Thursday 18 July 2019

Stranger Things 3: The Most Bitchin' Yet?

Before I proceed on to analyse* Stranger Things season 3, I must point out that this post will quite obviously be absolutely riddled with spoilers and so anyone yet to watch it put everything on hold and get round to it ASAP do not read on or it will be significantly ruined.

*And just as a disclaimer, I'm not an expert, I don't know every single reference or every fact about the show, I'm merely discussing it with my opinion, conversations I've had with fellow viewers and things I've read, in mind.

With any TV show fortunate or successful enough to make it through several seasons, there's often no beating season 1. At that point, the producers have probably spent quite some time making it happen and might not have even considered the possibility of an ongoing run. The first season of Stranger Things was for me, a 'watch the whole damn thing in one day' kind of thing. From episode one I was hooked and as a Media teacher, a lot of that came from the abundance of intertextual references and the fact that it was full of likeable characters and was suspenseful enough to keep you hooked but not keep you fully awake at night. After watching that first season in one entire Saturday, I couldn't wait for the next instalment. Season 2 satisfied that itch but other than the introduction of Max, Billy, Bob and the discovery of Eleven's counterpart, for me personally, it wasn't too much to write home about. Number 3 however, I found to be on par if not better than season 1 and here are just a few of the reasons why:

Development of Erica and introduction of Robin and Alexei.

If there's one thing Stranger Things nails, it's introducing us to characters we grow to love. In season one, we are introduced to the quirkiest little gang of kids that we've ended up rooting for in every possible way. We've also acquired a strange affinity for Hopper and even though Joyce is batshit for the majority of the prior seasons (understandably, mind), we love her too. 
In season 3, The Duffer Brothers once again nail the character development. In the first instance, Lucas' little sister, Erica gets way more screen time and whilst she started out being THE most irritating little brat, throughout season 3, we grow to love her confidence, sass and ability to totally show up people that are years older than her. The instant that Steve and Robin enlist her help in foiling the Russians, her one-liners and strategies floor them and us. After all, "ya can't spell America, without Erica...nerd!"
Two characters that are new to us in season 3 are Robin and Alexei. Robin comes across as the typical 80s alternative anti-hero girl, sporting the multiple choker/bracelet combo, haven't slept in years dark eye, beachy bob and the most finely honed sarcastic comebacks and RBF we could wish for. I love Robin because of all of that and her natural ability to ground Steve somewhat. Whilst her and Steve could have been the best match and it looked to be heading that way, I love the twist in the tale that her character never actually succumbed to Steve's charms unlike so many of the girls in Hawkins, because in actual fact, she's attracted to girls! Very excited to see if Robin will be a part of season 4 and if so, how her and Steve's friendship will develop.
And last but not least on the newly popularised character list, Alexei. It's incredible how a character that started out as an indirect baddie, ends up being so well-liked but the internet seems to have gone mad for Alexei, mockingly named Smirnoff by Hopper during their adventures. I think the affinity for Alexei came through his love for cherry slushies, his ability to rile Hopper, his amusing Russian exchanges with Murray and those content little facial expressions every now and then. But alas, Alexei's fate meant that he was quite possibly this season's Barb.

El finding her identity.

Whilst an obvious consideration is that by the final episode, a major part of Eleven's character is in question, luckily throughout the season, we see her develop her identity and express herself in a number of new ways. Her grasp of the English language has developed throughout all 3 seasons and therefore in season 3, she is way more expressive and articulate, although still adding to her vocab, with the help of her peers. Due to her upbringing or lack of, Eleven, although unique in obvious ways seems to mould to and adapt to her closest peers, evidently Hopper and Mike. In this season, we see her develop a new friendship with Max, a close female bond that she evidently needed in order to grow as a female teen. Max and Eleven's newly found friendship enables El to stand up to Hopper and Mike and see things differently, not to mention that ever so typical 80s makeover. Which brings me onto my next point, not only do we see Eleven express herself more with language and attitude but also aesthetically. As a huge fan of shopping, 80s films and Madonna, I totally lived for that makeover scene. Every outfit in the montage and there on in was absolute fire. The garish patterns, the braces, the scrunchies, the turn-ups.

