Disclaimer: As stated in the title this is a spoiler free review of Stranger Things Season 3 but I will be talking about plot points and minor spoilers from Season 1 & 2.
So Stranger Things 3 picks up where we left off after season 2, everyone is happy and everyone is together, there is love in the air, it is the summer of love. Right off the bat I can say I preferred this season over season 2. This season felt more contained, it felt like it had a purpose and knew what it was doing and where is was going. Season 2 for me felt more of a mess, especially with “The Lost Sister” filler episode. The reviews of that episode tanked so hard that the writers completely gave up on that subplot, and I’m glad they did. That is one of the many reasons season 3 feels so much more crisp, because Matt and Ross Duffer decided to be more focused on the main story.
As always the cast this season is great, the kids are now older and feel more like seasoned actors and much more mature in their performances. The kids stand out and shine more in this season especially with the addition of a couple of new characters. The adult characters are great as well, but a lot of them (apart from the main ones) felt wasted and underdeveloped. For example, in true 1980’s form, we have evil Russians, which sounds hilarious but falls flat. The reason season 1 shined more than this or season 2 is because it had a well defined shadowy government department with a leader who was well developed. Remember “papa” from season 1? aka Dr. Martin Brenner. He was a menacing villain who had purpose and reasons for his experimentations on children and trying to open a gateway to the upside down. Plus we had the Demogorgon, which became a huge costume choice during halloween that year. It’s cute that the kids in season 1 called the beast “Demogorgon” and in season 2 started calling the bigger beast “Mind Flayer” because that is their only visual reference they can give it, being fans of Dungeons and Dragons they named those beasts after creatures in D&D.
But here in season 3 we have evil Russians being bad for the sake of the 1980’s stereotype. This is my one and only problem with this season, a lack of a villain with a purpose. But all that doesn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things in the season with the “Mind Flayer” being back. Season 3 definitely improves its writing and storytelling from season 2, even if we put aside evil Russians we still have the introduction of a very well developed Russian scientist. I won’t give anymore details about him to keep this spoiler free.
Let’s go to the mall, and what a mall it is. Starcourt mall is by far one of the best sets, art direction, production design, props, lighting, costumes, extras that I have seen in a series. It is amazing, literally the highlight of the season. They made it feel so authentically 1980’s America, licensing dozens of brands to further elevate the authenticity. They didn’t just build a set on a sound stage, they found an abandoned mall and built the inside from the ground up, innards, lighting, fixtures, branding, shops etc. They made it a fully functioning mall. That level of detail makes the mall so much more immersive for the viewers and probably for the actors in the scenes as well. For me, the mall was the scene stealer more than anything else. Each character/group goes on their own adventure and purpose to complete a task or uncover some information. There are a few really good plot points and twists and interesting new characters and old recurring characters throughout the season and it felt so wholesome. The second half of the season is much stronger and even got me quite emotional.
Rating: I’m giving Stranger Things Season 3 an 8.5 out of 10.
After 3 seasons this show doesn’t just feel like a one hit wonder, although with a slightly rocky second season, season 3 comes back to form and delivers a satisfying narrative reminiscent of season 1. Even without a purposeful/menacing human villain this season still goes strong with tons of 80’s nostalgia and easter eggs. If you have seen season 1 & 2 you will want to see this season as it is not a disappointment. Lucas’s younger sister Erica, is another scene stealer along with the Russian scientist Alexei. Keep an eye out for those characters as you watch the season.