Stranger Things Ahoy!

In our household, you must be a fan of  Stranger Things.  So obviously Mark and I were very excited for the arrival of Season 3 on Netflix.  We had decided in advance to marathon as much of the show as fast as possible – just like we did when Season 2 came out. Since I’ve already written a more traditional review for Stranger Things Season 2 I decided to get a bit more creative for Season 3.  Instead of, say, “live tweeting” my reactions to each episode, I decided to do some “live writing” instead. I did some thinking on my feet and logged my instant thoughts and reactions to each episode. Of course my initial ramblings have been edited for coherence – otherwise the followig paragraphs would consist mostly of phrases like “Hell yeah El!”.  I have also included a few of the questions and theories Mark and I came up with along the way, as we enjoy discussing these kinds of things as we watch.  Obviously, this will NOT be a spoiler free review.

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Chapter 1: Suzie, Do You Copy? Solid opening.  I was hooked right away. I am intrigued to see how the Cold War will play into this show now that the Russians are involved.  There’s really not a whole lot going on in this episode since its main function is to establish what has happened since we last saw our young heroes. A lot has changed and the kids are growing up fast. And much of what I’m seeing in this episode feels like foreshadowing.  Dustin’s new found technical know-how and his Cerebro will obviously play a pivotal role later on.  Electricity has always been an indicator of evil and/or supernatural presences, but now it looks like magnets are becoming an indicator as well.  The horror elements are on point (as per usual).  And is it just me or did the musical score/soundtrack get even better? On a personal note, I really feel for Hopper right now; and like Joyce, I too am not over Bob’s death.  Questions and Theories: in the Upsidedown, is that a dark/mirror Billy who will take over his body or is the mind flayer just messing with him?  And if there are dark/mirror versions of the townspeople of Hawkins then can/will deceased characters be brought back?  Will Barb come back?

Chapter 2: The Mall Rats This season seems to really be focusing on the transition from childhood to adolescence/adulthood. The majority of the main characters (child and adult alike) have moved on to the next phase of their lives but Joyce is stuck in the past since she can’t get over Bob’s death, and Will is stuck in childhood.  It makes sense that those are the two who cannot move on because Will essentially lost part of his childhood to the Upsidedown in Season 1 so is more likely to cling to the past.  And Joyce keeps losing loved ones so that also explains why she would be hesitant to move forward.  It was really obvious before the end of the episode that the Russian message was coming from Hawkins and not Russia; the Russian thug was in the town hall and there’s no way that was a coincidence. For El, this becomes the classic “makeover” episode and I am loving her new style. Mostly because of the “makeover” component, this episode is predominantly fluff but it’s still establishing the basics of the story to come. Questions and Theories: If Billy is drinking chemicals and the rats are eating chemical fertilizer, does the Mind Flayer just want chemicals in general or is it looking for something specific? The final stand off is definitely going to happen at Starcourt Mall; it’s just too important to the story.

Chapter 3: The Case of the Missing Lifeguard Well, it’s no surprise that Joyce has a new obsession; I knew the magnets would become important. I’m noticing a lot of the thematic elements that caught my attention in the beginning are starting to become more recurring.  Crossing the line between childhood and adulthood is starting to become more prevalent and I think that I why I am enjoying Dustin’s story arc so much. Unsatisfied with his childhood friends, he has begun to spend more time with an older crowd.  Yet, he is still walking a fine line between childhood and adulthood because on the one hand he is playing out a childish fantasy of being a spy, but on the other hand the situation is a very mature one as the Russians are involved.  Between the newfound friendship between El and Max, and the addition of Robin to the cast of characters, I feel like this season has much better female representation than the previous ones.  There has been amazing camera work in this series so far, and I love how the series as a whole always starts out with separate stories that eventually converge. I can’t wait to see how this all comes together. Questions and Theories: At what point in the story will Dustin reunite with his usual gang, or will he be hanging out with this new crew for the duration of the season?

Chapter 4: The Sauna Test The camera angles are AMAZING! The final fight scene was awesome, Cary Elwes is awesome, and although I have never been a fan of Mrs. Wheeler before, she has definitely redeemed herself in my opinion.  The first two episodes didn’t have a whole lot going on, but this season is definitely picking up speed and is making up for lost time.  Now that all of the fluff and exposition is out of the way things just keep getting better.  Stranger Things is known for referencing classic horror movies (like The Thing) and I am getting a strong Invasion of the Body Snatchers vibe the way the Mind Flayer is building the army of townspeople.  I think this is really fitting given the inclusion of Russians into the story line.  Just as Russian spies might blend in to Cold War American society, the minions of the Mind Flayer blend into the town of Hawkins.  There is no way of knowing who is on your side and who is an enemy.  Questions and Theories: Will the “body snatched” people be able to return to normal after this or will they die when the Mind Flayer is (inevitably) defeated?  Or are they already dead and simply empty vessels for the Mind Flayer to control?

