Stranger Things 1 and 2 are masterpieces of modern television, and season 4 is close to a masterpiece. The storytelling, acting performances, plotting and drama are top-notch. The less said about Stranger Things 3 the better, though I will actually have plenty to say about it. I rank them 2->1–>4——–>3. Here are the details.
Rank #1 — Season 2: The Year of Estrangement
The sophomore season gives us the most to care about. All the main characters are alienated in some way, whether from others or themselves, and suffering from things they barely speak of. Eleven is isolated, torn between a new father figure and a mother she wants to find; Mike is a shell, believing his girlfriend dead but unable to let go; Will is possessed; Nancy is drowning in guilt; Dustin can only find acceptance in a dangerous pet (Dart). It took nerve for the Duffers to treat their characters this honestly, and especially to emasculate its lead character Mike while keeping Eleven out of reach until the end. This is what sequels should be like, and for me it was the height of the series (until season 4 came along), not only in terms of the thrills and scares, but the emotional ride. It all comes together in a hugely dramatic payoff. Stranger Things 2 is the ultimate season because it’s immersive and doesn’t flinch from the cost of what went on before.
Here are the second season’s strengths:
- Emo Mike. Mike is no longer the spirited leader of season 1, but down and sour, especially to his friends, except Will — the only one Mike considers worthy of his affection. Mike’s logic seems to be that since he’s suffering, then so should fucking everyone else, which is why he finds Lucas and Dustin so intolerable. Mike even shits on Max, copying Lucas’s hostility towards Eleven in season 1, oblivious to his hypocrisy. Fans have complained about this bad-attitude “Emo Mike”, and they’re probably the same ones who complained about the way Lucas mistreated El in season 1. All they’re saying is that they don’t like good storytelling. This was the necessary direction for Mike Wheeler’s character, and it’s what makes his story-arc so compelling. The loss of El has shattered him. I loved Mike even more in this season than the first, which is saying something.
- Darker Roads / Halloween Theme. Where in season 1 the influence of Stephen Spielberg balances that of Stephen King, season 2 favors the latter with a persistent dark tone. The darkness of the season aligns with the theme of estrangement, which makes the end game so rewarding as the Snow Ball pays it off. The Exorcist homages are another huge score, making season 2 by far the scariest. The elements of Halloween — both inside and outside the narrative (Stranger Things 2 was released right before Halloween of 2017) — also supplement the horror theme brilliantly. It’s the boys’ favorite time of year, as it was certainly mine when I was their age.
- Eleven and Will. Season 2 contains, no exaggeration, some of the best child acting seen on TV: Will’s possession scenes, Eleven’s psychic tantrum in Hopper’s cabin, Mike’s rage against Hopper for keeping El hidden, and more. Of course, these kids are natural actors anyway, but in Stranger Things 2 they hit a record high. Will’s possession scenes in particular run the gamut, as he throws convulsive fits one moment, trembles in terror the next, and then stares down people with the menace of a demon. The shouting match between El and Hopper — the psychic tantrum culminating in the exploding windows — is Ross Duffer’s favorite scene of the season, and you can certainly understand why.
- New Teams. The Duffers mixed things up to progress character arcs, and so it’s not always the same groups doing the same things. So we get El and Hopper together, before El leaves to find her lab sister. Mike and Will are paired up (since Mike can’t stomach anyone else), before Will gets completely possessed. Lucas and Max bond, feeling the seed of romance. By far the most cherished pairing is Steve and Dustin, who find common ground in their girl troubles; Steve has just lost Nancy, and Dustin has no hope of winning Max. So Steve proceeds to counsel Dustin in all the right ways of hitting on girls, which calls forth amusing remarks about sexual electricity. Nancy and Jonathan are the only repeat-team from season 1, which works fine, as they take their sleuthing skills to a higher level. All of these pairings were good calls.
- The Lost Sister. Many people dislike this episode and they are wrong. It’s a crown jewel that gets better with each viewing. It takes Eleven on a much needed dark journey so that she can come to terms with her homicidal urges, and see how clearly she needs her friends in Hawkins once she is away from them. She experiences the lure of vigilantism, but ultimately rejects that when she realizes that one of her victims is more pathetic than evil. The episode ends in a superb scene, starting with her vision of Mike and Hopper (who are just realizing that Will has unleashed an army of demo-dogs on the lab), to Kali’s use of an invisibility cloak to escape the cops, to El insisting that she return home — not because her Hawkins friends can save her, but because she can save them.
