[This post discusses the events of Stranger Things 3.]
The third season of Stranger Things 3 puts a definitive cap on poor Billy’s time as The Mind Flayer’s mouthpiece and The Starcourt’s rule over local teen’s wallets. But an ongoing television serial must leave some questions unanswered, and the following are the queries we’ll be rolling over and over in our heads until Stranger Things 4 arrives.
The end of Stranger Things 3 is one of bittersweet farewells: El and Mike, Mike and Will, Nancy and Jonathan, Joyce and Hopper, the Byers and everyone in Hawkins. But there’s also the parting of El and her telekinetic and telepathic abilities, those blessings/curses she carries with her after surviving a hellish childhood under Dr. Brenner’s tutelage. The events of “Chapter Eight: The Battle Of Starcourt” pave El a path for moving on, but it’s also the first time in the series that she was unable to save the day. Mike tells her “they’ll come back, I know they will,” and friends don’t lie (but boyfriends do). Until then, living in a new town, with a new family, Eleven has a fresh slate and her first real shot at living an everyday kid’s existence. But is it worth being haunted by the memories of her traumatic upbringing without being able to fight those demons off with otherworldly strengths? How much of Stranger Things 4 will involve El attempting to relocate this part of herself? And can she please do it without visiting her sister in Chicago? [Erik Adams]
David Harbour’s comments on the matter notwithstanding, there’s plenty to puzzle over regarding the prisoner referred to only as “The American” in the Kamchatka stinger—and is it at all possible that it’s Chief Hopper? Seems unlikely, given the silhouetted soldiers who were vaporized after Joyce turned the shutdown keys and put an end to the Russians’ Upside Down expedition. But we never trust a TV “death” unless it leaves behind a corpse, and there remains a chance, however slim, that Hop was blown off the catwalk by the explosion and then carried away in whatever quick-sweep escape left the underground lab devoid of Red Army representatives upon Dr. Owens’ arrival. Speaking of which… [Erik Adams]
Marking the year’s second-most surprising Paul Reiser comeback (after the resurrection of Mad About You), Department of Energy scientist Dr. Sam Owens is among the government officials who swoop in after the climax of “The Battle Of Starcourt.” When last we saw Owens, he was repaying a debt to Hopper: The chief saved the doc’s life, and the doc forged a birth certificate naming the chief Eleven’s father. Now Owens is back, and facing down a glowing crack beneath what used to be the local mall. And the look on his face is loaded, to say the least. Is it recognition? Terror? Or something more… sinister? Whatever he’s thinking, it means Owens’ Stranger Things story is far from over. [Erik Adams]
Read one way, Will’s insistence that he and his friends go about their summers like they usually do—secluded in the Wheelers’ basement among the mythical creations of Gary Gygax—and his destruction of Castle Byers are the expressions of a teenager who wants to return to a simpler time in his life: Before the Upside Down, before an actual Demogorgon, before superpowered girlfriends. Read from a different angle, however, and the “girl” part of that list is most telling. It’s been speculated that Will might be gay since the show’s first season, and the argument he has with Mike in “Chapter Three: The Case Of The Missing Lifeguard”—in which Mike says to Will “it’s not my fault you don’t like girls”—is the latest bit of onscreen information lending credence to that speculation. But that’s also the type of thing that a cishet teen boy born in the 1970s would say in the heat of the moment to wound a friend who hasn’t shown any romantic interest in girls or boys. Whatever he meant, and whatever it means about Will, it’s already prompted some lovely writing on how Will’s storylines, whatever their outcome, reflect the realities of growing up gay. [Erik Adams]
When Joyce closes the door to the old Byers house, she’s closing the door on one phase of her and her family’s life: Their time in Hawkins, her marriage, that time when Will was trapped in another dimension and could only communicate through flickering lights, that other time when a destructive entity from said dimension possessed Will and he made a bunch of cryptic drawings that turned out to be a map of underground tunnels. You’d think that maybe Joyce, Will, Jonathan, and their new surrogate family member Eleven might be able to leave all that emotional baggage at the house, but there’s just one problem: Wherever the Byers are moving to, they’re bringing with them the two people on Earth who have the most powerful connections to the Upside Down. The gate’s closed, El’s psychic link to that realm is disrupted, and all those fireworks surely loosened whatever grip The Mind Flayer still had on Will, but if the forces of the Upside Down could find them before, surely they’ll be able to find them beyond the Hawkins city limits. Otherwise, what’s going to be the looming, 1986-centric threat of Stranger Things 4: Halley’s Comet? The Brain computer virus? Captain Midnight? (We’re afraid Hands Across America and the officials at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant are already taken.) [Erik Adams]
