Stranger Things 3 has come and gone, and if you’re like me you watched all eight episodes of the new season back to back in one binge session as soon as it dropped. This season was packed full of amazing moments in each and every episode and more pop culture references than you can count.
There were a tonne of moments I couldn’t talk about in my regular review due to spoilers so I will go through as many of those as I can here. Below the image there will be spoilers, you have been warned.
So, the season opens with something I don’t think anyone saw coming. The opening sequence introduces the Russians to the Stranger Things universe as another force meddling with the gate to the Upside Down. They’re almost certainly trying to get in there to weaponise the creatures that lurk in the darkness, however they don’t know what they’re getting into. I initially didn’t know how the gate being opened by the Russians was going to affect Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) and the Hawkins crew. But it pays off and is cleverly written to bring the action back to Hawkins.
Part of the Mind Flayer from season 2 didn’t make it back through the gate before Eleven closed it, and when the Russians began opening their gate, that left over part was awoken. It took a couple of episodes to figure out exactly what the threat was and what it was doing which is the only criticism I have of the season. But after a while, once it’s made more clear of the whole “possession” story arc and how that’s affecting Hawkins, I felt the presence of this villain lurking within the town.
Speaking of the possession arc, I avoided talking about Billy (Dacre Montgomery) in my review due to the very different journey he has throughout this season. He’s the first to be possessed by the mind flayer and that happens really early in the season so for almost the entire season he’s a vessel. But that doesn’t mean he’s blank-faced and expressionless for eight episodes. Theres still fight in him which makes for an interesting dynamic, but it’s essentially the mind flayer terrorising the people of Hawkins from the inside. Dacre Montgomery is incredible when it comes to playing an even more villainous Billy than we saw last season. He’s ruthless and until you actually see the mind flayer in its full form he’s the main villain and delivers on all front.
Now, continuing with the beginning of the season, I love how the Duffer brothers manage to make it seem as though we never left Hawkins even though it has been a while. We jump right back into the lives of these characters and it’s like nothing has changed. One introduction I loved is how Eleven and Mike (Finn Wolfhard) are now properly dating and Hopper (David Harbour) has gone full Dad mode enforcing his house rules on the two love birds. This little subplot and conflict between the three of them spans the entire season and makes for an emotional finale which I’ll get to at some point in here.
A number of other subplots throughout the season are all incredible, fun, hilarious, and absolute joys to follow. When the Duffer brothers separate the boys and the girls to go off and do their own thing I thought that was genius, one of the best parts of the season. As teenagers now, you get to see Eleven and Max (Sadie Sink) bonding as young girls at the mall in a beautiful sequence. Then on the other had you get to see the boys go off and talk about girls and girlfriends and it’s amazing seeing how much they’ve changed. Well, all except Will (Noah Schnapp), who is still stuck in the mindset of wanting to keep playing D&D like they’re kids. This opens up some emotional conflict within this tight-knit crew which makes for some genius writing.
Hopper and Joyce (Winona Ryder) have their own developing relationship through the season which incorporates some emotion but a lot of humour too. Their back and forth and clashing of personalities made for one of my favourite duos of the season. Then just as the two of them figure things out, we get the end of the season which drastically affect this relationship. Another amazing crew? The Scoops Ahoy crew whose mission throughout the season is one of the main plot points of the season as it’s directly related to the whole Russian subplot. The personalities in this ‘awesome foursome’ are all great on their own, but when you put them all together, it’s another level of great. Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Steve (Joe Keery), Erica (Priah Ferguson), and Robin (Maya Hawke) make up this crew and if there’s one combination I want to see more of going forward, it’s these four. I fell in love with all four of them as the dynamics between them were electric.
This season saw a number of new characters and returning supporting characters that make their mark on the season. I touched on Cary Elwes‘ involvement in my review but wanted to mention it here. I’m disappointed he wasn’t utilised more in this season beyond the very few short scenes he’s in. He plays into the story well and Elwes is good in the role but he’s rarely involved which was a shame. Erica Sinclair is a character who I believe had two or three short scenes in season 2 and clearly made a massive impression as she is a major player this time. She has come out of nowhere and completely stolen the show contributing to the humour with all of her wit and sass. Priah is a natural scene stealer, and after watching her involvement, I cannot imagine the size of the hole left in this season without her.
There were three returning characters who all show up for very short individual scenes, and they’re all nice touches. Randy Havens returns for one episode as physics teacher Mr. Clarke to deliver yet another science-based exploration of the weird shit going on in Hawkins. Sean Astin returns as Bob for a very quick 5 second scene, and even though he doesn’t do much, the impact of that scene is great for Joyce’s story arc. Then the most surprising is the quick appearance of Paul Reiser‘s Dr. Sam Owens in the final episode. He doesn’t say anything, but his quick appearance has given me thoughts about his involvement in the future of Stranger Things.
One other returning character is someone who didn’t fit as well into the story and tone of season 2 but fits fantastically here, and that’s crazy conspiracy theorist Murray (Brett Gelman). His erratic personality was too jarring for the more horror-centric tone of season 2, but with this season dipping more into the fun of the 80s he fits right in.