- The Finale. As excellent as the season-1 finale is, it has nothing on the season-2 climax. Unlike the demogorgon, the Mind Flayer is sentient and all-powerful, and clearly too much for El to destroy. She must shut the Gate on the thing, sever its ties to our world, and isolate it in the Upside Down. In so doing, she’ll kill everything connected to it, including the army of demo-dogs, but also Will. So Will needs an exorcism — by spatial heaters instead of holy water — and it’s a great homage to the scariest film ever made. Meanwhile, Steve and the kids attack on the underground hub to draw the demo-dogs away from El and Hopper. When those two missions succeed, El can begin, and the momentum has piled like a juggernaut. Millie Bobby Brown does an amazing job conveying stress and exhaustion and fury all at once, and the flashback to Papa in episode 7 — “You have a wound, Eleven, a terrible wound, and eventually it will kill you” — is what allows her to summon the requisite rage to close the Gate.
- The Snow Ball. The fairy tale ending of season 2 pays off everything we’ve been through. Each of the boys ends up dancing with the right girl: Lucas gets Max after a clumsy proposal, Will gets a bashful admirer (his “Zombie Boy” status working for him, for a change), and Dustin is rejected by every girl he asks until the elder Nancy comes to his rescue. Then El finally arrives (I wasn’t sure this would happen on first viewing), and she and Mike dance to the creepy stalker song, “Every Breath You Take” — a perfect fit, not only because Mike and El’s relationship has always been rather weird, but because El has been stalking Mike for a whole year. The Snow Ball epilogue is so affecting, so right: the kids earned this closure, and by God so did we.
Stranger Things 2, in sum, is a dramatic apex that nailed all the right chords for me. Rating: 10/10.
Rank #2 — Season 1: The Quest for Will
The premiere season is so meticulously crafted that not a single scene feels wasted. Even the quietest character moments advance the story. In this sense it’s the most polished season. As with season 2, there’s a lonely feel to it that makes Stranger Things more than just a science fiction show about other-dimensional aliens. We invest in the characters for their real-world traumas. There’s abuse (Eleven’s at the hands of Dr. Brenner), grief (Hopper’s for his Sara, the kids thinking Will is dead), bullying (from Troy), torture (of Eleven in the lab, making her torture animals), and parental dysfunction (Ted and Karen Wheeler). This is “Stand by Me” squared, showing kids at an age when they’re old enough to know real danger, but still young enough to believe that friendship has a near magical quality that can withstand anything.
Here in particular is what makes the first season so great:
- Will’s abduction. The quest to find Will gives the season a constant feel of emergency, that he needs rescuing before the Big Bad makes him its next supper. It’s easy to ring tension out of rescue missions, and the tension stays constant throughout all the episodes. And if the demogorgon stands in the shadow of what follows — it doesn’t possess people or absorb flayed bodies — as a predator it does all it needs to do. For the kids’ first dip into the Upside Down, that’s a worst nightmare come to life. There are heavy shades of Alien, especially when Will is captured by the predator and joined to a facehugger. Not to mention the slug he vomits at the end. Giving Will minimal screen time this season also worked wonders in ratcheting up the suspense. The only glimpses we get are through Christmas lights repurposed as a Ouija Board, his terrified shouting through Joyce’s living room wall, and Eleven’s vision of him hunkering down in the shadow version of Castle Byers.
- Mike and El. They are to Stranger Things as Frodo and Sam are to Lord of the Rings. Without them the rest of the story is almost window dressing. Since watching season 1, I’ve dreamt of Mike and El, sometimes as an invisible spectator, sometimes with me taking the role of Mike, other times as my past 12-year old self interacting with them and Lucas and Dustin. Most of the time in Mike’s basement, where El still lives secretly, and the idea of that doesn’t seem surreal. From the start Mike is in love with El though hardly aware of it. He protects her, fights with her, cries with her, as soulmates do. The pivotal moment is at the end of episode 3, when Will’s fake body is dragged from the river, and they all think it’s real. Mike’s furious reaction as he yells at El and runs home enraged, to the scoring of Peter Gabriel’s cover for David Bowie’s “Heroes”, is a rare piece of cinematic art. From that point on, Mike and El’s relationship is the keystone of the series.
