Warning: Spoilers Ahead
After almost two years without a new season of Stranger Things, Netflix and the Duffer Brothers have launched us back into the squelching chaos of Hawkins (if you know, you know). The beloved 80s atmosphere has once again proven itself to be the perfect stage for Sci-Fi grit and gore — with an appearance by New Coke!
To give a brief run down: it’s summertime in 1985 and the gang is all grown up. Season 3 begins with an eyebrow-raising kissing scene between Mike and Eleven, only to be interrupted by Hopper who sees them through Eleven’s cracked door. We see that Joyce is still dealing with the misfortune of losing Bob, and continuing to do all she can to protect Will. However, this hasn’t stopped Hopper from attempting to take her out on a date.
The teens are all working summer jobs in Hawkins; Nancy and Jonathan are at the local newspaper, and Steve is slinging ice cream at Scoops Ahoy in the new Starcourt mall. Newcomer Maya Hawke graces the cast with the portrayal of Robin, Steve’s coworker. Dustin gets home from summer camp only to find that their “party” is a little broken up due to Mike and Lucas being occupied with girls. Meanwhile, Will just wants to play Dungeons and Dragons. Things go south quickly when Will senses the Mind Flayer preparing to destroy the town once again. And this time, the monster has taken a new host.
Some may call Stranger Things a product of repetition. A challenge for the show runners was keeping the ordinary-seeming town of Hawkins exciting. The Duffer Brothers regretted not utilizing more unique locations in season 2, such as the arcade.
They decided the perfect way to mix up the storyline would be to have a central home base for the characters that was not their homes — a mall. The brand new Hawkins hot spot, Starcourt Mall, plays a critical part in showing the mature shift of not only the characters, but the show itself. If you’re a fan of Easter eggs you’ll be shocked at just how many moments from the iconic opening of Fast Times at Ridgemont High the Duffer Bros. directly homage in their montage.
Everything seems fine on the surface of Starcourt. Hundreds of people occupy the stores and food court (they nailed 80’s mall culture right on the head). But bad things lie just below their noses. Hawkins lab may have been shut down, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any others interested in the mysterious Upside Down.
It isn’t long before an intercepted Russian coded message is cracked by Robin, who takes turns with Steve on being in the back of Scoops Ahoy with Dustin and a walkie-talkie. Soon enough, the Scoops Troop finds themselves on a mission to stop the Russians from taking over the town.
The writers have done an excellent job at diverging from the familiarity of Spielberg/King-esque references. This time around it’s The Terminator, Back to the Future, and Night of the Living Dead. We get to see some seriously badass moments from Joyce and Hopper, who have gone to our old friend Murray for some information about the Russians. They may have captured Alexei, one of the Russian scientists, but that hasn’t stopped an Arnold Schwarzenegger-inspired hitman from relentlessly trying to kill Hopper.
The best part of Stranger Things is arguably the friendships that are formed/nurtured between the characters. Last season we got the surprising but iconic duo of Steve and Dustin, and the inevitable pairing of Hopper and Joyce. Adding characters like Lucas’s sister Erica, and Robin into the mix was the best move the writers could have made. Character dynamics are almost a character in themselves in this show.
Season 3 also gave us the wholesome Eleven and Max pairing. There is nothing more powerful than two girls strutting around an 80’s mall to Material Girl by Madonna. The Duffers were intentional about humanizing both Eleven and Max with their newfound friendship. Up until then, Max was the “other girl”. Still, the Stranger Things girls remain and 11/10.
Leading up to the ultimate Battle of Starcourt, this season gave Dacre Montgomery his shining moment. Once Billy is infiltrated by the Mind Flayer, he sets out to recruit a number of Hawkins citizens into the army being built by the monster. While Billy meets his gory fate in the end, Montgomery gave the best performance of the entire season, bringing the show to a new level of darkness.
Stranger Things definitely knows what crowd they’re playing to, and they have delivered every time. As the story recedes from the boundaries of Hawkins, I can only imagine what the Duffer Brothers have in store. This season ended in Russia and we are left with the hope that “the American” they mentioned is Hopper. And we also got to see our old friend, the Demogorgon. Hopefully we don’t have to wait another two years to see these characters on a new adventure!