Last year Michele started watching the first season of the horror series Stranger Things on Netflix. I was on my own laptop, doing something else, but from time to time I would turn to her and ask “What are you watching?” and “What’s it about?” and “What’s happening in it?” and “What’s happening now?”
Michele finally got fed up with this and shouted “Just come over here and watch the damn thing with me!!!” Not wanting to argue, I did, jumping in as she was watching episode six. I quickly caught up on what has taking place, and I really enjoyed the rest of it. I nicknamed it “John Carpenter’s The Goonies,” and was not at all surprised to learn that both that director and that movie had been influences on the Duffer Brothers.
Immediately after that we watched Stranger Things 2, which we both liked. So when season three came out on Netflix this month, we also watched it.
Here are some thoughts on the latest installment of the Duffer Brothers weird magnum opus…
1) The 1980s Sucked
Nostalgia can be a very dangerous thing. I grew up in the 1980s. I was nine years old in 1985, which is when Stranger Things 3 is set, so I would have been a few years younger than most of the characters in the show. Honestly, I hated the eighties. I’m certainly not the only one. All of the faux machismo of the Reagan years and the worship of unbridled greed was anathema to me. I was a geek who read a lot of books and comics, and I had very few friends. I guess I probably would have fit in with Mike and Dustin and the rest of those guys, except…
2) Puberty Strikes!
The younger characters are now in their early teens, and it shows. Actors Finn Wolfhard and Noah Schnapp both experienced serious growth spurts between seasons! Millie Bobby Brown also looks older. Character-wise, all of the boys have discovered girls, except for Will, and he’s understandably frustrated that his pals are now off hanging out with their girlfriends instead of playing Dungeons & Dragons with him.
I can certainly relate. I was definitely a late bloomer emotionally. When most of my classmates in high school were dating and hanging out and socializing, I was usually at home with my nose buried in a comic book. Now that I’m older, I understand why Mike and Lucas are busy trying to mend things with Eleven and Max, and why Dustin is trying to get in touch with Suzie, but I also totally relate to Will’s frustrations at feeling left out.
3) Slow the Plot Down
Strangers Things 3 had a lot of characters and plotlines. I think it was a bit overloaded. The plot concerning the Mind Flayer returning and turning the inhabitants of Hawkins, Indiana into a giant monster to kill Eleven never really intersected with the plot of the Russians building a secret base under the Starcourt Mall to re-open the gate to the Upside Down, other than the fact that the Russians’ experiments are what enabled the Mind Flayer to return in the first place.
There were also new characters being introduced, primarily Maya Hawke as Robin, adding to an already-large ensemble. All of the characters had their own subplots, especially the volatile romantic tension between Joyce and Hopper that lasted the entire season.
All of this resulted in the first three episodes of Stranger Things 3 moving at a glacial place as the Duffer Brothers had to take the time to introduce and position every element of the season. I was getting bored, wondering when something was going to actually happen. Each time something did occur, and it looked like things were finally picking up, there would then be a switch to another group of characters, accompanied by an almost-audible sound of someone slamming on the brakes.
Once episode four began events almost immediately rocketed into high gear, and didn’t let up for the rest of the series. But those first three episodes were a drag. I really think that all of that could have been condensed into two episodes. There was so much padding that I started singing the song “Slow the Plot Down” from Mystery Science Theater 3000 to myself.
4) Assholes R Us
There are a lot of assholes in Hawkins. The mayor, the entire staff of the town newspaper, the lifeguards at the town pool, random yuppie assholes who are passing through… so many assholes! Even the stoic, curmudgeonly Sherriff Jim Hopper, portrayed so wonderfully by David Harbour in the first two seasons, descended into full asshole-dom. The AV Club announced “Stranger Things season 3 ruined Hopper” although there is a lot of insightful back & forth in the comments section that does shed light on why Hopper’s actions are actually all-too-realistic.
Looking back from the perspective of 2019, if one re-examines the mindset of the Baby Boomer generation, it is definitely possible to perceive the deeply pervasive presence of toxic masculinity. That was unfortunately the norm back then, the idea that men had to be tough and ambitious and in-charge and stoic, not showing any feelings except anger. Even a basically decent person like Hopper falls into that trap, because that’s how he was raised.
Of course, there are two characters who illustrate this even more clearly…
5) Helloooo, Ladies!
Steve and Billy are opposite sides of the same coin.
Back in season one Steve was the arrogant school jock, the alpha male you loved to hate. But along the way Steve actually began to grow up. He helped Nancy and Jonathan fight the Mind Flayer at the end of season one.
