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'Stranger Things' season 3 review: Deaths, teen romance, and gore make the action-packed show the thriller of the year

One of the best parts about season 3 is probably how Eleven is not an emo-80's kid anymore! But that doesn't mean she is any less 'bitchin'

This article contains MAJOR spoilers for 'Stranger Things' season 3.

Let's call in the fourth of July celebrations with 'Stranger things' season 3, shall we? It's the perfect occasion to reunite us with a show that pretty much built the groundwork for the success of streaming network originals, especially if your expectations from the third installment has been biased owing to the disaster that the preceding season was. However, season 3 just raises the bar in terms of everything: the characters, the setting, the background score, and more. 

One of the best parts about season 3 is probably how Eleven is not an emo-80's kid anymore! But that doesn't mean she is any less bitchin'. Millie Bobby Brown brings to the screen a vivid prismatic charm shining through her somewhat restrained but still daunting portrayal of the telekinetic girl, that just gets better with every passing episode. That being said, there's also no denying that summer in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana, kicks off slow. The first two episodes are all about showing our tiny little 'Stranger kids' having evolved into lankier, slightly grown-up version of themselves, but for all the drama-driven action and fun teased in the trailer, the progression of all things bright and sunny is a little too painfully slow, so much so that you wouldn't want to watch beyond the first two episodes. 

'Stranger Things' season 3 has a story to tell about everyone on the show. (IMDb)

We see a pastel and neon painted Hawkins where Eleven and Mike (Finn Wolfhard) have just discovered how cool the concept of making out is, but the codependency runs strong in the couple who are barely 14 yet. Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Max (Sadie Sink), on the other hand, are one of those bickering couples from high school who are constantly calling each other out but can't spend a day without seeing each other. And after Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) returns from science camp, he comes bearing the news of having acquired himself a girlfriend too, who much to the shock of his friends, turns out to be real right at the very second last episode! The only one still obsessed with their childhood and still in love with Dungeons and Dragons is Will Byers (Noah Schnapp.) 

The first two episodes are a lot about establishing where the characters are after we left them in season 2 back in 2017. We greet them in the summer of 1985, just one year after the events of season 2, so that means Nancy (Natalia Dyer), Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) and Steve (Joe Keery) are fresh out of high school. But as enjoyable as it is to watch Nancy and Jonathan come together as a strong, supportive, and probably one of the most mature relationships on TV currently, it's sad to see Steve struggling to fit into a life outside of the high school hierarchy. Worry not, his and Dustin's bond is just as tight, and he also manages to almost fall for his coworker who turns out to be a lesbian. No big deal. Watching Billy Hargrove (Dacre Montogomery) get pretty much ogled at by the Hawkins' mommies might make you a little uncomfortable, but Jim Hopper's (David Harbour) new aura is a fresh and welcome change for that, and Winona Ryder's Joyce is just as warm and welcoming, with a dash of hyper energy that comes armed with quick wit, unexpected ranting, and uninhibited curiosity ever ready to investigate Hawkins' secrets.

Luckily, all of that changes soon when Billy gets possessed by the Mind Flayer right at the end of the first episode. In a classic case of Russians versus America, we find out that the gate to the Upside Down that had been closed by Eleven is being reopened by the Russians, thus bringing back the big bad of this season - the Mind Flayer. And that is something we need to address because 'Stranger Things' has never been any gorier than it gets this time around. Made of what looks like blood and gooey tissue, the Mind Flayer latches on to its host, which is, of course,  troubled Billy, and thereon begins the saga of Billy bringing people into what looks like a colony of the possessed - sort of like the Mind Flayer's very own cult. Each of them dies to explode into more blood and tissues, which finds its way to latch on to the main body of the Mind Flayer and Will acts like our very own seer who gets a Spidey-sense trickling down the back of his neck every time the big bad is approaching.

Billy (Dacre Montgomery) is the prime host of the Mind Flayer this season. (IMDb)

The Mind Flayer first infects the rats, which builds up an intriguing subplot for Nancy and Jonathan who pretend to be reporters from The Hawkins Post and try to investigate the sudden rat infestation in and around Hawkins. And this gets them fired from their position as interns from the newspaper. This brings us to the other aspect that season 3 really, really has going for it: a compelling list of secondary characters who actually get more interesting than the mains at times. Nancy and Jonathan's boss is quite similar to the seedy, egotistical, selfish Mayor Klein, and Cary Elwes delivers the role with such precision, that you spend a lot of time wishing something really bad happens to this man who is obviously in with the Russians, and is using the new attraction of the town - The Starcourt Mall as a place of action to open up the gate to the Upside Down. 

Speaking of secondary characters, we have our favorite snarky PI Murray Bauman (Brett Gelman) back with extra dosages of sass, underlined by impeccable comic timing. Peggy Miley's Mrs. Driscoll is relentless in her attempt at being a host for the Mind Flayer, while Mike and Nancy's mother, Mrs. Wheeler spends quite a considerable amount of time trying to get Billy into her pants. And then there is Maya Hawke's very restrained but equally entertaining too-cool-for-school character Robin, who is Steve's coworker at the ice cream shop in the mall. But the best of the lot has to be Miss Erica Sinclair who hates nerds with a passion but ultimately realizes she is actually one herself. Yep, all of that happens, as the kids and the adults team up to form their separate armies, trying to investigate the Russians, get deeper into the mall's secrets, and also trap Billy in the process.

Hopper (L) and Joyce (R) make for the classic bad boy falls for quirky smartass vibes. Source: Netflix

Sadly - and we are extremely sorry for this - but all the death spoilers and teasers were right. Billy and Hopper both die in the quest to protect Eleven. We don't know which one was sadder because to see Billy come around after two seasons full of bullying, and actually save a powerless Eleven at the very last moment from the Mind Flayer was heartbreaking. But things just get worse with Hopper dying in the explosion from closing the gate using crazy amounts of electricity. Throughout the season we see this clear cut tension between him and Joyce - they bicker back and forth, promise to go on dates, but then happens the worst and we actually have to sit there, watch the most wholesome dad of the year (sorry, Steve!) die with a smile on his face, staring at the woman he so clearly adores.

The smartest things the writers did this season was to leave plenty of scope for a prospective season 4 plot to kick off. Eleven moves away with the Byers, and as heart-wrenching as the goodbye is, there's an end credit scene where we are shown a Russian containment facility, and there's an 'American' seemingly imprisoned there and that is enough to keep our fingers crossed for an epic Hopper comeback. Let's hope it's true; what would the story be without him anyway? 

'Stranger Things' season 3 premiered on July 4, on Netflix, and is available for streaming now.