SERIES REVIEW — Stranger Things 3
I still remember watching season 1 of Stranger Things right before it blew up online. I remember watching the first two episodes and being so instantaneously hooked that I quickly started recommending it to friends because it felt like something special. Two years later in October of 2017, Stranger Things 2 was released, and while there were some great highlights, (increased production value, a more realized world, and additions of Billy, Max, and Bob) the season failed to capture the magic of the original season. Part of that was due to the first season coming out of absolutely nowhere and becoming an internet sensation, but it was also due to some weird structural choices and lackluster writing (looking at you, Season 2 Episode 7). However, with a two year break between the second and third seasons, there was quite a lot of interest in what season 3 would bring for Stranger Things. So, with that being said, here are my thoughts on Stranger Things 3!
It is the summer of 1985 in the small town of Hawkins, and the new Starcourt mall has become the focal point of the town, driving small businesses out of business. Sheriff Hopper (David Harbour) is conflicted over Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) and Mike’s (Finn Wolfhard) budding relationship, while Joyce (Winona Ryder) considers moving out of Hawkins for better prospects. However, strange power fluctuations trigger Will’s (Noah Schnapp) awareness of something otherworldly, and Eleven and Max (Sadie Sink) sense something is off about the town’s residents, and despite having closed the portal to the Upside Down, fears that they are all in danger from it still.
Trying to be as vague about the plot of this season feels incredible important, with this feeling on the level of Avengers: Endgame in terms of big moments that should not be known prior to viewing. Continuing the tradition of this series, Stranger Things 3 brings that classic love of 1980’s science fiction and horror into the modern age, infusing itself with a shot of nostalgia in both its aesthetic appeal and its musical catalog (easily the best scored season to date, and with the best real world music as well). For what it is worth, this is without a doubt the darkest entry into the Stranger Things universe to date in terms of tone and genre, with it leaning heavily into horror and more so than normal. I honestly thought this was rated TV-MA at times for just how much gore they got away with, so if you are a horror fan, you should be thrilled by the knowledge that there is both good scares and great gore throughout. And for the more squeamish viewers, at least you can enjoy the increased comedic efforts by the ensemble as a way to balance scares and laughs.
The production value as a whole feels completely elevated from the prior two seasons, just off the Starcourt set alone, which feels fully realized as if we could visit it in the real world. The CGI throughout the eight episode season is also vastly improved from previous outings, with the Mindflayer looking disgustingly horrifying in all the right ways. There are also a host of scenes that feature excellent cinematography, with a surprising amount of long shots. The scenes with Eleven using her powers to find people of interest are all spectacular, the fun house sequence at the fair, and the entire Battle For Starcourt episode are shining examples of this.
Ahoy Ladies, didn’t see you there! Would you like to set sail on this ocean of flavor with me? I’ll be your captain, I’m Steve Harrington. — Steve Harrington
As far as performances go, everyone brings their A game this time around. The kids all feel like they have improved in the two years break, and even Hopper and Joyce feel refreshed as characters, with Harbour and Ryder holding it down consistently through each season. My personal favorite character since Season 1 has been Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) and he delivers another home run in Season 3, though that is largely in part due to his pairing with series newcomer, Robin (Maya Hawke). The two of them play off better than anyone in the series, arguably better than Hopper and Joyce, even if they have had less screen time together than them. However, even with my admiration for Steve, the undeniably best performance this season has to go to Dacre Montgomery as Billy. He kills everything he is given this season, as in he is shockingly great in the way his character has changed from the previous season. Seriously, give this man an Emmy award this year.
Easily the most improved aspect of the show outside of performances and an increased budget is the pacing. Season 2 really was a start-stop affair, with some episodes feeling pointless, (again, looking at you S2 Episode 7) but in Season 3, these episodes feel so air-tight and well written with very little fluff left in between. Pacing was my biggest issue with Season 2, so thankfully that was fixed this year. Gone are the filler episodes just meant to carry the season to a longer length, with there only being eight episodes this time around. The writing and directing teams behind these episodes deserve a hell of a lot of praise for just how well they accomplished a systematic upgrade of the show. It is not often that a show gets better, specifically after a previous season begins the decline in quality, but this is one of the special cases where not only does it surpass the weaker season, but it also becomes even greater than its initial 2016 season.
I would also personally say that several of these episodes feature the greatest endings of this show to date (namely Episode 4, Episode 6, and Episode 8). While the idea of binging is not a new one, and this being one of those bingeworthy shows, these endings are so perfect in just about every way. Without spoiling anything, Episode 4’s closing utilizes the classic Vera Lynn song, We’ll Meet Again to great effect (seriously, this is one of the greatest songs ever written and it elevates this episode’s conclusion to the highest degree).
Everything about Stranger Things 3 feels refreshing. Featuring a darker tone, significantly improved production value, all around better performances, great original score and soundtrack, tightly paced episodes, and more consistency in quality, I can confidently say that Stranger Things 3 is the best season of the show to date. For those that had similar issues in being bored over the course of a few episodes within Season 2, then have no fear because this season will take your breath away and not give it back to you until the credits stop rolling on Episode 8.
Ranking of Stranger Things Seasons:
- Stranger Things 3
- Stranger Things
- Stranger Things 2
- There is a mid-credits scene during the final episode, so be sure to stick around and watch that!*
Stranger Things 3 is now streaming on Netflix! If you enjoyed this review, be sure to follow me for more and to follow me on my social media:
And if you want to take a look at another one of my reviews, be sure to check out my thoughts on Godzilla: King of the Monsters!