Chapter One: Suzie, Do You Copy? – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Chapter Two: The Mall Rats – | Review Score – 4/5
Chapter Three: The Case of the Missing Lifeguard – | Review Score – 4/5
Chapter Four: The Sauna Test – | Review Score – 4/5
Chapter Five: The Flayed – | Review Score – 4/5
Chapter Six: E Pluribus Unum – | Review Score – 4.5/5
Chapter Seven: The Bite – | Review Score – 4/5
Chapter Eight: The Battle of Starcourt – | Review Score – 4.5/5
When Stranger Things hit Netflix back in 2016, it quickly rose to super-stardom as one of the flagship Originals in Netflix’s catalogue. The blend of mystery, sci-fi, horror and comradeship merged so well to deliver a suspenseful story about the Upside Down and a shady government experiment to try and harness its power. While the second season failed to match the excellence of the first, the third season goes some way to rectify that, even if the rampant product placement and questionable characterisation for some of our heroes holds this back from matching the lofty heights of the first season.
The story this time around takes place in Summer 1985. Our boys have grown into teenagers and with that, an evolving sense of purpose and budding romance. Mike and Eleven are shacked up at Hopper’s, very much lusting for one another, Nancy and Jonathan continue to date, Dustin returns from Summer camp and rekindles his bromance with Steve whilst Will remains the only character that really hasn’t changed much, stuck in old ways thanks in part to his recently broken tether to the Upside Down. A chance broadcast interception early on acts as the catalyst for what follows, as the boys discover that Russian Government Officials have been attempting to re-open the Gateway.
From here, the episodes progress with each of our core characters split into groups and uncovering the conspiracy and following clues. Whether it be Nancy and Jonathan working at the newspaper or Joyce and Hopper’s back and forth arguments around how to handle situations, these subplots all converge and lead back to Starcourt Mall. Across the 8 episodes, Stranger Things delivers a really good sense of character progression, tackling themes around friendship, love and growing up, wrapped up in a mystery that does well to keep things consistent right through to the end.
While the story itself is not without its flaws, out of all three seasons Stranger Things this year absolutely nails its finale. Yes, there’s still a big climactic showdown and a barrage of action set pieces but the genuine casualties and losses along the way are what add some weight and meaning to these scenes. I’ll admit, the final scenes of the season did make this reviewer shed a tear or two and it’s certainly a well-earned, reflective segment too, one that puts this whole journey into perspective for our characters.
The kids themselves are really the star of the show and aside from Will, almost every one of the cast have a good amount to do this year. Will ultimately serves his purpose in the first few episodes, personifying how much the other kids have grown up while he still clings to childish pursuits. However, this comes to a head during a heated game of Dungeons & Dragons and really from that moment onward, Will serves little narrative purpose beyond sensing when the ultimate evil of the series is nearby.
Stranger Things has always had a tendency to drop product placement and nostalgia throughout its episodes but here, it does feel like overkill at times. The constant barrage of Coca Cola advertisements in this season is distracting, especially late on when key plot points are sidelined so our heroes can enjoy the cold, refreshing taste of Coke. While it’s not quite to the same level as the 1950’s, where we cut to address the audience directly, it’s still pretty close at times. Of course, there’s also a good amount of Burger King adverts here too and all the usual nostalgic kicks you’d expect but at times it feels a little too forced.
This leads in nicely to the music in the series too which flits between being spot-on and overbearing. The nostalgic feel of the first season worked perfectly because its songs were simply there as a reminder of the time period whilst keeping the mystery centre-stage. Here, the first few episodes are relentless, constantly barraging each scene with another 80’s hit which makes these opening few episodes a little rough around the edges. Once the synth-driven score balances this out midway through the season, Stranger Things improves dramatically because of it.
Ultimately though, those disappointed by the second season’s dip in quality will find a lot to like here. If you can ignore the rampant product placement, Stranger Things delivers a thoroughly enjoyable season of entertainment. Admittedly this one is a little slow to start, with a rough few episodes that pile on the nostalgia, but the show does hit a consistent groove around the third or fourth episode. The characters all progress nicely, there’s some genuine stakes thrown into the mix and the ending does well to really round things out. With a fourth season already confirmed and an intriguing post-credit scene to chew over, Stranger Things’ journey to the Upside Down is certainly far from over.