After flying through the electrifying eight-hour season, let’s take a moment to look at what worked and what didn’t in “Stranger Things 3.”
Phew! That was quite a ride! Say what you will about “Stranger Things 3,” but it’s not lacking in forward momentum. Quickly edited, densely populated, and bursting with vivid images, Season 3 of The Duffer Brothers’ Netflix original feels like it’s playing in an old arcade, where if X number of seconds pass without a rat exploding or a blob oozing across the floor, it’s game over.
That sentence might sound strange to anyone who hasn’t finished the eight new episodes (or it might just sound strange, period), but this, dear readers, isn’t a regular review. It’s a spoilers review, meaning the below analysis will delve into everything within the new season, including the ending. Don’t worry. If you’re so incensed by the headline that you skipped to the first bold headline or bullet point, thus skipping this intro, we’ll warn you a few more times that spoilers are coming.
I maintain the best way to enjoy “Stranger Things” is to not think about it, but for those of us unable to follow their own advice, the below Spoilers Review keeps its focus on the most nagging elements of Season 3 while making sure to highlight the parts that brought pure, untainted joy, as well. So let’s delve headfirst into the madness, starting the critical character to Season 3: Chief James “Jim” Hopper.
[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Stranger Things 3,” including the ending.]
Let’s Talk About Hopper
In “Stranger Things 3,” David Harbour goes full ’80s sitcom dad with Jim Hopper. His grumpiness is amped up to “threatening to murder children” levels. His slovenly personal upkeep and so-called “dad bod” are on full display, in and out of his snug uniform. The first shot of Hopper even shows him sitting in a recliner, watching “Magnum P.I.,” and munching on Tostitos (with the label out and easy to read, following best practices for product placement) — Hopper may as well be Dan Conner or Al Bundy.
He’s an archetype, a stereotype, or both, which is exactly what “Stranger Things” is going for, not just in this but in so many of its homages, and it’s exactly what’s wrong with recreating the ’80s sitcom dad exactly as he was in the 1980s. Watching a schlubby, overweight husband yell for another beer from his well-dressed, model of a wife may have been a funny encapsulation of “average” American households for the masses to chuckle at 30 years ago, but now it’s kinda gross.
Hopper trying to break up his daughter’s first romance? Ew. Hopper tricking Joyce into a date? Pass. Hopper walking around like the women in his life owe him something? No, thank you. His behavior calls to mind sexist double standards, if not overtly reinforcing them — even rude and ugly men deserve beautiful, supportive women — and while Hopper doesn’t go so far to the dark side in Season 3 that he’s completely alienated, he embodies enough of his predecessors’ bad habits to turn this hurt cop hollow.
Courtesy of Netflix
First off, the Joyce / Hopper romantic saga has always been a bit clunky, and it picks up on the wrong foot here. After bonding over Hopper’s official new role as Eleven’s adoptive father, the two seem to have a comfortable, friendly, routine. Hopper shows up at Joyce’s empty store, spends some time complaining, and then she advises him how to proceed. The letter she writes to help him understand talking vs. yelling is… a bit much, but it’s clear they both care about the kids.
However, it’s only really clear that Hopper cares about Joyce and not the other way around. Joyce is still recovering from Bob’s death, as seen early on when she turns down Hopper’s invitation out for a night in, recreating her nights in with Bob (Sean Astin) solo. Is it weird that “Stranger Things” uses the will-they-won’t-they Sam & Diane storyline from “Cheers” within Joyce’s old romance to parallel her new one? Yes, it’s very weird, and only further reinforces that Bob was always a pawn to be sacrificed, thus stringing out the show’s real love story: Hopper and Joyce.
But what matters in the Season 3 narrative is that Joyce isn’t ready. She could really use a friend right now, and Hopper is only willing to pretend to be one. When he asks her out again, it’s under the ruse of a platonic get-together. They banter back-and-forth about whether he’ll pick her up or she’ll meet him there, and what time they should meet so she can be home early. But this isn’t Hopper encouraging a heartbroken friend to get back out there, easing her way back to the dating scene by having a one-on-one meal with a pal. Hopper buys a new “Magnum P.I.” shirt, dons a blazer, orders a bunch of drinks, sits right behind a romantic orchestra (seriously, how big is Hawkins again?), and plays the romance to an extreme. Hopper is trying to turn it into a date, when Joyce needed something else.
Joyce’s disconnect is clear when she doesn’t even show up. Yes, even a friend should’ve called the restaurant, but she was so wrapped up in solving her mystery — which Hopper dismissed with another gross sitcom dad line, “Clean up on aisle five” — that she honestly forgot. That should be good enough for Hopper if he actually cared about Joyce’s emotional state. After all, friends make those kind of mistakes all the time. But it’s not. Hopper is pissed, and he’s pissy for the next, like, five episodes.
This introduces one of the worst stages of a clichéd will-they-won’t-they coupling: the bickering. Hopper, grumpy that Joyce isn’t reciprocating his romantic intentions, proceeds to whine ad nauseam about being pushed away and how slowly she’s able to move on. Joyce, meanwhile, moves on to more important matters (aka the magnet investigation), but she doesn’t really get a chance to say her side. So, as they go to the sealed up Hawkins Lab, kidnap the mayor, and stumble upon a kind Russian scientist, they fight and fight and fight.
I will say the scene in the lab where Hopper confronts Joyce about putting her house on the market is pretty well done. “I want you to feel safe,” Hopper says, after reassuring Joyce the lab is totally shut down. “I want you to feel like this can still be your home.” These are the foundations of Hopper’s appeal: He can be thoughtful, he can be sweet, he can have a meaningful conversation with someone who needs one, but the actions and antics surrounding this scene don’t support that person. They undermine him.