* Spoilers ahead!
The 3rd season of internet sensation series Stranger Things dropped last week, and overnight the praise rolled in from critics and casuals alike. The ubiquitous adoration for this series is impressive, and even three seasons later, it captures its audience’s hearts and won’t let go.
This show has always been a *ahem* strange phenomenon to me. Even since season one, which I loved, I was wondering whether the show had really earned my devotion to it. Of course it did, it’s a phenomenally produced show with amazing art design, direction, acting, and effects, but there’s one major thing that doesn’t jive with the rest — the plot.
Now before anyone comes to throw me into the Upside Down, let me explain: Stranger Things is interesting (like really, really interesting), but it makes very little sense. Plot lines are often built and then dropped, things go unexplained, solutions are convenient, characters survive situations they most certainly should die in. And yet, no one is bothered by this. In other shows, the plot issues would be glaring and damaging, but not in Stranger Things. After 3 seasons, I’m fairly confident that no one is watching for the plot.
In my final Stranger Things 3 trailer review, I wrote “All of this is to say that, for me, Stranger Things has always been the most mind-boggling, incomprehensible series that asks way more questions than it answers… but it’s also one of the most charming and compelling,” and this turned out to be quite correct. What people love about this series is its tremendous cast of characters (that grows larger every season), and there is so much love for them that we, nor the Duffer Brothers, can stand to see any of them go. In any other show, I would feel it necessary to kill off a main character every once and a while to keep the stakes high, but in this show there’s not a one of them that I’d be ok with losing (except maybe Max. An entire season later and I still don’t like her).
I found season 3 to be significantly better than season 2 (which I thought was quite unfocused), but it still can’t recapture the magic of the first season. With something like Stranger Things, which has a lot that needs explaining, the first season really works because the audience is focused more on the tension of the situation than answering questions. Two more full seasons later, the tension isn’t as strong and it leaves room for people to start thinking harder about the plot. Season 3’s plot was actually fairly cohesive, and while I didn’t think the threat at the end was as big as it should have been, they still managed to pack a fun battle and emotional gut punch right at the end.
I feel like Stranger Things has never really taken itself too seriously — they know the plot is convoluted, they know El’s powers are still undefined, they know this group of teenagers is way more capable than they should really be. So in season 3 they really leaned into the whole thing, because at this point they aren’t trying to win anyone over. We’re all already here, and Hawkins has become our home away from home.
In season 3, they lean all the way into the belief that the plot comes second in the audience’s mind. For example, Nancy & Jonathon probably should have been dead a million times over in that hospital, but while it would have been more narratively appropriate to lose one of them there, we just… don’t want to! We love Nancy & Jonathon!
Stuff like that happens a lot in season 3, and it’s not obnoxious yet, so they’ll keep doing it. Will it ever get obnoxious? Well, we’ll see how everyone feels after Hopper miraculously survives that explosion (which I’m convinced he did).
The plot thickens in season 3, and I liked that they kept all of the characters in relatively the same place, as opposed to having them all spread out like in season 2. That being said, it was still a little exhausting for Dustin to have been separated from the rest of the group for so long. However, maybe this just felt worse to me because I thought the season was spanning weeks, maybe months, so it was weird that the gang hadn’t tried to contact him, but at the end of the season I realized the whole thing took place over the span of about a week. I enjoyed the Scoop Troop plot line, though (like many Stranger Things plots), it didn’t ultimately matter for the conclusion of the season. Hopper, Joyce, and Murray had a more integral story with the Russians in the last few episodes than the Scoop Troop had the entire season.
Like I said in my review, our Big Bad actually has a conscious this time around. It was also a nice touch to use Billy as the villain, the Mindflayer stand-in, but I think they should have used Mrs. Wheeler as his sidekick. Maybe they thought that route would be a little too dark and disturbing, but come on, what was the point of that fling with Billy if it wasn’t going to go anywhere?!
I was surprised that they never brought back some of the plots they left hanging in season 2, but then again I wasn’t surprised because the ones they left out were the bits that people didn’t like about last season. It feels a little unnatural in retrospect, but if you aren’t thinking too hard you’ll probably forget about them.
The new characters they added this season were great, I loved both Alexi and Robin, and I thought they actually contributed (unlike Max and Billy last season). However, the addition of more characters that need screen time means that time is taken away from other characters. Will had absolutely nothing to do this season, which is unfortunate because Noah Schnapp is a great actor. My question is, if you didn’t have anything for Will to do, why not kill him off at the end of season 2? It was unrealistic that he would have survived anyway. But it’s not really Stranger Things’ MO to kill off major characters — only characters that appear in singular seasons (hence why I don’t think Hopper is dead). It’s impressive how much character work they manage to do with so many characters, and I think they did it much better this season than last, but I do think they should have devoted more time to amping up the main cast before they added new people. Will, Lucas, Mike, Jonathon, and even Joyce fell flat for me this season.
I’m sorry if this review feels a bit all over the place. That’s how I feel about the season and the series in general. And yet, this is what I’m talking about — the show has so many logistical flaws and strange choices, but I still love it wholeheartedly. Whereas with other shows I would tear things apart about it, I just don’t feel the need. Stranger Things is wild and crazy and unrealistic and they use way too many dues ex machinas, but it’s SO. DANG. CHARMING. You just can’t help but love it.
A rumor is swirling that season 4 will be the show’s last, and that’s sad, but I think it’s the right decision. It’s clear that they don’t have a strong idea of where the story is going, and perhaps they can feel their luck about to run out. We’ve held on this long, but a few more seasons and people will likely loose their grip.
I love Stranger Things for all its quirks and flaws, and season 3 was a ton of fun. It wasn’t perfect, but that almost makes it better.