Stranger Things S3 Review: Report to the Scoop Troop

My husband rarely binges anything. He likes to watch one or two episodes at a time (regardless of length), then marinate in his feelings for a day or two before watching more. This works fine most of the time because that’s about how much of my evening I want to give up to watching stuff before switching to a game or a project.

But Stranger Things season 3 is a rare exception— we binged it in a day! I suspect for several reasons (we started in the morning, didn’t go to a movie in the afternoon as he’d agitated for, it’s only 8 episodes, and it’s frankly not the kind of heavy show that requires a lot of soul-searching to know how you feel about it). Which was super fun for the 4th of July, but now we’ve finished the show long before our friends and I have thoughts, so now you get my Stranger Things review. ♥

When we return to our heroes, the gate has been closed, the Mind Flayer stuck behind it; Mike and El are swapping spit every day in Hopper’s cabin to the police chief’s sitcom-dad chagrin; Joyce is struggling to move on after Bob’s death; Nancy and Jonathan are interning at The Hawkins Post where Nancy is dealing with general sexist assholery from the reporters and Jonathan is apparently not worried about it; Dustin returns home from summer camp with a high-range ham radio invention and stories of a brilliant and beautiful girlfriend; Steve is slinging ice cream at the new Starcourt Mall having failed to get into college; Will really wants to play D&D again and is aghast at his friends’ preoccupation with their girlfriends; and Lucas and Max are…there, I guess.

Okay, here’s the spoiler-free review: it’s solidly entertaining. The actual overarching monster plot line is repetitive, but the kids’ stories really liven it up to the point that you don’t super care about it. The kids (and young adults) have way better stories than the adults, which is fine except that you still spend a lot of time with Hopper and Joyce and it feels sort of inexplicable when their development is relatively shallow. But they spend time with some really fun characters that I’m glad we got to enjoy, so I can’t be too mad about that.

And now…spoilers follow!

Stranger Things Season 3 Spoilers
Let me just get out of the way that the absolute best storyline this season belongs to the Scoop Troop, which consists half of new characters and half of favorites. Steve and Dustin’s brotherly bromance is as excellent as it ever was, and they are now united with Steve’s snarky co-scooper Robin and, by way of plot machinations, Lucas’ little sister Erica, who you may remember as a scene-stealer from last season. Their story has strong Goonies vibes— kids go up against adults that they have no right beating, but somehow do; in this case, Soviet spies who are intent on re-opening the gate. But the Scoop Troop doesn’t actually learn how their story attaches to the dark stuff going down for everyone else until pretty late in the game; they are their own unit entirely and are also a complete joy. I especially enjoyed Steve and Robin’s interactions when Steve decided to take Dustin’s advice and try his hand at a relationship with Robin, only to learn that Robin likes girls— which I didn’t see coming and I loved, especially Steve’s fairly chill response. (Also, Robin is played by Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke’s daughter Maya Hawke, who is great.)

El’s team— consisting of El, Mike, Max, Lucas, and Will —is charming in its own way as El and Mike navigate the waters of young romance, with Max and Lucas coaching them. The scene where Max drags El to the mall and they shop and try to identify El’s personal style is one of the most feel-good moments in the entire series and I love that they got to do that. (I’m also pretty sure that scene is an homage to at least a dozen ’80s movies that I can’t quite name right now.) I do want to call out my appreciation that the show explicitly acknowledges that both Mike and Hopper, in very different ways, have started to feel a certain possessiveness/”ownership” of El, and that they both realize that it’s wrong and bad and that they need to learn to trust El to make her own decisions. So that’s good.

But the moment that stands out the strongest to me is actually Will’s. A little setup: in episode one, after his brother runs late to the internship while wearing a lip print on his cheek from Nancy, Will tells his mom that he’s not going to fall in love with anyone (to Joyce’s credit, she doesn’t argue, though she does do that sort of Mom not-quite-an-eye-roll because she knows better). I didn’t think much of it until in a later episode when, during an argument about playing D&D vs dealing with girlfriends, Mike blurts out that Will “doesn’t like girls.” It’s clearly a moment since Mike realizes immediately he’s gone a step too far and (kind of) apologizes, while Will struggles to respond.

At first blush you’d probably think it’s suggestive that Will is interested in boys instead— there’s another moment later for a different character along those lines —but I’m actually wondering if that’s really what they’re getting at with Will, because they don’t ever hint at him having an interest in any of the boys in the show either…and in both of these scenes, he’s wearing grey and black, which are colors on both the asexual and aromantic pride flags. So I am cautiously optimistic that in addition to adding a little more LGBT representation this season, they are also adding some A representation, though it’s not clear whether Will would be ace, aro, or both. (They could, of course, disappoint me and make him neither, or never address it, but I hope they do.)

I will take a brief moment and call out that it’s a bummer that Max doesn’t get more to do, especially given her brother Billy’s stronger involvement in the plot, but at the same time I’m not exactly sure what they would have done— other than maybe shoehorn in some bigger moment between her and Billy maybe? —so it’s not a very strong complaint on my part.

Jonathan and Nancy have an okay but pretty basic plotline. Nancy is dealing with some seriously unrepentant assholes at the paper. I was surprised that Jonathan wasn’t a little more interested in helping her deal with them beyond supporting her interest in the news story she chases. The Mind Flayer gives them their comeuppance which is satisfying on some level, but I notice that although a conversation between Nancy and her mother hints that Nancy’s gonna get a big break from the story, none of the newspapers that show up in the epilogue mention her, as a subject or in a byline, which is a bit of a letdown.

Okay. It’s time to talk about the weakest link of the Stranger Things chain…the adults.

At the beginning of the season, Joyce is considering moving away from Hawkins, and in the epilogue for the season, she does. No real development there, unless you count the brief moment she agreed to go on a date with Hopper as they fantasized about things returning to normal. (Interestingly, since they had a high school history together, them getting together might have been seen as taking a backward step.)

Hopper has a really rough season. He spends most of it just…angry. Angry, at first, that Mike and El have a romantic relationship and that they see each other all the time and are making out and don’t always leave her door open the three inches he demands. Angry about the resurgence of capital-p Problems in Hawkins, understandably. Angry (or at least frustrated) with Joyce on many many many occasions. He’s kind of a bummer to be around, honestly, which sucks for a character who I’ve really liked in the past. The entirety of his development in this season takes place in a post-death flashback, which is kind of awful. JUSTICE FOR HOPPER. He deserved better than he got.

But you know who really got the worst of it? Alexei! Alexei, a Russian scientist Hopper and Joyce literally kidnap, who is a-freakin’-dorable. And gets shot. JUSTICE FOR ALEXEI! I wanted him to show up heavily accented and incredibly useful next season. He and Murray deserved their own spinoff. Sigh.

So that’s where we are with Stranger Things Season 3— plenty of fun to be had, but also a few disappointments along the way, which I’d say is to be expected. A solid B+.

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