"Slavish worship of the 1980s has been the raison d’être—as well as the raison d’everything else—for Matt and Ross Duffer’s Netflix series," says Sam Adams. "But in its third season, the show has become less loving homage and more vampire squid, sucking increasingly hard at a corpse that has long since run dry." Adams adds: "One of the things that distinguished Stranger Things’ first season was its meticulous attention to period detail; it felt like a show that could have been shot in the 1980s, not just set then. But in the third season, that attention has gone out the window. The cutesy signifiers are there—the geometric neon patterns on standard-issue mall wear, a running gag about New Coke—but the rest has gotten sloppy. The dialogue is awash in expressions that weren’t common 10 years ago, let alone 35: At one point, Dustin gives an impromptu lecture on the tropes of nerdism, using a word that was the exclusive province of graduate students and expressing a sentiment that no teenage boy would have laid claim to. New characters like the town’s stuffed-shirt mayor (Cary Elwes) are so underdeveloped that they barely count as types, indebted as they are to the lousy ’80s movies the show apparently fetishizes. (Why recreate something that wasn’t worth watching the first time?) And the returning characters feel like they’ve been twisted to fit the plot rather than developed in any coherent way, especially sheriff Hopper, who deals with El’s modest teenage rebellion by becoming a drunken lout. Stranger Things’ greatest legacy may be helping move Netflix toward shorter seasons, but even at eight episodes, the third feels distended, less like 'one big movie' than a regular-size movie pumped full of digressions of dead ends."
Stranger Things 3 is an ode to 1980s consumerism and the American shopping mall: "More than just a pastiche of beloved ’80s movies, Stranger Things 3 is a celebration of consumerism itself, of a go-go era when shopping malls were important not just as hubs of commerce but also as shared spaces where teenagers folded T-shirts for minimum wage or hung out aimlessly the way they now do on social media," says Meredith Blake. "But while we have an ’80s real-estate developer as president, our consumer habits have changed dramatically since the days when we had to schlep to the mall to buy a record or drive to the video store to browse the newest releases. Once a fixture of American suburbia, the shopping mall is increasingly endangered, thanks not to a Soviet-style workers’ revolution but to online retailers like Amazon. Malls once valued for hundreds of millions are now almost worthless or have been repurposed into churches and medical centers."
Stranger Things 3's finale is proof the Duffers knew it was time for a shakeup: "What makes the conclusion to the season feel so seismic is that all those things happen around the same time," says Alan Sepinwall. "Taken individually, all are fairly traditional cliffhangers of the type deployed over and over on other series, whether they involve teenagers or creatures from other dimensions. And they’re the type of 'big' changes that television shows have been known to undo in a hurry in their relentless quest to reestablish the old status quo."
Cary Elwes' Mayor Kline is the perfect takedown of American politicians: The Princess Bride actor "understands exactly where his ludicrous character fits in the landscape of the show," says Kelly Connolly. "The whole point of Kline is how shallow he is. In broad strokes, the central conflict of Stranger Things is between people who take other people's feelings seriously and people who don't. Kline really doesn't. He's too airheaded to pose a threat on his own, but he is the perfect empty vessel for someone else's evil agenda."
Dacre Montgomery on doing his own stunts: "I love all that stuff, because I really enjoy doing all my own stunts," he says. "I’m at an age where I’m in good shape and not too much of a health risk for Netflix’s insurance people. That’s part of the dream — doing my own stunts! I grew up admiring stunt choreography, so I wanted to learn how it would be possible to do that, since this season has so much more action than in the past."