It’s the summer of 1985 in Hawkins, Indiana, and while all our favorite characters in ‘Stranger Things’ are facing the trials of growing up, the otherworldly forces of The Upside Down are making a comeback. Season 3 of the popular Netflix original series has made this world bigger and by doing so, has made the individual conflicts of its characters more than just the interpersonal. They are all facing the difficulties of growing up, dealing with their raging hormones as the younger set have reached puberty and the rigors of teen angst, while the older kids have to face the “real world” as they take summer jobs and think about college. The stakes have suddenly gone higher but the adventure is just as menacing.
Not wanting to stay within the confines of just battling The Upside Down, show creators The Duffer Brothers have thrown our characters into a whirlwind of personal issues. The younger set involving Eleven (Millie Bobbie Brown), Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Will (Noah Schnapp), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), and Max (Sadie Sink) make the challenging transition into their teenage years. Eleven and Mike are spending too much time together as they explore their relationship and distancing themselves from the group, to the frustration of Hopper (David Harbour). El and Mike aren’t as cool or chill about their relationship as Lucas and Max are, and this distance is causing Will a lot of grief.
He’s feeling left out and while he is desperately trying to keep things in the status quo, all his friends seem to have a world of their own, including Dustin, who comes back from camp with similar news of his own. But while Will is desperately trying to hold on to his circle of friends who have girls on their mind, Dustin has Steve (Joe Keery) to lean on to.
But Steve is now working at Scoops Ahoy, an ice cream parlor, and has to come to terms that his most-popular-guy in high school status has lost its magic. In the boring and routine summer job he shares with the sarcastic and biting Robin (Maya Hawke), it’s only the arrival of Dustin that gives him his old groove back.
On the flip-side, Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) are working at the local paper but Nancy is suffering from the toxic masculinity of the Hawkins Post, and Jonathan seems oblivious to how hard this discrimination is for her.
Hopper runs to Joyce (Winona Ryder) for help on how to deal with the Mike and Eleven situation but she has deep thoughts of her own, instigated by the loss of Bob last season. As the first episode sets up all the internal struggles of each character, The Upside Down is finding its way back into our world with the help of a Russian experiment thousands and thousands of miles away. ‘Stranger Things 3’ brings in the 80s Cold War, while highlighting the dangers of capitalism as a new mall, the Starcourt Mall, has changed the very fabric of the town.
What’s great about season 3 is that it still delivers the exciting thrills of previous seasons -- the science fiction and horror elements -- while deeply rooted within its love for the 80s as depicted in its use of the music and how ingrained the stories are to the setting. The homages are still evident -- most notably are scenes and elements from films like ‘The Thing,’ ‘Alien,’ and ‘Aliens’ -- and celebrates all things that fall into the geek and nerd category.
But to raise the ante, the show pulls these characters out from their little world and into a bigger one. Eleven and Nancy, in their own stories, discover what it means to be empowered women in a patriarchal society at an 80s small town in America. Will has to come to terms of what puberty and the teenage years means to friendships, while Steve has to realise that there is a world much bigger than high school and he never prepared for it.
Joyce and Hopper have the bigger roles to play as parents and adults -- the realisation that the children are growing up and how they have to adjust to this, while also thinking about themselves and what is right for them.
The show manages to play up these themes while splitting the group up into threes or fours as they try to solve the growing disturbances that they know is related to The Upside Down but they don’t have enough evidence yet. This all centers around Billy (Dacre Montgomery), Max’s brother, who has a magnificent turn in this season as the lead antagonist. But don’t worry, there are Russians too for good measure, and a more menacing creature than the Demogorgon.
‘Stranger Things 3’ feels naturally bigger but never goes too far from its original premise as it pushes the characters we have come to love into new territory as they get older and the world gets bigger. It’s bigger, it’s more grown up, but it’s just as fun and just as thrilling as it has been.