Stranger Things Season 3

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Russian agents are working tirelessly to destroy the United States from within. Unbeknownst to the patriotic and conventionally Midwestern citizens of Hawkins, Indiana, an infiltration is already underway.

Despite contemporary echoes, the third season of Netflix’s smash hit Stranger Things takes place in the summer of 1985, amid a fictional invasion by Soviet agents—as well as shapeshifters, interdimensional monsters, and mind controllers. Modern-day election interference looks tame by comparison.

When last we left young protagonists Mike, Will, Dustin, Lucas, Max, and “El” (short for Eleven, the number she was assigned by the government scientists who conducted experiments on her), they had successfully closed an underground portal to an alternate reality brimming with evil creatures. Now the group’s issues are more characteristic of junior high: Mike and El are obnoxiously lovestruck. Dustin has a long-distance girlfriend (allegedly, at any rate). Will, who spent the first season trapped in a dangerous parallel world and the second season as a host for the nefarious “Mind Flayer,” can’t seem to catch a break.

The third season takes its sweet time getting to the action, and as a result it doesn’t quite live up to the hype. And the show leans a little too much on its own success. For instance, dweeby Dustin is deliberately and incessantly paired with recovering cool guy Steve Harrington—a comedic coupling that was well-received in season two but now feels like overkill.

Showrunners Matt and Ross Duffer are determined to maximize the Reagan-era nostalgia. Their most inspired choice is to situate the climactic showdown at a massive shopping mall (remember those?). A few characters even take in a movie—Back to the Future, of course—while hiding from Soviet thugs. As for the Cold War references, well, everything old is new again.

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