- Jim Hopper. Before he was ruined in season 3, Jim Hopper was boss. Introduced as a chain-smoking, pill-popping alcoholic, and obviously scarred by the death of his daughter and subsequent divorce, he recovers his purpose as he leads the hunt for Will Byers. He becomes invested in Joyce Byers, whom everyone thinks is crazy, including himself, until he uncovers the government conspiracy proving Will’s death was faked. By the time he and Joyce venture into the Upside Down on a suicide mission, Hopper has become as lovable as the kids of the series, and he obtains the perfect redemption in the rescue of Will: his desperate resuscitation of Will, as he replays his daughter’s flatlining in the hospital — to the theme of Moby’s “When It’s Cold I’d Like to Die” — is absolutely sublime.
- Sacrifice. El’s sacrifice is simple, the resolution predictable, but only in way that tragedy needs to be. It devastates Mike who had just promised to take her in as a member of his family. It’s a rare case when a fake death works, because everyone (except Hopper) will keep thinking she’s still dead for a full year, until the end of season 2. All the traits are in place that define Eleven as a vulnerable hero: the nosebleeds; the hysterical exhaustion; the cost of using her powers; and the overwhelming guilt she suffers, knowing the Upside Down’s intrusion is her fault. “Goodbye, Mike,” sounds almost like a suicide she thinks she deserves.
- Friendship. The friendship between the four boys works on many levels to those of us who grew up in the ’80s. The opening D&D scene is precious — possibly my favorite of the series. The dynamics between the boys is a perfect summation of my nerdy childhood; their chemistry is amazing; their bickering and in-group fighting completely compelling. They go to any length to save their friend, and while it’s the adults (Hopper and Joyce) who actually pull off Will’s rescue, there’s a clear sense throughout Stranger Things that adults are often the problem, and can only do much without help from kids who believe in limitless possibilities.
This season is a platinum success, which I rank second not because it’s anything less than excellent, only because season 2 is even better. Rating: 10/10.
Rank #3 — Season 4: Separate Ways, Nightmares Apart
The smashing comeback season gets the series back on track. On the one hand it returns to its season-1 roots, with tropes like blinking lights functioning as messages from the shadow world, and the Stockholm drama between Eleven and Dr. Brenner. As in season 2, friends are down and distant. Max is guilt-ridden and suicidal; El is miserable, bullied by peers in the present and past; Lucas is into sports and less into Mike and Dustin’s ideas of fun. The emotionally vulnerable die as they daydream. Vecna’s killings, sadistic as they are, are but a means to an end — to create enough gates to start the apocalypse. El and Max deliver fabulous performances, and Hopper is once again a great character and not the cartoon-Hopper of season 3.
On the other hand, there is some season-3ish comedy here and there (Robin is especially annoying), and the finale showed a failure of nerve even as it threw a nuke in our face. At least one other major character should have died, and for good. There is contrived plotting to make the Russian and American storylines line up: Hopper has been in prison for eight months, but he fires off a letter to Joyce just as Vecna begins killing teens in Hawkins; Hopper is rescued by Joyce and Murray on the day the kids invade Vecna’s house, so that Hopper’s plan to destroy the pack of demogorgons (and give the kids “the upper hand”) coincides so neatly as to allow Nancy, Steve, and Robin to escape the vines that have ensnared them. But what this season gets right, it gets so right that the faults recede.
The reasons to praise season 4 are as follows:
- Separate Ways. The Byers family are in California, with an adopted Eleven. Will has drifted from Mike, Lucas, and Dustin; Jonathan is all but ignoring Nancy. Even within the Hawkins crowd there’s a strain, as Lucas has put Dungeons & Dragons behind to become a basketball player. It hurts to see these kids grown apart, and the “separate ways” dynamic drives good drama. Shades of season 2 are heavy, as the kids are again alienated and estranged, this time as young adults in high-school.
- Worlds Apart. The Upside Down gets more than enough screen time to make up for its omission in season 3. The Hawkins team dive right in (literally), and end up fighting for their lives, and then a second time for everyone else’s. The Upside-Down sequences are so cinematic they make you feel like you’re in the shadow realm, and the colors (reds, oranges, purples) bathe the screen in a horrific candor. Fans will be talking about the demo-bats and Eddie’s metal jam for a long time.
