Stranger Things 3 exceeds expectations by keeping true to its roots

Netflix's hit thriller stays suspenseful while forging new character dynamics

The third installment of Stranger Things is as binge-worthy as ever.
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More than a year and a half after its last season, Netflix released the third chapter of Stranger Things on July 4, bringing fans back to the 1980s. Season three invites us to once again experience the world of the Upside Down, Eleven’s nosebleeds, and the all-powerful villain, the Mind Flayer. This season doesn't hold back on the classic Stranger Things suspense, exceeding all the expectations its long break built up for fans.
 
This time, the story starts off a year after the events of the second season, and the show does a great job catching us up on what we’ve missed in Hawkins, Indiana. Over the past year, Mike and Eleven have begun dating, Nancy and Jonathan have started internships at local newspaper The Hawkins Post, Joyce has been busy mourning the death of her boyfriend Bob, and Dustin has been away at summer camp, returning with a homemade radio.
 
Nothing is quite the same with the gang of kids, with Mike and Eleven often sneaking off to be alone, Max and Lucas in an on-again, off-again relationship, and Dustin and Will left as the odd ones out. After failing to bring his friends back together, Dustin attempts to use his radio to contact his girlfriend from camp. 
 
Instead, he picks up what sounds like Russian code. 
 
Given that the US was in the midst of the Cold War with the then-Soviet Union in the 1980s, this radio interference is a pretty big deal. After discovering that the signal is coming from Hawkins, Dustin enlists the help of Steve and two excellent season three stars: Robin (Steve’s co-worker) and Erica (Lucas’ younger sister).
 
Meanwhile, Will is worried last season’s antagonist, the Mind Flayer, may be back, despite Eleven banishing it at the end of season two’s finale. Max’s stepbrother Billy begins acting strange and violent after crashing his car. And, as if Hawkins didn’t have enough craziness, the town’s rats begin exploding and turning into goo that slithers into the sewer grates. 
 
Despite these many and seemingly unrelated storylines, Stranger Things excels at weaving together various mysteries over the course of the season to create a cohesive experience. Though after a few episodes viewers understand how the various plotlines intersect, the show constantly leaves you in dark, which makes it difficult not to binge-watch. Throughout most of the first few episodes, I found myself completely confused as to what was happening, but still having a great time. 
 
This season keeps the parts of Stranger Things that have been special from the start. Even though there are intense, suspenseful mysteries, the show never fails to highlight the relationships between characters and the moments they share. 
 
For example, one scene in episode five flashes back and forth between a deadly hospital chase and a tender moment between Mike and Eleven. This keeps the show from being a traditional thriller by digging into the intricacies of each character, humanizing them in the face of the extraordinary supernatural challenges they face.
 
While this season of Stranger Things is extremely plot-heavy, the show succeeds in building and complicating relationships between characters, showcasing the difficulty of teenage relationships and highlighting the importance of female friendships. One major high point of this season is the show’s exploration of the friendship between Eleven and Max, as Max helps Eleven adjust to typical teenage life and the girls support each other through their romantic relationships and breakups.  
 
Season three of Stranger Things has everything we know and love about the franchise—suspense, terrifying monsters, brilliant acting performances, and still no Barb—while keeping it fresh with changing character dynamics and storylines moving beyond what they were in earlier seasons. This chapter of the show builds on the world of the Upside Down and connects it to the politics of the time period.
 
However, as in  previous seasons, make sure you clear out your day if you decide to watch, because once you start, it’s impossible to stop. 
 

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