Words || Gabrielle Edwards
Netflix’s Stranger Things made its way into our hearts in 2016, quickly cementing itself as a fan favourite with its endearing cast, interesting plots and nostalgic 80s vibe. The latest season was no different, with viewership increasing from season two, cementing its place as one of the most watched Netflix original series and a favourite of mine.
The plot of season three revolved around the opening of a new mall in the town of Hawking. Amongst this exciting new addition, mysterious occurrences continue causing a few characters in particular to question whether all is as peaceful as it seems. Among some of the main story lines include Joyce worrying over her fridge’s lost magnetism, Eleven and Max ignoring their boyfriends while Steve and Dustin reunite and need help to decode a secret Russian code. So, you know, just the usual small-town shenanigans.
As a whole, the season embraced a more comedic tone which I really enjoyed. While the episodes are an hour long, they never feel tedious, with the constant switching between characters and plot lines keeping things interesting and fast paced. As mentioned, the majority of the characters are incredibly endearing, keeping you captivated and emotionally invested from the start. In particular, the Scoops Troop, made up of Steve (everyone’s favourite overprotective mum), Robin, Erica and Dustin were my favourite unlikely grouping, whose adventures were filled with just the right amount of hilarious hijinks and high stakes. Having Robin being the first confirmed LGBT+ character on the show and getting to see Erica’s character be a little more fleshed out was also a definite plus.
In terms of our other characters, there’s still plenty to root for. Getting to see the formation of Max and Eleven’s friendship, especially after the train-wreck of season two, was incredibly wholesome. Conflict between the other kids, with Will wanting to continue playing games while the other boys just complain about their girlfriends was extremely heart-breaking but relatable to see. There has been a lot of theorising about Will’s sexuality from subtle suggestions to the explicit statement made in the show’s original pitch. I’m greatly hoping that they choose to explicitly acknowledge and flesh out this aspect of the character more in future seasons. Nancy and Jonathon’s subplot also provided an insight into the sexism that affected many women in the workplace during this time while allowing Nancy to play her own part in unravelling the mystery of what is going on in Hawkings.
A key element that Stranger Things has become well-known for is its marketing of nostalgia. For many, this provides an instant emotional connection, incentivising old pop culture enthusiasts to continue watching. With pop culture increasingly able to capture times of the past, we become even more exposed to it. I grew up watching the likes of E.T. and Ghostbusters, just as my parents did, demonstrating a cross-generational appeal that Stranger Things is able to capitalise on. This new season in particular honed this in from the frequent appearances of ‘New Coke’ to the characters constantly referencing popular 80s movies such as Back to the Future.
The show’s creators have openly admitted that while the film follows a retro aesthetic through elements such as production design and costuming, the interactions and dialogue, particularly between the children, are incredibly modern. This allows the average viewer to still feel extremely connected to the characters, despite them coming from a significantly different time period and setting.
In many films and tv shows that take place in the past, certain elements from that period are taken for aesthetic purposes while others are ignored. At times, this can be extremely harmful as it presents a romanticised idealisation that ignores major issues that were prevalent at the time.
The second season of Stranger Things in particular received criticism for the ambiguous way it addressed racism. For instance, the character of Billy was introduced as a new villain, who showed a particular hatred toward Lucas, Billy’s sister’s boyfriend, and one of the few black characters on the show. While the writers initially characterised Billy as more explicitly racist, this was edited to make the situation more ambiguous and have him potentially be redeemable in future. This creates more concern when considering how Billy is characterised in this latest season, with reveals of a troubled childhood persuading audiences to sympathise and forgive the character.
Many have also commented on the concerning characterisation of Jim Hopper in the latest season. His character archetype seems to be strongly influenced by sexist, unhealthy archetypes of male leads from 80s movies who were aggressive and manipulative, though still heavily romanticised. This includes the likes of Die Hard’s John McClane and Indiana Jones. A lot of his violence is also played off for a laugh, which created a confusing tone shift from how his character was previously established and portrayed. This also manifests itself poorly through Hopper’s relationship with Joyce as he attempts to pursue her romantically. As much as I love Winona Ryder and David Harbour’s chemistry, a lot of Hopper’s hostility was unnecessarily directed at Joyce, and let’s be real, she deserved better.
While there are legitimate criticisms and concerns, the show continues to be engaging and entertaining with potential to keep improving. There’s evidence that the creators are investing more energy into creating better representation as the show by responding to viewers’ feedback. Not to mention, the stakes are continuously raised and our emotional connection to these characters keeps growing. Therefore, I am incredibly excited to see where the show goes in the next season, which will hopefully air sooner rather than later.