In the second year of the show, Steve became like a big brother to the socially awkward Dustin. When Nancy broke up with him, Steve was able to recognize that he hadn’t been a very good boyfriend to her. Now in season three he tells Robin that he wishes he hadn’t spent so much time in high school worrying about unimportant things, with impressing other people, and that his priorities were messed up. Steve is able to recognize his past mistakes, and is working to try to be a better, more mature person.
In contrast we have Billy, the current town asshole. He is a bully and a womanizer. In season two he was shown to be abusive to his stepsister Max, as well as racist. He spends his summer days as a lifeguard at the town pool, strutting about, seducing bored, horny housewives.
We previously learned that the apple did not fall far from the tree. In season two we briefly met Billy’s father, who was emotionally and physically abusive towards his son. This is further explored in season three. When Eleven uses her psychic powers to delve into Billy’s mind in order to search for the Mind Flayer’s location, she sees from Billy’s memories that he used to be a really sweet kid, but that his father’s abuse, his attempts to “toughen up” Billy, drove away his loving mother and warped him into a monster. It’s only at the end, when Eleven reminds Billy of his happier childhood days before his mother left, that he tries to be a better person, and he sacrifices himself to save Eleven from the Mind Flayer.
Joe Keery does good work playing Steve. As for Dacre Montgomery as Billy… wow, I was genuinely surprised to find out that in real life he’s an Australian who writes poetry. He does such a convincing job playing an American white trash douchebag. Now that is acting!
6) Russian Dressing
Michele and I both wondered if the plotline with the Russians was a commentary on contemporary American politics. In Stranger Things 3 the Russians are able to infiltrate America, build a secret underground headquarters, and cause a catastrophic crisis in large part due to their collaborating with a greedy, arrogant, loud-mouthed politician with weird hair who sells them a bunch or real estate. Yeah, that does sound more than a bit familiar.
7) Wait A Minute… That Was Who?!?
I don’t think I even noticed until at least a couple of episodes into the second season that Joyce Byers was played by Winona Ryder. Yes, she’s quite a bit older than she used to be. But Joyce is also the most un-Winona Ryder-ish part I have ever seen her play. She does really good work portraying a working class single mother who has to cope with all sorts of tragedy and weirdness over the course of three seasons. Ryder also has good chemistry with David Harbour, making the scenes between Joyce and Hopper both poignant and entertaining… well usually. Occasionally the “will they or won’t they” antics do get a bit tiresome.
8) Turn Around, Look At What You See
I’ve always liked the movie The NeverEnding Story, and I think the theme song by Limahl is cute and catchy. So it was sort of fun to have Dustin and Suzie sing it… except the timing was oh so horribly wrong!
You see, Hopper wouldn’t have died if they hadn’t been singing that damn song! If Suzie had just given Dustin the number for Planck’s constant right away, Hopper and Joyce would have gotten the keys out of the safe two minutes sooner and been able to shut down the gate to the Upside Down before Grigori the Russian Terminator arrived. Others also came to the same conclusion. Thanks for nothing, Suzie!
9) R.I.P. Hopper???
A lot of people, Michele and myself included, are wondering if Hopper is really dead, and if David Harbour is going to return for Stranger Things 4. We never actually see Hopper die on-screen. No body usually means no actual death.
And then there is the mid-credits epilogue, where we find out that the Russians have an American prisoner looked up in a Siberian base. That could be Hopper… but I’ve also heard it suggested that it might be Brenner. Yes, he was attacked by the Demogorgon in the final episode of Season One, but again we never saw a body, and it was hinted in the second year that he might still be alive.
Even if that is not Hopper in the Russian prison, it’s been suggested that he might have jumped through the portal into the Upside Down before the gate exploded, hoping to find another way out. That’s what happened to Eleven after the first season. I guess we will have to wait and see. When is Stranger Things 4 coming out, anyway?!?
10) To Be Continued
There is definitely going to be at least one more season of Stranger Things. I am looking forward to it. In addition to Hopper’s fate, I also what to see if Eleven and Mike stay together, and if Eleven ever regains her powers. Plus it would be nice to see Sam Owens return. At least Paul Reiser got a cameo in the final episode of this season.
Nevertheless, I really do hope the Duffer Brothers and Netflix will wrap up Stranger Things after the fourth installment. While I definitely enjoyed the third season, it was not without its problems: too many characters, too many plotlines, three really slow opening episodes. Also, each season the Duffer Brothers keep upping the threat levels. They keep going too much longer and they are going to end up with some sort of giant monster trying to eat the entire planet.
Oh, well, we’re still at the point where the show’s strengths still outweigh its weaknesses. Fingers crossed!