(Note: This review is based on the first 6 episodes of Stranger Things season 3)
‘Woah, that escalated quickly.’
This used-and-abused phrase sums up just how ‘stranger’ Season 3 of Stranger Things is, right off the bat. Be it the wordless opening sequence that makes you check your speakers, or the sci-fi elements that look completely foreign to you (figuratively, of course), you know this one will be a different ride.
Don’t want to read? Then listen to it here:
The Duffer Brothers return with the third season of Stranger Things on Netflix this 4 July, with a not-so-gentle reminder for fans: Time flies!
You are caught off guard when the nerdy, awkward, but innocently adventurous kids from Season 2 are thrown onto your screen in their adolescent avatars.
Yes, puberty hit them and Netflix didn’t wait for you to catch up. Though we at The Quint did get a head start with the first six episodes shared with us for reviewing. This season has eight 50 minute-ish episodes in total, so I still don’t know how it all ends (Netflix, this is torture!).
As if drawing parallels with the kids’ sudden tolerance (or should we say appetite) for horror, thrill, and adult-like things that teens want to like, the showmakers have also scaled up the visually terrifying and scream-inducing elements on the show. This season is not for the faint-hearted, though Season 1 and Season 2 do prepare you for some of it.
After you're done jump-screaming to the iconic synthwave credits track that defines Stranger Things, Season 3 introduces the gang – Mike, Dustin, Lucas, Will, Max and El – having their lives’ best summer till date, or so it seems. The show-makers were kind enough to do fan-service with references and call backs.
When Fighting a Demogorgon Was Easier Than Handling Puberty
As mentioned before, this is a different ride from the previous two, so prepare yourself for some new and unexpected dynamics to play out on-screen, and some OG bonds seeing some cracks.
In fact, after scaling up on the elements of horror, mystery, action and sci-fi – both visually and through the narrative – the key ‘conflict’ or struggle that Stranger Things Season 3 explores is how our protagonists deal with change – both within and among themselves.
Unlike the previous seasons, where most of the focus was on what’s happening to the kids, this one gives significant screen time to how they deal with things. Possibly because the actors too are now mature enough to deliver that.
This extends to the other key characters too, like Nancy and Jonathan, who now have to dance around new realities of adulting. Mrs Byers and Hopper dealing with familiarity and intimacy... and just being their pedantic selves, actually.
You can’t blame them. Season 1 and Season 2 had kept them way too busy, and now they have some spare time apart from their dramas.
Throw in a classic American wonder of capitalism – a giant Mall – into the mix, and suddenly all these people from Hopkins have a legit way to laze around and do nothing.
This Isn’t Some Coming-of-Age Story, This Is Horror
And once you are fully baited with sundry summer teen-drama, the directors yank you from your unsuspecting senses to remind you that Stranger Things is not a coming-of-age story about a bunch of kids – it’s quite the opposite (or should we say ‘Upside Down’).
The viewers are given the mixed pleasure and agony of slowly watching how much of a mess our heroes are in while they’re shooting their teen drama. That doesn't stop you from freaking out with them when shit hits the fan.
Suddenly, you are following multiple high-octane sequences in classic Stranger Things style, and the brilliant scene transitions keeps you hooked on all of them.
Did Everyone Hit Their Head Last Season Finale?
What does get frustrating to watch till that moment, is how most of the characters ignore obvious ‘strange’ signs. Staying in disbelief or gaslighting people like your average Joe, when for two whole seasons they were either hunting inter-dimensional monsters, or cracking government conspiracies.
Did all the characters seal their basic instincts in the Upside Down when El closed the door in the last season finale?
If the intention was to have the viewer panic for them, it didn’t quite work – all it really did was make them look dumb and out of character.
Time to Update The Meme Bank
Thankfully, they come out of it. After all, the appeal of Stranger Things comes from the character dynamics, screenplay, effortless onscreen chemistry and comic timing. If you go back to the last two seasons, what defined the side-quest arcs, was seeing characters develop through just conversation. Steve and Dustin are a classic example. Steve became more than just a ‘jock character’ through his scenes with Dustin.
The makers of Stranger Things risk upsetting fans if the duo don’t get their side quest in Season 3. They also risk reducing Steve and Dustin to cameos and kill the character development from Season 2.
The Duffer Brothers have gone with a smart middle path by throwing fresh characters into the blend with them.
They have also tried fresh pairs as side-arc buddies. El and Max are one such odd pair. Though it’s used to give El some cliched coming of age experiences, and may seem forced at times, it does the trick. Does it also give us a new perspective on Max?
I guess we will find out together on 4 July, when the show premieres on Netflix.