Stranger Things Season 3 Was the Perfect Series Finale
Stranger Things Season 3 Was the Perfect Series Finale
and then the after credits scene ruined it
Written by Christopher R. Myers
When the third season of Stranger Things opens there is already a sense of finality hanging over the show. The Four Hawkins Boys who started as a group of children playing Dungeons & Dragons in their friends' basement, and are immediately ripped into a world turned upside down by monsters and malevolent government agencies. The Four, Will, Mike, Lucas, & Dustin are so steeped in their outcast nerdom and childlike wonder that they name the monsters and even the Upside Down itself after what they know from the Dungeon Master's Manual. So it makes sense that as we enter their first collective teenage year they are separated by relationships and space. It is the beginning of the end for what the world once was to them. The audience is quickly thrown into the thick of the strange as the pacing of the season seems to want to answer the slower burn of season two that so many seemed to have trouble swallowing, and Billy, the toxic older brother to still somewhat fresh newcomer Max, is diverted from his path of spreading emotional destruction by the Mind-Flayer which gives the violent mullet in a denim jacket a taste of his own medicine. Dragging the C-list villain to a screaming end, and transforming the Trans-Am stereotype into a formidable top tier nemesis. This transformation brings out more than a few moments of empathy from the character as he fights the shadow eating away at his worst instincts, opening him up to be an emotional mess before fully taking him over. Billy's ultimate end was written on the walls of the steelworks before the first episode reached the credits, as was the series as a whole. From the ending of Mike and El's still budding relationship to Joyce's inability to let go of the traumatic death of Everyday Super-Hero Bob Newby to Chief Jim Hopper's fall from grace backwards into his angry and obnoxiously loud role as anxious drunk and overbearing untrusting father figure to a growing girl and her wise-ass teenage boyfriend the season telegraphed a wrap-up to end all things strange.
And they delivered, right up until that bunker of mysteries in Russia.
As the final episode reaches it's climax it seems that all is lost for our splintered group. Billy has “Griswold Family” trapped in the crumbling Starcourt mall, the three remaining adults who have seen every moment of the weird world that was opened up in season one are on what is ostensibly a suicide mission into the lab beneath said mall facing an army of evil stereotype Soviets, and as the Mind-Flayer breaks through the skylight of the mall the intrepid outcasts among outcasts 'Scoops Troop' can only watch helplessly from the top of a hill outside of town. El has lost her powers and is beaten to bloody hell by the time the Mind-Flayer/Billy make their way into the food court, and it is up to the slowly reuniting group of kids and teens to use Lucas' ingenuity and love of fireworks to stave off the final blow to everyone's favorite experiment turned super-hero. El finally makes an appeal to the last shred of happiness and humanity left in Billy by tapping into the only memory of light that the broken boy has left, A mother he hasn't seen in so long that he's almost forgotten her, and ultimately in a season filled to the brim with emotional problems being solved through violence or implied violence the day is saved by a powerless El using love and emotion to reach a person lost in darkness. This moment put finality to both the arcs of El and Billy by allowing her to be more than a stunted telekinetic gun and him to be more than an angry young man the both reached the culmination of what their characters had been building to giving Billy the chance to make a sacrifice and do what he is able in order to make up for the wrongs he caused while under the Mind_flayers influence. Billy's violent death is played at the same time as Hopper finally uses his burning anger and booming voice for the right reasons in the machine room fight against Grigori, the Russian Terminator. His season of falling backwards into habits and ways of thinking he thought he'd left in season one and struggle to find proper ways of expressing emotion is turned on it's head when he is able to unleash the full power of his fury on this seemingly unkillable death machine who has hounded he and Joyce for most of the season's run time, Hopper avenges our sweet boy scientist Alexei and chooses to skip out on his Friday date with Will's mom. The machine explodes in brilliant fashion, and the audience is left to hope that the quick thinking, if short sighted, small town police chief found a way out of the blast. Perhaps by climbing through the doorway into the Upside Down which was left ajar (about three inches).
A time skip of three months brings us to the Byers' home as the kids help pack up the house for the move Hopper had been so twisted up about that we had to know was coming from the first mention of it. The Byers family, now with Eleven in tow is leaving Hawkins, and in a season that made a point of tearing down childish things and moving on from who we once were, most notably through Will's beautiful naive view, this seemed like a perfect place to end it. The Four Hawkins Boys are no longer a cohesive party, they have grown apart in ways that will become unmendable as time and space drive a wedge between them. El has lost the only good father figure she ever had, and though he was able to speak to her from beyond the grave and lay his true self out on the table for all to see, they spent most of the season and her first steps into adolescence at odds with one another. She is able to leave Hawkins behind and start a new life as a normal teenager. The gate to the Upside Down is closed, and the Mind-Flayer along with all of its possessed minions has been defeated once and for all. The series is over in those final moments as the Byers car drives away from the small town that ruined their lives, and the camera makes a deliberate choice to hang on the “Hawkins City Limit” sign. The credits roll, and rather than give us a moment of El tasting her powers again, an finding Hopper trapped in the Upside Down alive we are treated to a ham fisted cliffhanger with allusions to “an American” held prisoner by the Soviet stereotypes and a lackluster “tease” that the Demogorgon is being kept as some form of torture pet by the Russians. This single moment undercuts the brilliantly paced season, upends a well written ending, and retroactively makes the series as a whole look like a now never-ending story that will struggle to match up to the three acts we were gifted.
The thematic elements of accepting change and moving on that ran so deep throughout the season are destroyed by this scene of mystery boxing questions that no one needed to ask. The running notions of growth, redemption, and sacrifice are absolutely undercut by an unnecessary detour which forces us to wonder “well what now”. A brilliant season that kept on track for eight episodes and stuck the landing of wrapping up three years watching these children grow and rise to the task was derailed by what seems to be an afterthought forced in by fear that the audience would riot if we were left at a conclusive end point. Why does the audience need everything answered? More over why do these highly creative shows feel the need to gift us questions? Perhaps I just like endings enough that seeing one done so well,and then having the rug pulled out from under me was a shock, but I personally like to be left speculating and wondering and wanting more. Not every mystery needs to be solved, and not every ending needs to be happy and tidy. Stories are at their best when they let the audience ponder about what happens afterward. Writers are at their greatest when they can keep a secret or two tucked in the margins of their first drafts. Stranger Things has been a fantastic series, bringing the horror of the Weird into the mainstream in ways that we haven't seen in a show since X-Files, and it deserves to have its ending match what the writers and show-runners have been building to. Not to be dragged into another season and left out to dry by fans who will never be happy and a network that can't keep a good show running long enough to become great. There was something satisfying to the way the season tied up everything that was laid out from the start, and I'm just a bit disappointed that it will most likely never get the ending it just skipped over.