Geek Culture

Geek Review – Stranger Things: Season 3 (Netflix)

We’ve been waiting for this for a while now, but it’s time for the third season of Netflix’s Stranger Things. The ‘80s love letter to horror, action and children movies has been a staple in many fans’ watch lists on the digital streaming giant since it came bursting out of the blocks back in 2016, and for good reason. Now bigger, leaner and meaner in its third iteration, we are in for a much darker turn in our return to Hawkins, Indiana.

Season 3 of Stranger Things takes place in the summer of 1985, where the main cast of characters have enjoyed a full few months of summertime bliss after the events of last season, being, well, regular kids.

This time, however, things aren’t exactly status quo with our Fab Four of Hawkins: Mike, Lucas, Will and Dustin, in more ways than one. The former two are rather preoccupied with their relationships with Eleven and Max respectively, while Dustin has been away at summer camp. 

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And poor Will (Noah Schnapp), still struggling with his post-Upside Down trauma back in Seasons 1 and 2, is one phase behind, still wanting to play Dungeons & Dragons while the rest of his friends’ focuses have shifted.

Which makes sense, because change is part of growing up, and this aspect of change is one of the big subplots in Season 3. Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) in the honeymoon phase of their relationship; Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Max (Sadie Sink) aren’t exactly getting along well as a couple, and Dustin (Gaten Materazzo) also has to deal with his friends (sans Will) losing focus in doing what they used to do, hence he goes to hang out with his other BFF Steve Harrington (Joe Keery), who’s currently working at an ice-cream shop at the newly-opened mall, Starcourt.

But the splintering of the group also harkens back to a chief complaint of Season 2, that there were too many individual storylines. El and Max run their own adventure, separate from the boys, as do Dustin, Steve and Robin. The same goes for Jonathan (Charlie Heston) and Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer), who run around for the first four episodes doing their own investigation, and do not interact with the rest of the main cast for the first four episodes.

Meanwhile, Joyce (Winona Ryder) and local Sheriff Jim (David Harbour) are also involved in a little adventure of their own, investigating their own mysterious instances, and it seems as if we’re back to the problem of having an overly large cast, where the showrunners find it easier to break everyone up rather than work on a narrative where everyone interacts.

However, despite all the current predicaments of our main characters, the show reminds us that there are much bigger and badder things than puberty out there in store for our protagonists. Season 3 expands the conflict to bring in elements of the Cold War, which, we’re reminded, was still a huge part of that time period, as well as the rapid expansion of American capitalism, which the show touches on as well. 

The plot of Stranger Things Season 3 starts off strong, giving us a good context as to what has transpired since the events of last season, as well as setting the tone for what’s to come. Where Seasons 1 and 2 felt more close to home and self-contained, this season ups the ante in scope a little more, this time involving the entire town of Hawkins (quite literally in some aspects). 

In typical Duffer Brothers fashion, we’re put in the characters’ points of view; left in the dark hopelessly groping around for whatever pieces of the overall jigsaw that is the horrors that will come to terrorise Hawkins if they do not succeed. However, the pacing feels a little rushed at times, with the rising conflict escalating a little too quickly than expected. Perhaps it is inevitable when you’re trying to expand what works best as a small-scale story to something more over-the-top, but as an audience you can’t help but feel like certain scenes could’ve been left for later for greater drama.

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While the editing is crisp and actually even more of a step-up from previous seasons, the over-reliance on flashbacks to previous seasons is a major setback for this one. It feels as if the studio ran out of interesting footage to shoot, and it does feel a little lazy at times. It’s a shame, considering many other aspects of Season 3 are rather strong.

Despite this, Stranger Things Season 3 still has a lot of what made us fall in love with the show in the first place. First and foremost, its atmosphere. Many of you reading this will know what good things came out of the summer of ‘85: Back to the Future, George Romero’s Day of the Dead, Tears For Fears’ Everybody Wants to Rule the World, and the list goes on. Almost all these things are paid homage to across the season rather nicely, which should put a smile to your face once more.

And the recreation of the 80s-styled mall, Starcourt, is a nice throwback to the era. Storefronts of The Gap and other 80s brands give the mall a presence that is befitting of the time period. Yes, the fashion, big shoulders and bigger air, might be a bit too much to bear, but it gives Stranger Things great character, especially when the mall turns out to be more than just a place of leisure for the town.

