The Long Plot, Sans Spoilers
Change is coming to Hawkins. The kids are falling in love, evil Russians are in town, Will's monster senses are tingling, and oh, there's a new mall in town.
Everyone's growing up and doing their own thing: Dustin rekindles his bromance with Steve and meets newcomer Robin. And the three, along with Lucas' sassy younger sister Erica, are determined to uncover a secret Russian spy operation deep in the bowels of Starcourt Mall. Nancy and Jonathan, now working at the awfully sexist Hawkins Post, are tracking down a story that leads to an unsettling discovery about the town's rat population and townspeople. And Joyce, working on a hunch that strange things are once again afoot in Hawkins, investigates the old lab with Hopper.
Meanwhile Eleven, Max, Mike, Will, and Lucas—in the midst of worrying about regular teenage things like dating, breaking up, and '80s fashion—are headed on a collision course with The Mind Flayer, who's not only brought Billy "Most Likely To Team Up With An Evil Monster" Hargrove on board, but has also been slowly consolidating power with the "help" of several Hawkins residents.
And because this is Hawkins, Indiana we're talking about, all the weird events turn out to be connected and our heroes come together to save the day once again, facing off with The Mind Flayer and the Russians in a major smackdown at the newly minted Starcourt Mall.
After the dust settles, the lives or our Scooby Gang are radically different. What does that mean for the future? Only time and Season 4 can tell.
The Short, Honest Plot
It turns out there's nothing the Upside Down can throw at Eleven and company—not The Mind Flayer, a meaner Billy, or The Flayed—that's more frightening than change and puberty. Just ask Chief Hopper.
The Actors And Where You Last Saw Them
Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven
After a string of TV guest roles in shows like NCIS, Grey's Anatomy, and Modern Family, came Millie Bobby Brown's breakout role as Eleven in Stranger Things. Since then, she has starred in Godzilla: King of Monsters and made a cameo in Maroon 5's "Girls Like You" video.
Finn Wolfhard as Mike
You know Finn Wolfhard from his star-making turn in the first two seasons of Stranger Things, as well as his role as one of the members of The Losers' Club in the It remake.
Noah Schnapp as Will
Aside from playing Will Byers in all three seasons of Stranger Things, Noah Schnapp also starred in the indie movie Abe and voiced Charlie Brown in The Peanuts Movie.
Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin
Prior to taking on the role of Dustin in Stranger Things, Gaten Matarazzo was in the Broadway musicals Les Miserables and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. No wonder his The Neverending Story theme duet with Suzie was off the charts!
Broadway fans may recognize Caleb McLaughlin as the young Simba in The Lion King musical. You may have also seen him guest star on Blue Bloods, Forever, or Shades of Blue.
Sadie Sink as Max
You may have caught Sadie Sink's guest appearances in The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, The Americans, or Blue Blood, or seen her on American Odyssey, Chuck, or The Last Castle.
Joe Keery as Steve
Before he (eventually) won our hearts as Steve Harrington in Stranger Things, Joe Keery appeared in Molly's Game, After Everything, and guest starred in Chicago Fire and Empire.
Natalia Dyer as Nancy
Natalia Dyer appeared in Hannah Montana: The Movie and more recently on Velvet Buzzsaw alongside Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo.
Charlie Heaton as Jonathan
Apart from Stranger Things, British actor Charlie Heaton is known for his roles in Shut In and The Secret of Marrowbone.
Dacre Montgomery as Billy
He may have terrorized the Hawkins gang as Billy Hargrove but Dacre Montgomery played a more heroic role as Red Ranger in the 2017 Power Rangers movie.
Maya Hawke as Robin
Maya Hawke aka Robin, the gang's latest recruit, is the daughter of Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke. She played Jo March in PBS Masterpiece's Little Women and will make an appearance in Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood starring Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Margot Robbie.
Winona Ryder as Joyce
Where do we start? Having been a member of the Brat Pack of the '80s, Winona Ryder's filmography is long and impressive. Some of her best works include starring roles in Beetlejuice, Heathers, Edward Scissorhands, Bram Stoker's Dracula, Reality Bites, Little Women, and Girl, Interrupted.
David Harbour as Hopper
David Harbour played the titular role in the most recent Hellboy movie, was in Suicide Squad, and had recurring roles in The Newsroom and Pan Am.
Did You Know?
1, Millie Bobby Brown and Noah Schnapp are actual besties! How adorbs is that?!
2. Natalia Dyer and Charlie Heaton, the actors who play onscreen couple Nancy Wheeler and Jonathan Byers, are a couple in real life!
3. Maya Hawke's dad, Ethan Hawke, starred with Winona Ryder in the definitive '90s Gen-X movie, Reality Bites. Plus, both Winona and Maya have played the character of Jo March from Little Women.
4. The show's Starcourt Mall is a real mall in Georgia called Gwinnett Place Mall. Production designers took over one section of the mall, turning the clock all the way back to 1985 with era-appropriate shops, signages, and interiors.
5. Gabriella Pizzolo, who plays Suzie and sings The Neverending Story duet with Dusty-bun, debuted in the Broadway show Matilda the Musical.
