. NOT cute. NOT wholesome. NOT anything. Anyone else could have jumped in on Cerebro to really drive the importance of the situation home. Dustin could have as well. Hopper didn’t have to go because of Suzie’s ridiculous demands to sing.
It was nice to see Dustin’s thought-to-be-made-up-girlfriend he met at Camp Know Where was real. And sure, it was cute. I guess. But it still to me raised more questions than answers. Where was she the entire series? Why couldn’t she respond when Dustin was trying to get her on Cerebro for nearly all of episode 1? Why did she have a value of Planck’s constant that was 3 decades too early?
What Wasn’t #11: Planck’s Constant
OK this is just really a nitpick, but I’m an engineer by education and all purpose nerd and this one really stuck in my craw. When that ridiculous moment with Suzie happened, and she finally gave Dustin Planck’s constant, it struck me wrong in my engineer eardrums. The number has been changing every decade or so and Suzie gave the current 2019 version of Planck’s constant’s base as 6.62607004 (without the exponent). After some digging, I found I was right – the accepted base value in 1985 was actually 6.626176.
Yeah. I’m a bigtime dork.
… or the last two sections show Suzie is some sort of Mindflayer-kind meant to impede the party’s progress.
What Wasn’t #12: Billy and Mrs. Wheeler
There was definitely some flirtation between these two since season 2, and in this season that could have led to a late night tryst. This didn’t happen for 2 reasons – Billy was possessed by the Mindflayer, and Mrs. Wheeler decides that her family is more important. I’m honestly just not sure what this exchange added to any plotline outside of filling minutes. I think it might have been an attempt to set up the reason why Billy is cruising in his car so late that night. But really, this is Billy – isn’t speeding around in his car at late hours with a couple of beers kind of on-brand Billy already?
What Wasn’t #13: The show’s pacing
This one was kind of expected but still something we had to suffer through. As a Netflix original, all of the episodes are published in one fell swoop, meaning the production team doesn’t have to pay as much attention to pacing as they would for a show that is a week-to-week serial. While everyone was losing their minds at the first episode, I was in the minority thinking it was pretty slow, and it didn’t start to pick up for me until the third or fourth episode. Once it did though, it was excellent.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the series and recommend you all give it a watch. If you haven’t seen any of Stranger Things then I highly recommend you start binging from season 1 on Netflix. It remains a great series that is a love letter to 80’s horror and pop culture.