As a series, Stranger Things is a huge success. It’s humorous, dramatic, and action-driven at all the right times in a beautiful mix of character growth and plot. Establishing rules for the unique sci-fi world is as simple as using an analogy for Dungeons and Dragons, a game that’s been creeping into the mainstream, no longer for “nerds”. That’s something we get into when we review DnD on an episode. I won’t get into Seasons 1 and 2 too much, hoping you’ve done your homework. If you’re into that kind of stuff, listen to our Stranger Things 2 episode. Ultimately, I was invested in our beloved Stranger Things characters, but I felt season 3 was a side-step rather than a step forward. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly laughed out loud during Steve, Dustin, and Robin’s underground adventures, sweat during Nancy and Jonathan’s encounter with the possessed news men, and cried during Hopper’s letter, but there was ample clutter and missed opportunities this season. Here are 3 ways to improve season 3:
Exclude everything about opening a new gate.
Part of the Mind Flayer being trapped in our dimension and possessing people is enough to make an intriguing story. Taking a page from Invasion of the Body Snatchers was a nice touch, especially using Billy to create a tangible villain. Beyond that, the stakes felt superfluous (am I using that right?) and out of place. The Russians? Unnecessary. Re-opening the gate? Redundant. Everything revolving around the mall and the underground facilities was interesting, but it felt out of place or repetitive. A better or new justification was necessary to keep me invested. The show also needed a better justification for why they keep splitting up each group of characters.
Keep the gang together or mix them up.
The parental figures went on a mission without even considering their families. The older siblings started investigating without telling a soul. And the kids got into imminent danger time and time again having tried to contact the adults once. At this point, it just seems like lazy writing to arbitrarily split up the groups only to have them team up near the end of the season. Last season’s greatest success was having Steve become “World’s Best Mom” (you know, because gender roles suggest nurturing isn’t a fatherly trait) to the kids, and they intelligently monopolized on his and Dustin’s relationship in season 3. This season was a missed opportunity to explore more mentorships like Nancy with El and Max, Hopper resentfully getting to know Mike, or any pairing with Will. Which brings me to my next point.
Give THESE 3 character arcs.
- I was so excited for him to finally get an arc, since he was gone or possessed the last two seasons. Instead, we end up with Will not being into girls (yet or ever; it’s ambiguous), and it creates a divide between him and the rest of the gang. I would prefer an arc where traumatized Will tries to use DnD to hide and feel powerful in fantasy land, while Mike and Lucas reluctantly agree to play, feeling guilty about not wanting to help Will through this troubling time. Instead, we have a single break-everything-in-sight outburst from Will that could be set to A-Ha’s Take on Me.
- The womanizing, charismatic villain of Season 2 gets reduced to a puppet, where his only growth is through a flashback of fatherly abuse and motherly abandonment. If the writers wanted me to believe Max cared about him, they needed only to sprinkle in a few moments at the beginning of the season to remind us that family is still family, despite the abuse. I was hoping for a Majin Vegeta story where Billy becomes the Mind Flayer’s vessel only to gain power and feel like a man again after getting beat up by his younger sister. His change of heart at the end of Season 3 would have been more believable if he tried, at least a little, to fight the darkness within after accepting the powers for the wrong reasons.
- The crude conspiracy theorist deserved more than Alexei’s death. Attention all writers. If you want me to care about a death, don’t invest a single episode to them. If we’re going to keep using Murray, give him more than blunt honesty and condescension. The writers were close to that when they gave Murray a quirky scientist to bond with, only to be taken away by the Russian Terminator, but the growth was rushed. The death could have been more impactful, and more effective to Murray’s arc, if we just spent some more time with Alexei.
Overall, I felt Season 1 set a standard and Season 2 exceeded them. Season 3 lost a bit of momentum. What makes this universe so fun is having the kids be the experts while the older teens and adults are the muscle, and all 3 seasons have explored that. Now, it’s time to find out what else the show can offer.