Stranger Things 3 takes us right back into exactly what we loved and hoped for: the characters and relationships we know and love and, of course, a walk down horror-tinged nostalgia lane.
Stranger Things 3 is exactly – exactly – what I was hoping for. It’s hilarious, scary, meaningful, moving, and riveting from start to finish. The Duffer Brothers have done it once again – they’ve managed to find a balance between horror, science fiction, 1980s nostalgia, and deep character development to bring us exactly the thing we’ve wanted since missing out on a new season last year. After about a year and a half off the air, Stranger Things 3 takes us right back to Hawkins, Indiana to fight the evil that has begun to cross over into our world from the Upside Down.
Hawkins, Indiana is the town down the road. It’s quintessential Americana on every level. In season one, the kids rode their bikes around town, played Dungeons & Dragons in their basement, had tree forts in the woods – nothing was more important than the Party of Mike, Lucas, and Dustin (Finn Wolfhard, Caleb McLaughlin, and Gaten Matarazzo). They’re the geeks next door who happened to find a girl with telekinetic powers that helps them to fight a Demogorgon and get their best friend (Will – Noah Schnapp) back from an alternate dimension. Then, in season two, the creatures from another dimension fought back – Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) found out more about herself, and the kids began to grow up.
Season three reminds us that there are consequences to everything that came before. Something is still rotten in Hawkins, Will is deeply traumatized by his experiences with the Upside Down, his mother Joyce (Winona Ryder) is paranoid that the events of previous years will repeat themselves, and Sheriff Hopper (David Harbour) remains vigilant in his watch over the town. While many of our characters are looking backward, trying to make sure everyone is safe, the world still spins inexorably on. Mike and Eleven madden Hopper by making out in El’s bedroom, Lucas and Max (Sadie Sink) are dating, Dustin comes back from science camp insisting he’s got a girlfriend from Utah, Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) are working for the Hawkins Post, and Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) is working at an ice cream shop in the mall.
The Starcourt Mall is where it’s all at. The mall is that classic symbol of nostalgia that brings us right back – they’re dying across America right now, but the mall was the center of society and economy in towns throughout the US for decades. And the Starcourt is somehow the center of all the evil in Hawkins in season three. There are monsters, exploding rats, Russians, doppelganger zombies, a dying small town (killed both literally and figuratively by the mall – George A. Romero would be so proud).
Stranger Things 3 improves upon all the quibbles I had in my rave review of Season 2. Max’s maniac brother Billy (Dacre Montgomery) was nothing more than an asshat stereotype in season 2. Now, he’s central to the plot and they utilize his asshatery in a truly effective fashion. We’ve got a few new funny additions to this tapestry of characters. The kids are growing up and struggling to find a new equilibrium with what brought them together as friends and what will keep them together despite their hormones and the mall. They have to find new ways of relating to one another – I’m so happy that Eleven and Max find their own friendship despite their boyfriends’ foibles; I love watching Steven and Dustin (and would watch a hundred hours of them, on their own, hunting Communists in the mall).
Stranger Things has always been steeped in nostalgia and pop culture of the 80s, but it’s never been just about that. Those trappings deepen and accentuate the well-crafted, intensely relatable characters and themes. It uses setting as a touchstone, as building blocks to tell an amazing, impactful story time and time again. This Loser’s Club (I don’t think that Stephen King will mind me applying this to our gang) is each one of us, whoever we are. Their struggles, however science fiction hyperbolizes them, are ours. We live in a tumultuous world filled with our own kinds of monsters. We cannot forget to live our lives and move forward while fighting those monsters, not alone, but together.
Binge this season right now. Set off fireworks and crank up your best 80s playlist when it’s done. You’ll laugh, cry, and start craving more immediately.
Tyler is a teacher, librarian and the Co-host of The Geek Card Check Podcast. He has been a Film Critic for Ready Steady Cut since 2018.