Caroline Groff, Staff Writer

The highly anticipated summer release of the third season of Netflix’s “Stranger Things” was a firework-filled romp of sci-fi adventure. As creators, the Duffer Brothers explore more of their ‘80s admiration in a return to the decade’s blockbuster feel. From mall rat crazes to the introduction and disgust of New Coke, we return to the John Hughes-esque characters for their most action-packed season yet. It brings out the cast’s incredible chemistry‒both dramatically and comically.

The newest installment, released on July 4, picks up where the previous season left off. Instead of Hawkins, Indiana, the opening shot introduces one of the season’s villains in Moscow, Russia. Viewers saw Eleven, played by Millie Bobby Brown, close the gate to the Upside Down at the end of the last season, but it seems she couldn’t close it for good. As Russians work at reopening the gate right under the town’s nose, the Hawkins gang comes face-to-face with the Mind Flayer once again‒bigger and more gross than ever. While it is a return to the well-known monster, season three shows the creature’s new form as he takes over the body of Billy Hargrove, played by Dacre Montgomery, Max’s hot-headed, testosterone fueled step-brother.

Further following its ‘80s roots, this season shows a lot of likeness to cult ‘80s films such as “The Thing” and “Back to the Future.” Both of which are mentioned in the newest episodes. It captures the same tense ambience and goriness of “The Thing” and fuses it with the bright adventure and charisma of Marty McFly. Viewers delve into the fascination with the mall craze as most of the action of the season takes place in the Starcourt Mall. While some may feel the ‘80s trope relies too heavily on nostalgia, the cast’s performances allow each reference to feel more delightfully nerdy than it does self-indulgent or cliché.

The audience is reintroduced to the ensemble and are thrown into their daily summer routines. Newfound relationships like Eleven and Mike give glimpses of the adolescent struggle within the science fiction form. When relationship problems ensue, fans are met with a budding friendship between Max, played by Sadie Sink, and Eleven. These relationships also show strains in the party lines, leaving character like Will Byers, played by Noah Schnapp, feeling thrown to the curb.

While these changing relationships cause riffs between the main cast’s friendships, the audience gets more development in the friendship of fan-favorites like Dustin Henderson, played by Gaten Matarazzo, and Steve “The Hair” Harrington, played by Joe Keery. The interactions quickly become a highlight of the season. The duo also brings along the introduction of Maya Hawke as Robin, Steve’s quick-witted and snarky Scoops Ahoy co-worker. The “Scoops Troop” is rounded out by Priah Ferguson, returning in the role as Lucas’ sassy little sister, Erica.

Another highlight of the season is David Harbour’s performance as Chief Jim Hopper. Hopper is back and more of a crazed, over-protective dad than ever. This addition to his storyline felt too unhinged for some. In one review, critic Haleigh Foutch stated that the character’s pass into vigilante territory was “a peculiar direction for the character, especially considering its never addressed.” While it is a surprising turn, it doesn’t seem totally unwarranted. Harbour’s performance seeps with emotion and comic timing as he becomes more and more unhinged by the uncovered Russian experiments, as well as his adopted daughter Eleven’s rapidly growing relationship with Mike Wheeler.

What seemed to fall flat was the arc of Nancy and Jonathan, played by Natalia Dyer and Charlie Heaton. Their newspaper storyline helped drive the plot, but felt one-dimensional in its storytelling. Critic Cheryl Eddy wrote, “There are much better and more realistic ways to show sexism in the workplace—maybe the Duffers should’ve hired more women writers, who could’ve helped explain it.” Some arcs may have fallen short, but they were all elevated by the emotional scenes at the climax of the last three episodes. Through the romantic tension and humor, the characters felt fully formed, both individually and in their relationships.

The final episode ends with a showdown in the Starcourt Mall filled with tears, fireworks and emotional farewells for everyone. As the season comes to a close, we see the characters moving away and trying to move on from the death and destruction that their battle with the Upside Down has left once again. Overall this season brought the audience on another joyous and emotional romp through Hawkins, Indiana. However, it left many questions unanswered. Will the whole gang stay friends? Who is the American that the Russians have prisoner? And most importantly, was New Coke really as bad as they say it was?