The ‘Guide to the American ’80s’ nostalgia ride, Stranger Things, is back and it’s so freaking good. You feel like driving a 70s Cadillac convertible on neon-stricken asphalt with some Speedwagon or The Clash playing on the radio. It’s that intense. Eleven and the gang are back and so is the Mind Flayer. With each and every season, the Duffer brothers are branching out. They are constantly increasing the size of the playfield without actually undermining the importance of the source — Hawkins, Indiana. In Season 2, we were taken to Chicago to follow Eleven’s storyline. Likewise, in Season 3, although we are not taken that far, the plot does jump around quite a bit between the different groups of kids and adults. From Dustin’s long-distance girlfriend to the evil Russians — the canvas just keeps getting bigger and bigger.
Yes, you read that right — the Russians in Stranger Things. The ’80s are the perfect setting to elaborate on the metaphor of the Cold War. And the Duffer brothers brilliantly capitalise on that. And with that we get into another interesting fact — there are two separate villains this season. One is the Mind Flayer; the other is the Russians. The two-villain dynamic has been handled quite well by the show. They go about it in quite an interesting way. Two different groups are made to face different enemies, uniting, in the end, to deal the final blow to both the evil forces.
A new character has been introduced. His name is Grigori, cliche Russian villain. He is super strong, almost like a super soldier. Are the Russians syphoning power from the Upside-Down? But coming back to Comrade Schwarzenegger (they make this comparison in-show as well), I was expecting him to turn into liquid metal at any second. He was clearly an entertaining addition. I mean, Terminator in Stranger Things? It doesn’t get any better.
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The Many Faces of MF Monster
Following up the infinitely hyped and infinitely bone-chilling visual representation of the giant swirling cloud of a Mind Flayer was not an easy task. But Stranger Things delivers. We get to see many different forms of the MF, each one bigger, badder and gorier than the last. The physical manifestation is truly a frightful being.
Forgive me for the bad pun, couldn’t help myself. Now that we have discussed the villains, which some might claim are the most important part of any story, let us get to know our heroes. The main ensemble is alive and well. From Mike and the kids to Hopper and Joyce to Steve the best babysitter, Nancy and Jonathan, all of them play an important role in the series. Even the characters of Max and Billy have been better justified this time around. That doesn’t mean that Billy is no longer a dick. Oh, he still is a massive one. But the writers try to humanise the character a bit more. Some of you might even be sympathetic towards him by the end of the season. Not me, though. Hated that guy from day one.
There are some new additions to the team this time around. Robin is one of the most interesting ones. She works alongside Steve at an ice cream parlour. She is a great addition. She’s funny, smart and all-around quite charming. Another one is Dustin’s (Dusty-buns) girlfriend Suzie. Although she appears only for a few minutes, those precious minutes are the most adorable moments in Stranger Things Season 3. #BestScene – Change My Mind.
Then there’s Erica, Caleb’s sister. She’s the real MVP of the show. Her on-screen presence is quite dominating. She is the most fun character ever. Her attitude, smartness and sassiness all blend together in a perfect little package that packs a lot of punch.
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Less Stress, More Fun and Growing Up
The first and second seasons of Stranger Things were shrouded by layer upon layer of mystery and deceit. This time around, the mysteries are a bit less mysterious. And there is a good reason behind that. Through the two seasons, much of the astonishment factor was curtailed as we got to know more and more about the creatures and organizations that we are dealing with. The functionings of the Mind Flayer were pretty fleshed out to the kids because they had to deal with it firsthand in the first two seasons of Stranger Things. They were more vigilant and ready to take on the looming threat. This development definitely calls for less suspense and a bit more focus on the characters themselves, which wasn’t in any way lacking in the first two seasons either.
The growth sprout is handled deftly by the cast and crew. The relationships that the characters share are explored in detail, often laying bare their psyche to the audience. From Daddy Hopper’s overprotectiveness to the Max-Eleven friendship (which opens up a new world for El); and many others allow us to delve deeper into the minds of the characters and hence makes them living, breathing entities. Also, the most important thing that comes out of it is a message for boys — don’t let your girlfriend get a girl best friend, ever. Just ask Mike.