- Max. Sadie Sink is to season 4 as Noah Schnapp is to season 2. In the Dear Billy episode in particular she cements Max’s status as a full equal with the other kids, as she barely beats a gruesome death. The episode involves a brilliant use of music on a nightmarish psychological landscape. The threat is reprised in the finale, with Max doing her damnedest to hide from Vecna inside her cherished memory of the Snow Ball dance, but not even the rescue operation of El saves her from dying this time. Nor does El’s resurrection amount to much, as Max returns broken, blind, and brain dead. There are things more tragic than death, and I would rather die than return to life in such a state. (I’m betting that if and when Max comes out of her coma in season 5, she will be a much different person, and much worse for wear.)
- The Silo Lab. The Silo Lab arc in episodes 5-8 is my favorite arc in the whole series. The season 2 strategy is wisely repeated. In that season Eleven’s reunion with her Hawkins friends didn’t occur until the tail end, and now likewise, the road to reacquiring her powers is a long and arduous one. She’s been bullied by classmates, arrested by the police, and on top of this, Mike is a clueless and unsupportive boyfriend. When she’s taken to Silo by Dr. Owens, it almost seems a liberation until she sees Brenner waiting for her — out of the frying pan into the fire. The Silo arc culminates in the Massacre at Hawkins Lab episode — the slaughter which comes from One, the future Vecna, whom Eleven creates by blasting him into the Upside Down. Most people say the Hawkins story is the best of season 4, and it’s close, but I say it’s Eleven’s at Silo, her Stockholm relationship with Papa, and her reliving events at the Hawkins Lab.
- Vecna. It was time for a Big-Bad like this: a creature shrewd enough to outsmart the gods, and who kills the emotionally vulnerable by fucking with their minds. The homage is Freddy Krueger, but Vecna is worse than Freddy, really like the Vecna of D&D. But he doesn’t curse you through his Eye and Hand; he engages in a hideous rite of mindsharing that drowns you in whatever demons haunt you, and then caps it off by snapping and twisting your bones, and then gouging out your eyes for good measure. There is controversy over his origins: how did the boy Henry Creel (the later lab-child One, then the later Vecna) get his psychic powers to begin with? The shadow world has apparently existed for millennia, but the Upside Down version of Hawkins seems to have been created at the start of season 1. Prior to that, the shadow realm was just mountains and lava-flows.
- The Desert Road Trip. Mike and Will have a relatively light story arc but it’s mostly fine. If it tried to compete with the Hawkins or Silo Lab stories, it would be trying too hard. Not only that, the comedic tone actually works for rather than against it when they come to the house of Suzie, whose family is an incarnation of deranged Lynchian comedy. This arc also has its intense moments (as when the government goons crash the Byers home and open fire) and some genuinely heartfelt moments. Will wants to bang Mike but can’t say it. This theme needed a bit more aggression and development, but it worked for the most part.
- Russia. Season 4 undoes the cartooning of Jim Hopper that almost single-handedly killed season 3. He’s being tortured as much as Eleven is on the other side of the world, and dealing with it about as effectively (not very, in other words). He’s resigned to dying, but by God taking down a demogorgon before he signs off — and then a whole pack of them, in a ballsy plan to assist the kids on the other side of the world. Within the story arc is the Joyce-Murray duo, whose travels involve more comical bickering than is good for the tone of the show. Yuri is even worse. Some complain that the Russia storyline is secondary and too unrelated to what’s going on in Hawkins, but sidebar narratives aren’t necessarily a bad thing, and this turns out to be a great outing for Hopper as he faces himself and his demons in a hopeless situation.
Stranger Things 4 attains such greatness that its liabilities don’t matter much. Rating: 9/10.
Rank #4 — Season 3: The Comedy Blockbuster (That Isn’t Funny)
The idea behind it was fine: a light interlude season that gives the characters room to breathe. To work together as a team, with Eleven by their side, as she kicks some shadow-ass before losing her powers. Great idea, except that it went off the rails with comedy. Characters became cartoons. And the plotting was lazy and silly.
Most glaringly, season 3’s plot is a carbon-copy of season 2: (a) The Mind Flayer has taken over a human host (Billy instead of Will) in an attempt to dominate the world. (b) There is a Gate that makes this possible (at the Mall instead of the Lab). (c) The Gate thus needs to be closed, to sever the connection to the Upside Down and destroy the shadow manifesting in our world (the flayed creature made of human corpses, instead of the demo-dogs). This plot is even repeated by the kids, almost word for word:
Nancy: Okay, so if this thing is like a brain that’s controlling everything, then if we kill it…
Mike: We kill everything it controls.
Dustin: We win.
Will: But if we close the Gate again —
Max: We cut the brain off from the body.
