It takes a couple of episodes to really get going, but ultimately, Season 3 of the Duffer Brothers’ Stranger Things is so awesome that it would’ve been worth the wait even if that wait had begun all the way back in 1985, the year in which it’s set. Heck, the premiere alone delivers chills (seriously — actual goosebump-inducing chills), laughs aplenty (especially as Hopper attempts to parent a teenager in love) and harbingers of heartache (as the kids begin to find out that the worst kinds of growing pains aren’t physical).
From there, Season 3 toggles between tubular and, like, totally tubular, its emotional developments coming off every bit as life-or-death as its eye-popping action sequences. Among the highlights (and there are many!): The evolution of Joyce and Hopper’s relationship is alternately adorable, frustrating and poignant; new hurdles in Nancy and Jonathan’s romance take it deeper than their initial pretty girl/weird guy obstacle ever could have; Maya Hawke’s Robin (an insta-fave) makes a hilarious third wheel in Steve and Dustin’s ongoing bromance; and Priah Ferguson gets a lot more scenes to steal as Lucas’ snarky sister Erica.
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There’s also a shopping spree at the Starcourt Mall that’s so joyful, it’s likely to give you Night of the Comet flashbacks; Cary Elwes going so sleazetastic as Mayor Kline, you’ll never watch The Princess Bride the same way again; and the near-unthinkable: moments when you’ll feel more than loathing for narcissistic bully Billy. (I know it’s hard to believe.)
If there are quibbles to be had with Season 3, the biggie is probably that initially the central plot hinges on characters for whom we don’t care nearly as much as we did poor, beleaguered Will in Seasons 1 and 2 (and that’s if we care for them at all). So the stakes feel, at least at first, unusually low. We don’t worry that good won’t defeat evil in the end, and we aren’t concerned about the characters in the eye of the storm. The size of the cast is also an issue. You get some of everybody, sure, but when you’re done with your Season 3 binge, you’re likely to be left thinking, “Huh, there sure wasn’t a whole lot of [spoiler] or [spoiler] this season.”
But again, those are quibbles. Mainly what you’ll be doing when you’ve finished your binge is trying to catch your breath (the finale is epic with a capital E, P, I and C), drying your eyes (it’ll also give you feels that you never even knew were feels) and wondering whether you’ll remain on the edge of your seat all the way until Season 4.
THE TVLINE BOTTOM LINE: Season 3 of Stranger Things is a thrill ride that you won’t want to end.