I debated myself with the rating on this one and nearly gave it Recommends with Confidence. It is borderline. There were clearly nods to the Tumblrinas that the Duffer Brothers felt had to be made. Robin turned out to be one of these.
SPOILERS from here on out.
I recently heard that there was a new trend among Gen Z kids. They loadup their phones with a style of music called Vaporwave and cruise around abandoned malls. Lost in a nostalgia for a time they never knew. Our time. Gen-X’s time.
It’s hard to think of the Eighties without remembering the malls. They were such a big part of our lives back then.
They were the place you went to hang with your friends. While the girls were trying on the clothes athe Gap, the guys would head to Sam Goody and then Walden Books. Off to the arcade after that. Depending on your interests you might stop by Babbage’s to see what the latest Sierra title was. Everybody would rendezvous at the food court because there was never an argument about do we eat Chinese, Italian or fast food? Just get what you want. and sit at the same table. Maybe you’d finish things off with a movie, like Red Dawn.
And those are the twin themes this year, Red Dawn and the 1980s mall. Its those darn Russians that are trying to reopen the Crack. They tried to do it in their own backyard but it turns that that it’s easier to open if you are in spot where that has already been done once. Hence, moving in and secretly setting up shop in Hawkins Indiana.
And in the Mall of all places! Dirty Red bastards!
This season is a much stronger effort than Stranger Things II. The story is tighter, the flow is better and some of the long standing problems that the show has developed were dealt with. We are long past the exploration phase. We know these characters now and we have expectations for them and these were largely met.
I’ll start with the characters I liked least in the whole show. Nancy and Jonathon. These were the two characters that had no reason to be there so they were given “things to do.” Nancy and Jonathon’s story arc was completed the first time they screwed last season. While I found, Nancy somewhat engaging in the first season, I took sharp dislike to her in the second and frankly I can’t stand her now. She has gone from insecure small town princess to self righteous liberal harpy.
Nancy and Jonathon really didn’t have any reason to be there so far as the overall story was concerned. They could have been lifted out of the show completely and the narrative wouldn’t have been affected in the least.
Nancy’s only purpose this year was to provide totally cheesy work place harassment tumblr-bait. Nancy’s troubles at the newspaper, (yes, she is now a crusading journalist), were ridiculously over the top. Maybe in the Sixties a woman would go through that stuff but it was period inappropriate for a show set in the Eighties. You did NOT send girls to make the coffee by then. In fact, it was something of a joke. I remember a TV movie where the boss asks a Liberated Woman to pour him a cup of coffee. She courageously says it’s not in her job description. Boss gets up to get his own coffee and his leg is in a cast. Liberated Woman is aghast.
The thing to remember about the Duffers is that they were born in the mid-Eighties. They are fans of the Eighties but they weren’t a part of them. What they have to go off of is largely pop-culture. And Nine to Five came out in 1980. If you go off of 1980s pop-culture that’s what the workplace was like for women, even though no one dared do that by then.
When all is said and done they should have just shipped off Nancy and Jonathon to college because there was no such thing as a cub-reporter by 1985, everyone had to have a Journalism degree.
That’s it for the bad.
The kids are growing up and relationships are changing with time. This was dealt with realistically. I think we all had friends when we were pre-teens that suddenly stopped being friends when high school rolled around. That was represented by Will.
Will is trying to hold on to things as they were and they just aren’t that way anymore. And that turned out to be a painful lesson for him.
Lucas slipped into his new role as relationship counselor pretty easily and naturally. It wasn’t just giving him something to do, it worked in context.
Last season I found the character of Max to be an eye-roller. She really was just a feminist insert fifth wheel butting her way into an all boys club. But this year I instantly warmed to her when she decided to take Elle under her wing and teach her to do girl stuff. This felt like a very real and natural expansion for both characters and it worked perfectly. Elle needed a female friend and so did Max.
