By Quinn Eaton
You know how you would go to an amusement park as a kid and it would be the greatest day of your life? Then you go back a second time and it was still okay, but not as good as the first time? Then fast forward to that third time going, and you're like "you know this sucks, I wish I was at an Arby's sucking down a beef n' cheddar?"
The trilogy of Stranger Things seasons has had the exact opposite effect.
It is common for a pop culture phenomenon TV show such as Stranger Things to hit a sophomore slump trying to follow up an original first season. Season 2 was extravagant.
It is even more customary for a visually electrifying and nostalgic show to simply run out of ideas heading into a third season. Season 3 was nothing short of miraculous and felt as unique as ever.
Stranger Things has been appealing to the masses because of its originality found both in its storytelling and its cast. As far as sci-fi goes, there has been nothing like it before, and though some may try to mimic the "get a bunch of kids to fight dimension shifting monsters" genre, there will be nothing like it ever again. The amalgamation of 80's aura and an adventurousness childhood draws an astronomically sized audience, as everyone can relate to getting into trouble in their younger days, though (hopefully) it was not life threatening like it tends to be in this show.
Season 3 brings us back to Hawkins, Indiana with the same kiddos and irresponsible adults that viewers have grown to love. If you were expecting for the small town to stay quiet and the storytelling to follow Mike battling acne or Eleven shopping at the mall, then you are sort of right, but not really. Probably about 18% correct actually. Hawkins is of course a source for pure chaos, and Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) and the gang as well as Sheriff Hopper (David Harbour) are thrown right into the middle of it once again, whether they like it or not.
Season after season, this portal to the "upside down" is kind of a problem. Following the conclusion of Season 2, it seemed to finally be closed after Eleven exerted almost all of her powers trying to shut the thing. But guess what!? It actually wasn't, because that generally how shows work. Too bad this show is based in the 1980's and they don't have access to the revolutionary product known as Flex Seal, because they could just seal that bitch right up with "liquid rubber in a can!"
It isn't the gangs' fault that the portal has opened back up this time. The gateway to the upside down is opening up (and causing Will to feel the back of his neck a lot) because of those pesky Russians! How about that? I can only imagine the Duffer Brothers sitting there trying to figure out what to make season 3 about.
"Well the first season we just made Will's mom bats%#t crazy, the second season we got more of a budget so we could make the monsters look more realistic and show them more, what do you think we make the big problem this season?"
"Russia seems like a pretty easy scapegoat."
"Sounds good, let's get to work."
There are primarily three story lines that are interweaving throughout the season, and they all satisfyingly come together in the epic conclusion. Hopper and Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) are together for most of season three's episodes, and it seems the relationship that viewers have been "shipping" since the beginning is finally starting to materialize. The original gang, minus Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), is still biking around and playing tiddly winks for the most part.
The setting for most of the season is the new Starcourt Mall that has opened up in Hawkins and disgruntled most of the towns' older population. The mall OOZES 80's nostalgia and was an invigorating place to set the scene. Here we see characters Steve (Joe Keery) and Dustin continue their blossoming bromance, as well as new addition Robin (Maya Hawke) blending seamlessly into the cast along with Lucas' little sister Erica (Priah Ferguson) stealing every scene that she is in.
This season was unbelievably brilliant, but I will now list two things that made me uncomfortable:
1) Characters Mike and Eleven have a couple of make out sessions, and though the whole "Papa Hopper" thing is entertaining, it could've been toned down.
2) It is a TV-14 rated show and THEY INCLUDED AN EXTRAMARITAL AFFAIR between Billy (Dacre Montgomery) and Mrs. Wheeler (Cara Buono). Though nothing actually ever happens, the premeditation of it was there, and SHEWBUDDY was it cringey.
Alright, big spoiler/real reason I wanted to write this article coming up. Proceed with caution.
There has always been a dramatic death each season of Stranger Things (counting Barb in season 1 and Bob in season 2), and this year, there were three pretty gut wrenching fatalities. A Russian scientist that can best be described as "a pretty cool guy" doesn't make it, Billy sacrifices himself to save Eleven and the rest of the kids from the Mind Flayer, and the most tragic one of all that caused me to shed one singular tear (cause I am a man) was our beloved Sheriff Hopper. First two that I mentioned, definitely super dead. But Hopper? There might just be a little light at the end of the tunnel for the hot headed Hawkins police chief.
In classic TV show cliffhanger fashion, they don't actually show Hopper's death as Joyce is forced to close the portal to the "Upside Down" with Hopper in range of the explosion. Others that were in the vicinity of the massive combustion were vaporized into a pile of goo, but when Joyce rushes with hope to see if Hopper somehow survived, there is no trace of him, and there is no quote-unquote "Hopper Goo Pile." When a TV show does not actually present the visual scene of a character dying, germ-ex (99.9) percent of the time the death was fake. However, the 3 month time jump following these events where Eleven reads a letter that Hopper had written to her before his "passing" garnered some emotions that were DEFINITELY real, producing possibly the most emotional moment of the entire series. So if Hopper somehow survived, where is he?
The after credits scene which takes place in Russia shows two guards in a Russian compound about to sacrifice a prisoner to a demogorgan (aww shucks, one conveniently got out), the little rascal monster that the characters primarily faced in the first season. They walk past a closed prison door and the Russian guard says "not the American," and chooses to sacrifice a different guy (too bad he wasn't American). Fans immediately jumped to the conclusion that Hopper is that "American," and that the explosion of the Portal Opener 3000 (not the actual name of it but it'll work) somehow sucked Hopper into a wormhole and transported him to Russia.
I believe that Hopper is very much alive, but he is definitely not the American in the cell. That is too easy. The Duffer Brothers love complexity, and that is basically putting a metaphorical bib on viewers and figuratively spoon feeding them "everything is okay." I am guessing the "not the American" is the classic bait and switch, and another American that is associated with the show is being held prisoner at the Russian base. If only Eleven hadn't lost her powers fighting the Mind Flayer, then she could just do that blindfold thing she does to find Hopper. Pretty convenient that she loses that ability.
My best guess is that Hopper was trying to get the hell out of dodge and jumped into the portal, getting himself trapped in the "Upside Down" and voila, you've got your story for Season 4: the guy that once went into the "Upside Down" to save everyone now needs someone to come rescue him from that exact same place.
You've got to love a full circle.
We'll have to wait and see what will become of Sheriff Hopper and the rest of the gang when season four comes out in a year or two. The Duffer Brothers have been open about not overstaying their welcome, so one or two seasons is most likely all they will take to wrap up the Stranger Things saga.
Photo Credits: Netflix.com