‘Stranger Things’ Season 3: A Cinematic Mush of Unidentifiable Characters and Too Many Storylines

*SPOILERS AHEAD*

After waiting 2 years for the newest season of Stranger Things, I hope I’m not alone in my disappointment with the new season, especially when the well-thought-out stories built in season 2 appeared to be abandoned. The third season of the hit Netflix show hit a bum note and it was evident throughout the storylines and characters in the eight newest episodes.

Here a few thoughts that stuck out to me when I finished binging the series.

Stunted Growth

Whilst audiences do return for the Duffer Brothers’ storytelling, it is the characters and a want to see their future that makes people so excited for new episodes. Many characters are almost unrecognizable in the season 3 and many aren’t done justice. Hopper is one I have a big issue with in the earlier episodes. He has changed entirely from the previous seasons, and although it is somewhat entertaining when we first see him sulking as we get the shot of Eleven and Mike kissing, it gets old quickly. He is not ‘figuring out how to be a dad’ because there is nothing Hopper-like about it. He seems crazed and is honestly annoying. It isn’t until his reunion with Eleven that we really see him as the figure we’ve all grown to love. It feels like an incredible disservice to the character that we assume dies at the end.

The Duffers chose to focus this season on Billy as the key(ish) character. Unlike season two with Will, it is nowhere near as effective as there is no real emotional connection to his character. Some viewers have only just started coming around to feeling sorry for him at the end of last season, but there is a lot of unseen damage control that results in an established bond with Max that leads her to sobbing over his body and begging the monster not to be him. His redemptive sacrificial moment is sweet but random and out of place, and still doesn’t draw much emotion.

The treatment of Will this season honestly broke my heart. He is side-lined and ignored and it is painful for audiences who can absolutely relate to feeling left out as your friends abandon and disregard you. Considering what happened to Will, I truly expected more focus to be placed on his re-adjustment to life and grief over his loss of childhood. It is hinted at in the earlier episodes – with him symbolically destroying Castle Byers sobbing, wanting to play Dungeons and Dragons – and then it’s never touched on again. Perhaps all of this is the writers trying to show how caught up young people can get in their feelings and emotions that they show a complete disregard to anyone else’s, but it felt ridiculous at points. I expected so much more for Will this season, and was so disappointed at his storyline as anything other than an alarm.

Characters left, right and centre are now being defined by their relationships, and their friends’ relationships. Not only is Will’s growth stunted by the focus on such matters, but so is Mike’s. Mike becomes entirely a vessel for his relationship with Eleven, and is a shell of the leader we saw in season one and two. Their relationship is a lovely culmination of sweet moments of two teenagers figuring out what it is to be in love at the end of the world, but it shouldn’t take precedent over each character individually.

A female friendship written primarily by male writers reminded us very much of the situation we see Nancy facing when she has a job at Hawkins post. As a proud feminist, I loved so many aspects of Max and Eleven’s friendship. Max allows her a female connection and further growing experience to understand who El is outside of being Hopper’s daughter, Branner’s 011, or Mike’s girlfriend. It is an entirely recognisable moment for viewers as we’ve all had those great shopping experiences and a girl to talk about boy stuff with, read Wonder Woman comics and play a twist on ‘spin-the-bottle’ with. But it ultimately felt overshadowed with relationship drama and it took away from the beauty of the blossoming friendship.

Too Many Plotlines

Stranger Things has never shied away from having multiple storylines going on at once, but season 3 majorly missed the mark with the amount of stories each episode featured. This is hardly surprising with a large number of ‘main’ cast members, but the balance that previously worked is turned on its head in these new episodes.

The previous seasons had an invisible string tying the whole season together – Will going missing, Will’s possession by the Mind Flayer – yet season three has no tangible chord holding it together. The earlier episodes of season 3 are where the main problems lie as the writers tried to set up a series of events that would eventually link together in the later episodes. The decision to make the threat both the Russians and the Mind Flayer was a grave error on the Duffer Brothers’ part. The previous seasons have little to no connection to Russia, and yet the focus is drawn there. The revelations of season two like Kali, who is 008, are swept under the rug and ignored, which is particularly unfortunate and would have been a brilliant story to pursue to take down the Mind Flayer. But this season focuses on Russia, and the next season seems to be going down that line too.

Fear of Change

New character Robin stole the show for me. The focus this season was on Steve, Robin, Dustin and Erica’s Russian ventures and was consequently the most well-rounded story of the season. Robin is a funny and endearing character that breaks down barriers the Duffer Brothers are not willing to do with other characters. Her and Steve’s friendship leads to her feeling able to come out to him as liking girls and his response his perfect. Props for that moment but it did feel misplaced after only seven episodes with this character. However, the writers seem to shy away from doing similar things with other characters like Will; instead, they chose to hint at it very heavily in an argument with Mike, and then never address it again. It exposes the underlying issue in modern media to avoid a relationship between two males and the Duffer Brothers refusing to even acknowledge it feeds into that idea even more.

Moving the Byers and Eleven away at the end of the season felt strange to me. Joyce appears to only be defined by other characters, and whilst the move is her taking back control of her life, it feels weird especially if there will be future seasons. We’ve seen very little interaction this season between Eleven and the Byers, and whilst it is understood that she lives with them, it feels empty as we’ve not really been able to see a relationship between Eleven and Will grow. I wish more focus was put on Will when they were leaving as he did just seem to be passed by except for the brief moment with Mike, who he doesn’t really owe his loyalty. This ending, with Eleven no longer having powers too, seems rushed and a disservice to both Will and Eleven.

The Ending

Tied into the Byers family leaving is Hopper’s fate as he appears to have died in the explosion. It looked to be a new start for the characters, and a rounding off of the whole series. With the Byers moving, Eleven no longer having powers and plans being made for the party to talk and reunite, it seems like a clean slate for the characters done wrong by the events set to the soundtrack of Hopper’s speech to Eleven: ‘It’s just not how life works. It’s moving. Always moving, whether you like it or not. And, yeah, sometimes it’s painful. Sometimes it’s sad. And sometimes it’s surprising. Happy. So, you know what? Keep on growing up, kid. Don’t let me stop you. Make mistakes, learn from them. And when life hurts you – because it will – remember the hurt. The hurt is good. It means you’re out of that cave.

It’s arguably the most cliché and perfect ending, as it always tends to be when a story ends with a voiceover note. It’s that reminder that life hurts and that’s good because it means that you’re alive. The good and the bad, and the happy and sad have to go together because otherwise we’ll never truly appreciate it for what it is, a merry collection of fleeting moments bound by breath and tides of the sun and moon.

It would have been the perfect wrap up, however another scene lingers beyond some credits – very Marvel-esque – where we’re taken back to Soviet Russia and a prison where we’re told an American is kept and there is a Demogorgon cage fight…

It is the culmination of a sloppy season trying to do too much at once and not wanting to commit to the loss of a favourite character.

What did you think of Stranger Things season 3? Let me know in the comments below!

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