The third season of Stranger Things dropped late last week, and (unusually for me!) I have already burned straight through it. Overall I liked it quite a lot, and thought it was a good course correction from a rather flawed second season. I’ll expand a bit with the rest of this; perhaps obviously, there are spoilers if you haven’t watched it yet.
As a whole, I really enjoyed this season’s offerings, although I have some criticisms. It feels to me like they will obviously have to walk back some of the things they wrapped up this season with: obviously Will (and the rest of the Byers family) will still be part of the story, El will probably get her psychic abilities back, and Hopper is probably not really dead. They might, it’s true, make any of those things stick, but it will be a surprise and I have to say they didn’t have a lot of impact for me as they unspooled, because I don’t really buy them.
For me, they’re also leaning a bit hard into the 1980s referencing, now. The first season was a great story that was set in the 1980s and so had inevitable aspects of 80s culture showing up throughout. Based on the positive response a lot of that nostalgia generated, they seem to have turned the volume up on all the 80s stuff, to the point where I now find it distracting. I loved the synthy soundtrack of Season 1 a lot more than having a riff from a 80s top 20 hit every few minutes, for example.
I was disappointed with the direction they took the character of Hopper for most of the season. While I understand he’s meant to be a guy with some issues and rough edges, for the bulk of the episodes he really just came across as a borderline abusive jerk. All of that is (somewhat) redeemed by the last couple episodes, and especially his monologue that ends the piece, revealing what Hopper was actually thinking during the earlier parts of the series. However, as wise people have pointed out, what you think and believe deep in your heart of hearts doesn’t really matter at all – your actions are what is important. So, I don’t think his letter to El really entirely pulls things back from taking the character in a pretty unpleasant direction for the bulk of season 3.
With that in mind, I liked a lot of what they did. Robin is an excellent new character, and her relationship with Steve was executed with a deft touch. I think they fixed a lot of the issues with pacing from last season, and although there are maybe some questions lingering over some of the stuff they threw overboard (so, what about the rest of the psi-powered children?), I think it was the right thing to do. We had what felt like a much more focused story with far less dead weight this time out.
In particular, although Will isn’t the focus of this season as he has been, his storyline still resonated with me a lot. A lot of people have written about his ambiguous sexuality, which I don’t feel qualified to comment on. I did, however, grow up just a little bit slower than a lot of my peers, and did (it seemed to me) wake up one day and suddenly everyone was concerned with hair styling products and having the right labels on their clothes, so some of the ‘left behind’ moments Will experiences, and feeling alienated from the people you used to be closest to, those I identified with a great deal.
There’s been a pretty clear tonal shift in Stranger Things by this point: I think Season 1 was a suspenseful horror story, and now the mood is much more of an over-the-top splatter romp, but that’s not necessarily good or bad. They’ve identified what they want to do and they’re doing it really quite well.
After last season, I had some serious misgivings about whether or not the continuation of Stranger Things was ultimately going to be a very good idea; now I am genuinely eager to see what they’ve got on deck for Season 4.