Stranger Things is something I came to later than most. The hype began and I put it on my list of things to watch. Eventually season two came out and I thought, “no better time to start”. I enjoyed it, there was nothing ground-breaking, simply a show that did all the little things right and told a good story along with it. Bit rough in places, but what show isn’t?
When season three came out, I was in a similar spot. I put on the list of things to watch and I inevitably caved because it’s popularity now means that spoilers are everywhere. I enjoyed the previous seasons, but I didn’t love them. Other than a few minor spoilers, I went in as blind as most would to season three but without the rushing enthusiasm of a big fan. Despite this I had questions: What will this third instalment of the Stranger Things story entail? Will it match the quality, humour and lovable nature of the characters it created?
The simple answer: Yes. Season three feels slightly different than the first two because it has more to tell and more characters to tell it with. Season two introduced a new main character in Max, but gave bigger roles to season one’s recurring characters, most notably Steve Harrington. Season three continues in this fashion, introducing Robin, and providing Billy and Erica more screen time to create what ultimately becomes quite a large ensemble adventure.
Due to the large size, this season is almost entirely split into three main parties, each unravelling different parts of the mysteries within Hawkins as well as combatting their own issues along the way. This makes the start of season three a little stilted. A consequence of telling a complex, ensemble story in the time allowed. Season three is only eight episodes, one fewer than season two’s nine, and so the opening part of the season is setting up what is to come because of the larger cast.
What follows the slow start is simply the quality we have come to expect from Stranger Things up to this point. This season manages to interweave character issues better than before, as the distance and time between characters seeing each other adds further depth to their individual struggles. The characters all naturally progress from season to season, with only Hopper seeming a little forced in his development. Stranger Things overarching story about the Mind Flayer is good, but it is the characters that make the show compelling. The show may overuse some of its tropes during this season, the most jarring being the romantic subplot between Joyce and Hopper which unfortunately feels like a carbon copy of Nancy and Jonathan’s season two arc. That particular subplot brings some comedic value but really hurts from being so similar. However, I think it speaks volumes that despite these minor gripes season three feels substantially different than its predecessors due its other character developments.
In the end, season three is worth watching despite the minor flaws it has. Each parties story unravels nicely, with threads coming together in a way that makes the whole thing feel complete. It’s a natural progression of the story that deals with new challenges, new emotions, provides new satisfying additions to each character and still manages to be creepy and heart-warming at the same time.
A special note should be made of the VFX artists for this season. Five studios took up the task for season three: Crafty Apes, RISE, Rodeo FX, Scanline VFX (Munich | Stuttgart), and Spin VFX. The work created by these folks are what make the world of Stranger Things feel so eerie and this season takes it to a new level. The previous seasons had great VFX, but the way it is used in this season combined with what looks like even higher quality standards help to produce some particularly gruesome effects.
We always ask the question of “Is this going to hold up to the previous instalment?” no matter the media type. Stranger Things season three, likes its first two seasons, is not ground-breaking, but it doesn’t try to be. It adds to more to the story, its characters, and world with a quality that is unwavering. Simply put: if you enjoyed it before, you will enjoy it again.
Words by Rhys Campbell