Stranger Things Is A Misnomer In Season Three

Netflix released Stranger Things season three on July 4, which coincides with this year’s narrative. It also competed against the Mysterio movie (Now that it & Aquaman are rolling in dough from embracing outlandish comic book costumes, can the era of grounded superhero aesthetics finally be dead?), much like how it pitted She-Ra against Avengers: Endgame. Unlike CAOS part two & She-Ra season three, this is definitely a discrete season unto itself. Holiday socializing pushed back my viewing schedule, so brace yourself for another cold take. I’d warn you about SPOILERS, but Netflix admitted that everyone already saw it.

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In addition to superior pacing than Netflix’s defunct Marvel series, the production design remains top notch. Nostalgia is still being used in service of the story, whereas the last two X-Men prequels shouldn’t even be called period pieces. As it’s set in summer, it’s very noticeable that everyone’s legs are really long while they’re wearing tiny shorts. The series has a great knack for picking actors that look like perfect 80’s stock characters yet still exude personality. This is a better long-form Stephen King homage than Riverdale season three. (Speaking of, Sadie Sink looks like Zoé De Grand Maison.)

Although most of the series’ positives comfortably carried over, this didn’t grab me the same way earlier outings did. Everything remains high quality, but it’s not as fresh as it once was. Despite the title, things don’t really get stranger. It’d be more accurate to rename it Familiar Things. Horror sequels may be the genre most prone to diminishing returns. Things tend to get less scary the longer you’re exposed to them. Characters who’ve survived one installment usually have already solved the mystery of how to stop the returning threat, which can’t be as effective as they were originally without the risk of prematurely ending a franchise. (Season Of The Witch is the best Halloween movie because it completely changes everything. Of course had they left Halloween III off the title, Michael Myers fans would quit badmouthing it.)

There are a lot of characters, but the series does well balancing them across a manageable eight episodes. They’re mostly split up into three groups. The main plot doesn’t perk up until The Thing bodyhorror at the hospital. (Kudos to Lucas for acknowledging John Carpenter’s movie is a remake during his New Coke pitch.) Cary Elwes’s scummy Mayor Kline gets beaten up on the first try! How’s that for pacing?

Steve, Dustin, Robin, & Erica are the best because their subplot is most novel & they’re a comedy quartet. If you told me in season one that Steve “The Hair” Harrington would become one of my favorite characters, I would’ve called you a filthy liar. He finally wins a fight! Rookie Robin steals the show. Not only is she an excellent comedic foil to Steve, she gets a unique coming out scene. Both rock their Scoops Ahoy uniforms!

Sheriff Jim Hopper became an unlikable lout this season. The forced Eleven & Mike relationship drama is all his fault! He overbearingly pressured Mike into lying to Eleven so they’d spend less time together, causing her to dump him upon easily discovering the deception. The only upside is it gets Eleven & Max to become friends. (Max’s & Lucas’s tempestuous relationship is less irritating because their issues aren’t external forces.)

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Getting refrigerator magnets to stay put is also my top priority.

Winona Ryder’s constant worried yet intrigued expressions are captivating even when her family’s not imperiled. I’m glad they honored Bob by not having Joyce Byers & Hopper already be a couple. As much as scientific education is fundamental, her standing him up to learn about electromagnetism from Mr. Clark wasn’t cool. Phones existed in the 80’s! Their unresolved sexual tension has the unfortunate side effect on making them both very grouchy around each other during their shared subplot, thus it’s the least enjoyable.

I’m in the minority in liking Eleven’s excursion episode last season. I got excited seeing Russia in this season’s intro. Instead of broadening the story’s geography, however, it’s still confined to Hawkins, Indiana. (There’s another couples retreat to Murray Bauman’s in Illinois, but that might as well be Hawkins too.) The Duffer Brothers imply that season four will will have wider scope, for real this time!

When Eleven shut the gate to the Upside-Down, she trapped the Shadow Monster Mind Flayer in our dimension. (Do they need to license the Dungeons & Dragons names?) I’d accept this more easily if it didn’t appear conclusively defeated last finale. Last season was engaging because I felt concern for the Mind Flayer possessing Will Byers. (Now Will gets character development & Mind Flayer Tingle. His sexual orientation is viewer’s choice.) This time it possesses thirty people, & I don’t really mind. Most of its victims are jerkfaces, & we don’t get attached to the ones whom aren’t. So this raises the stakes while lessening the emotional investment. The flaying process is even ickier this time though. The melty meat monster is a welcome respite from Demogorgons & Demodogs. Were the scenes of exploding rats written by cats?

The Mind Flayer considers Eleven its monster & concocts a weapon against her. (Scenes from its perspective of it overcoming its Eleven-phobia would’ve been nifty.) With her depowered by its venom, she can’t foil the Upside-Down again. This adds tension back into the finale. I was worried she’d give herself an aneurysm with all the nosebleeds. (Millie Bobby Brown was great in Godzilla: KOTM, so that’s my excuse to link Cressa “Beeragon” Beer’s delightful“The Godzilla Kid.” Also note that Baragon has the most adorable roar.)

Russian infiltrators built a Hellboy portal opener beneath the new new Starcourt Mall powered by mutagen ooze! The Russians are very underwritten villains, which is on brand for an 80’s homage but otherwise disappointing. (I’m curious how many foreign movies of the 80’s have one note American villains.) The Commies are coming back, so hopefully they’ll do something with them next time.

Whatever issues I might’ve had with the season as a whole, “The Battle of Starcourt” was nearly perfect. It was chock full of monster mayhem! Dustin’s & Suzie’s “The NeverEnding Story” duet was amazing! Billy dies because his name begins with “B” like Benny, Barb, & Bob. Meanwhile Hopper most likely survived. I preemptively wish his death sticks so it doesn’t cheapen the demise of a major player. (Ghost Hopper would be fine though.) His legacy is keeping Eleven & Mike separated.

Erica can be abrasive in large doses, but the boys welcome her into their group in the coda. Various fandoms are having a “Are we the baddies?” moment due to GamerGate & similar movements, so it’s refreshing to see some nerds depicted as inclusive. Or is this actually negative since they’re trying to get her hooked on D&D?

Like the previous season, this one neatly ties up its plot threads in bows. (Does Nancy get to conquer the newspaper now that her superiors are dead?) So once again, I’m wondering if it should just quit while it’s ahead. The epilogue feels tacked on to remind viewers a fourth part is in the works. (I’m alone in hoping Kali’s crew becomes relevant.) This one wasn’t superlative, but it’s a mighty feat that a continuous horror series is still this good three seasons in.

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This is the greatest thread about horror writers on The Twitter.

Further proof we don’t live in the best of all possible worlds: Tony Todd nixed a Candyman/Leprechaun crossover.

Gelada monkeys look like Cenobite baboons.

Jinn is divisive.

A24 is selling a replica of Midsommar’s bear in a cage. THEY’RE ONLY MAKING 75? (I tried capitalizing the numbers for emphasis, & they just became gibberish symbols.) It sold out in under three minutes.

Irish woman who married ghost of 300-year-old pirate says they have split up” is a real headline.

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Add DC Collectibles to the growing list of making better TMNT toys than Playmates! Gamestop is getting exclusive 2-packs based on Batman Vs. TMNT! (They’re labelled as SDCC exclusives, which seems a dubious designation based on the release schedule.) Alas, there are no Arkham Asylum mutants (yet). These seem like they’ll be easier to get than NECA’s classic TMNT Target 2-packs since they can be purchased by website rather than spotty store distribution.

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