The third season of Netflix series matures alongside its cast
The third season of Netflix’s renowned series “Stranger Things” premiered on July 4 and was met with mostly positive reviews. Created by brothers Matt and Ross Duffer, the series follows a group of kids in the fictional midwest town of Hawkins, Indiana in the 1980s. The children discover an alternate dimension, which they deem the “Upside Down,” that brings alien creatures and darkness to their world.
In the first season, the main cast averaged around the age of 12. The characters were delightfully innocent, playing Dungeons and Dragons for fun and being grossed out by girls. Season three, however, was filmed almost four years after the series’ premiere, and this season’s storylines mirrored the maturing cast. The show is more fast-paced and even more terrifying than what viewers are used to seeing.
“It’s a slicker, pacier operation than the slightly sprawling previous season, and far more fun,” Lucy Mangan wrote in The Guardian. “Perhaps the most obvious sign of the Duffers’ increased confidence in their talents and the cast is the fact that for the first time it is set in summer, denying itself the customary reliance on spooky greys and shadows to do the heavy lifting.”
This season as a whole was one of the strongest. The stakes have been raised, the monsters have grown and overall the quality has risen. The series, based so much on the nostalgia of youth and childhood, did a great job of growing with its young cast.
“By the time the final credits roll on season 3, […], it’s made much more of a case for itself than season 2 ever did simply by trying to be something different,” Caroline Framke wrote in Variety.
Framke applauded the introduction of the Starcourt Mall, which is a new introduction to the town of Hawkins as well. The mall serves as a setting for numerous scenes throughout the season: The kids hang out there and search for apology gifts for their girlfriends while Russian scientists secretly develop new technologies in the tunnels underneath it.
The addition of the mall along with the season’s new setting during the summertime results in an atmosphere different than the ones in previous seasons. The aesthetic is new, but still interesting and inviting. The bright colors and warm tones add a fascinating contrast to the horror going on in the characters’ lives.
While the entire cast has its merits, the series is carried by the talents of Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven and David Harbour as Chief of Police Jim Hopper. The adoptive father and daughter duo are by far the most interesting and dynamic characters. By now, the Duffer brothers are aware of this and have developed the season around the incomparable acting talents of the two.
Brown, only 15 years old, carries the emotional development of the season. She creates both an admirable and strong female lead, while also being empathetic. Eleven, recently freed from an evil scientific laboratory, must now deal with the trials and tribulations of puberty, all with minimal social skills. Eleven’s relationship with Finn Wolfhard’s character Mike is adorable as ever, and even more delightfully awkward as they navigate their newfound romantic relationship.
Similarly, the newly introduced friendship between Brown’s character and Sadie Sink’s character Max has also received praise. The two young female leads have finally joined forces in an awkward and fumbling teenage way.
“Indeed Max and Eleven’s blossoming friendship, shopping trip and much boy talk included, is the series’ most joyous incidental development,” wrote Hugh Montgomery in BBC News.
The two young actresses create an authentic and nuanced friendship in the limited screen time they get, a testament to the strength of their skills.
Meanwhile, Harbour leads the adult cast and is the force that keeps the entire plot moving along. Playing the grumpy Hopper, Harbour imbues a lovable bitterness into the character that creates a complexity within all of his interactions on screen. His attempts at learning how to father a teenage girl and his intolerance of Eleven’s boyfriend Mike bring a lot of comedy to the show.
Although the entire cast is strong, the main weakness of the series is just how expansive the cast is. Upon adding two new main characters last season, this latest season sees further additions. While all of the new characters are likeable and played by talented actors, the constant introduction of new faces takes away from the strong, original cast.
The character Will Byers, played by Noah Schnapp, for example, should have been one of the main focuses of the season. He was possessed by the demonic monster in season two, and the repercussions of this, in addition to his tie to the Upside Down, is something that could have been explored much deeper than it was. Schnapp hardly got any screen time due to the countless other storylines that continued to add up. Will has always been an intriguing character who deserves more, rather than cast aside for new characters and their backstories.
Hank Stuever in The Washington Post notes that despite the extra run-time of this season, there was not a lot of actual development for any of the characters.
“[Character development], too, is an ongoing ‘Stranger Things’ struggle,” Stuever writes. “By now there are at least a half-dozen too many characters to care about and a monster whose motivations and methodology […] are difficult to fully comprehend.”
The fact that so many viewers tune in to watch what happens next for these characters, however, proves that what little character development does occur goes a long way. While the special effects are impressive and the show is visually pleasing to watch, the series’ popularity comes from viewers’ love of the characters. From Gaten Matarazzo’s comedically snarky Dustin to Winona Ryder’s passionate Joyce, every viewer has a character to root for.
The last episode of the season left many loose ends that viewers are excited to see resolved in season four. Dynamics between the characters and aspects of the supernatural plot will change, and hopefully the series will be able to focus even more on the aspects that make it so great.
Written by: Alyssa Ilsley — firstname.lastname@example.org