Totally bodacious soundtrack.

So whilst this could easily be pointed out in every season so far, there were so many bangers featured in season 3 that I've been listening to playlists from it on Spotify ever since. An obvious mention from the point above was the inclusion of Madonna's Material Girl over the makeover montage. But other particular favourites were Foreigner's Cold as Ice, Can't Fight This Feeling by REO Speedwagon, and Cutting Crew's (I Just) Died in Your Arms. Not to mention the genius decision to include Vera Lynn's We'll Meet Again as we realise the haunting enormity of the whole mind-flaying situation.

Great Scott! That Facehugger's one clever girl!

In my opinion, Stranger Things would not be what it is without its perfectly nostalgic intertextual 80s references and it does them so damn well. The sheer amount of nods included in every episode, let alone season is quite frankly, seismic. The concept of a group of kids adventuring against creatures in itself is the whole premise of so many 80s films and the internet is full of articles pinpointing all the little references we sometimes don't even notice. Season 3 contained tonnes but a few of these are my favourite yet. The way that the Mind Flayer often replicates the actions of Facehugger from Alien, the fact that Back to the Future was the hit movie that the scoop troop sneaked into after escaping the Russians (I particularly enjoyed Steve and Robin trying to make sense of it whilst high as a kite). And last but certainly not least, the nods to my favourite film of all time, let alone the 80s, Jurassic Park. Two things in particular were reminiscent of Jurassic Park, firstly the fact that scientists were playing god with dangerous creatures and chemicals in hidden labs and secondly, the kids hiding from the Mind Flayer behind a unit in a very 'Lex and Tim in the kitchen' kinda way.


Steve 'The Hair' Harrington seemed to grow on everyone after he and Nancy split and he became instrumental in helping the gang defeat the creatures of the Upside Down. Both his big brother style bromance with Dustin and his friendship this season with Robin have grounded him somewhat and dampened some of that ego a little. He has become much more likeable throughout and much like most female occupants of Hawkins, I too have succumbed to the Harrington charm. Especially when he and Robin have been drugged by the Russians as their mischief was so contagious. Now a firm favourite of the gang, for me.

The multi-strand, episodic narrative.

Again, only the dorky Media teacher in me would spot these things but I loved the way the narrative played out with each character or set of characters seemingly on their own little quests that consequently became linked as we progressed through the episodes. At the beginning, I did wonder exactly how all of these events would link up and why everyone seemed so stand-alone in their escapades. I think this played out perfectly and it also allowed us to see the development of characters and the development of relationships between characters really well too.

Dustin's bromance and romance.

As aforementioned, Dustin's bromance with Steve is 100% friendship goals and is something we've seen slowly grow over the seasons. In this season in particular, Dustin and Steve seem to be closer than Dustin and the gang as it's Steve that Dustin turns to when the others seem a little disinterested by his return. I love the fact they are now basically brothers from another mother.
Similarly, Dustin gets his own little romance this season, albeit one that seems fictional for the most part but after that total waste of valuable time pivotal moment during the battle, we see that Suzie is in fact real and that she and Dusty Bun have bonded to rather embarrassing levels with their own theme song in the form of A Neverending Storyyyyyyyyyyyy.

The end scene that tells us it'll definitely be back.

The very end scene not only gave us solid confirmation that Stranger Things 4 will happen but also gave us clues as to what might happen. Now everyone is debating just who 'the American' could be with theories suggesting Hopper, the original Doctor from the lab and Barb amongst others. I have no clue who it could be. On one hand, I'd love Hopper to re-appear but at the same time think he's not submissive enough to have been held hostage. 
Things I do hope will happen though are: The Byers' still being key characters despite moving, Eleven getting her powers back, Nancy winning her fight against the sexist egomaniac journalists of the world, Erica being a forefront character again, Robin and Steve's friendship developing and more scenes involving the two of them and more incredibly satisfying iconic 80s references.

And finally, the fact that it seemed way more brutal this time round!

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