Editor’s Note: There are a few MILD spoilers in this entry. You don’t need to avoid this entry if you haven’t finished the most recent season of Stranger Things, but our team understands if you choose to delay reading until your binge is over. If you have finished season three, or when you do, please continue reading. Also, would it kill you to subscribe to this fine blog?
Another season of Stranger Things has been released and in the third installment of the series, Mall Culture has arrived in Hawkins, Indiana along with evil supernatural forces and undercover Soviet operatives. Season three takes an incredible Polaroid of the summer stalwarts of 1980’s Indiana: malls, carnivals and the Fourth of July, while appropriately portraying the Cold War paranoia of the time.
Let’s start with the fun part: Those bad old fashioned Russkies.
In short, the Soviet operatives, soldiers, and scientists have moved to Hawkins and are trying to reopen the Upside/Down in an effort to weaponize it’s contents. Did I mention that those same Soviets have developed and opened Hawkin’s first Shopping Mall (Starcourt Mall – GREAT name) to help them cloak their nefarious operations?
In this fun and absurd plot line, Stranger Things creators Matt and Ross Duffer (professionally known as The Duffer Brothers) do what they do best: paying homage to pop culture nostalgia while simultaneously lampooning it. It’s a fine line to walk and few do it better than the Duffers.
One of the high points of the season in the Soviet tough guy and assassin Grigori (Andrey Ivchenko).
I couldn’t find much info on Ivchenko, but am going out on a limb to say that looking like a young Arnold Schwarzenegger didn’t hurt. To say that Grigori talks like, looks like (down to facial bruises and the haircut), and fights like The Terminator is a colossal understatement and Ivchenko makes the most of his opportunity.
Grigori is mainly tasked with stopping local Sheriff Jim Hopper (David Harbour) and local nuisance Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) from foiling the Soviet’s plan. Along the way, Hopper and Byers are accompanied by journalist Murry Bauman (Brett Gelman) and Soviet scientist Alexei (Alec Utgoff), a duo who provide legitimate comedic relief for this particular vignette.
During these shenanigans the audience is supposed to believe that Hopper and Byers have a ‘will they/won’t they’ relationship that is strife with sexual tension. In a season fraught with supernatural boogeyman and international espionage, this is the most unbelievable plot line, due to the lack of chemistry between Harbour and Ryder. It’s not that their scenes are poorly written or that Harbour and Ryder are bad actors, its that simply can’t find the spark to make it work.
Another fault I have with season three is that Jim Hopper has been reduced to a one dimensional, sexually frustrated dufus. Sure, he still cares for Elle (Millie Bobbie Brown), but has next to no screen time with her and as a result is portrayed as a drunken and out of shape buffoon who is obsessed with his love interest.
Although towards the end of the season, he does have a redeemable moment.
As for the ‘kids’, they are growing up and growing up fast.
Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and Elle are in a romantic relationship, as well as Lucas (Calen McLaughlin) and Max (Sadie Sink). In fact, even Dustin (Gaten Matazarro) may have made a long distance girlfriend at Summer Science Camp. Unfortunately, this leaves Will (Noah Scnapp) exposed, alone, and once again vulnerable to evil forces.
With the ‘kids’ and their story line of once again banding together to fight evil, the audience isn’t let down by the writing, acting, or chemistry, but the audience shouldn’t expect anything new either. The ‘baddie’ is familiar and in it’s introduction, the Duffer brothers pay A LOT of homage to Invasion of The Body Snatchers and The Blob. I guess if it isn’t broke, you shouldn’t fix it.
One of the better additions to season three is the completely believable ‘will they/won’t they’ between Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) and his coworker Robin (Maya Hawke).
Steve and Robin are coworkers at ‘Scoops Ahoy’ – a fictional 1980’s mall ice cream chain and their relationship calls back 1980s dramadies Pretty in Pink and The Breakfast Club. The scenes between Keery and Hawke are undoubtedly the best of the season and frankly carry the series for the first two episodes if not the entire season.
Speaking of malls, I completely nerded out on all of the George A. Romero (father of the zombie genre) movie references. Day of the Dead is shown at the Starcourt movie theater, Night of the Living Dead gets some love in a scene where a shack gets boarded up, and most importantly Dawn of the Living Dead is constantly payed tribute with the Starcourt Mall being a character just like the Monroeville Mall before it.
As for the rest of the cast, Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) have a Louis Lane/Jimmy Olson thing going on at the local newspaper and Billy (Dacre Montgomery) is still Billy. Meh.
To wrap this up, don’t expect anything new from Stranger Things. The Duffer Brothers still do a lot more right than they do wrong, the cast is strong, and the pop culture references are smart and indelible. I recommend giving season three a chance, but I predict you won’t feel the need to binge as much as in previous seasons.
I had a nose bleed and was wearing a blindfold when I made that prediction, so I’m pretty sure I’m right.
FOOD COURTS & CARNIVALS
- Maya Hawke is the best thing Ethan Hawke has ever been attached too.
- Between Fleabag and Stranger Things, Brett Gelman is having quite the 2019.
- If you haven’t seen the Romero classic Dawn of the Dead (1978), find it and watch it. It’s commentary on American consumer culture is just as poignant now as it was then. Romero saw the 1980s coming.
- Cary Elwes has some great scenes as the corrupt Mayor Larry Kline.
- In the 1980s, my dad worked at the Glebrook Mall in Fort Wayne, Indiana and season three brought back A LOT of great memories. There was nothing like running around the mall with your buddies, looking at girls and acting like morons.
- Keep your eyes peeled for the Something Wicked This Way Comes, Magnum P.I., Gremlins, Miami Vice, Christine, Firestarter and Die Hard callbacks.