Lucas: And kill it. Theoretically.
Same principle, lazily recycled in a sitcom version of Stranger Things. But I’ll take the good and bad in turn.
Here’s where season 3 shined:
- Eleven. She’s always the best thing about Stranger Things, but season 3 takes her to the next level without reducing her vulnerability. Her showdown with Billy in the sauna is a jaw-dropper, and while she ends up giving him an ass-pounding, it doesn’t come easy. He almost chokes her to death, and when El breaks down crying in Mike’s arms, Millie Bobby Brown was not acting — a brilliant unscripted piece that makes El look vulnerable. She fights the Mind Flayer twice and is almost torn apart by it. Then she is bitten and infected by it, and later she has to stop Jonathan from cutting her leg open so that she can rip out the flayed critter herself — one of the most searing scenes of the entire series. It was a bold decision for the writers to strip El of her powers at the moment she needs them most, and the way she “wins” against Billy at Starcourt is transcendent. Everything about Millie Bobby Brown’s performance still amazes. And damn, that girl can cry.
- Growing Pains. It’s the boys’ last summer before starting high school, and in some ways the end of their childhood. They like girls now, except for Will. He may be gay or asexual, but he really just wants to keep playing D&D without romantic intrusions. Hopper, for his part, also doesn’t like all of this romance, though he sees it from a father’s perspective, wanting El to stay his little girl forever. Season 3 is about the desperate need to slow down time so that certain things aren’t lost too soon. The theme drives some emotional scenes in episode 3, when Will flees the ridicule of Mike and Lucas; he takes refuge in Castle Byers, which he then smashes down with a baseball bat in tearful rage.
- The Big, Big Bad. The new incarnation of the Mind Flayer is a fusion of mutilated human beings; an homage to David Cronenberg’s body horror films and wonderfully deranged: besides possession of a host (first Will, and now Billy), the Mind Flayer manifests in this world through an assemblage of corpses. That’s a lot of dead people required, and the Hawkins body count is higher than ever before, which makes it harder and harder to keep this town’s horrifying secrets under wraps. While I wouldn’t say this incarnation is the scariest (it’s more the “fun horror” of Jurassic Park dinosaurs), it is an impressive spectacle.
- The Finale. The Duffers always turn out finales with mighty payoffs, but this one is capped off by the deaths of two major characters. The first being Jim Hopper (even if he’s not really dead), and the second Billy, whose death is a tear-jerker for the way El “wins” against him. Her liberation of Billy is a crowning moment of triumph because she’s powerless, thanks to the Mind Flayer’s infection. She reaches him by exploiting what she did with her powers in episode 6, when she went inside his mind and saw him as a child who loved his mother. Meanwhile the other kids are throwing Satan’s-Baby fireworks at the creature, doing whatever they can to bring it down. The result is a staggering display of explosive apocalypse for the glorious Fourth.
- The Farewell. The epilogue inverts season-2. Where the Snow Ball Dance brought everyone back together after a long road of isolation, the Farewell to Hawkins sees a parting of the ways after a summer of camaraderie. With El now adopted by Joyce and thus leaving with Will and Jonathan, it hurts to think of her and Mike on another stretch of separation, and it especially hurts to think of her without her powers (even if she’ll probably get them back in season 4). We certainly can’t blame Joyce for leaving, after suffering two seasons of trauma over Will, almost losing him both times, and then her boyfriend Bob torn apart right limb from limb, right in front of her; and now she had to kill Hopper in order to save Hawkins. There’s no way she could not move out of Hawkins after all of this. It’s a moving epilogue to say the least.
Here’s where season 3 shat on us.
- Misfire #1: Comedy Fest. There’s always been humor in Stranger Things but in a genuinely funny way. In season 3 the show plays situations themselves for laughs — turning the series into a sitcom. When Hopper needs to commandeer a civilian’s car for police business, for example, he and Joyce treat the whole thing like a supremely laughable joke. Characters like Mayor Kline and the editors at The Hawkins Post are utterly cartoonish. Mike and El’s breakup was a great idea, but again it’s played for laughs. Erica’s brat humor works to an extent, but should have been reined in at times. The comedy produces a horrible clash in tone, and does a lot in torpedoing season 3.