Chapter 5: The Flayed I am dying to know what is under the mall.  Now that we are halfway through the series, the separate stories are starting to converge here and there. Although, now that we are past the halfway point, I have to say I am on the fence about the overall character development of the main cast.  Joyce is definitely a little more badass, and Erica really balances out the group of nerds in the mall, but I’m not sure I like the new teenage Mike, and Hopper just keeps getting more pathetically angry.  But one of the recurring themes this season seems to be failed relationships, so making some of the characters a little less likable fits.  The stylistic choices and camera work continue to amaze; especially in the scene where El is looking for Hopper.  Cinematic allusions continue to impress as well; I am getting a Terminator vibe from Grigori, and the hospital at the end of the episode becomes a kind of stereotypical (in a good way) hospital of horrors.  And I am so glad Nancy got her revenge against her horrible boss.  Questions and Theories: What exactly is the green stuff?

Chapter 6: E Pluribus Unum I absolutely love that it was the ladies who took down the creature!  It is a nice change of pace from the rest of the season that this episode has essentially turned into a spy movie.  The irony that the kids were able to get in to an impregnable Russian fortress is predictable, and yet still wonderful.  This show both mocks and celebrates nerds, so being able to accomplish what the adults could not is definitely a win for the nerds. And I honestly never thought I would feel so bad for Billy.  He’s been set up as an antagonist from the very start, and last season there was some explanation given as to why he’s such an asshole, but I actually feel really bad for him now.  I appreciate the fact that the darkness of the Upsidedown permeates his unhappy childhood memories, as if it is that unhappiness that allowed the evil of the Mind Flayer to take hold of Billy’s mind. The costumes are so much better this season; I love how obnoxiously 80s the outfits are. Questions and Theories: Doris Driscoll was the Barb of this season. She deserved better.

Chapter 7: The Bite The scene where the heroes barricade themselves to face off against the monster seems to be a recurring scene across the seasons of Stranger Things.  And the showdown in the hall of mirrors is a fairly overdone type of scene too.  However, I think that’s part of what makes Stranger Things so good. It artfully uses horror movie stereotypes and cinematic allusions to take what we know about and expect from the genre and turn it into something spectacular. In terms of the recurring themes of the season, a role reversal means that Dustin has now become the adult of the group as Steve and Robin become the “children” who need to be taken care of.  Dustin is growing up, but Steve and Robin have not yet been able to progress past high school and are in a kind of limbo where they have yet to fully become a part of the adult world.  On that note: the relationship between Steve and Robin is so perfect!  With failed relationships all around (many of them romantic), the “easy” response to Steve’s rejection would be to portray it as a bad thing.  But he does not get upset by the fact that Robin is not interested in him.  The realization that Robin is attracted to women strengthens their friendship and the whole scene is seen in a positive light.  Their relationship does not have to be romantic to succeed and that is fantastic.  Lastly, Alexei’s death hurt so much.  Questions and Theories: I really hope we get confirmation of Suzie’s existence in the last episode; I’m not sure whether she’ll play an important role in the finale, or if she is merely a throwaway character to further Dustin’s character development.

Chapter 8: The Battle of Starcourt This finale certainly pulled out all the stops with the horror elements and I am loving it.  Also, Suzie is the cutest little thing and I am so glad she was a in important part of the finale.  In keeping with the use of stereotypes and cliches, just about everything that could go wrong, did go wrong.  But even the use of these cliches was still really well done and the story never really felt forced. And, unfortunately, given the story structure it became pretty obvious that Hopper was not going to survive.  I was never expecting Billy to survive either, but I was also not expecting him to have such a heroic death.  He has always been a creepy character, and the way he offered people up to the Mind Flayer always played out like a rape, so I was expecting to cheer when he died.  Although we did get a chance to feel sorry for him a few episodes ago, I still was not expecting him to get a “good” or heroic ending.  As the story wraps up, and all of the broken relationships have been mended, Hopper’s heartfelt letter perfectly sums up the themes of the entire season and it was a really strong way end the story.  Questions and Theories:  Given the attention that was drawn to the cage a few episodes ago, I knew we were eventually going to see a Demogorgon.  But who exactly is the American prisoner in that Russian prison?

 

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