A Mind Flaying season: Stranger Things 3

After the first two really good seasons Netflix show reached new heights, and even though the main plot hasn’t changed that much, The Duffer Brothers managed to bring to life a fresh product that doesn’t disappoint the highest expectations. There will be SPOILERS ahead, so if you haven’t watched the season yet, look away!

Everything has an ending, at some point. A book, a song, a film. Youth. A story. That’s Stranger Things 3 case, that since the start of the season shows us how every character has grown up and developed into something new, with new interests: all the kids, except for Will, have a girlfriend now and they look more interested in spending time with their girlfriends (especially Mike) rather than do the things that they used to do when they were younger. It is almost a farewell chant to childhood which finds its final representation through the destruction of Castle Byers by Will: the shelter that used to be his protection can no longer protect him from where life is bringing him and his friends. One of the key subjects of the series is that life moves on and, whether you may like it or not, you have to move on with it and accept it, as “it’s just… not how life works.

Stranger Things 3 shows a maturity that reflects itself not only in the characters development but even in the technical aspects of it: directing, scripts and VFX have been taken to the next level and contribute to make this season the best so far. Through constant references to the 80’s as per usual, the season revolves around four main plots that eventually merge together to gather all the pieces: the Russians are trying to re-open the gate of the Upside Down, and this will bring new chaos to the apparent quiet city of Hawkins. These four plots correspond with four different groups: the first one is composed from Hopper and Joyce kicking off investigations on demagnetised magnets and ending up finding about the Russians’ plans, through pursuits, a Russian Terminator, untold feelings and the meaningful example that even an American and a Russian can be friends in a period like the one of the Cold War. The second group sees Steve, Dustin, Robin (and eventually Lucas’ little sister) cracking a Russian secret code transmitted through radio-waves, and finally sneaking into their underground facility. Then, we have Nancy and Johnathan investigating about rabid rats, and finally Mike, Lucas, Will, El and Max finding out about the return of the Mind Flayer and its new host: Billy, Max’s brother.

In this season his character is finally legitimised, after being introduced in season 2 as just a “disturber” for the kids. Billy’s background is revealed through Eleven’s eyes and so are the real reasons for being such an “asshole”: his mother, the only person that cared about him, had to leave Billy to escape her abusive and violent husband. Then it comes his moment of redemption, when he sacrifices himself to save El from the Mind Flayer, who kills him in front of his devastated sister Max.

he strong contrast between humor and horror is kept alive during every episode and both elements are stronger and more present than in the two previous season: in this season we witness to a kind of horror that transcends what we have ever seen so far in Stranger Things: from rats people and kids blowing up from the inside to the hospital scene where Nancy and Johnathan fights and kill two “flayed” people they know. Sometimes it’s really bloody, and such amount of horror requires as much humor as well, to balance everything and give the season a more chilled tone, even when the audience doesn’t see it coming at all. It is exactly what happens during one of the most conflicting scenes ever: the Mind Flayer is attacking Mike and the others, Hopper and Joyce are in the Russian facility to shut down the machine that keeps open the gate and they need the code to access the key they need. In this desperate picture Dustin contacts his girlfriend Suzie and has to sing the “Never Ending Story” song to convince her to give him the Planck constant that will open the safe for Hopper and Joyce. A scene it will definitely become a cult in the future years.

In this season the character of Steve Harrington reaches its full maturity, too: he is not anymore that arrogant and presumptuous guy he used to be. He is now a grown up guy, and his relationship with Robin is simply wonderful, reaching the highest moment when he finally opens up his feeling towards her, only to find out that Robin is not really into guys, and after a first moment of confusion, he accepts that without even blinking, and the two of them will become really good friends.

The true MVP of the season, though, is definitely Hopper. After starting being even more paranoid and schizophrenic in the first episodes, he finally develops towards his best version ever: we see him acting as Magnum P.I as he fights over and over with the obvious Arnold Schwarzenegger Terminator (Russian version) reference, then interrogating Alexei and finally sacrificing himself to save Eleven, Joyce and everyone else. The final scenes of the seasons are harrowing to say the least: Hopper’s death is the final climax of the show and his loss will be the reason for Joyce, Will Johnathan and Eleven to move out of Hawkins. As they say farewell to their friends in one of the most heartbreaking sequence ever, we hear Hopper’s final speech, that heart to heart that he was supposed to talk about with Mike and Eleven about their relationship, but we find out the true reason behind his actions: he didn’t want things to change. Hopper wanted to keep playing board games with El every night, doing “making triple-decker Eggo extravaganzas at sunrise, watching westerns together before we doze off.” He was scared to lose El, which he considered being his real daughter, but deep down he knows that it’s naive to want something like that.

The series seems to have reached its natural ending, then. Eleven lost her powers, the guys had to take different paths, the gate is finally closed and Hopper’s death would have been the best and perfect finale for the story. Thing is, this is not the ending yet, as the series has been confirmed for a fourth season before the third one had been released yet. After the credits we are taken to Kamchatka inside another Russian facility and we see a Demogorgon attacking a Russian prisoner and the Russian guard saying “not the American”. Could Hopper still be alive? And if he is, how did he survive? Feelings are that the series should have met its final installment with the third season, as there is the risk that the fourth one will be just a “more of the same”, and it is not certain that the show-runners will be able to pull out another season like this. Either they will move from the main plot pattern and change it completely or it could be seen even as redundant and just a repetition of the previous three seasons. Netflix is a business, and as a business it has to go forward with the series that assures the company the major revenue: my hopes are that this “never-ending story” will not end up having a deluding and lame finale after being prolonged unnecessarily for too long. One thing is for sure, it will be hard to replicate this season and its finale.

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