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**Season 3 - SPOILER-FREE Review**
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Stranger Things first appeared in our lives back in 2016 with its phenomenal first season, followed by a less amazing yet still entertaining Season 2. I was pretty excited for the third adventure with one of the best (if not the best) young ensemble casts ever. The acting in this show is unbelievable, even more when considering the age of most of the kids (14-17). Millie Bobby Brown is 15-years-old! Fifteen! Weirdly, the show will only be eligible for next year's Emmy's, but if she doesn't get nominated AND win, I sincerely don't know what she needs to do more. The seamless ease that Millie has in showing emotion and delivering those subtle expressions that only the best actors can achieve after years of experience ... She's going to break the Oscar record for youngest Best Actress / Best Supporting Actress winner. It's meant to happen.
I started with her because last season I handed the highlight crown to Noah Schnapp (Will Byers) who also gives an excellent performance, even if his character has less to do this time around (similar to the debut season). Of all the young actors, Millie is so much ahead of her fellow colleagues that she indirectly diminishes Sadie Sink's (Max) performance. They have completely different emotional responses to similarly painful events. Not that Sadie isn't able to transmit her feelings (I enjoyed both her and her character a lot more this season), but jumping from Eleven showing 200% of her emotion to any other character is always going to feel that the other actor/actress isn't at her level (truthfully though, they aren't).
In addition to Millie, the other standout has to be David Harbour as Jim Hopper. This might be the funniest season so far, as well as the most emotionally powerful. Both are due to Hopper's arc and Harbour's award-worthy performance. He's hilarious, happy, sad, angry, drunk, frustrated, proud, ... His arc is definitely the one that serves as a pillar to this season's structure. Without him, this season wouldn't be near to the quality it is. Harbour's chemistry with Winona Ryder (Joyce Byers) is palpable, and that's basically enough for me to have a great time. However, The Duffer Brothers really deserve a lot of credit. The writing is some of the best I've seen in the last few years.
Everyone hated Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) in the first season, but his development got such a fantastic treatment that now everyone loves him. The same happens with Billy Hargrove (Dacre Montgomery). I genuinely hated him last season due to how cliche and lazily written he was. Now, even though his backstory isn't anything innovative, he's undoubtedly seen as a more compelling character, which proves that Stranger Things really doesn't have a single bad character (main or supporting, at least). Max also gets a better script, plus her on-screen time with Eleven helped the character become more interesting. Nevertheless, how's the main gang?!
Well, Gaten Matarazzo (Dustin Henderson) spends less time with his original friends, but his side adventure with Steve, Erica Sinclair (Priah Ferguson), and Robin Buckley (Maya Hawke), the newest addition to the show which is also the best surprise of the season, is also pretty entertaining even if it's connected to one of my issues (more on that soon). Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard), Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin), Will, Eleven, and Max have a whole romantic subplot that I surprisingly enjoyed mostly due to how realistic and heartfelt The Duffer Brothers wrote it. Obviously, comedy is always a must inside this group, and I wasn't disappointed, having dropped more than just a few laughs throughout the episodes.
Finally, Charlie Heaton (Jonathan Byers) and Natalia Dyer (Nancy Wheeler) also have their own inspiring journey, the one that addresses the most how people had to live in the 80s. Dealing with discrimination, workplace injustices, and different lifestyles are put in perspective always through unforced dialogue and/or events. I really loved this season structure. How each group of characters has their own side adventure so that in the end, they can all team-up together to defeat the evil within Hawkins. I never felt bored or less engaged in a story. Season 2 had that horrible episode with Kali (Linnea Berthelson), and some episodes seemed to drag. Season 3 not only has the perfect runtime for each episode, but the story that they cover during each chapter is always remarkably captivating.
Of course, I always felt more entertained when Eleven and Hopper were on-screen, so their subplots obviously became my favorites. However, they don't take anything away from the remaining stories or characters. Evidence number one would be the best ending of the show. It's hard to hold off the tears during those last few moments, especially if you went through the same event (which 99% of people definitely did unless you had literally zero friends growing up). Technically, the show proves that you don't need a big budget to provide visual delight. From the appropriated costume design to the addictive 80s' style soundtrack, everything is on-point with tons of practical effects being employed. The CGI regarding the monsters and everything that comes with them are convincing enough, and the action sequences are mostly shot well. The editing gets a little sloppy near the final episodes, but nothing too serious.
My main and only issue with this season has to be the actual main plot. The thread that connects all of the subplots and groups of characters that I've been praising so much. Besides being very similar to the last season (monster comes, possesses people, and you know the rest), it's worse regarding the "how" and "why" the monsters came back. There's a whole story involving Russians, secret bases and codes, that feel too cheesy and over-the-top, reaching a level of absurdity that even affected some action scenes "a la Fast and Furious". It's unusual for the main plot to be as cliche and uninteresting as it is, while the side stories are astonishingly good.
All in all, Stranger Things delivers yet another fantastic season. Its debut continues to hold the #1 spot, but Season 3 is so much better than its predecessor. Once again, the characters are what make this show a massive success. Even separating everyone into different groups, the cast's phenomenal chemistry remains intact. Millie Bobby Brown takes her crown back from Season 2's highlight, Noah Schnapp, and guarantees herself tons of nominations and hopefully a few awards, due to a perfect display of her emotional range. David Harbour is right behind her, and then comes the rest of the ensemble cast, one of the best to ever grace a TV screen. The Duffer Brothers are masterful screenwriters, presenting extremely developed character scripts, as well as funny, exciting and entertaining side stories. Despite a less strong main plot, Stranger Things finishes this season with the best ending of the entire series. If you're not crying during the last 10 minutes … I don't know. Can't wait for Season 4, even if I would be more than satisfied to see it end its run now.