In our time, most of the shopping malls seem to be a dying breed. It was refreshing to revisit the 1980s to experience a time when the mall was the place to hang out and see your friends, to experience crass materialism the way God intended us to.
This series also evoked other ’80s memories, like Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Kevin Smith’s much-maligned-but-under-appreciated Mall Rats. Throw in a dash of James Cameron’s Terminator, Michael J. Fox’s Back to the Future, and the Kevin Dillon version of The Blob, and you will understand most of the pop culture references of Season 3 of Netflix’s fantastic series Stranger Things.
When we last visited with the adolescent cast of this series, the city of Hawkins had been saved from the extra-dimensional villains of the Upside Down when Eleven (Millie Bobbie Brown) shut the portal between worlds.
In this season, our favorite characters are all in a coming-of-age story. Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and El are going at it hot and heavy, much to the consternation of Eleven’s foster dad, police chief Hopper (David Harbour), who is at the beginning of a relationship with Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder). Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) has made a girlfriend at summer camp, a girl named Suzie whom everyone suspects is fictional until the end of the season. Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Max (Sadie Sink) are also a couple, as are Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer) and Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton). Only Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), the boy who came back, remains unromantically attached this season. He’s also the one member of our gang who seems to be trying to hold on to childhood for a little longer, preferring to play Dungeons & Dragons with his friends over spending time with the opposite sex.
Nancy’s ex-boyfriend, Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) emerges as a stronger character in his own right this season, along with his co-worker Robin (Maya Hawke, daughter of Ethan). Steve and Robin’s story arc is joined with that of Dustin and Lucas’s sister Erica (Priah Ferguson), who has that sassy sister vibe reminiscent of countless sitcoms.
Meanwhile, Billy Hargrove, played by Dacre Montgomery, channeling all of the bad-boy ’80s characters from The Karate Kid to Stand By Me, becomes the pawn of the season’s Big Bad, the Mind Flayer from the Upside Down. It turns out that the Russians are still trying to break through to that other dimension, and have built a secret base under the Starcourt Mall in Hawkins, Indiana, to do so. Their work has endangered everyone in Hawkins, and, perhaps, the world, as the Mind Flayer grows in strength by consuming the lifeforce of animals and people in Hawkins.
Throw in Cary Elwes as Mayor Kline, and Brett Gelman as the paranoid Murray Bauman, and you have all the ingredients needed for one successful and suspenseful season of Netflix television.
I enjoyed everything about this season, from the Fast Times homage of The Cars’ “Moving in Stereo,” playing this time behind Billy Hargrove’s lifeguard character instead of Phoebe Cates to the Terminator vibe of the Russian super-soldier Grigori (Andrey Ivchenko). The finale of this season is more exciting than most of the movies I’ve watched in recent years.
I’m not going to spoil everything for you from this season. I will tell you that some characters leave Hawkins at the end of the season, and at least one main character apparently dies (although I’m dubious).
It’s not the end of the story, however. We have at least one more season left, I think.
Stranger Things is a terrific Netflix original series. If you haven’t watched any of this series yet, it’s not too late.
Firewater’s Back-to-the-Future Report Card: A+
The only negative comment I can make about this series is that it doesn’t have enough episodes. You won’t hear that complaint with any other series, I assure you.