Stranger Things: Season Three

Yeah, yeah, I'm late. I should have posted this review a month ago. But I have a good excuse, I promise.

(Beware! Spoilers below!)

The excuse first. I started Stranger Things 3 when Netflix initially dumped it, got through the third episode, realized that I was bored, so I stopped. Last week, I decided to give it another try and wouldn't you know it, the fourth episode was when it finally took off. Literally. Gotta love an express elevator to the center of the earth.

Winona Ryder and David Harbour may get top billing, but this is Millie Bobby Brown's show. Eleven consistently keeps my attention and makes me want to cheer for her, and it's not just her telekinesis and remote viewing talents. It was lovely that they re-set the all boys thing and we got to spend quality time with Eleven and Max; gotta love a "Material Girl" shopping montage. And Eleven's endearing relationship with adopted father Hopper transcended all of the discomfort I felt about the cliché of her constantly smooching with Mike.

The fact that this squad of talented child actors are now teens was mentioned repeatedly, and even played for a bit of sadness. Hopper was almost obsessed with trying to keep Eleven and Mike apart, at least a few inches. There was a poignant sequence where Will made a desperate attempt to get the other boys to play D&D with him again. And Steve, now a high school graduate, was facing an hourly job scooping ice cream with no college and possibly no future ahead of him.

Steve's sailor suit. The best wardrobe decision ever

Except that Steve (Joe Keery) and his "Scoops Troop" was undoubtedly the best thing about this installment, other than Eleven. I can't really say enough good things about every scene with Steve, new character Robin, Dustin, and Lucas' hilariously obnoxious little sister Erica ("child endangerment!"). All four were absolutely wonderful, and if I ever watch this season again, it will be to enjoy every single scene of them scooping ice cream, translating Russian, and infiltrating the secret Russian base under the Starcourt mall. There was lightness and fun about it, even when Steve was actually tortured by the Russian military.

And my favorite scene in the season was Steve and Robin sprawled on the multicolored bathroom floor in the mall, drugged up with Russian truth serum, and telling each other truths. Especially when Robin came out to Steve the way she did, and the way Steve reacted. Robin (Maya Hawke) is a wonderful addition to the cast.

I also enjoyed the big ending, "The Battle of Starcourt," with the gang attacking the monster with fireworks in the middle of a shopping mall on the fourth of July. It was a visual treat, not to mention almost painful American kitsch. Eleven using her telekinetic powers to pull a piece of the Mind Flayer out of her own leg was also impressive. Gagworthy, but impressive.

What I found less appealing was the actual monster. The Mind Flayer was like The Blob with blood and bones mixed in, less frightening, more nauseating. Billy the lifeguard, Max's body-snatched big brother, was creepy and disgusting even before he was possessed. At least he redeemed himself in the end by making the ultimate sacrifice for Eleven.

And that brings me to Hopper, who went way overboard – killing Russians, stealing a car, threatening to cut off the way underused Cary Elwes' finger, and so on. It kept bothering me and pulling me out of the story. In no way do I ship Joyce and Hopper, but they're relatively cute together despite (or because of) their disparate sizes and there was a strong emphasis on them resisting their attraction for each other. They finally resolved it and decided to date in the final episode, so I immediately knew one of them would die. (It's a Whedon thing.)

Except that it was clear that Hopper didn't die, after all. Everything exploded and the "door" that the Russians were opening to the Upside-Down closed, but we never saw Hopper's body. And there was the "Not the American" bit at the end with the demigorgon in the Russian prison.

At least Hopper made peace with Mike, and left a lovely letter for Eleven. As we left our heroes, the Byers family, including a now powerless Eleven, left Hawkins for better things. Or possibly more Stranger Things. Because the Hopper and demigorgon set-up clearly told us that This Is Not The End.

As usual with Stranger Things, the 1985 set dressing, wardrobe and dialogue were consistently well done; it's like they time travel back to the eighties to film. The constant movie references were great, especially Hopper battling a Terminator Schwarzenegger clone, and Dustin and his awesome new love interest Suzie singing the theme from The NeverEnding Story.

Even with stuff I wasn't crazy about, I can honestly say that this season of Stranger Things was the best of them all so far, and that I'm glad I tried that fourth episode before giving up. Four out of four walkie talkies.
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Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Nice review, thanks! Two points I want to amplify:

"Eleven consistently keeps my attention and makes me want to cheer for her, and it's not just her telekinesis and remote viewing talents."

>> I completely agree! Millie has a captivating presence and is just superb at communicating via body language, facial expressions, and the pacing and tone of her line reads. Just an outstanding actress that has totally owned a complicated, critical role in this great show. I look forward to her having some scenes in s4 with Will, her new adoptive brother (and real life BFF).

"And that brings me to Hopper, who went way overboard – killing Russians, stealing a car, threatening to cut off the way underused Cary Elwes' finger, and so on. It kept bothering me and pulling me out of the story. In no way do I ship Joyce and Hopper..."

>> This times a million! I'm flabbergasted at the dramatic character change with Hopper from s1/s2 to s3. Characters can change some, and they can make bad or surprising decisions but s3-Jim was so changed as to be a new character. After 3x s3 viewing I now skip his scenes when possible (I feel guilty but s3-Jim is just too painful to watch). I really hope when he returns (which he will) that he 1) apologizes to Joyce (a proxy for fans like me!) and 2) is adjusted back into a version closer to s1/s2.

Victoria Grossack said...

I loved that the season was all about the mall, which in the 80s was where the kids hung out; I recall the 80s and how the local stores suffered. And now, thanks to internet shopping, malls are in trouble.

Thanks for the review!

Raya said...

Thanks for the review Billie! I'm glad you didn't give up on the show!

The kids were definitely the best thing about this season.
Maybe even the only good thing, but it was enough to carry the whole season. These young actors are just amazing!

Developing Max' and Eleven' friendship was an excellent decision. Both really needed to exist outside of their relationships with the male characters.
I loved the way Will tried to hold on to his childhood while his friends grew out of it. I remember feeling that way too, so it hit close to home.
Robin was a fantastic addition to the team. I loved her instantly, and her relationship with Steve was perfect.

As for the adults... I really hated what they did with Hopper.
In the first two seasons, he was a gruff but endearing man. In season 3, he's basically just an aggressive jerk.
It felt like he spent the whole season either screaming at everyone or being excessively violent.
Not only did it really mess up the characterization, but it also made the whole romance with Joyce a bit cringey.
The way he towered over her and yelled at her... Yes, most of the time she was yelling too, and she didn't seem scared in the slightest, but she's tiny compared to him, so the dynamic was unnerving.

Also, I don't doubt that Hopper is alive, but I'm willing to bet that the "not the American" line is a red herring, and refers to someone else. It seems way too obvious.