Director: The Duffer Brothers
Cast: Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown and Gaten Matarazzo
It is 1985 and the Hawkins teens — Mike, Eleven, Will, Max and Lucas — have undergone round one of their growth spurts; Dustin returns from a science camp with a massive radio built to keep in touch with his long-distance girlfriend, Suzie; Jim Hopper (David Harbour), chief of police, cannot handle watching his adopted daughter, Eleven (Millie Bobbie Brown) constantly lock lips with Mike (Finn Wolfhard); Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) is mourning the death of her boyfriend, Bob Newby (Sean Astin), as well as the death of her livelihood as a department store clerk —The Starcourt Mall has brought capitalism into Hawkins, ringing the death knell of the life they used to know. Lastly, Max’s elder step-brother, bad boy Billy (Dacre Montgomery), has the town’s mothers vying for his attention; instead, he gets into bed with The Mind Flayer, the supervillain of season two, who is out to get his nemesis, Eleven, and is constantly improvising new ways to succeed in his mission.
What’s new, you ask? Well, not much really. A year after they first introduced the demogorgon, The Duffer Brothers deliver a supernatural evil that can exist in all three states — solid, liquid, gaseous — but still is rather one-dimensional. For its human counterpart, the Brothers serve us the Russians, mostly “blonde, unsmiling, carrying a duffle bag” as Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) describes them to Steve “The Hair” Harrington (Joe Keery). One must assume the Cold War has got those commies secretly running operations on American soil, including a plan to open the portal to the Upside Down, that Eleven had sealed with great difficulty at the end of the second season.
Without a doubt, the writing of the show is at its weakest in season three — backstories, characters are passed around from episode to episode like blunts in a basement party — they exist just to tie up a couple of loose ends, and are not really fleshed out (a pun viewers of the show might appreciate). The plotting appears to move from one soundscape to another — from “gentle synth sound” to “suspenseful ” to “ominous” — and cause and effect are thrown to the wind. But stranger things have happened in fantasy fiction, especially on TV.
Fans of the show will tell you that the reason to stay tuned, season after season, is because no other show in recent memory has captured the American Eighties as authentically as Stranger Things has. The attention to detail in this season, too, is remarkable: from the boombox in Eleven’s room to each character’s hair, make-up and wardrobe choices, and the accompanying soundtrack of their lives, especially The Neverending Story. But that’s not what makes the show so addictive and immensely enjoyable. Regardless of the story, we return to Hawkins, Indiana, every time to watch the pitch-perfect performances of its young ensemble cast. They continue to impress, even though lots of key moments are rushed and slapdash, just so that we can race towards the denouement, played out in the last episode. The adults don’t fare too badly, either: Ryder demonstrates a firm control over her character’s neurotic energy, but it is Harbour who always, and not-so-silently, steals her thunder. For him, we’ll always keep our doors open three inches.
The story doesn’t end with season three, and from the looks of it, even though old friends leave, some old villains long to return. God, can Hawkins ever catch a break?