Note: This review contains spoilers, which are all the way at the bottom after a lengthy spoiler warning, so you can safely read up until that point.
When I first saw the “Scoops Ahoy” merchandise in local stores a few days before the season 3 release, I was puzzled. What did it have to do with the new season of Stranger Things?
As it turns out, it has everything to do with season 3. We pick back up with Steve working at the brand-new, never heard of before, double-decker Starcourt Mall, specifically in the ice cream shop Scoops Ahoy. After he failed to get into college, his dad made him get a job for — wait for it — $3/hr. (Hey, don’t knock it — minimum wage was lower, but had more buying power in the 80s.)
Eventually, other characters like El (short for Eleven), Max, Mike, Dustin, Will, and Lucas show up at the mall too. Now, let’s talk about the mall. The idea that a small town like Hawkins got a double-decker mall built in barely a year is even harder to believe than the whole spacetime-rift-opens-a-portal-to-another-universe thing, but okay.
Meanwhile, Eleven and Mike are now dating and raising her new guardian Hopper’s blood pressure. Unable to have a reasonable talk with a teenager about safe sex or consent or relationships or anything important like that, he instead asks his friend Joyce for help. And then asks her out to dinner, which she blows off to ask her kids’ science teacher why the magnets are falling off her fridge. This turns out to be important, but Hop ignores Joyce’s advice and the script she wrote him for talking to his daughter and Mike. Instead, he yells at Mike and tells him to leave Eleven alone. (He can’t really punish or control Eleven, because she has psionic powers and can send him flying across the room.)
After that, a terrified Mike avoids El, leading her to dump him on the advice of her friend Max. They also take a shopping trip and visit the mall’s Gap store, where she picks out hideous but true-to-the-era 80s clothes.
Joyce struggles to get Hopper to see that the magnets losing their polarization is a symptom of the Upside Down portal reopening. Like the self-assured ass he always comes off as, Hopper ignores her and minimizes her concerns. Meanwhile, the kids realize the Mind Flayer is back, and worse, is turning Hawkins’ citizens into zombies. This lovely turn of events is made possible by a Russian conspiracy to control the Upside Down so the Americans can’t. Everything centers on the mall, which is conveniently located over the Russians’ underground lair and home to the new portal.
Other standouts this season include Lucas’ wisecracking little sister, Erica, and the Russian scientist Alexei, who Joyce and Hopper end up kidnapping and stuffing full of American junk food. (“They’re communists,” says Erica. “If you don’t pay people, they take shortcuts.”)
On the one hand, I’m happy the plot turned into a Russian conspiracy. This is the direction I’ve wanted the show to take since season one, where they hinted that the Americans’ experiments on El were intended to allow them to spy on the Russians during the cold war. There was SO much they could have done with that plotline, and I would have preferred they make that the A story and maybe the demogorgons the B story. Sadly, they went the other way, making the monsters-chasing-people storyline the central one, and mostly forgetting about the Russian conspiracy until they briefly resurrected it in season 2.
But again in season 3, most of the plot focuses on monsters-chasing-people. The monsters are mindless, killing and taking over people and spreading all over town just because they’re monsters and that’s what they do. Personally I find these kinds of storylines uninteresting in most cases, but at least with Stranger Things you get to enjoy the characters, the humor, and the 80s ridiculousness.
There are a lot of great things about this season. One good scene occurs after Jonathan and Nancy get fired from their internships at a local newspaper. Jonathan tells Nancy she doesn’t understand what it’s like to be poor and actually need an internship. Nancy tells Jonathan he doesn’t understand what it’s like to be treated like she’s stupid by the all-male editorial team. They’re both right, and hopefully they both learn something about being blinded by their privilege.
There were also some cringeworthy moments, like when Dustin finally gets in contact with his camp girlfriend Suzie, and she insists he sing the theme to The Neverending Story with her before telling him what Planck Constant is. (I Googled this, and it’s a physical constant that is the quantum of electromagnetic action, which relates the energy carried by a photon to its frequency, or 6.62607004 × 10–34 m2 kg/s. Thank you, Wikipedia!)
They need the number to enter a code in the underground facility (where somehow, despite being at the bottom of a very deep elevator column, the kids’ ham radios still work). This scene is sort of amusing for two reasons: A) Don’t say I never learned anything from TV, I now know what Planck Constant is, and B) It was interesting thinking about how you would deal with a problem like, “What the hell is Planck Constant?” in a world without Google and smart phones. How would you find out if the library was closed and you were a hundred feet under a mall?
Well, you’d use a ham radio to call your girlfriend in Utah and sing TV theme songs, that’s how.
Okay, so here are the…
SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS**********************************SPOILERS SPOILERS
Hopper dies when Joyce is forced to close the portal to save the kids, herself, and everyone else in Hawkins and possibly the world from the Upside Down. Well…probably. He’s really close to the portal when it closes and everything around him is basically ash so it seems reasonable to assume he’s dead. However, we later see a Soviet facility where the Russians reference “the American” in one of the jail cells, but we never see who that is. Could Hopper have made it to another universe? Did he somehow survive and get captured by the Russians? This seems extremely unlikely, but so does everything else in this show, so who knows?
The ending is sad, with Joyce finding Hopper’s notes and giving them to Eleven to read. Of course, it’s a little less sad when you realize those are actually the notes Joyce wrote that Hopper refused to use, but still sad for Eleven, who thought the letter was from him. Joyce moves away with Jonathan, Will, and Eleven, who she has now adopted since Hopper is presumed dead.
Overall, while I’d like the plot to be stronger and more complex, I still found a lot to enjoy with the characters and dialogue.
What did you think of season 3 of Stranger Things?