There’s going to be a lot of hate with the Stranger Things 3. To begin with, because trolls do not rest even on Sunday; whether they are given reasons or not, there will be the hordes to say that what used to be cool never really cooled so much and that is what is now this is less cool than nothing. But there’s also going to be a less squeaky, and probably much more troubling, hate for Netflix and the Duffers, who is going to say, “Well, now, isn’t it?” And they’re going to say it because the third season of ‘Stranger Things’ doesn’t tell anything new. Nothing.
Hype is a problem we live with on a daily basis. We already saw how the garments were torn and the ships were burned by the end of Game of Thrones. Love on the Internet is more ephemeral than ever and the saturation of users in the face of the avalanche of content makes us hypersensitive and a little psychopathic; I say this because of empathy, not because we are going to put on a Myke Myers mask and start a knife in hand party. It is increasingly common to see more than decent works of fiction defenestrated by the damn hype.
But the other side of this coin is that inflating the hype is also taken care of by the creators themselves. And the Duffer Brothers stopped production of ‘Stranger Things’ for a year; one assumed because they needed to rethink it, to revolutionize it. And no. No. ‘Stranger Things. Season 3’ no longer has rabbits in the hat; what’s more, he takes out the old ones again with a new necklace and mounts a parallel plot to what we already saw in the previous two. With the great disadvantage that it is the third to do so. And although she does it well, she feels overwhelmed by each of her images.
Do I mean by this that it is not worth seeing? Not at all. It is still a great series of adventures and mystery, one capable of combining lightness with depth, full of memorable characters, and with production levels that are stratospheric even in this television era in which everyone burns millions per minute.
But of course, Stranger Things is no longer the series it was, that magical mix between nostalgia and daring, between the darkness of King and the innocence of Spielberg, which left us with our mouths open four years ago. And it is not precisely because it is identical to the series that impacted us.
Before delving a little deeper into a spoiler-free review, I want to recall Netflix’s demands for this analysis instead, so that the reader knows what to expect before continuing. Basically, we’ve been asked to have none of the script twists and aesthetic details about his creatures revealed. We won’t. You can be calm and read without fear.
What still works?
I want to be very simple in the structure of this analysis because I think that the break that the series has had and the one that has already reached the third season, requires synthesizing why things are no longer going as well as it was. I reiterate, at the risk of being a plasta, in this conclusion: ‘Stranger Things’ is still a good series; it’s still worth it. But it’s no longer surprising. Not a little, not much. Nothing. Is… a formula. Executed with means and savoir-faire. But it is a formula, more of the same with very few risks.
What works best about ‘Stranger Things’ are its characters. For them we will probably endure two more seasons, and by holding on I mean that the audiences do not collapse and this Blockbuster of Netflix becomes one more of the catalog. Hooper, Joyce, Max, Billy, Mike, Eleven… They are unforgettable people, of whom one cannot help but want to know more. In the end, this theme of the elongated series has always been around here, by the characters, by how we fall in love with them and are unable to say goodbye to them.
Not everyone has an extraordinary arc of transformation, but the Duffers do know how to take advantage of the fact that time has passed. Especially during the warm-up of the story, when there is more room for character creation, to talk about couples. The kids are already on the stage, except for some, being more interested in rolling up with their partner than in going out with their friends.
It is interesting that the Duffers have opted for this approach because it is the women who are the ones who most detach themselves from this role of a boyfriend. The cliché has always painted them in teenage films as those obsessed with passing notes in class and talking only about the prince charming of the insti that steals their hearts. In addition, they are also often portrayed as betraying each other for the love of such a prince. But in ‘Stranger Things’ the Duffers do, in a magnificent episode focused on Max and Eleven, that they are the ones who pass from them, the ones who ally to find an anchor in the world that goes beyond being the couple. To enjoy their mutual friendship.
I have to warn, those who have a problem with it, that this ‘Season 3’ is feminist. Markedly. Sometimes, even markedly too much, as in that cartoonish and hypermachomen writing that Nancy Wheeler faces as an intern. It is perhaps the only time that the approach to feminism feels forced and not a natural consequence of the themes that the script explores. But there are magnificent scenes – the aforementioned episode of Max and Eleven, a scene between Nancy and her mother, or the surprise of one of the characters – around women and their liberation from the roles imposed on them.
I repeat, whoever has a problem with this, let him know. And make him look.
I finish the block of what works with the production values. Recently, in a talk show/podcast that Jot Down set up in Valencia, I called it the cryptographers. The concept of graphics obviously exists far beyond video games. Because of how the audience got off the hook, I think I’m not wrong to say, “We all like graffiti.” That is, the visual section of the series/movie/video game/comic and even book that we read is spectacular. The literature also has experts in graphs. Let them tell dan Simmons’ shrike or George R.R. Martin’s colorful armor.
‘Stranger Things. Season 3’ has graphs. Chapter by chapter, it overwhelms us with its production values. At its best, it does so not with the in-your-face approach but in a more subtle but equally impressive way. This season of ‘Stranger Things’ happens like ‘The Wonderful Mrs. Maisel’. It is a real flip to see how the exteriors and interiors have been worked in the sequence shots. They boil with extras and details. Especially, the shopping center which becomes a key stage of the whole season. There are a couple of circular travelings in this mall that are engraved on fire.
What doesn’t work?