Look, we’re way the hell overdue for some time travel on the wistful, ’80s-inspired supernatural show. One may have assumed it was time, what with Back To The Future being all over this latest season’s marketing, but, on the surface at least, the film’s theatrical release simply served to add some cultural texture to the events. What if, though, the film’s presence was more of a harbinger for what’s to come? Something happened when the laser exploded, and whatever it was did something to Hopper, who is most certainly not dead. Could that post-credits scene—the one with a cell holding an unnamed “American”—actually take place during another timeline? Was Hopper sucked through time somehow? A glimpse into the past would be helpful, after all—just how did the Russians get mixed up in all of this? Is their Demogorgon the Demogorgon from the first season? Let us not forget that Stranger Things was originally going to explore the rumored Montauk Project, a U.S. government operation involving Nazi scientists and efforts to unlock time travel. It’s curious, then, that the specific snippets of Back To The Future we hear would have to do with the creation of a time machine. There’s also that extended scene of Steve and Robin unraveling the complexities of time travel as depicted in the film, as well as Max and Steve flaunting Marty McFly’s skateboard and vest, respectively. There’s also this theory that made our eyes glaze over. Maybe that’ll sell you? [Randall Colburn]
Murray and Joyce share a unique bond now, having foiled both a mind-flaying monster and a Russian intelligence operation while also losing people they cared about in Alexei and Hopper, respectively. There’s also the weird message viewers will hear if they dial up Murray’s home phone number, which Hopper spits out in the sixth episode of this latest season. “If this is Joyce—Joyce, thank you for calling, I’ve been trying to reach you,” Murray says in a prerecorded message. “I have an update. It’s about—well, it’s about—it’s probably best if we speak in person. It’s not good or bad but it’s something.” Interesting. [Randall Colburn]
Arnold Schwarzenegger fans got a special treat this season in Grigori, a Russian heavy with a penchant for assault weapons and unflinching gazes. No mere human could’ve survived getting chucked into a spinning, malfunctioning laser, but, as we’ve learned time and again, nobody’s dead until we’ve seen the mangled body. Also, Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop will hit theaters roughly two years after the events of season three, and if there’s anything that film taught us it’s that there is hope yet for the mangled body. Duffers, we beg of you: Give us Evil Russian Robocop. [Randall Colburn]
Cary Elwes was a major get for Stranger Things, though most would agree that his sniveling Larry Kline didn’t make much of an impact in this outing. Sure, he was in bed with the Russians, but a few beatdowns and an abrupt arrest don’t make for much of an arc. Luckily, as we saw with Paul Reiser’s Dr. Owens and Brett Gelman’s Murray this season, the Duffer Brothers aren’t quick to forget about their supporting players, and it’s likely that Kline’s Russian ties could make him relevant as the story moves forward. Also, when I had a chance to interview Elwes ahead of the premiere, he noted that what linked he and Billy’s characters was their individual “god complexes.” He continued, “Where did Kline get this desire to be somebody who was interested in power and using it for his own benefit? That’s obviously a theme [the Duffer Brothers] like to play with. So, as Billy reaches the apotheosis of his character, we’re now looking at another character who has similar themes.” By the sound of it, whatever evil force rears its head next season could have an ally in the disgraced mayor. [Randall Colburn]
Because you don’t usher an unstoppable killing across the veil just to torture prisoners. The Soviet Union has weaponized the Upside Down, and this just might be the closest thing you’ll get to a realization of that fan theory about the disaster at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant being related to Stranger Things. (Hey, if it gets Jared Harris on the show…) [Erik Adams]
Not that we’re complaining. If there’s one corner of ’80s nostalgia that’s heretofore gone untapped, it’s the joys of the local video store, the towering, VHS-laden shelves of which will undoubtedly enrapture our young heroes in much the same way the Starcourt Mall did in season three.