6. Speaking of Broadway babies, Caleb McLaughlin and Sadie Sink, who sing a reprise of The Neverending Story theme, starred in The Lion King and Annie, respectively.
7. The movie is set in 1985 and references include: Back to the Future, Phoebe Cates, scrunchies, Day of the Dead, Ralph Macchio, and New Coke, among tons of other '80s easter eggs.
8. Finn Wolfhard is part of a band called Calpurnia!
9. Sometimes the Duffer Brothers blast music, like the Jurassic Park score, while they're filming to amp up the kids' emotions and get bigger reactions.
What My Friends Think:
"The third season served gratuitous '80s pop culture references that even as a '90s kid, made me feel nostalgic. Stranger Things even took it a step further by employing the production clichés of the decade such as blatant product placement and adding a younger precocious sidekick once the cast got older.
"I appreciate that the women in the series had solid character development beyond the boys in their lives. I especially loved Nancy's fight to overcome sexism in the workplace and El finally making her own decisions without interference from Hop and Mike.
"There were times when the campy shoutouts and comedic scenes took away and dampened the horror and suspense that were prominent in the previous seasons. However, I will forgive them for that oversight because they gave us one of the most iconic and LSS-inducing scenes in the series!" —Karen Mae de Vera
"There's a lot to like in the third installment of Stranger Things. I like how the story shifted away from Will Byers (phew!) and brought in a couple of hilarious characters into the mix (Robin and Erica). I also like how absolutely fun Steve and Dustin's scenes were.
"I had my doubts about this season. I thought, 'How are they going to keep this interesting?' I forgot this is the Duffer Brothers we're talking about. I love the story arc of each group of characters and how they all came together, in the end, to face off with the monster. Again, there were a lot of things to get excited about—things both familiar and new. I'm already waiting for Netflix's official announcement of a fourth season." —Jodi Pilar
"If you're my age, you may have been too young to go malling with friends (unchaperoned) in 1985. Stranger Things Season 3 lets you do just that and gives you a taste of the New Coke, lets you try on the latest neon collection from The Gap, and lets you tag along with the Hawkins teen squad where one of them happens to have superpowers.
"ST3 has new characters to love (or hate!), a touch more ick (thanks to evolving monsters), and a lot of feelings (and bodies!) thrown around. Much like in previous seasons, you'll enjoy the music, style, and '80s easter eggs, but this time, bring a few more tissues." —Joanne Baja Enriquez
What I Think:
Puberty has hit the Hawkins OG hard. The kids are taller and ganglier—all elbows and knees—and there's kissing…a lot of kissing, much to Chief Hopper's dismay. Relationships are shifting and changing. The fab five of Eleven, Mike, Will, Caleb, and Dustin are no longer the collective they once were. They're beginning to explore new friendships and relationships; they're branching out.
And it all plays out in such an authentic way. This is exactly what happens when you start becoming teenagers: Girlfriend trouble will take precedence over Dungeon and Dragons (Sorry, Will), girls will want to have sleepovers, and your friends will start hanging out with new people. It's all part of growing up.
Setting up new group dynamics, introducing new characters, and following multiple arcs work in expanding the story and the world of Stranger Things, but it also leads to pacing issues. Jumping from one story arc to another slows down the progress of the story, and it's not until they start tying the different plot lines together and reuniting the gang to face off against the Big Bad that the pace picks up again.
Speaking of, this season's Big Bad is pretty terrifying. After leaving Will's body, the Mind Flayer has found a new host in Billy, and it couldn't have recruited a more perfect candidate. Scary enough on his own, under the Mind Flayer's control, Billy's downright unnerving.
It's not just the thrills, scares, and stakes that have been ramped up this season. They've also tripled down on the humor and the feels. The character developments feel organic and appropriate. The relationship between El and Hopper has deepened in a way that pays off in the last episode. Even Billy's redemption, which comes in the 11th hour, is believable.
There is one development though that doesn't quite gain traction. The romance between Joyce and Hopper feels forced. It's not that you don't see it coming. The possibility has been there since the first season, but the way it was fast racked made it all the more obvious that it was done to serve an agenda: to add emotional heft in the final episode. Sadly, it just doesn't work. The relationship needed more time to settle into the story.
As for the '80s references, fans will be delighted to know that Season 3 looks like 1985 threw up all over it. The dialogue, costume, soundtrack, props, visual cues, the nods to movies—there are so many easter eggs '80s kids will enjoy spotting and dissecting. The wonderful thing though is that Stranger Things manages to pay homage without becoming derivative. The show remains fresh and original, even though it's steeped in '80s nostalgia.
The twists in the third-act have certainly changed the show for good. And it's anyone's guess what's going to happen in the next season. (Although a post-credit scene may explain the fate of one of the characters.) What's clear though is that we're all keeping this curiosity door open until the show returns next year.
I'd Recommend It To:
Stranger Things fans, to fans of the horror genre, kids who grew up in the '80s, kids who are curious about what the '80s were like, film fans, and just about anybody who enjoys tv shows that bring something new, original, and unique.