Stranger Things is a show on Netflix that is pretty universally beloved. It’s the kind of show that, had you told me ten years ago people would be going nuts over, I would have laughed at you. The Walking Dead is another such show. These are both proof of just how mainstream Horror has gone over the years and the fact that such forbidden taboos as monsters and gore are now accepted fact amongst most folks in America. And while 15 year old Kelly would have celebrated this (“hey, see, you’re not that weird, man, most people like what you like”), sometimes 50 year old Kelly cringes. Something special seems lost, but that’s the price you pay when you grow up and the society around you changes. There’s some good things that come with it, but you also have to leave a lot of that innocence and first discovery behind where they become things to reminisce about, not to ever experience again. And in a roundabout way, this leads us back to the new season of Stranger Things, and the themes that permeate it at the core.
What they’ve given us this season, in eight episodes, is an almost undistilled thriller. Gone are some of the lingering plot points from the first two seasons, gone is any real fluff or navel-gazing at the 80’s. They pretty much get right into it and go, baby, go, go, go. The action starts and never lets up, with each episode building on the one before it until it becomes almost impossible not to binge the last four episodes. The show is comfortable in its own skin, and it seems to have found a comfortable stride, as well. We get who these characters are, we get what makes them tick, there’s no longer any real reason for backstory or set up. We’ve arrived. And the Duffer Brothers take us on a wild ride from there.
That’s not to say there’s no character development. Oh, no. That would be cutting the show short on what it’s best at. We see these kids start to grow up, and it’s painful at times (especially the ending) but God is it real. You get all the achy feels for what’s happening because if you’re an adult, you’ve been where these kids have been at some point. You learn that not every bond is unbreakable and the magic of childhood starts to dwindle the older you get. Yeah, you can hang onto pieces of it, but the purity and the power will fade, no matter how hard you try to hold on to it. This season is about facing the awkward teen years and staring into adulthood, and none of that is easy to go through.
Oh, and there’s a “new” monster, some zomboid humans, and more gore than ever before. Also, Russians. Old characters return, friendly faces that remind us of the good times even as the sands shift beneath our feet and things change as the future comes barreling towards these kids (and the adults—they get a lot to face and deal with, too).
There’s really not much to complain about here, although I have heard some complaints. Mostly it centers around the 80’s Nostalgia. “We get it, you have more money, but you don’t have to shove all those 80’s songs down our throats!” “This show wears its influences on its sleeves too much.” Yada yada yada. I guess you’re just going to have to live with these things because to be honest, they’ve done it since Episode One, Season One, and they’re not going to stop. Do they idealize the 80’s too much? Yeah, probably so. But that’s what people tend to do when they look back on their childhood (as this show does for me since I grew up in the 80’s), taking the best bits and forgetting the rest. Although this season does see them dip into that darkness a little more. There’s a lot of awful things about the 80’s, from AIDS to Reagan to Iran-Contra and homelessness. Most people were oblivious to these things while they were going on, so it’s fairly accurate to have a small, idyllic suburban town in Indiana not really facing up to these things. Yet. You can see it all creeping in on the edges and it will be interesting to see if the show brings these kinds of elements in more. They actually do sort of address one sore point, but I can’t bring it up without giving a major spoiler or two. So I’ll let that lie, for now.
Overall, what we’ve gotten is another great season, maybe the best one yet, that is full of heartbreak and delight, action and dark, somber moments. We’re getting to see these kids grow up and it does kind of suck, because the joy and innocence is seeping away, being replaced by real-life reality. The final episode’s epilogue really drives home this point and it was very, very painful to watch, because I’ve been there before, and most of you all probably have, too.
But that doesn’t mean the magic is gone, because it’s not, and it never will go away, if you stay young at heart. And that’s what this show is so good at doing, keeping you young at heart, and that’s where its appeal lies. This season is another step on the journey, so go enjoy it while you have it, because it’s the kind of show that 15 year old Kelly would have loved just as much as 50 year old Kelly does.
4 out of 4 Buckets of Blood
Kelly is the author of dozens of stories and dozens of reviews, he likes to write, he likes to read, he likes going to the movies, and he loves to laugh. He hails from the wilds of Kentucky and if you'd like to see more of his work, check out his website: www.kellymhudson.com
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