The Last Person to Finish 'Stranger Things' Series 3 Speaks (Spoiler Review)
I’m no superfan of 'Stranger Things' and I don’t find it particularly mindblowing or innovative, but that’s probably why I liked Series 3 more than you did.
In an age where a new streaming service pops up out of nowhere sooner than you can fart twice, (nice, I just found a wild Disney+ up my arse!) it’s hard to find any media property that has enough cultural recognition, popularity, and pulling power—yeah, they’re basically all the same thing, but I was hoping you wouldn’t notice—to draw in enough people for a half decent "water cooler" conversation. However, the Duffer brothers’ smash hit Stranger Things has been a delight for me in that respect, even topping The Fantasy Show That Shall Not Be Named for viewership numbers and excitement levels amongst my little group of young adult peers. Nonetheless, the buzz for the Duffers’ show was not limited to just my friends. The official figures reveal that Stranger Things’ third series was Netflix’s most viewed "thing" ever within a four day time frame. This really begs the question: Why in the Upside-Down is this derivative, predictable, 80s nostalgia fest so Demodog-damn popular?
The cynic and the English literature graduate in me puts this down to a childlike regression to a simpler time, or to an idyllic, fantasy past in which to play brand recognition bingo while we hide from an increasingly frightening and disorientating outside world. A programme designed for the sole purpose of making your dad scream, "I had that Millennium Falcon toy too! I used to drink Coca Cola too! I once harboured a young, telekinetic subject of government experiments too!" as he weeps with joy into the bosom of an E.T. plushie. A programme that helps you recall how normal and hilarious it was to have a film actor in the White House while the world stood on the brink of a nuclear war. No, no that doesn’t seem familiar at all. In fact, I’m not going to deny that nostalgia is a big reason for the show’s popularity. Take those hugely popular, predigested "live action" Disney remakes they have now. You know, the ones all them millennials like to spoon-feed into their eye and ear holes these days. It’s safe to say that the mind-flaying, zombifying, cannibalistic Invasion of the Nostalgia-Snatchers is underway.
But… Stranger Things is pretty fun though, isn’t it? Yes. Yes it is.
Sure, there’s a lot of stock characters in the show, but the development, the characterisation, and the actors’ endearing portrayals of said characters make the whole project worthwhile. Standouts this year were the lovingly christened "Scoops Troop," which built on the friendship between Dustin and the reformed jock-come-babysitter Steve Harrington that was established a season prior. Not only was their chemistry a joy to watch, but it was backed up with stellar support from Erica—the recently upgraded feisty younger sister of Lucas—and the newcomer Robin, played by the child of fame, Maya Hawke. Honestly, Google her parents—you’ll never unsee it. It’s wild. Also, unlike in Series Two, the presence of Max and Billy seems justified in the narrative and the dynamic of the main cast. The friendship that blossomed between Max and Eleven was heartfelt, realistic, and genuine, whilst Billy’s horrifying turn as the Mind Flayer’s slave served his redemption arc well. Oh, and Murray and Alexei! Don’t get me started on those two gems, we’ll be here all day. Overall, the character development was consistently entertaining and progressed at a satisfactory pace. What’s not to like?
A lot. Apparently.
Amongst my friends, I was likely the last person to finish watching the series. It’s a family event in my house and not all of us are unemployed, pyjama-wearing Lebowskis with all the time in the world—yeah, that’s—that’s just me. It provides just the right balance of humorous family drama for my mum, horror for my dad and my sister, and nerdy references for me. It just works, even though none of us are obsessed with it like so many others. So, imagine my horror, the spine-tingling dread of my eldritch discovery. A discovery I made when I was only three episodes in. As I scrolled through my timeline, nonchalantly throwing away precious hours of my life, I saw it in the centre of my screen. It was… a friend’s disgusted reaction to Stranger Things Season Three! The disappointment of a mega-fan—a friend whose opinions I trusted. "First *that popular fantasy series —name redacted* and now Stranger Things. I honestly could have written it better." it said, as if some plague of substandard writing had swept the world of television. "How could I ever enjoy another bombastic, blockbuster entertainment programme again?" I thought, "Who could I trust now that all the wordsmiths in the world had been struck down by Shit Writing Disease?"
Now, the amazing thing about waiting till last to write a review of something is that you get to know everybody else’s critiques before you even start writing (it’s not cheating, just smart); but from what I had gathered, people took umbrage at the fact that characters like Nancy and Jonathan were underserved—something I’d have to agree with. They also felt that Hopper’s "death" did not seem permanent or earned enough, given his arc across the series—something I’d also have to agree with. Another thing I heard a lot was, "That Russian guy’s just a budget Terminator;" and yeah, sure, I get your point there, too, although it’s clearly intentional. But here’s the big one—"How could a bunch of stupid kids survive in a highly guarded Russian base? How unrealistic!" Personally, I think the severity of these offences really depends on how seriously you take a show that has built its entire reputation on its connections to cheesy 80s films. Of course, some stupid kids can storm a highly guarded Russian base and live to tell the tale! This is ‘Merica, the land of shopping malls and 4th of July fireworks, trigger happy police officers and corrupt politicians, anything is possible!
The truth is, I have never expected Stranger Things to challenge me intellectually or deconstruct its genre with truly unexpected twists and subversive political themes. There was a show like that once, but it burned me in its final series. Burned me like dragonfire, perhaps. Or better still, stabbed my expectations with a dagger, shattering them into zillions of tiny little ice cubes. No, Stranger Things has never been that show and it never will be. It speaks to us on a more basic, emotional level and I appreciate it for what it does. In Series Three, we have a show about growing pains, about moving on from the innocent playfulness of our youth, and overcoming the sense of loss that accompanies these developments in our personalities and personal relationships. This is cemented in Hopper’s letter to Eleven at the end, which is read as many of the characters become physically more distant from one another, but it is a theme that is present throughout the entire series. Mike has an attitude problem, likely caused by his puberty, Will struggles to accept that his friends are more concerned about romantic relationships than him, Joyce needs to get over Bob, and in a twisted, perverted way, there’s a reason why the flayed zombies eat fertiliser: they all need to grow to become their best selves.
This got me thinking. Maybe one day I’ll have to grow up, have a shave, get a job, stop putting all my hopes and dreams into fictional TV series and writers with Shit Writing Disease. I feel wiser and, just like Will the Wise, I shall impart my inspirational—but kinda terrible—advice unto you all. Set your expectations at absolute rock bottom. I’m thinking Mrs. Brown’s Boys tier, but maybe even lower than that… For everything... In the world. And instead of being eye-squishingly disappointed when things don’t play out as expected, you might just find yourself pleasantly surprised.