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Off TopicJul 5, 2019 2:00 pm CT

Off Topic: Stranger Things season three leaves its characters behind for the same monsters

It’s hard not to be extra critical of Stranger Things season three in the age of franchise films, better horror media, and Netflix’s own republish of Neon Genesis Evangelion. In a way, it’s unsurprising that the latest season of the sci-fi horror show lacks teeth. When the billion dollar Marvel movies spend more money on computerized ways to dismantle cities than on good writers, it’s not weird to see Netflix — a company that is gaining competition and isn’t making money — do the same.

Stranger Things season three is now a framework for a show that can repeat itself until the views, retweets, and memes drop below a point that Netflix finds feasible. It’s commodified horror. The town of Hawkins, Indiana is full of people who still don’t believe that something bad is happening underneath their feet. And it’s only a matter of time before the unsupervised children discover a new monster or portal to hell.

The first season of the show understood that structure wasn’t new. Nodding to 80s nostalgia is one thing, but twisting it just enough to keep it modern was what made the show compelling. You love to see Mike, Eleven, Dustin, Max, and Lucas use their young brains to unravel a growing threat to their home. You love to see the shift of jerk Steve Harrington to the dad of the group with his dorky charm. You love to see Winona Ryder be right about everything all of the time.

For some reason we get so little of that in season three. It’s a season more focused on building a new Russian threat to reopen the wounds from before. There has to be justification. You won’t believe what happens to Hawkins next!

All of the time the show spends on making you understand why all of this is happening again leaves the characters in stasis. There are moments of fun with Max and Eleven having a girl’s day at the mall and there’s way more time with Joyce Byers, but it all feels fleeting when we’re back in another big building with a big monster. There’s no more time for the characters that made the show work; there’s only time for them to step back into their roles and smash and shoot another gooey monster.

Stranger Things season three reveals that some things should stay finite. A horror movie like Mandy excels because it’s one strange story that will forever stay that way. It has one, very specific thing to say. You can go back, but the stakes will always be the same. The film has no obligation to try to convince you that it’s all happening again no matter how much your perspective and expectations change on repeated viewings. Even the recent rerelease of Neon Genesis Evangelion isn’t a remake or a sequel — it’s the same thing as before, faults and all. Because at one point in time, there was no desire to underline the point you already made.

Stranger Things season three is the first indication of the series capitalizing on its success. It believes there’s more to Hawkins and the creatures that infect it every season. There are more evil people and evil corporations that want to terrorize and kill the people in it. There’s a new monster that lurks in the shadows. The characters are placed around like chess pieces to be brought together once again by the end. There’s no emotional thrust or payoff. There’s just another round against horror won.

Maybe it’s time for all the tired parents and tired children to move.

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