Stranger Things season 4

(This post is full of major spoilers for Stranger Things season 3.)

Stranger Things isn’t the first show to go through a season two slump, and it certainly won’t be the last. And while not every show manages to pull out of said slump – cue the Stranger Things theme music – this one did, with a third season that hits every single correct note.

A great deal of the improvement can be credited to the tonal shift of the show. We spend much less time in the Upside Down, and way more time focusing on the characters that drew us all to this weird little show in the first place. Old favorites did their thing, new pairings cropped up, and with them came new life into a show that had a really rocky second showing. So that means we can look toward the future, and Stranger Things season 4, with far more optimism than we did with this one. So let’s do just that.

Stranger Things El and Max

El and Max

Every teenager needs a best friend to look them dead in the eyes and tell them that they’ve sacrificed their identity for a relationship, even when said teenager didn’t really have her own personality to sacrifice in the first place. El and Max’s friendship is one of the brightest points of Stranger Things’ third season, and there’s some hefty competition! Whether it’s the post-breakup shopping spree, or Max’s constant sparring with Mike over El’s autonomy, this friendship went the distance this season. 

While we’re all rooting for El to be in a healthy relationship (whether that be with Mike or someone who’s less of a little jerk), it’s my sincere hope that when she does find herself in that happy place, we don’t lose out on future exceptional moments between these two teens. 

Stranger Things boys mall

The Boys

Season three had me reminding myself over and over again that teenagers are buttheads. They’re supposed to be buttheads. It’s appropriate to their stage in life for them to be buttheads. Now that we’ve gotten that acknowledgement out of the way, this is a formal notice to the Mikes and the Lucas’s of the world! In Lucas’s defense, his crappy behavior was left at some bad dating advice. Who among us knew how to date at thirteen?

Mike’s a bit of a different story. His butthead-ness is tied to Hopper’s butthead-ness, and a little bit more excusable because, well, he’s a kid. But there comes a point where Hopper’s no longer involved and he’s just being a big old jerk to basically anyone who doesn’t tell him what he wants to hear (read: Lucas). The good news is, this leaves plenty of room for he and his friend to grow exponentially in the coming season. Here’s hoping that growth actually occurs. 

Dustin and Will? You’re doing amazing, sweeties. 

Stranger Things Hopper and Joyce

Hopper

Seems pretty organic to hop on over to Hopper. Being a jerk character might mean that you’ve got plenty of room to grow, but we saw a little bit of regression out of Hopper this season. We’re gonna toss the crappy, overprotective father thing right out the window for now, because that messy situation is a whole other editorial that ultimately ends in the fact that while it’s exhausting and inappropriate, it’s also culturally fitting for the depicted era. 

Hopper’s always had a bit of a temper, but it’s been a “greater good” kind of temper. Season three of Stranger Things showed off Hawkins’ police chief flipping out on anyone who was in his vicinity at any given time. Maybe Joyce isn’t avoiding you because she’s stuck on Bob, Hop. Maybe she doesn’t want to date you because you and Mike (again, a thirteen year old boy) spent season three acting pretty similarly. 

Sorry, is it inappropriate to speak ill of the dead? Do I get a pass if we all agree that David Harbour is in no way exiting the series and we will, without a doubt, see some sort of iteration of him in the coming seasons? While that could come to be through a doppelganger situation, I mostly just hope that he got sucked into the Upside Down and somehow fared better than Barb. If you’ve been following Harbour’s Instagram and have dialed Murray’s home phone (618-625-8313), you likely have your own theories on how Hopper’s still A-OK. Or at least A-Not-Dead.

Stranger Things Joyce

Joyce

Y’all best start listening to Joyce Byers. She’s out here constantly trying to tell every idiot in the town of Hawkins that something’s about to go down, and every single time she somehow gets dismissed as crazy. No wonder the lady left. None of you deserve her, or her precious sons. 

If that sounds flippant, it’s only because I can’t emotionally handle groups of characters moving away from their friends, even if we all know that the entire Byers family (El included) will be just as integral in season four as they’ve always been. Honestly, all I want for Joyce next year is a little bit of happiness, and maybe an acknowledgement or two. She’s smarter than literally everyone around her, and she’s saved everyone’s butts time and time again. It’s about time folks bowed down to this queen. 

Stranger Things Nancy and Jonathan

Nancy and Jonathan

Speaking of women who get ignored! Nancy’s story starts strong and sort of peters out (at least on the journalism front), but there are enough solid moments in the first half of the season that make she and Jonathan’s arc memorable. Their discussion (argument) over their respective privilege is one of their most exceptional in the series. Jon’s sheepish apology after he realizes Nancy was right is also a pretty fun watch. 

I’ve got a lot of love in my heart for this ship. These two crazy kids compliment each other perfectly, and they make a great team when they each get out of their own way. It’s heartbreaking to see them separated because of the move, but I’m hoping we’ll see them make things work in season four and beyond. Maybe a little growth for them, too? 

Stranger Things Steve Robin Dustin

Steve and Robin (and Dustin)

Steve and Robin are in close competition with El and Max for season three all stars. Watching The Hair shift from utterly unlikable to a series darling has been one of Stranger Things’ more pleasant surprises. It was hard to imagine what could possibly challenge him more than a small horde of teenagers. Then Robin joined the fray. 

Admittedly, there was a part of me that was shipping Steve and Robin in the beginning. Dustin’s eager support of his friend definitely fueled those flames. But then she came out, and suddenly I cared about their pairing infinitely more than I think I could if they were just a couple. Then there’s the fact that she came out in and of itself. Stranger Things introducing an explicitly gay character in their very ‘80s show opens the door for so many meaningful conversations in the future.

stranger things 3 review

By and large, season three was a home run for Stranger Things. Yes, even with some of the odd character regression. The shift in focus from the larger narrative to something more character-driven between seasons two and three worked wonders for the entertainment levels of the show. This year’s big bad might not have wowed, but the season packs a much harder emotional gut punch than any of its predecessors. They even got you caring about Billy for a split second! 

Whether we remain in Hawkins, or see the show move into parts unknown, my main hope is that it doubles down on its character-driven story. The monsters, and the superpowers, and the alternate dimensions are all great! But they’re nothing without the level of heart we saw this year.

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