Stranger Things Season 3

The Sauna Test: What Doesn’t Work 

As endlessly entertaining as Stranger Things 3 is, it’s not without its missteps. The season does a great job giving its ensemble cast enough to do, and not letting anyone get lost in the shuffle (a problem season 2 had). To get there, though, the series has to bend its own rules and virtually ignore elements previously established.

Max and Billy had a terrible relationship in season 2, and it only got worse by the time the season ended. Season 3 forgets all about that, and has Max genuinely concerned for Billy’s wellbeing. You could argue that Max isn’t a monster, so it makes sense that she has some sort of feeling for her brother and his plight. But it never feels earned here.

Billy was a full-blown psycho in season 2, but season 3 dials that down – because it needs to have Billy be somewhat sympathetic before he gets possessed by the Mind Flayer. This, too, feels unearned. Sure, it helps to get the background into Billy’s troubled, abusive childhood, but even that feels shoehorned in to give the writing an excuse to tinker with Billy’s characterization. The fact of the matter is that season 2 Billy and Max were both pointless, and the series seems willing to completely ignore those incarnations in favor of their season 3 form. It works – but it comes off as cheating.

While the series finally found a good way to use Billy and Max, it lost sight of some original characters: Nancy and Jonathan. Of all the members of the ensemble, these two seem the most adrift. Their storyline is almost an afterthought, and it’s hard to care much about their constant bickering. Nancy’s subplot, in which she starts investigating some strange goings-on involving the Mind Flayer, might have worked in a less-crowded season. Here, however, it fizzles out. The storyline isn’t so much wrapped-up as it is shut down. And the solution to her big problem involving the jerks at the newspaper she’s interning at is “solved” when pretty much the entire staff ends up dying.

Priah Ferguson was a big breakout addition in season 2. As Lucas’s sassy, scene-stealing sister Erica, Ferguson’s performance was one of the rare highlights of the second season, and fans loved her. Creators The Duffer Brothers picked up on this, and wisely brought Ferguson back for a bigger role in season 3. Sure enough, Ferguson gets to steal scenes again, and she’s pretty damn funny. At the same time, Erica’s expanded role here frequently comes across as fan service. She ends up playing a part in the main action simply because she’s small enough to fit through an air duct. It’s too random an reason, and just like changing-up Billy and Max’s characterizations, it feels like a cheat.

 

stranger things 3 references

A Deep, Dark Cave: The Future

Stranger Things will live on. How could it not? It’s one of Netflix’s biggest hits. Producer Shawn Levy has previously hinted that the series would probably wrap-up after four seasons, only to walk that back a little bit. But four seasons feels right. Season 2 was so lopsided that it made me uneasy about things to come. But season 3 rights the ship, and sails smoothly.

And yet, I can’t imagine the series lasting much longer and feeling fresh at the same time. Sure, Netflix could keep the show going, and run it into the ground with uninspired plotting. But as the kids get older, it becomes clear that Stranger Things wasn’t meant to be a series that ran on forever. Sooner or later, everyone grows up and moves on to something new. The show itself seems to realize this, and articulates it through Hopper’s heartfelt letter that Eleven reads after her adoptive father “dies.”

“I know you’re getting older, growing, changing,” Hopper writes. “I guess, if I’m being really honest, that’s what scares me. I don’t want things to change. So I think maybe that’s why I came in here, to try and make stop that change. To turn back the clock. To make things go back to how they were. But I know that’s naive. It’s just not how life works. It’s moving, always moving, whether you like it or not. And yeah, sometimes it’s painful. Sometimes it’s sad. And sometimes, it’s surprising. Happy.”

Stranger Things 3 is a success – a refreshing break from a lame summer blockbuster movie season. But sooner or later, it’s going to be time to grow up. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

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