The horror is again another welcome staple in the show. The fear of the unknown is one of the best themes to have come out of Stranger Things, and again this same theme is explored. Just when we’ve grown all cozy and familiar with the likes of the Demogorgon and the Mind Flayer, the show throws another wrench in our notion of these monsters, and again we’re afraid and wondering what sorts of monstrosities these beasts are capable of. The way in which the big bad is presented pays homage to one of the most iconic fairy tales in existence — we’ll leave that one for you to figure out which. 

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As with all things the Upside Down, a great amount of time in the show is wrapped in darkness, even as more of the Mind Flayer is revealed. When Eleven does her mind trick, or spying on individuals, the screen is also wrapped in darkness except for the human characters. Given that the show is made for Dolby Vision, keep a lookout for the details locked within these scenes on a 4K TV, especially on an LG OLED TV. 

The deep blacks in Eleven’s mind trick help project a deeper sense of fear and nothingness on an OLED screen, as the darkness stands out against the more colourful ’80s fashion that Eleven is sometimes dressed in. Seeing her feet walk on a ground of darkness, with only a splash of water to signify movement, makes the sequence even more foreboding in its execution, especially during her first confrontation with Billy.  

With a season or two under their belts, the returning cast are generally still firing on all cylinders in the latest season. Because there are just too many of them, we’ll only focus on the ones that we think did super well. The six kids are right at home with their youthful selves, despite the two years doing a number on them physically, especially with the boys’ breaking voices. However, the standout performer here is Noah Schnapp, who as Will Byers received a significantly increased amount of screentime as compared to his involvement in past seasons.

The older characters have also had relatively strong showings. Of them, the most noteworthy performances go to Natalia Dyer as Nancy Wheeler, and Dacre Montgomery as Billy. Dyer’s Nancy Wheeler is placed in a rather interesting position, as she as a young upstart female journalist has to fight against the male-dominated current of her workplace. Dyer’s subtlety is put to the test here, and so far has passed with flying colours. Montgomery returns as the badass, mother-loving greaser Billy. This time, however, we get to see a more nuanced side to him, in what looks to be Montgomery’s breakthrough season as a performer.

This season’s series newcomers, while not boasting the star power of Sean Astin of last season, did admirably as well. Most notable of the bunch was Maya Hawkins (Little Women) as Robin, colleague to Steve Harrington, whose deadpan style contrasts really well with Keery’s emotionally-charged performance as Steve. Elsewhere, Cary Elwes (Saw) adds an interesting nuance to the typically innocent atmosphere of Hawkins as the seedy, sleazy Mayor Larry Kline.

While the performances of the cast were generally great all around, one can’t help but feel that their potential feels largely untapped, seeing as this season only spans eight episodes. One can only have so many scenes in just eight episodes, despite the Duffer Brothers billing it as a “character-driven” season. At least for the first four, a lot of the character scenes feel disjointed  and isolated from one another. We don’t really see them interact interchangeably like how we saw back in earlier seasons. Again, we’re reminded that due to the ambitious nature of the plot, a lot of the character moments have to be trimmed down in favour of others, which is a shame.

Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein reprise their musical roles once again in Season 3, and again they don’t let us down. Their now-iconic synth mixes are always a breath of fresh air, as is their beautifully-curated selection of amazing hits from the ‘80s. The special effects are strong as ever, this time more gruesome and graphic. Let’s just say you won’t want to be eating while watching this show a lot more than previous seasons.

Season 3 of Stranger Things keeps the formula of the previous seasons going strong, but, again, there is this nagging feeling that the show might be running out of steam, and in a lot of aspects, still leans on what they have been successful with. While it’s still getting us engaged and captivated for the most part, the Duffer Brothers and their team have to be wary that the third time might literally be the only charm they have left, unless they try something new with the series.

Otherwise, enjoy the ride, and, in the words of Erica Sinclair in the show, “See you on the other side, nerd.”

This review was done on the LG B8 OLED TV.

Stranger Things Season 3 (Netflix)

Summary

Stranger Things Season 3 brings back a lot of what drew us to love the show in the first place, while taking a darker turn. However, at times it does feel formulaic without trying new things. Still, you want to set aside a whole day to binge it. Just remember to eat before watching.

Overall
7.9/10
7.9/10
  • Story - 8/10
    8/10
  • Direction - 7.5/10
    7.5/10
  • Characterisation - 7.5/10
    7.5/10
  • Geek Satisfaction - 8.5/10
    8.5/10
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User Review
4 (2 votes)


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