This section, having read the previous one, could end in one sentence: everything else.
And what is everything else?
The narrative structure, the mythology, and the rhythm of the story.
It happens that humans are narrative beings; we know this perfectly. We have a (vital!) need to tell and be told stories. About ourselves and about others. About the questions that terrify us and the answers that amuse us. This condition of narratives makes us quickly experts in recognizing patterns in all the stories we consume. And we’re extraordinarily sensitive to that uncomfortable feeling of: I’ve already seen this.
The third season of ‘Stranger Things’ we have already seen. Twice, because the second was also a copy (in its fundamental narrative pillars) of the first. But it was the second; not the third.
It happens that we do not care that things are repeated if they go in pairs: ‘The Terminator’ and Terminator 2: Judgment Day is the most helped example ever; twin films, but in which the second brings a polish and refinement to the ideas that the first explored more hesitantly. In video games it happens a lot too; it is a medium where the sequels build on the consecration of those mechanics and designs that were in the testing phase in the first installment. A couple of examples: ‘Super Mario Galaxy 1 & 2’, ‘Metal Gear Solid 1 & 2’ or the duo ‘Demon Souls’, ‘Dark Souls’.
‘Stranger Things’ did it with the second season. And, overall, as can be seen from the IMDB notes, this delighted, because what was seen in the first one was repeated, raising the scope of the show by a few marches.
But this trick, at least for me, no longer works the same as the third. Again we have to deal with the Upside Down and the Mind Flayer. Again we have secret laboratories. Again we have a seemingly mundane mystery that hides a strange side. Again, Hawkins is the place where the fate of the world is decided.
There is not even in this third season a chapter as brave as was the (controversial) episode 7: ‘The Lost Sister’, the worst value of the entire second season, but, for me, the best to recover that sense of surprise of which the first was plagued. ‘The Lost Sister’ was an episode that extended the mythology of the saga far beyond Hawkins. And that made me dream, at least, of a future where this universe could be built outside of this town and the plots like ‘Goonies’, ‘ET’, ‘Gremlins’ or ‘Amazing Patrol’. A la Amblin, oops.
The third season has not even made the attempt of this extension. Except for the start of the first chapter, which is a timid attempt at that type of more kamikaze bet, the rest of the third season has bet on the safe, so it is known that it likes. But things don’t like the same when they are repeated.
And then there is another issue that I think is crucial and with which I will finish the next section. The Upside Down does not give so much. I think it’s the biggest culprit that ‘Stranger Things’ is stalling. I understand that the Duffers are in love with their peculiar Hades and the monsters that inhabit it, but it is robbing the series of fresh air, of the possibility of surprise. It is as if in ‘Gravity Falls’ or ‘Supernatural’ only the main apocalyptic plot is explored and each episode is not left free to have a unique personality and theme; and, therefore, capacity for surprise.
‘Stranger Things,’ in my opinion, cries out to forget about the Upside Down.
I still have to comment on a very personal detail that I do not know if it will be very mine or will be repeated often among the spectators. I get the feeling that Season 3 is the least sharp of all, and by sharp I mean the least realistic and serious. There is a film that takes away from the series part of that Stephen King edge that put us on the edge of our seats because it introduced a variable of hardness in a Spielberg-like story.
Both in the treatment of characters and in the development of the season itself, I notice that that King-style tension, that feeling that at any moment things can go unexpectedly wrong, has faded. Especially when he falls into a somewhat silly comedy with Joyce and Hooper’s relationship. Mordant is missing in Season 3.
‘Stranger Things’ was, for me, a series of 10 on its debut; an event. Its second season was at least 9, for its intensity and spectacle. This third one has stayed in me at a 7.
And then now what?
Well, as I see it, there is only one way out. You have to break everything. The fourth season has to either close forever everything related to the Upside Down and the history of this group of kids or propose a radical change of structures and scenarios. Because, and it’s a shame to say, one starts to hear the tedium clock burning a stopwatch against ‘Stranger Things’.
I have a very crazy idea. And, since I’m a fanfic fan, and I guess there will be other fans reading, I share it.
My third season of ‘Stranger Things’ would have had a dramatic and apotheosis ending. Come on, I would still have charged myself to half casting. But the one I wouldn’t have charged with is Eleven and Mike. Of course, it would have separated them in a radical way.
Eleven would be integrated into a secret government force and we would have a series that would be called, precisely, ‘Eleven’. Of those of an idea by chapter and developed not only in the United States but throughout the world. ‘Eleven’ would be part of a paranormal squad with one of the other numbers and would travel the planet solving paranormal problems. A bit ‘X-Files’ meets ‘X-Men: First Class’. Super-powered teenagers solving rare detective cases.
So I would throw at least three seasons.
And when the time comes in real-time when the ‘Stranger Things’ universe reaches 1992, the release date of ‘Street Fighter 2 Champion Edition’, it would return to Hawkins. A drunken, ojeroso Mike, playing in the arcade, alone, with Ryu. Suddenly, A NEW CHALLENGER AWAITS!!! A player enters who chooses Mister Bison (Balrog because we are in the USA). Mike doesn’t even look at his contender, he fights automatically… Until he begins to receive a fine beating from the Balrog.
Then, wanting to gresca, he turns to his torturer.
And there is Eleven, more beautiful than ever, with a very sad smile.