Stranger Things Season 3: It Should Have Been More About a Father and His Adopted Daughter
My First Thought? Eleven Looks So Much Like Natalie Portman...
Eleven Outgrew Michael, but Stranger Things Doesn't Want to Own It
Some thoughts while watching Stranger Things. Spoilers included.
Eleven is really starting to look like Natalie Portman. I suddenly find myself strongly wanting her and Michael to break up... and for good. The big takeaway this season: we need more focus on individuality in this series and less focus on relationship stuff. I feel like some of these relationships are around only for the sake of easy to build dialogue and to move the plot forward but not necessarily because of a driving force. The first episode was way too driven by couple soap opera plots. If I could change something about this season, I would add more scenes with Eleven and Hopper. Would have made the ending the writers wanted more effective
Robin, Steven, Dustin, and Erica Walk Away as the Stars of Season 3
For season 3, the plot with Robin, Steven, Dustin, and Erica was the best one -- hands down. I could suspend my disbelief through the seemingly absurd mall fantasy urban Russian takeover narrative. But somehow my disbelief went off the charts when Joyce and Chief Hopper went back through the mall maze to take on the Russian spies. With the humor and the perspectives of children to go through such a silly labyrinth was okay. My problem is the trajectory Joyce and Hopper was on for the chunk of the season was categorically different. It felt really strange to bring them over to the mall fantasy to tie things up -- which tying up is hardly what happened. It felt brilliant to watch Robin, Steven, Dustin, and Erica uncover the secret lair. It felt silly to watch Joyce, Hopper, and their friend meander through the underground corridors in Russian government uniforms.
I felt the writers on the episodes had different notes about the chemistry between Robin and Steven and what to do with it. I felt the LGBT character reveal was going to be for Max -- it seemed like that was what the writers were setting up. I still see Max as more of the LGBT rising star than Robin. Maybe it’s because the reveal wasn’t executed quite right in the movie bathroom while Steven and Robin were high off Russian torture? It felt like Stranger Things didn't do its research on what it's like to be gay and how to convey that from a post high school student. Maybe because the character notes for Robin and Max got overlapped or accidentally shared? I'll touch on this more in a moment. Hold onto that thought because I have to address the finale, it's killing me.
The Finale Had Serious Problems... and the Series Might Not Bounce Back in Season 4
The finale felt like interns had taken over the writing. Too many unanswered questions. The show, unfortunately, is starting to feel like Lost where the writers didn’t really know what they were doing, so they just started throwing random ideas on the board.
The emotional beats for season three of Stranger Things were a total mess. This show has had that exact problem before — like when Eleven killed a whole bunch of people and Mike went on about how he loved her. That was weird and seemed kind of psychotic to me. You should probably think more about loss of life in violence first before you swoon about how much you love the person who just slayed all the people. Hero or villain, Eleven killing people shouldn't always be accepted so unconditionally.
The quick rush over Hopper’s supposed death, the painfully long wait to have any emotional recognition of that loss, and then the cliche hero’s note made this finale land roughly at a much worse spot than all the previous episode endings for the season. Season 1 and Season 2 had excellent finales... Season 3 was a disaster.
If we go back to the drawing board, the split up of teams into different plots should have been handled differently. Eleven and Hopper should have been teamed together, not Eleven with the kids, not Eleven with Max -- especially if we're not going to bring out a gay plot here from Max and instead have Robin as our first openly gay character of the series. The series would have benefited from Eleven and Hopper together to go into the struggles of raising an older adopted daughter and go into the recovery of a father who still struggles from the trauma of losing a child. We didn’t need so much bickering between Joyce and Hopper. I'm not even sure what was the point of that besides preventing the two characters from fostering a closer bond, whether a friendship or romance. If Joyce was really honestly considered about Bob, then this should have been present all of season 3 and Hopper should have got it and respected Joyce's position in that. Instead, we get one or two moments to reflect on Bob and never come back to it again. It would have made far more sense if Joyce was grieving in her story arc than only focused on the kids... again.
I applaud the addition of the Russian guy who liked cherry 7-11 slurpees. There was no point in killing the guy off -- it didn't create any real agency or threat. His character would have potentially helped in bringing some credibility and guidance to the underground mall scenes. Also, there wasn't enough justification for Joyce to have pushed the button. There wasn’t a big enough threat that she couldn’t wait for Hopper to move to a safer location. I guess it’s cool if Hooper survived it in all but this felt hackneyed. He'd already killed the terminator character who was becoming quickly cartoonish. Hopper had time to get out of the space. There was also no apparent regret from Joyce that she, well, killed Hopper. Where was her turmoil? Who was she emotionally? Show these characters emotions. Whisper their secrets. Don't just focus on the nostalgic fun bits.
The middle episodes with all the humor made the season work. I give the last episode a generous C-, I give the overall season a B- with some standout moments and performances. The Eleven and Mike relationship I give a D+, the nostalgic feels an A-, and the first seven episode tags a solid A.