With a bit more focus on the characters and their coming-of-age narratives, the gritty aspect of the show is toned down a bit. Some might appreciate it while some might not like it that much. The second batch of people will be happy to know that the grit and gore promptly return in the last few episodes and is turned up to Eleven (pun intended).
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Simply stunning. The ’80 vibe has been caught on camera so perfectly with all the gay colours and the cheesy fashion, it transports you to another world. Everything looks perfect. The classic rides have been given a bit of screentime, specifically referring to the ‘Toddfather’. The most spectacular scene involves a mall, a monster, a bunch of kids and some DIY dynamite. That’s the best I could do without giving out any spoilers. The cinematography is fabulous. The scene-to-scene transition provides apt contrast, not just visually but substantially. We are often taken from wide open green woods to neon-lit cramped corridors and from tense scenes to more relaxed and laid-back scenes. The balance that is struck is perfect.
The soundtrack is amazing. The retro vibes are all in this season as we experience some great techno music as the background. The song selection is amazing as well. Here’s a list of the songs that I think were the best ones among the many. These are enough to create your own ’80 playlist.
Never Surrender – Corey Hart
Workin’ For A Livin’ – Huey Lewis & The News
She’s Got You – Patsy Cline
Open The Door – Gentleman Afterdark
Hot Blooded – Foreigner
Can’t Fight This Feeling – REO Speedwagon
(I Just) Died In Your Arms – Cutting Crew (This one is a banger)
You Don’t Mess Around With Jim – Jim Croce (For all the country-lovers out there)
Material Girl – Madonna
American Pie – Don McLean
Higher and Higher – Jackie Wilson
Never Ending Story – Limahl
The Ups and Downs
Obviously, there are more ups than downs in Stranger Things Season 3. But we must take a look at both sides of the coin although some might call it nitpicking. The plot advancement and the pacing have been marvellously handled, given the multiple storylines that both intersect and move parallel with each other. The pacing could have been a bit better during the first few episodes but the establishment of characters for first-time and returning viewers was also a necessity. The overprotective Hopper trope was a good character development standpoint but it sometimes felt quite one-dimensional and was used for more of a comic effect rather than serious character building.
What was executed really well was Joyce’s character arc. Unlike many other shows, they handled the deaths of characters (Bob the Saviour) really well. Joyce is visibly impacted by his death and hence watching the process of moving on is quite satisfying.
The show demonstrates a rift in the original four friends. There seems to be an increasing distance between them as they are growing up. This puberty phase has been captured with utmost authenticity by the people working on the show. Nothing beats the awkward nerds finally getting girlfriends and coping with the troubles that come with it.
One thing that is really annoying is the Nancy-Jonathan news reporter subplot. It consists of showing examples of workplace sexism to Nancy finding out about the strange happenings to them being fired to nothing. We don’t even get to know if Nancy, who was working for a newspaper ever got to sell her story. That plot went nowhere. Couple that with the previously teased Billy-Mrs Wheeler sexual tension subplot and you got two very useless and very forced subplots with no justification or closure.
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Stranger Things Season 3 is a complete package comprising of action, adventure, bildungsroman, gothic, science fiction, humour, supernatural and coming-of-age elements. It is one of the finest shows currently airing on Netflix. The breathtaking (looking at you Keanu Reeves) visuals coupled with the bombastic soundtrack alone gives you plenty of reason to try it. The cherry on the top is the great plot and the amazingly detailed character developments and interactions. If you came here for the first reason, you will end up staying for the latter.
Most critics have only good things to say about it. It has an IMDb rating of 8.9 and 93% score on Rotten Tomatoes. So, in essence, it is great. It’s not that long. There are only 8 episodes and the entire show can be binged in a day. As for me, I’d highly recommend it. Go watch it, if I haven’t hammered it enough.
By Deepjyoti Roy
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