Since Stranger Things revolves around its child stars and their genuine curiosity, there was a belief that the Netflix sci-fi series wasn't sustainable as the child cast aged into teenagers and adults. But as Daniel D'Addario points out, "fans should not have worried. This new season is not the Stranger Things that came out in 2016, and that’s a good thing. The growing-up of its central characters has prompted changes in sensibility and in structure that refresh the show and give it something powerful to say. Growing up doesn’t have to be hard at all." He adds: "The characters aging up, coming into closer contact with their older peers and behaving a bit older themselves, closes off certain old possibilities. Will is dispirited that his pals are no longer engaged by the possibility of playing D&D, that they’ve put childish things behind them before he was ready. But it opens up other ones, too: There’s a recognizable, poignant subtext to Will’s organizing the role-playing game as a 'no girls allowed' event, made text for a glancing moment when Mike yells at him that he is only so dependent on childish things because he doesn’t like girls. The moment hangs in the air a beat too long, as it develops into a question: Does Mike mean he doesn’t yet, or that he won’t ever? That remains to be seen in season 4 or beyond. And for the first time, I believe that Stranger Things could have a run that rivals House of Cards' six seasons or Orange Is the New Black’s seven."
Stranger Things 3 is more deeply informed by American paranoia than ever before: "Conspiracy theories, in fact, are in the show’s DNA, a counterforce to all the cuddly Spielberg evocation and the tween-age bonding," says Sophie Gilbert. "Before Stranger Things bore its current title, its creators—the Duffer Brothers—reportedly named it Montauk, in reference to long-standing rumors about government-run psychological experiments on human test subjects conducted on military bases on Long Island, New York. The show’s story is built on the premise that various strains of delusional thinking are actually true. The government has conducted highly unethical drug tests on human subjects. Terrifying alien monsters are real. People can become possessed by dark external forces that absorb them into one diseased hive mind. On the rare occasions when these events are exposed, the military does cover things up."