- Misfire #2: Jim Hopper ruined. In particular, the cartooning of Jim Hopper was off the scales. He’s always had a rough side, but balanced with hidden tenderness. In Stranger Things 3 that balance is gone. Hopper’s treatment of Mike is downright vituperative. I love the idea of him being jealous and over-protective of his daughter, and pulling asshole maneuvers to stop Mike from dating El. (I had him do something similar in my own fanfiction novels.) But it’s not taken seriously; it’s played for laughs. Ditto for his treatment of Joyce. Hopper denigrates her non-stop, yells and screams like a rage-a-holic, and it never lets up. This is no regression of character; it’s a cartoonish perversion of his character.
- Misfire #3: Lazy Plotting. There’s some lazy writing this season, as important events just “happen” to the show’s main characters. The Mind Flayer needs a new host, and just happens to possess Billy, who is driving by the dangerous location. Nancy just happens to answer the phone at the newspaper office, and pick up a hot tip that leads her and Jonathan to the mysterious rats. Dustin intercepts a Russian transmission and takes the information to his bro-buddy Steve, who just happens to work at the very place taken over by the Russians. Eleven learns that Billy is doing bad things, because she just happens to spy on him in the Void as part of a spin-the-bottle game with Max. None of this kind of lazy plotting can be found in seasons 1 and 2.
- Misfire #4: Mike Wheeler. Season 3 doesn’t do the character of Mike Wheeler any favors. He’s supposed to be (along with Eleven) the heart of Stranger Things, but in this outing he gets no stand-out moments. He’s just kind of there, and when he is in the spotlight, he’s played for goofy laughs. If you never saw the first two seasons, you’d never dream that so many viewers had become invested in Mike. There’s nothing wrong with Finn Wolfhard’s acting; he was just given lousy material to work with this season. To a lesser degree this is also true of Lucas and Will (though at least Will got the emotional arc of episode 3). Of the kids, only Eleven and Dustin really shined in season 3.
- Misfire #5: Karen Wheeler. And then there’s Mike’s mother. The go-nowhere subplot with Karen Wheeler and Billy is outrageous. Having teased an affair between these two at the end of season 2, and picking up that thread right way at the start of this season, the Duffers drop it altogether with no payoff to the subplot at all. They should have had the courage of their initial convictions, and threw Karen and Billy in the sack. The repercussions would have been dramatic and severe, and gone a long way to reattaining the edginess of season 2.
- Misfire #6: Where’s the Upside Down? The main villain of Stranger Things is the shadow realm itself. In season 1 we saw Barb killed in the Upside Down, Will hiding in the shadow version of Castle Byers, Nancy entering the shadow forest, and Hopper and Joyce passing through the Gate to rescue Will. In season 2 the Upside Down burrowed into Hawkins, through the underground tunnels, where Hopper got snared; we also saw the Upside Down through Will’s eyes, thanks to his possession. In season 3 we never see the shadow side (except briefly, when Billy sees his doppelganger). That’s a major shortfall.
- Misfire #7: Low Jeopardy. Also significant is the lack of relentless threat to any of the kids. In seasons 1 and 2, Will’s abduction and possession kept the tension burning from the start. In season 3 the new victim is Billy Hargrove, and he’s a bad guy, so we don’t really care if his possession ends up destroying him. We do learn that Billy is just being used to get to Eleven, but the Mind Flayer doesn’t succeed in getting inside her until the finale. Prior to this, for seven whole episodes the kids have dramatic face-offs with Billy and/or the Mind Flayer, which are very good, but in-between they’re just sort of hanging around.
- Misfire #8: High Body Counts. Parallel to low jeopardy is the way people are killed so casually, by protagonists who have never killed before and yet don’t seem remotely affected by it. Dustin tasers a Russian to death when he rescues Steve and Robin, and brushes it off like it was nothing; Nancy and Jonathan kill two newspaper editors at the hospital; Hopper guns down Russian guards with a machine gun, screaming comically and joking about it afterwards. It’s all cartoonish violence — boring, mundane, and hard to take seriously. In seasons 1 and 2, the only protagonists who killed people were El, Will (possessed by the Mind Flayer), Terry Ives, and Kali, and all of their killings had a serious dramatic impact.
Worth reading is The Guardian‘s Stranger Things 3: A Flawless Finale – But What a Slog to Get There. The season-3 finale is admittedly grand, but that’s mostly what it relies on to redeems it. Also check out The National Review‘s In Its Third Season, Stranger Things Strays from What Made It Great, which pulls no punches at all.
Stranger Things 3 failed miserably to live up to the legacy of the first two seasons. Rating: 4/10.