This review contains spoilers.
Netflix released the third season of “Stranger Things” (2016–), an international sci-fi smash hit, on Independence Day this past summer. In this season, the children and adults of Hawkins once again have to battle a grotesque monster from another dimension, one that uses human beings as a vessel to enter our dimension and grow larger and stronger. This season also presents us with new settings, more iconography and heightened nostalgia for older viewers.
The season begins with a couple of episodes packed with teen angst that allow the audience to catch up with the kids of Hawkins. We get to see Mike and Eleven navigating their romantic relationship and dealing with an overprotective Hopper, Dustin telling tales of his girlfriend from summer camp (whom his friends are reluctant to believe exists) and perhaps most poignantly, Will feeling left behind by all of his romance-obsessed friends. The writers and producers do an excellent job ensuring that the characters grow and mature with their actors, presenting us with realistic adolescent confusion.
Sadie Sink’s character, Max, was given much more attention and depth this season. Max, who was introduced last season, was not a very strong character. She seemed to have been written in solely to create romantic tension between the boys. This season, however, devotes time to her friendship with Eleven, in which she teaches Eleven all about being a ‘normal’ girl and assures her that “there’s more to life than stupid boys.” This new relationship is a wonderful portrayal of supportive female friendships and also a fantastic way to remedy the poor choice to pit these two girls against each other in the last season.
“Stranger Things” has gotten its deserved share of negative reviews from critics and viewers alike for poor development of female characters in its previous seasons. Many even claimed that the series failed to pass the Bechdel Test despite its many episodes, which were all nearly an hour long. It is clear that the Duffer Brothers took this criticism into account. Other than changing the dynamic between Eleven and Max, the writers also introduced Robin, a new female character who is funny, brainy and already a fan favorite. Throughout the season, we see her relationship with Steve unfold and expect them to fall in love; instead, we learn that Robin is interested in women, causing Steve to embrace her as a friend rather than pull away due to rejection. The season also shows us the overt sexism Nancy has to face in her workplace, which was a very pressing issue for women in the ’80s and can likely still resonate with many working women today.
Overall, the plot of this season was more or less the same. A fleshy monster from the Upside-Down finds its way into the world. Different subgroups of characters notice various signs that something is off in Hawkins and go on their respective quests to figure out what is happening. All of these smaller groups merge at the end with a main goal: fighting off the monster. The writers stuck to their classic “Stranger Things” formula.
Unfortunately, this season’s plot lacked any world-building or background information, which are essential components of the supernatural/science-fiction genre. Although the Russians are clearly defined as the main villain, their motivations behind opening the portal are not revealed. Perhaps this will be explored in a later season. Possibly the greatest disappointment of season 3 was that there was not even a mention of any of the others who were victims of the Hawkins Lab experiments. Perhaps it was because the reviews for the episode in which Eleven found Kali (number 008 from the Hawkins Lab) were overwhelmingly negative, and fans thought it stuck out like a sore thumb in an otherwise brilliant season. However, instead of using this feedback to write in Eleven’s other ‘siblings’ in a different way, the writers of the show simply played it safe with a repetitive plot.
“Stranger Things” reached its height not because of its science-fiction plot — one that was created by borrowing aspects of various ’80s media — but because of its fantastic set of memorable characters and the talented actors. However, there were no outstanding performances this season or any significant evolutions in any character, and for this reason, the repetitive plot was less forgivable and the season as a whole felt a bit underwhelming.
Despite all of this, the ending of the season most definitely deserves praise. Unlike previous seasons’ endings, this season makes sure to leave some loose ends untied. “Stranger Things 3” closes with cliffhangers and limitless potential for the next season, leaving fans all over the world already waiting for “Stranger Things 4.“