WARNING: Albeit minor discussion, spoilers loom in this upside-down review.
After Season Two, the gate to The Upside Down appeared to be closed, but thanks to some pesky Russian scientists and a giant laser, it’s back open and the Mind Flayer still has power on Earth. This time, the flayer has found its host in Billy (Dacre Montgomery) and together they hope to kill the one thing that has kept them from achieving world domination so far–Eleven.
Three seasons in … and the formula is starting to show:
- We see the kids having fun together and dealing with growing up
- A new threat from the ‘Upside Down’ is revealed
- The cast then splits up into groups in an effort to find out what’s going on
- Everyone reunites in the finale to stop the threat at the cost of a life
- The threat is then revealed to still be at large
- Annnnd…Rinse & Repeat
There’s also a chance the beloved character who was sacrificed last season could still be alive! Thankfully, there’s a plethora of new additions that keep Stranger Things 3 from becoming too stale or familiar.
The New Additions
When I think back on my favorite parts of this season, I find myself gravitating toward moments involving new characters and relationships. Maya Hawke as Robin is a welcome foil to Steve Harrington that allows us to see just how far he’s come since Season One.
As a character in her own right, she is self-assured, capable, but still struggling with everyday life just as much as everyone else. The little family that is formed between her, Steve, Dustin, and Erica–better known as the ‘Scoop Troop’–is so much fun to watch. Speaking of Erica, Priah Ferguson is a star. Her sass and “tell it how it is” attitude leads to many laughs and “GIF-worthy” one-liners.
Despite my love for that quartet, my favored new relationship of this season is the friendship that blossoms between Eleven and Max. The chemistry between Millie Bobby Brown and Sadie Sink is extremely believable. Max helping Elle become her own independent self is heart-warming and the beginning of a beautiful arc.
It’s also just nice to see the girls on this show find solace in one another that they can’t get from a bunch of 14-year-old boys.
Stranger Things has never been afraid to dabble in horror, but this season steps up to new levels as it features the most guts, gore, and ghouls yet. This is due to a major raising of stakes. Gone are the days of a single demogorgon. Now there is an army of possessed, super-powered people that end up forming a beast of mythical proportions.
Characters’ lives are constantly on the line in the latter half of the season and the unpredictable nature of this creature help carry the show through its predictable moments.
Technically, the show continues to step it up each season. Larger evils requires more CGI and the visual effects are always up to snuff. The visuals, in general, have improved greatly utilizing a neon color palette and creative transitions to keep the presentation flashy, fluid, and aesthetically pleasing.
These transitions in particular are just part of what is a tightly edited show that manages to make numerous plot threads feel cohesive. How could anyone forget about that beautiful synth score that personally takes me back in time while keeping me engaged in whatever’s happening presently on the screen.
Whatever my gripes were with the previous episodes feeling too familiar, fluffy, or like a shallow husk of what this show once was, they were erased while watching a satisfying finale that is just as thrilling as it is emotionally draining.
The thing that really makes this episode one to remember is the conclusion of Eleven’s three-season arc.
We all have our favorite characters, but the truth is, the show is about [Eleven]. She is the beating heart, the catalyst, the hero.
Until now, however, she didn’t even know who she was. Throughout the show she’s constantly had to deal with people telling her what to do and how to act that she was never able to be her own person. In Season Two, we saw Eleven try out new looks and add new friends, but this season sees her truly come into her own and be the person she wants to be.
In a show about coming of age, we finally get to see Stranger Things’ most important character find her place in the world with her now deceased (maybe?) father’s blessing in a powerful moment that will make anyone cry. It’s a touching sendoff that draws a beautiful parallel between a life with a wide-open road ahead of it and a life that’s truly served its purpose by making that clear road possible for the daughter he never got to have.
Unfortunately, this will not be the last season of Stranger Things as the end-credits scene (yes, we’re doing those now) lets us know that not only are there demogorgons still active, but Hopper may still be alive!?
Why? Because money.
It’s sad to see a sincere show like this start to run itself into the ground. Sadly, I can only see my complaints about things getting stale growing with the following seasons. At the same time, I can’t deny how great it all was before those darn credits rolled. As much as I’d like to see the show conclude here, I can’t imagine the team behind it ever doing me too wrong.