Hopper and Joyce team up more effectively this season . Joyce becomes something more than a shrieking hysteric. She has grown a bit. Hopper however is backsliding, a little more disheveled and he is smoking more. He had cleaned himself up when he adopted Elle. But now she is drifting away from him and into her teen years. Having lost one daughter he is having a hard time adjusting to the idea of losing another. The way Hopper handles it is expected and the conflicts that spring from that flow organically.
Making Billy a lifeguard was little short of genius because that is exactly the kind of job a kid like Billy would get.
Sad news for Billy though, he becomes the leader of the body snatchers. Not really an Eighties theme but definitely a Cold War one. It fit in reasonably well. Which reminds me of something else that grated just a bit. Billy’s relationship towards his step sister was borderline abusive, there was clearly no affection between them at all last season. That was made explicitly clear. And this season that all got swept under the carpet for the sake of drama. They really should have put in one or two scenes that showed that Max and Billy were in a good place now. This isn’t a minor inconsistency, its expecting the show’s fans to forget about a fairly major plot point from the last season.
Steve has come down in the world quite a bit. The former king of Hawkin’s high school is now slinging ice cream in the mall in a humiliating sailor suit. This feels pretty Gamma to me. A good guy can’t be an Alpha so he has to come down in the world. Steve also seems to have lost a few IQ points but given all of his cranial trauma some cognitive impairment was pretty much inevitable. He is paired with a girl who at first appeared to be a love interest for him and I strongly suspect that was supposed to be case with Robin when she was first created.
I have the feeling that turning her into a lesbian was a last minute change during production. Maya Hawke wasn’t playing Robin as a lesbian friend during most of the show. She was acting like a girl who had had a crush on Steve then moved on from that and now those feelings were being reawakened during the adventure they were on. And Steve was reciprocating. It smells like orders suddenly came down from on high at Netflix that LGBTQASDF representation needed to be added. The Duffers didn’t have that many new characters to choose from so, Robin it was. Poor Steve.
The Duffer’s worked well with established chemistry. Dustin and Steve played well off each other last season and it continued to work this year on their own sub-adventure. Along with his non-love interest and Lucas’ little sister Erica. I normally would have found her an obnoxious addition but turning a little black girl into a freemarket Reaganaught won me over. She also had one of the better jokes, “you can’t spell America without, Erica.” What made it funny was Dustin having to stop and work that one out.
The Duffers also dealt more effectively with the problem of Eleven being OP as hell. Last season it wasn’t really addressed at all. They just shipped her off to Chicago for the failed pilot thing starring her sister. Basically they had to get her out of the show somehow or Season II wouldn’t have lasted more than three episodes. She is just too powerful. At first they showed Billy to be a more formidable enemy than the Demi-Dogs. But they finally addressed the matter by stripping Elle of the telekinesis powers, possibly temporarily.
There are two complaints from the comments that I think I need to address.
One, no there are no murdered pets this year. But there are plenty of exploding rats. Gore is present. If that’s a turn off then don’t turn in.
Two, there is a scene, where the action halts temporarily so Dustin can sing the theme to Never Ending Story with his Mormon girlfriend. Now, this scene did work for me. Larry Corriea once told me that when you are writing an action scene it has to be designed like roller coaster. It can’t be all drops and jinks or the rider becomes immured to whats going on and loses interest. You have to take a break during the action if it’s a prolonged action scene or the audience will actually get bored by all the action. Call it stimulus overload.
By and large the Duffers are still getting the Eighties right. The feel is there. It’s not quite a trip to the past but it’s reasonably close. The casting choices have reflected the period. First it was Winona Ryder then Paul Reiser. This year it was Cary Elwes and I missed him completely. I watched this entire show and didn’t spot the fact that Wesley from the Princess Bride was playing the evil mayor.
The ending felt like a hard wrap out but that could be subject to change.
The post credit ending felt, completely tacked on. I strongly suspect it was a last minute addition. I am pretty sure the Duffers felt the show had run it’s course. They tied things up with all the characters but suddenly they got told to set up a lead in for a possible next season.