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‘Stranger Things’ Season 3: What to Fix When the Show Returns to Hawkins

Get rid of the Eleven and Max rivalry, use less obvious song choices, dissect that frozen demodog, and more.

Stranger Things

“Stranger Things 2”

Courtesy Netflix

The Duffer Brothers brought a bigger, cinematic feeling to “Stranger Things” in its second season, but that also meant that some characters were given the short shrift when it came to meaty storylines and development. While Steve (Joe Keery) became the unlikely hero of the new season and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) became the standout among the boys, the rest were less defined. Fortunately, the Duffers told IndieWire that they were already planning on focusing on more character-based stories in Season 3. Below are a few suggestions for what we’d like to see when the show returns to Hawkins, Indiana.

[Editor’s Note: The following article contains spoilers for “Stranger Things 2.”]

Keep the Obscure Soundtracks Coming

Charlie Heaton and Noah Schnapp, "Stranger Things"

Charlie Heaton and Noah Schnapp, “Stranger Things”

Netflix

Not sure if you’re aware, but the television show “Stranger Things” takes place in the 1980s. In case you were ever unsure of the time period, there are plenty of songs to help remind you. The problem with using songs like “Should I Stay or Should I Go” as emotional and atmospheric benchmarks is that there are so many other preexisting cultural reference points that muddy those waters. If the show really wants to create an ‘80s vibe while also advancing our understanding of these characters and the predicaments they find themselves in, “Stranger Things” could lean more on a less obvious soundtrack. Think of how much we were able to learn from the one kid at lunch sitting listening to his headphones because he was listening to Ill Repute instead of “Blitzkrieg Bop.” If the show wants to be more of a gateway to all the things that made ’80s culture worth resurrecting, it would serve “Stranger Things” to dig deeper in the vinyl crate a little more often.

Better Stories for Female Character

Stranger Things

We’ve already gone into detail about this, but while Season 2 of “Stranger Things” let Eleven evolve more as a character, introduced the wonderful Erica, and also let tomboys of all ages feel represented on screen with the inclusion of Max, the show desperately needs to improve the on-screen dynamics between its female characters. Beyond Eleven feeling threatened by Max and getting a quick hug from Joyce, the women of the show deserve more opportunity to bond and interact with each other, much like their male counterparts.

Fingers crossed that Season 3 not only brings the women together, but puts the spotlight on Erica, queen of our hearts and future ruler not just of Hawkins, but the world. (The Duffer brothers have said there will be more Erica in Season 3, so woo hoo!)

Stranger Things 2 - Erica Nerd sister

Find Something for Papa to Do

Matthew Modine, "Stranger Things"

Matthew Modine, “Stranger Things”

Netflix

Frankly, Eleven was the only one who was blown away when Papa appeared as a talking mirage in Episode 7 this season. At this point, we don’t care if he’s dead or not. In fact, we forgot all about him.

Nevertheless, Papa must have had a huge impact on Eleven, for better or for worse, as her only parental figure. Maybe it’s Stockholm Syndrome, or maybe he has bigger plans in mind for Eleven and the Upside-Down. As Season 3 will inevitably put Eleven back amongst friends, she’ll develop as she’s exposed to more normalcy, especially having Hopper in her life as her adoptive dad.

Eleven has always been the bridge between the Upside-Down and our world, and having the influences of Papa versus Hopper could play out in intriguing ways, just as long as Papa gains some nuance and depth. Eleven started out as kind of an alien, but now that she has friends, family, and hair, her humanity has been restored to her. How Papa reacts to that could reveal much about him.

Put Hopper and Murray Together

David Harbour and Brett Gelman, "Stranger Things

David Harbour and Brett Gelman, “Stranger Things

Netflix

David Harbour first suggested this pairing in “Beyond Stranger Things,” and it’s such a solid idea that we’re reiterating it. The sheriff and conspiracy theorist’s brief meeting in Season 2 had great, odd-couple energy, and having them be forced to work on something together has the potential to be highly entertaining. They’d be comedy gold together.

Just look at how well the Steve and Dustin pairing worked out this season. Not only were they hilarious, but their interaction fleshed out their individual characters while also creating one of the best relationships on the show. So more interesting pairings, please. And yes, more Steve and Dustin brotherly bromance. Let the hair flow!

