Stranger Things has always been a show about people from a small town battling big things. It takes groups of characters and forces them to confront relationship challenges as their pedestrian lives clash with the supernatural. Viewers sign up for superpowers and big climatic fights but fall in love with more intimate moments that the show has in spades. It’s become a phenomenon thanks to a likable cast, great production quality, and intense fan interest. The greatest challenge each new season faces always comes down to if it can be better than the previous one, and I don’t know if season 3 achieves that.
In an attempt to have a larger final battle, this season seems to save money in the early episodes. The first three are much slower than the rest as it milks each minute, taking its time to set up possible plot points as it relishes in the lack of heavy CGI scenes. It’s this slow burn that doesn’t create extra tension moving at a snail’s pace. Nothing about the characters are challenged in this part, even if the biggest shake-up does happen here; it's a testament to how boring the show is at this point. It’s not like these three episodes are devoid of anything of consequence, but it feels like nothing important is going on, and that's a problem.
The reason there is such a disconnect between the viewer and the events happening on screen can be traced back to a couple of things. The first has to do with splitting the cast into large groups like the first season rather than the smaller ones of the second. These large groupings take away a lot of the fun and variety you get when fewer people are together. It also has a major effect on how often characters speak. When you have fan favorites in a group with others, they get way more lines than the rest. Spreading everyone out into separate groups allows for everyone to shine.
Allowing each actor a chance to have strong moments is very important when it comes to new additions to the cast. Stranger Things continues its streak of integrating new characters for each season. Not only are they directly tied to major plot points, but their interactions with the current cast is usually a blast. Season 3 introduces a couple of the best characters the show has ever seen. They fit perfectly into the story while being major points of interest; some of this season’s best parts have to do with them. However, how well they will be used in the future is unpredictable since the new characters from last season were a mixed bag here.
Season 3 is definitely a misstep for the series. Its decision to be more like the first season, rather than embracing the changes of the second season, was probably made due to the response of the infamous episode seven. So, instead of leapfrogging in storytelling, pushing the show forward in quality, the retread has brought down the show. There is still hope that the show will revert back to smaller group sizes, better storytelling, and not banking on a giant final battle to keep viewers interested. As long as there are still new characters to introduce, and the current ones still get a chance to shine, the final season could still live up to the hype.