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5 Best And 5 Worst Things About Stranger Things 3

When the sci-fi horror series Stranger Things debuted on Netflix back in 2016, it took the streaming world by storm. The first season was a fantastic mix of '80s nostalgia, psychic abilities, and hidden demonic terrors. It was so well made that it was hard to imagine the showrunners, Joe and Russ Duffer, could follow it up with an equally awesome season two.

And yet, they did. The second season rolled out a year later and expanded on concepts like the Demogorgon by adding in an army of Demodogs. It cranked up the threat-level with the Mind Flayer, and the show dragged a much larger portion of Hawkins, Indiana, into the developing story. When the third season finally arrived in mid-2019, it continued carrying the Stranger Things narrative forward to bigger, better, and bloodier things.

Of course, just because it was executed well, that doesn't mean the third season was flawless. With that in mind, we've decided to break down season three and find the high points, as well as some of the low ones. From Terminator references to hordes of exploding rats, here are the five best and five worst things about Stranger Things season three. (There are tons of spoilers ahead.)

Best - Bigger equals better in Stranger Things season three

Making things bigger is a classic element of serialized cinema. Simply put, you can't go on entertaining the masses with the same stuff that hooked them in the first place. Showrunners, directors, and producers are always scrounging for ways to make things newer, better, and badder.

On top of that, the third season is an interesting point in any series, as it serves as a transition point of sorts. On the one hand, it typically connects to original plots from the beginning of the show, while on the other, it attempts to reorient and expand the story to keep things entertaining and map out future possibilities. This is always a difficult task, but in the case of Stranger Things season three, the production crew has actually managed to calibrate and graduate the story to greater heights without losing the cozy, small-town feel of the original season. 

Season three clearly has some pretty big fish to fry, like the invasion of the Mind Flayer and the unveiling of a huge Russian base underneath Hawkins. However, it masterfully balances these major plot points with a healthy dose of carnival fun, trips to the mall, a deep dive into the relationships of awkward teenagers, and even a hilarious reference to the massively overblown New Coke fiasco.

Worst - The Hopper/Joyce dynamic is getting tired

It's incredibly sweet to watch as Eleven and Mike date, break up, and then find their way back to each other. Lucas and Max get in on the fun, too, with their sage relationship advice. Plus, Dustin keeps us endlessly entertained as he loyally maintains his season-long quest to link up with Suzie. 

But there's one relationship throughout the series that's the epitome of beating a dead horse. We're talking, of course, about the unspoken attraction, disgust, tension — whatever you want to call it — between Chief Jim Hopper and Joyce Byers. The two have been flirting since the earliest days of the show, and by the end of season three, they still haven't managed to hook up or call it off. 

Season two had the help of Bob Newby, Joyce's boyfriend, who eased the tension and served as a natural barrier between the two characters. There was no such firewall in season three, and the endless and often nauseating discussions the two had as they traveled together got old really fast. Murray Bauman said it best in episode seven when he shouted from the back of the car in a fit of apparent self-awareness, "Children! Children! Children! This interminable bickering was amusing at first, but it's getting very stale." 

Well said, Mr. Bauman. Well said.

Best - There's no America without Erica

Lucas Sinclair's little sister is around for season two, but season three is where her star really shines. Erica Sinclair is all sass and sharp comebacks, especially when interacting with the nerds that hang out with her older brother. 

For example, there's her conversation with Dustin, Steve, and Robin at Scoops Ahoy in episode four. As the trio plan to infiltrate the secret Russian operation within the mall, they attempt to recruit the little hellraiser due to her smaller physique, as she can crawl through the air ducts. Sensing (or rather tasting) an opportunity, Erica has them bring her all of the ice cream she could possibly desire as they discuss her potential involvement. While she does ultimately help, it comes at the capitalistic cost of ice cream for life for the younger Sinclair.

But the scene in the Starcourt Mall isn't the only time Erica appears. She ends up being a steady presence throughout the season, nearly always delivering a bit of comic relief that cuts through the tension like butter. Her bump in screen time isn't an accident, either. In an interview with Vulture after season two had just dropped, writer and director Matt Duffer pointed out that Erica actress Priah Ferguson was already so good that, "Any excuse we had to get Erica in there, we'd write her in." The character's role in season three is so sensational, entertaining, and important that it even pushed Entertainment Weekly to dub her the MVP of the season.

Worst - All those melting bodies in season three

Stranger Things has had a solid dose of horror in each installment so far. The first season is filled with tension, fear of the unknown, and jump scares around every corner. Once the Upside Down is exposed for the otherworldly dimension that it is, the second season shifts its tone into more openly antagonistic horror, as the Mind Flayer possesses Will and makes its invasive underground move on Hawkins. 

However, in season three, the show takes a bit of a darker, more morbid turn into the gruesomely horrific. That's not to say that gross sequences are off-limits. It's horror, after all. Nobody's arguing that point. But the shift in the third installment from suspense and thrills to a much more brazen form of butchery is a bit much. The season is filled with soft, squelching, bleeding bodies — primarily rats and humans — as the tentacled menace slowly rebuilds its corporeal presence on Earth. 

While it's an interesting concept in theory, watching the monster slurp up all those bones and flesh is uncomfortable to watch, especially when it happens over and over again. From popping rats and disintegrating human corpses to writhing blobs of inverted innards, season three took the horror element to all-new levels. Again, it would've been fine, if it hadn't been so over the top so many times.

