We reviewed the first two episodes of Stranger Things, Season Three, when they dropped July 4, and promised a revisiting a the entire show once everyone had the chance to see it. Alas, we’re a little late on delivery, as we’re now in the final weekend of July, but I suppose that means everyone has had a chance to watch.

It’s July of 1985, the Cold War continues, and dark things burble beneath Hawkins, Indiana.

Titles: “The Case of the Missing Lifeguard,” “The Sauna Test,” “The Flayed,” “E Pluribus Unum,” “The Bite,” “The Battle of Starcourt”

Cast and Crew

Written and directed by Matt and Ross Duffer

Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven
Winona Ryder as Joyce Byers
David Harbour as Jim Hopper
Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin Henderson
Caleb McLaughlin as Lucas Sinclair
Noah Schnapp as Will Byers
Sadie Sink as Max Mayfield
Natalia Dyer as Nancy Wheeler
Charlie Heaton as Jonathan Byers
Joe Keery as Steve Harrington
Finn Wolfhard as Mike Wheeler
Dacre Montgomery as Billy Hargrove
Maya Hawke as Robin
Priah Ferguson as Erica Sinclair
Cara Buono as Karen Wheeler
Jake Busey as Bruce
Joe Chrest as Ted Wheeler
Catherine Curtin as Claudia Henderson
Andrey Ivchenko as Grigori
Brett Gelman as Murray Bauman
Michael Park as Tom Holloway
Francesca Reale as Heather Holloway
Cary Elwes as Mayor Larry Kline
Alec Utgoff as Dr. Alexei
Caroline Arapoglou as Winnie
Erika Coleman as Anna Jacobi
Yasen Peyankov, Alexander Chernyshev as Russian Scientists
Dylan Gage as Johnny
Georgui Kasaev as Russian Comm Officer
Rob Morgan as Officer Powell
John Reynolds as Officer Callahan
Arthur Darbinyan as Doctor Zharkov
Misha Kuznetsov as Commander Ozerov
Sean Astin as Bob Newby
Catherine Curtin as Claudia Henderson
Randy Havens as Scott Clarke
Will Chase as Neil Hargrove
Christopher Convery as young Billy
Jacey Sink as young Max
Beth Riesgraf as Billy’s mother
Paul Reiser as Dr. Sam Owens
Gabriella Pizzolo as Suzie
Anniston and Tinsley Price as Holly Wheeler

Premise

The young kids have become teens, and therefore less pleasant. The teens have graduated and lurch into adult life. The adults are acting more like kids than ever. And that consumerist icon of the late twentieth-century, the mall, hides a communist base—and stranger things.

High Points

The relationships continue to ground a show that loves its flights of pop-SF madness, and Stranger Things continues to work that combination, while allowing its characters to grow and develop.

Brett Gelman as Murray Bauman continues to be fun to watch, hearkening as he does to those pre-X-Files, pre-Internet days, when conspiracy theories were fringe, required hard research, and occasionally pointed to the truth. It’s a lot harder to laugh when the most absurd and hacked-together Quakery has hijacked mainstream politics.

Low Point

A cast this large requires that smaller groups work separately before coming together against their enemies. A third season requires they shake up the rosters a little. Great. But, when you’re faced with a baseload of armed Russian invaders tapping into dark forces, and you know where they keep their smoking guns, seriously, who you gonna call?

(a) The authorities, who already know you’re aware of Hawkins’s past hidden secrets.
(b) Your friend who has superpowers.
(c) The annoying little girl who hangs around the mall.

And speaking of things that stretch credibility, even in a show with trans-dimensional monsters, the notion that the finale of this episode could be covered up to the degree indicated by the epilogue feels like a portal too far. But, yeah, we never had an international incident (or even a war, because the Soviet actions in this episode reasonably constitute acts of war) in the 80s over a secret Soviet lab on American soil, so….

The Scores:

Originality: 2/6 A large part of the show’s appeal has always been 1980s nostalgia, and it has always drawn on popular 80s movies, tropes, and pop culture. The first season, famously, amounted to Stephen King meets Steven Spielberg with enough of its own to feel original. Neither Season One nor Two ever went as far as Season Three. The plot essentially cooks its first two seasons with Aliens, Red Dawn, Rambo, Terminator, Goonies (again), The Empire Strikes Back, The Thing, Nine to Five, Dawn of the Dead, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Graveyard Shift, Fast Times at Ridgemont High…. And so on. In some ways, it holds together better than Season Two, but it very much lacks the freshness of Season One.

Effects: 6/6

Acting: 6/6

Story: 5/6

Production: 6/6

Emotional Response: 5/6

Overall: 5/6 The word “trope” is old, but its use, in the contemporary sense, by a teen in 1986 rather jarred me. Search around, and you’ll find the various anachronisms and oddities that hit various viewers as off, including the now-infamous nit related to Planck’s Constant. I concede these trivial matters. The show remains impressively well-produced, well-acted, and cleverly directed but, as with Season Three of Happy Days, the period recreation feels simultaneously more in-your-face and a nit less faithful.

In total, Stranger Things, Season Three, receives 35/42

Lingering Questions

1. I predict with few doubts that El will will get her powers back in Season Four, rather dramatically. But will Hopper remain dead? Because they’ve left an obvious door open for his return.

2. How did viewers feel about the second epilogue? I rather want Season Four to move in an entirely new direction, antagonist-wise, and that epilogue suggests Season Four will continue with the established menaces. I mean, aren’t there entirely new dangers in the other dimension(s)?

3. Hands up: Who else thought a certain scene felt painfully neverending?