Drive the Nostalgia, but Not off a Cliff
The big song number in the last episode is going to split audiences, but that was the best part of the finale for me. Stranger Things does it best when it doesn’t try to ground itself too firmly in reality but lets the characters drive off into complete whimsical insanity. Only problem is to use that mechanic to drive home complete storytelling without dropping the ball on necessary narrative action. We can be comical without sacrificing emotional reflection. Too much focus on the comical aspects thins out this narrative, by the end things are whittled out and hallow at best.
Will Isn't a Late Bloomer, He's a Normal Pre-Teen
Other people reviewing this season online are calling Will the late bloomer and many other assortment of nearby terminology, which only makes me... groan.
He is like 12 or 13, no one really needs to be that interested in dating relationships at that age — which these relationships don’t really add up to anything anyway because no one has the maturity then to make effective emotional decisions. I’m really tired of TV, films, etc. pushing romantic narratives on younger characters as if it propels their character instead of focusing on what makes them tick as individuals. All the relationship bating comes off as hyper-sexualized and is thematic of capitalism as horror — because it just seems to target the youngest class of people who just barely have any money from an allowance or part time job to buy up junk at malls and Amazon. And how does Stranger Things fit that? The way Eleven is trying to impress Mike is buying into her image, buying up new clothes, wearing makeup, and showing off she has money to make choice. Meanwhile, Mike wants to buy her a gift, but doesn't know how to navigate this new setting. These characters try to impress each other with money when they don't even have jobs. It's frankly... stupid. They're trying out identities that are way ahead of them and acting like they have the means to properly handle decisions bigger than them. Meanwhile, you have the adorably cute scene of Dustin and Suzy who reach out to each other by using their knowledge of science -- and it comes off age appropriate rather than pre-teens trying to act like they're ten years older. Sure, pre-teens try to act older, but it's not really doing anything with their sense of character or show what potential they have in making choices. This causes Eleven and Mike to maybe seem relatable, but deeply 2-dimensional. Some of the most important driving forces in this show are flat characters, while our sideliners are the rounded characters. This isn't a good thing.
I’m all for Trogdor the burninator to stop making initial puberty all about rushing to our 30s and dropping the joys and luxury of hanging out and playing games. It isn’t effective to say Dungeons and Dragons is a kids game when the main people playing it and portrayed on TV are middle aged men. It comes off false and manufactured when Will breaks down and says that he doesn’t want to play D&D anymore out of some kind of retaliation for it making him feel slighted socially.
Whatever, man, D&D was and is an integral part of how this series got propelled, and fighting that now and abandoning it is leaving us lost in the grid of just where the heck is this show going?
I know it’s the ‘80s, but it sucks that people have nothing to do but go on about relationships and love. People have more dimension to them than this. This kind of romantic plot focus reduces the characters and their growth. It’s less about their personal decisions and more about their comfort. It’s a cheap writers trick to bring out dialogue rather than show not tell how characters perceive the world around them and how to survive it.
Some of the dialogue is great. Some of the dialogue between certain romantic pairings is wallpaper at best.
Also, Will's friends kind of suck. They shame him for not being in a relationship at such a young age. Will's friends are bullies, and we didn't address it properly because Will's Harry Potter scare started tingling with spider senses.
Motivations, Important Information Off-Camera, Stuck in Hawkins
Did Jonathan and Nancy break up? Why? After the things they have gone through this should have been solidified.
It isn’t clear why someone who has graduated high school and is preparing to go to college can’t stay in Hawkins but has to move with his mom and brother to some unknown new location. For protection? Is he going to photography school? There’s no sense of what’s ahead for Jonathan and Nancy, even though they seemed like they had the most direction and opportunity at the beginning of the season. To compare: Steve went from selling ice cream to renting out videos, Billy the cougar-mom allure served as a lifeguard, and Robin did the same job track as Steve, despite she seems like she was a straight A student with multilingual skills. Still not sold on Robin’s lesbian plot. It felt added on as an unnecessary plot twist and if there was a character who actually would benefit from a romantic relationship it is actually Steven. His first two seasons with love failed pretty miserably. Everything that is about Robin’s sexuality is off camera and told rather than shown. We spend the season watching her take serious attention to Steven to turn it around and say she was obsessed with him because she was obsessed with the attention girls gave him. Seems like the wrong target if you focus on him to focus on the girls. Meanwhile, Max’s interactions were on camera — and she broke up with her boyfriend and manipulated Eleven multiple times for her own interests. She pushed to spend time with her and grow the budding friendship. She fights like crazy for Eleven to not get back in a relationship with Mike and has a very peculiar interest in all this — that doesn’t just seem like fun and friendly. She doesn’t really care about Eleven and what Eleven wants. She makes choices for her friend and wants to possess her, taking advantage of Eleven's special abilities. Max wanted Eleven to herself, perhaps to misuse Eleven’s talents but also to explore something that wasn’t a bond with Lucas. It didn’t come off as just friendship. It came across as someone having a crush and even burdening boundaries for Eleven who doesn’t understand her boundary lines as well as her peers because of her traumatic childhood. Max forced herself upon L, and she wasn’t about to let go of her hold, not because she loves Eleven, mind you. She may be younger than Robin and less articulate on making her own declarations at this time, but as a viewer -- the end result was wonky.
© 2019 Andrea Lawrence