What: Stranger Things 3
While the second season is often the litmus test for a series, the third season usually determines whether it has long legs, legs that will keep running season after season, year after year.
So, how does Stranger Things 3 fare? For starters, it certainly repeats the satisfying experience of the first season and easily betters the short-on-ideas second season. Trust me, you’d be binge-watching the eight episodes of S03 before you can say Demogorgon. But then again, the series never really evolves into something bigger and better. If at all, it loses some of its edge, primarily because the Duffers Brothers have made Eleven a little too human for (dis)comfort at the start of the new season.
And by more human, I mean, getting a shot of the teen hormones that is wreaking havoc in the minds and bodies of all the kids. With Hopper (David Harbour) fuming outside, Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) has been locking lips in her bedroom with Mike (Finn Wolfhard), even as Never Surrender by Corey Hart plays on her boombox. Then there’s Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), who can’t have enough of Max (Sadie Sink). And Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) supposedly has a new girlfriend named Suzie, who’s “hotter than Phoebe Cates”. Of course, no one’s seen Suzie!
Where do all these adolescent adventures leave the enemies of the show? Well, there are new ones alongside the old. Both human and supernatural. Besides the self-serving mayor, Kline (Cary Elwes), there are Russian spies popping up everywhere in Hawkins trying to blast open the gate of the Upside Down, which El had closed last season.
There is the new monster, whose one objective is “to build” and it marks Billy (Dacre Montgomery) to find more and more recruits in town, thus growing in size all the time. And who controls the monster? Well, that would be spoiling the show way too much.
Other recurring romances – or the lack of it – are between Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) and between Hopper and Joyce Byers (a tempered down Winona Ryder). Nancy faces gender inequality at the workplace, when none of her ideas at the newspaper she is interning at are taken seriously while Jonathan the photographer intern in the same office is valued way more. Hopper and Byers provide some of the funniest moments of the new season, saddled in a love story which always barks, but never bites.
The period is again captured beautifully by the Duffers. It’s the summer of 1985 and hanging at malls smells like the teen spirit of the time. And if you’re a girl, you can do a lot worse than trying out colourful clothes and swaying to Madonna’s Material Girl. There are new faces too. Robin (Maya Hawke, daughter of Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman) is Steve’s (the always charming Joe Keery) disgusted co-worker at the mall ice-cream shop, whose knowledge of Russian words come in handy.
All these parallel tracks get a little difficult to follow with equal passion at the start of the season but as it wears down, the tracks start merging and by the time the climax arrives, they all come together in what is quite a writing triumph. Also, right through the season you champion the endearing pairs which keep forming – whether it’s El and Max or Steve and Dustin.
Just like the Harry Potter franchise, Stranger Things deals with kids facing formidable new enemies in every new outing but also coming to terms with their own growing up. The balancing of these two primary elements is key to the flourishing of the show and the Duffer Brothers have managed to get it right one more time. Yes, it does feel like another version of the first season in many ways, just way more gory than ever before but you won’t be complaining by the time that finale ends. And don’t you dare skip the closing credits of that last episode.