Stop Separating Your Best Characters

It should go without saying that Season 3 won’t find Eleven isolated from the boys again. On paper, it sounds OK: Build demand for a Mike/Eleven reunion by letting the series’ biggest breakout carry her own storyline in Season 2. She’s great. She can do it. (The same could probably be said about Dustin, who got an extended, spotty, solo spotlight as he befriended and hid Dart.)

But a full season proved too long of a wait, with too little reward. So much love for “Stranger Things” Season 1 stemmed from seeing this group awkwardly come together. Season 2 repeated a lot of the same dynamics to lesser success: Dustin and Lucas fought over a girl. Mike moaned about Eleven. Eleven learned about the world and flexed her powers. But each character or group of characters often acted independently of one another.

The series has found great success with specific pairings, and after two seasons, it should be able to recognize and maximize these dynamics. Steve and Dustin; Hopper and Murray; Eleven and the boys; Joyce vs. the world; not Nancy and Jonathan, even though their joint storyline seems inevitable now. The series is bursting with characters, so please let them work together. Don’t add too many new faces. Don’t extend the story by separating everyone. Let these dynamics thrive, and see what happens.

Pick a Sci-Fi Horror Lane

Randy Havens, "Stranger Things"

Randy Havens, “Stranger Things”

Netflix

The Hawkins Lab has been removed from the equation for now, but “Stranger Things” got to play its “Aliens” card before it happened. Will’s possession became a means for tapping into “The Exorcist,” too. Horror has always been lurking around the various corners of this show, but with the closing shot of “Stranger Things 2,” it feels like the show would be better suited to lean more on sci-fi than horror. It’s no coincidence that one of the first images from second season that really took off was the “Close Encounters” homage of Will staring out the family’s front door. There’s uncertainty and terror to be mined from Hawkins’ place in this metaphysical tussle, but if the show is just heading to another climactic showdown with an otherworldly beast that can be swatted with a nail-studded baseball bat, it’s unclear how the show could do that again and not have it feel like a disappointing repeat.

So bring back some Mr. Clarke! Throw in a few more crash courses in dimension-hopping physics. Fill in some of the logistics of how the portal separates these two worlds. There’s already been a kitchen-sink approach to “Stranger Things,” so if the series went full “Back to the Future” tribute, time-travel style, would anyone object?

Understand the Upside-Down

Gaten Matarazzo, "Stranger Things"

Gaten Matarazzo, “Stranger Things”

Courtesy Netflix

That tease at the end of Season 2 needs to pay off, and since we’ve already seen some brief moments in the Upside-Down, we’re way over due to actually explore it and get to understand it better. Part of that can be done with an expedition, which could turn up other creatures.

Dart had imprinted on Dustin somewhat, so he was partially tamed. Perhaps Demodogs aren’t so bad after all? In the very least, their behaviors appear far more straightforward (feed!) than the Mind-Flayer’s. Also, the demodog in the Byers’ freezer could be an invaluable resource to figuring out the Upside-Down. Another call to Mr. Clarke to help do the dissection, and he can probably advise on how the demodog’s physiology informs about its habitat. With this greater knowledge, perhaps they can come up with a better battle plan than just burn everything with fire and have Eleven strain herself to close yet another gate.

Use Any Movie References to the Show’s Advantage

Stranger Things 2 Season 2 Netflix Paul Reiser

As IndieWire has previously discussed, the best movie references in “Stranger Things” are the ones that surprise the audience. Sure, the visual nod to “Close Encounters” is cool, while Steve and Nancy’s “Risky Business” Halloween costumes are unique, but the Duffer brothers have proven themselves capable of taking nostalgia and turning it against expectations to create fresh characters.

Nothing has to be said or done in Season 2 to make it clear who Doctor Sam Owens is meant to represent: Casting Paul Reiser in the role does all the work (even though the “Aliens” homages were still pretty fun). But his non-twist twist — that the actor known for playing a bad guy is actually as good as he claims — benefitted the series beyond a mere past connection. Viewers were kept on edge throughout, waiting for him to break bad. When he didn’t, it was a refreshing revelation as well as a genuine emotional connection.

There’s no reason they can’t do it again. No, we’re not suggesting William Zabka saves the day in “Stranger Things 3,” but there are ways to integrate the homages into the ongoing arc. Here’s hoping for more good doctors in Season 3.

“Stranger Things” is currently streaming on Netflix. 

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