Monday, 30th October 2017

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Spoiler alert: 'Stranger Things 3' ups drama, emotion, humour and nostalgia

Season 3 — with its winning mix of the past and the present — is one hell of a fast-paced, action-filled eight-hour ride

  • Published 8.07.19, 6:59 PM
  • Updated 8.07.19, 6:59 PM
  • 4 mins read
The season fragments the narrative and separates the key characters into various groups, setting them off on different adventures. The result is that you feel you are watching many stories in one, with every fragment ending up having its own idiosyncratic charm (A still from the show)

Let’s begin at the end. Because never before in the history of Stranger Things has the end been this significant. The post-credits scene of Season 3 — which comes at the end of eight exhilarating episodes — and is the first in the series, doesn’t only whet one’s appetite for the possibilities that Season 4 will throw up, but nicely binds together all that has happened in the season and even before it, and brings back an old enemy.

It’s a fitting denouement to a season that takes a huge leap forward in plot and players, storytelling and sentimentality. This is the example of a franchise hitting new heights and for fans of the iconic Netflix show that we first streamed in 2016, this is as good as it gets. And then some more.

For most fans of Stranger Things, Season 2 was a bit of a downer after a blockbuster first season. Season 3 — with its winning mix of the past (’80s nostalgia is at its peak here) and the present (the kids are growing up, and how!) — is one hell of a fast-paced, action-filled eight-hour ride.

Unfolding in the seemingly sleepy town of Hawkins in Indiana, the gang of kids find themselves in a new kind of ‘Upside Down’ in Season 3. It’s called adolescence. In fact, the whole of Hawkins smells of teen spirit. Our small-town heroes have taken a break from warring with the Demogorgon and the Mind Flayer to battle their raging hormones and the flashy new Starcourt Mall is the new hangout in town, replacing the AV Club. Priorities have changed and though the group of four — Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Will (Noah Schnapp) — are still thick pals, they no longer spend hours in Mike’s basement playing Dungeons & Dragons.

Instead, Mike is busy locking lips with Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) at every opportunity they get — much to the chagrin of top cop Hopper (David Harbour), who has now fully taken on the mantle of Eleven’s surrogate dad — and Dustin has gone next level in inventing a whole lot of ingenious contraptions, including what he calls ‘the Cadillac of ham radios’. And yes, he’s also acquired a girlfriend called Suzie along the way. Lucas and Max (Sadie Sink) are “in a kind of relationship”, with Max now well and truly a part of the core group.

Former school jock Steve (Joe Keery) is working at an ice cream parlour at the mall, Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) are interning at the local newspaper and Billy (Dacre Montgomery) is winning over the 40-plus ladies as a lifeguard at the town’s swimming pool. Even the adults are on to ‘stranger things’ — Hopper and Joyce (Winona Ryder) embark on a mission to find out why the town’s magnets are failing to stay hooked on to the fridge, but are constantly denying the sexual magnetism between them.

It’s a whole new world at Hawkins and for fans like me who got hooked to Stranger Things for the cycle rides, the walks in the woods and the good-natured fights over a game of Dungeons & Dragons, the change may seem a little disappointing. But it’s this transition to a new phase that powers the substance and storytelling this season. So as Stranger Things confronts a shifting economy — there are ample references to consumerism and capitalism here — the possibility of new friendships and relationships and the arrival of old and new nemeses, the Duffer Brothers successfully expand the show’s mythology, character arcs and stakes even as they build on the show’s past.

And when we talk about stakes, there’s a whole lot to sink one’s teeth into. The Mind Flayer is back and has latched on to multiple hosts, evil doppelgangers and bloodsucking rats are running amuck and to crown it all, the Russians have arrived to lend the show a compelling touch of Cold War paranoia.

With so much going on, the season fragments the narrative and separates the key characters into various groups, setting them off on different adventures. The result is that you feel you are watching many stories in one, with every fragment ending up having its own idiosyncratic charm. And as the parts finally build towards a whole somewhere in Episode 6, Stranger Things ends up becoming a far more engaging watch than one would have expected at the beginning of the season.

Nostalgia has always been the bedrock of the show and the Duffers amp up the ’80s like never before — permed hair and leotards are a rage, Material Girl and Wake Me Up Before You Go Go blare from audio players, there is a whole sequence built around Back to the Future and even a self-styled Terminator-inspired Russian assassin pops up every now and then. Set in summer, the colour palette is far more eye pleasing than the greys and blacks of the first two seasons.

Like the previous seasons, Season 3 ups the scares too, with many a moment — most involving Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown invests the character with a lot more shades this season, finely balancing teen angst and superhuman abilities) using her psychokinetic powers to battle the monster(s) — going down as what we dare call cinematic masterpieces. Watch out for the big battle in Hopper’s cabin and then at the mall. The hospital sequence involving Nancy and Jonathan is one of the highlights of the season.

The season is also powered by humour — Hopper, Steve and Dustin (yes, Suzie is real!) are the ones with most of the comic moments, but the season’s big, big triumph is Lucas’s “commie hating” sister Erica (Priah Ferguson) whose caustic tongue (“You can’t spell America without Erica”, she deadpans at one point) brings on most of the laughs. In fact, we are really rooting for a spin-off series featuring the season’s most compelling foursome — Steve, Dustin, Robin (Maya Hawke, who has some of the season’s best lines) and Erica.

But what sets apart this season are the emotions that bind the characters. The show abounds with moments that will tug at your heartstrings — Nancy’s mom Karen having a heart-to-heart after she’s fired from her job, Steve and Robin baring it all after a barf session in the washroom and most of all, Billy’s backstory that will tease a tear out of you. And so will Hopper’s letter to Eleven in the season’s penultimate moments.

Which brings us back to the end. An end that ties everything together and then leaves the door open for many more possibilities. Much more than “three inches open”.