(4.5) stars and stripes for new ‘Stranger Things’ season

Spoilers ahead!

The fireworks that were set off for Independence Day were an equally apt way to celebrate the explosive new season of everyone’s spooky series, “Stranger Things.” The upbeat, summer setting of the third season is a welcome change to the usually morose, eerie tone of the show, and creates a perfect contrast to the malevolent workings of the new “big bad” for the season. “Stranger Things 3” delivers on all levels, from the top-notch cinematography to the intricately woven plot that plays out like one long movie.

An eight-hour movie that you can’t stop watching

Flash forward to the summer of 1985, “Stranger Things 3” sees our beloved characters a few months after the threat of the Mind Flayer had been put to rest and the gate to the Upside Down closed by Eleven’s psychokinetic/telepathic powers. The gang, along with the supporting cast, has grown up in some ways amidst the colorful backdrop of Hawkins, Indiana, complete with the iconic fashion and music of the time. They are still tight-knit, but have also been divided in some ways, which sets up some of the season’s conflicts. 

Much to the chagrin of her adopted father, Hawkins chief of police Jim Hopper (David Harbour), Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) is enjoying her somewhat normal life as a teenager by making out with boyfriend and de facto leader of the group, Mike (Finn Wolfhard). New from season two but now nicely integrated, Max (Sadie Sink) is in an on-again, (but more often) off-again relationship with Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin). Dustin (Gaten Matarrazo) has just returned from a month-long science camp with a seemingly fictitious girlfriend Suzie. Will (Noah Schnapp) feels left out of the coupley vibes of the group, still recovering from the trauma of the past year and longs to play Dungeons and Dragons with his friends, just like they used to.

Steve (Joe Keery) is working at Scoops Ahoy at the Starcourt Mall, new marvel of the town, with edgy “outsider” Robin (Maya Hawke), while Nancy (Natalia Dyer) is dealing with her sexist bosses at her job at the Hawkins newspaper with Will’s brother and her boyfriend, Jonathan (Charlie Heaton).

The season presents a fresh take on the Upside Down terrorizing Hawkins, with the Mind Flayer possessing Hawkins citizens in order to take out Eleven so that she doesn’t close the gate to the other world. The stakes are higher with Max’s possessed brother, Billy (Dacre Montgomery), leading the Mind Flayer’s plot and a secret Russian laboratory at the heart of the monster’s return. 

We see the “Scoop Troop” infiltrating the lab, Joyce (Winona Ryder) and Hopper teaming up with an old friend to uncover how to actually neutralize the Russians’ technology, Nancy and Jonathan discovering the nature of the Mind Flayer’s control and the rest of the teens following Billy’s breadcrumb trail of destruction. Each group’s path is entwined with the others, and as the show smoothly transitions from one plotline to another, you don’t even notice the breaks between each episode. It is sometimes agonizing to know that information that one group possesses is integral to another’s mission, and the show does a good job of keeping you on your toes with the non-stop action and reveals.

The colorful 80s at its best

The continuous nature of the season succeeds as a result of the atmosphere created by the masterful cinematography. The saturated colors of the summer setting, from the pool to the carnival to the mall sharply contrast the dark inner workings of the Upside Down and it is almost disturbingly satisfying to see how a possessed rat exploding can so smoothly transition to a splash in the pool. 

The pastel and oversized fashion and hairstyles of the time, as well as the accompanying soundtrack, are fun Easter Eggs among the action. You truly feel transported to the 80s. Watching Max and Eleven shop around the Gap for a new style for Elle to sport for the summer is a nice development for the girl. 

The characters you love, and then some

Fueling the exciting, action-packed plotlines are some entertaining (and also unexpected) match-ups, as well as interesting explorations of characters’ relationships with one another.

The Scoops Troop is a pleasant surprise among the groups, and newcomer Robin steals the show. Her friendship with Steve and development throughout the season are a delight to watch. Their deprecating banter plays off their completely opposite, somewhat stereotypical high school images: Steve, the popular, cool kid, and Robin, the alternative, edgy outcast. (Also, can I just say, Steve handles Robin’s reveal so well.) Their chemistry fits right in with the other characters in the group, with Steve and Dustin’s established bromance and the welcome edition of feisty Erica (Priah Ferguson), Lucas’s younger sister. 

Hopper and Joyce’s unexplored romantic tension comes to a head in this season, and even if it appears rocky at times (Joyce didn’t mean to blow you off, Hopper!), it’s clear how well they work together. Their team-up with Murray; and the loveable Alexei is an interesting character to juxtapose with the younger teens, considering some of their internal conflicts and dynamics are similar.

Max and Eleven’s friendship rivals Steve and Robin’s for my favorite duo. Max taking Eleven under her wing and their bonding creates a lasting, needed friendship that does both girls well. 

Amidst the growing cast, it’s no surprise some characters get sidelined, even if the parallel plotlines try to divvy up equal attention between team members. Unfortunately, poor Will is one of those characters. After all he’s suffered in the past year, you would think his friends (and the show creators) would appreciate his presence more. Yet, all he can do is offer insight into the Mind Flayer’s presence and no resolution is reached with his disconnect from his friends. Justice for Will Byers next season?

Despite some kinks in the season workings, the Duffer brothers manage to impressively juggle the growing complexity of the Stranger Things world. The ending is more open than the other seasons, which only makes me anticipate the next one more. And that mid-credits scene? I definitely can’t wait for season four.

Rating: 4.5/5


Hollie Lao is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at hollianne.lao@uconn.edu.