Alexei (Alec Utgoff) is a character who becomes involved in the main story around half way through the season, and I must admit, I wasn’t too sure about him when he shows up. I didn’t think he was a bad character, I just didn’t think I’d end up caring about him so much that when he unfortunately dies in the last episode, I was heartbroken. Alec Utgoff is probably the most underrated performance of the season bringing a lot of personality and character to this Russian who we can’t understand. Alexei’s killer, Grigori (Andrey Ivchenko), is the perfect homage to Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s Terminator and made for a great minor villain.
Now we get to the final couple of episodes, the final stretch, where everything goes down and it’s Stranger Things at its absolute best. The mind flayer is finally released and is terrorising the Hawkins crew with the sole goal of killing Eleven for shutting him out at the end of the last season. There’s no better location for all this to take place than the new Starcourt mall, the best and most important new addition to the season. The final showdown is great, all of the characters who, up until this point, have been on their own individual journeys come together in the mall to get rid of the mind flayer for good. The drama going on above ground is gritty, bloody, and intense to where you really don’t know if the Duffer brothers are going to kill anyone off. Eleven isn’t the only one pulling out all of the skills though as the whole crew bands together to take out the mind flayer.
The first casualty comes in the form of Billy, who made his introduction as a villain last season and continued as a villain in this season, however this time his villainy was not of his own choice. He is redeemed a great amount in this season to the point where I’m sad to see him go despite all of the shitty things he did in season 2. The Duffer brothers make you really feel for him in his final moments as he essentially sacrifices himself to aid in the destruction of the mind flayer. The look on Max’s face as he dies a gruesome death is brutal and makes her journey going forward an interesting one.
Later in the episode is where Stranger Things receives its biggest shock death in the form of Jim Hopper who dies in the process of shutting the gate to the Upside Down. This moment sets the sombre tone for the last 20-30 minutes of the season as the ripple effects of his death are felt all across the town of Hawkins. Joyce witnesses Hopper’s death and it’s an emotional moment as the two of them, after bouncing around their feelings for each other, just decided on going out on a date. But the more heartbreaking moment after Hopper’s death is the toll it takes on Eleven. In the moments before his death, Hopper had made peace with Eleven and Mike in an emotional moment that brings his arc full circle.
Then the real gut punch comes where Eleven finds the speech he was going to give to her and Mike towards the beginning of the season, but never did. When Hopper’s voice is heard reading out the speech, the tears start flowing as it’s the most emotionally heavy moment in the show to date. But as heart-wrenching as this moment is, I had a smile on my face for the rest of this emotional ending sequence. Because even though it is sad, it’s always great seeing all of these characters together in the end.
Before I get to talking about the very end and the future of the series, I want to highlight a couple of pop-culture references that I could not get enough of. Firstly, when Dusin calls up his definitely not imaginary girlfriend Suzie (Gabriella Pizzolo) and they start singing the Neverending Story (1984) song I was almost in tears. That moment was so unexpected I almost lost it. It’s one of the most memorable and funniest moments of the season and it comes in the final episode in the middle of one of the most tense sequences. It’s like everything stopped just for Dustin and Suzie to sing the Neverending Story song and I’m not even mad.
The biggest pop culture reference you could not possibly miss. In the opening episode when a Back to the Future (1985) poster flashes by in the background that put a smile on my face. Little did I know, that was only the beginning. Late in the season Dustin, Steve, Robin, and Erica make their way into the theatre where Back to the Future is literally playing on the big screen. Safe to say at this point I was losing my mind. I thought that was enough, then theres a moment a little later where the score from Back to the Future kicks in over a scene of involving Dustin. It was as if it was my birthday and Stranger Things wanted to celebrate it with me.
Now, back to business, a lot happens in the epilogue of the final episode. It looks as though the Byers family is moving out of their home and away from Hawkins, and they’re taking Eleven along with them. So not only has Eleven lost the use of her powers as a result of over-exerting herself against the mind flayer, she’s now saying goodbye to Mike. So, going forward, it’ll be interesting to see if something draws Eleven back to Hawkins or if we’re moving away from Hawkins next season. It’ll be interesting to see what the Duffer brothers do to change things up. The short cameo of Dr. Owens I mentioned earlier I think means we’ll see more of him in season 4 now that I guess he’s back in the picture.
The final scene however takes us all the way to Russia where we see that the Russians have somehow managed to get their hands on a Demogorgon of their own from the Upside Down. This Demogorgon looks very white in complexion and they’re keeping it fed with prisoners. It will be very interesting to see how the Russians play a role in the future of the show. One potentially interesting moment in the final scene is when the Russian guards make reference to the fact that they have an American locked up in the holding cells. Now one may thing that this could be Hopper and that the explosion he died in teleported him all the way to Russia. That wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility in this show but I believe that if anything that’s just a throwaway line, or an intentional red herring. Besides, the revelation that Hopper is alive would undermine the impact of his death so I don’t think they’ll go there.
So there we have it, all or most of the spoilers I wanted to get through here and there’s surely still more things I’ve forgotten. This was a top season and I cannot wait to hear more about where the show goes next and whether it’s going to settle for one more season or go on to seasons 5 and 6.