Eh. At least this season was more ambitious than Season 2:“Oops we made a hit with no thought of where to take the story.” It’s infuriatingly close to being really good.
Lazy tropes like air vent hijinks and character motivations appearing from nowhere still make for an uneven story. Hop was suddenly so worried about little Mike spending time with El to the point of threatening him? Max can’t tell her douchenozzle brother is too nice when he becomes a pod person? What was with Hop beating the ever-loving piss out of the mayor and kidnapping him to get information? The tone is all over the place.
It seems like the writers are too scared to tackle their own underlying mythology and expand on it. We know basically nothing about the Upside Down or the Flayer we didn’t get from Season 1. We got essentially a big chase scene with different threads awkwardly brought together, and a freaking defuse-the-bomb style countdown for a climax? Nothing is explained; nothing resolved.
The cast is still great (be nice if Winona Ryder had something to do besides look alarmed) but the plot moves mostly through character stupidity and accidents, and their bonds with each other have virtually nothing to do with how they solve problems. The younger kids are the heart of the show, but aren’t given many opportunities to be smart or brave. The adults have to save the day, and then we get this apparently-not-permanent sacrifice by Hop, who literally stared at Winona Ryder longer than it would have taken to him to get back to the safety of the control room that’s 5 feet away, so we can listen to his super-long heart-to-heart letter that sounds like a bad greeting card after his “death.”
I hope if there’s a Season 4 the creators bring in some writing and directing talent to put a little more meat on the decent bones they’ve got here.
I loved the subplot with Steven and Robin, but the rest of the season felt like a diminished retread of things we have already seen. The period detail is far more on-the-nose than before, and the main narrative strays from scenes of everyday life much more quickly.
The first season felt so compelling in part because it contained the same kind of observations about small town life that give Stephen King’s stories an emotional anchor (and, transposed to suburbia, Spielberg’s as well). With a handful of exceptions, this season deals with social life in broader and thinner strokes than either of the previous seasons. It loses a lot of its emotional punch in the process, and falls back on grand gestures like Billy’s redemption and Hopper’s letter that jerk tears almost by brute force. The signs of life beyond the plot are harder to come by.
I wonder if the Russians have some sort of quantum tunnel thing going on at the mall where they could move between Russia and Hawking? Are we sure the tear wasn’t just part of that? Using the upside down like they use hyperspace in Babylon 5? (A bit like the nether in minecraft too) .. That explains how Hopper likely just fell from one place to the other.
Would be funny if the Russians are mostly using it as a form of fast travel, they may have only needed to start the machine up in each place and warp in who knows how much stuff. Even without a sinister motivation that’s tech I can see every country wanting to have access to, and that was a hell of a lot of Russian troops and equipment to sneak in and secretly build. The US govt would surely notice that many Russian nationals moving in and congregating in nowheresville? Not a problem if they just wander through the rip.
The cage for transporting the demogorgon, presumably they’ve been transporting it back and forth – or they use it to guide them through the upside down but have to keep it well fed to cooperate. Maybe they had it since it was a baby and vaguely tamed it? Or they have their own more evil/stereotypical 80s Russian Eleven equivalent who can control it. (This seems quite likely now I think about it?)