Best - The return of Murray Bauman

Conspiracy theorist Murray Bauman appeared earlier in the series when he was hired as a private investigator by the Hollands to find their missing (and dead) daughter, Barbara. From there, he ended up helping Nancy Wheeler and Jonathan Byers as they attempted to expose the Hawkins National Laboratory. His role was fun but auxiliary at best ... until season three. 

Much like Erica Sinclair, season three sees Bauman became a much bigger player. His character is integral to the entire second half of the season as he gives asylum to Hopper and Joyce, translates Dr. Alexei's traitorous information, and helps infiltrate the Russian base under the Starcourt Mall. As if that wasn't enough, in episode six, Hopper states that Bauman's home number is "618-625-8313." As curious fans quickly found out, if you call the number in real life, you actually get Bauman's answer machine. The gag is hilarious, just like the character, and we're hoping the Duffer brothers aren't done with Murray Bauman quite yet.

Worst - That's not Billy

Billy Hargrove's over-the-top swagger and outrageous confidence made him an instant fan favorite from the moment he entered the story in season two. He ultimately served as a sort of secondary antagonist as the crew raced around, trying to stop the ongoing invasion from the Upside Down. By the time all was said and done, everything was set up for Billy to play a prominent part in the third installment of the story.

And, to be fair, Billy Hargrove ends up having a ton of screen time throughout the next season. The only problem is, after the Mind Flayer drags the bully down into the basement of the Brimborn Steel Works, he's not Billy anymore. Gone is the strut and the bluster. The dude just isn't himself for the rest of the show.

Sure, he's possessed, so we won't hold it against him. But the absence of such a dynamic character for the bulk of the season is a sad loss. The silver lining, of course, is the fact that we get to learn a bit about Billy's abusive past thanks to El's trip into his mind. Follow that up with his final, redemptive moment in battle against his former possessor, and Mr. Hargrove ends up being one of the most tragic characters on the whole show. Too bad we couldn't see more of the lad before he was sidelined and disposed of by the monster.

Best - Suzie lives!

Throughout the third season, everybody has their doubts about Suzie, "Dustin's girlfriend from camp" who never seems to answer his calls. Ultimately, Dustin does get ahold of Suzie, as she picks up the radio just in the nick of time in the final episode. In fact, Suzie ends up not only being real, but she also provides the pivotal information for Planck's constant that allows Hopper and Joyce to shut down the Russian machine that's burrowing into the Upside Down. 

All that said, Suzie and Dustin's magnum opus isn't Planck's constant, even though it saves the world. Their best moment is definitely that incredibly cute duet. Before she gives her boyfriend the number, Suzie demands that Dustin sing the theme song from The NeverEnding Story. Suzie herself ends up jumping in on the tune, and the little duet that follows is one of the best moments of the entire season. 

Not only is it a great call back to an '80s cult classic, but the pair actually pulls it off really well, a fact that's a little less shocking when you know that Dustin actor Gaten Matarazzo actually has some Broadway experience under his belt.

Worst - The Upside Down has disappeared

One of the hallmark features of the Stranger Things storyline is the occasional trips to the Upside Down. The first two seasons feature multiple forays into that gloomy, dangerous, inverted world. The third season goes there, too, as Billy Hargrove meets his other-worldly counterpart just after his mind is flayed. But after that? The Upside Down nearly leaves the story entirely. 

To be fair, it makes sense. After all, the Mind Flayer is doing its level best throughout the season to invade the normal, "right-side up" world. It follows that the majority of the season would take place in the real world as the flayed carry out their master's bidding and form a bloody, mutilated mega-corpse for it to use. 

Nevertheless, much like Billy's necessary absence, the lack of time spent in the Upside Down ends up being a bit of a disappointment. Throughout the season, the possibility of running into Demogorgons or Demodogs in their own element remains firmly out of reach. Instead, the utter and complete mystery of the Upside Down remains just that — a mystery.

Best - The battle of Starcourt Mall

While the lack of Upside Down sequences is a bummer, there's no doubt that the Mind Flayer is an awesome villain. And as the last two episodes of the season play out, the creature is unveiled in all of its disgusting glory. 

It makes its first approach during the carnival, attacking Hopper's forest cabin and finding that it's met its match in the telepathic powers of El. However, once the battle shifts to the Starcourt Mall in the final episode, the whole team has to step up. As they face the sudden reality that El has mysteriously lost her powers, the monster appears again, dropping in for a visit in the middle of the mall's central court. 

And it's there, in the ruin of Starcourt, that we're treated to one of the very best scenes in the entire show. As the beast appears poised to kill them all, that's when the fireworks start flying. Thanks to Lucas, the kids have a whole lot of patriotic ammo, and from up on the mall's second story, they unleash a colorful reign of terror on the Mind Flayer. The entire fireworks scene is mesmerizing and awesome, as the Mind Flayer is buried under one of the most intense 4th of July celebrations ever caught on film. 

Worst - Hopper is unstoppable in Stranger Things season three

Hopper is awesome. The dude is nearly as good at stopping bad guys as he is bad at being a parent. But the truth is, he's a small-town law enforcement officer, not Rambo, and the endless stream of villains he takes on throughout season three gets way out of hand when you add it all up. 

From an ongoing string of fistfights and shootouts with the Russians to his multi-episode duel with the Soviet equivalent of the Terminator, Hopper comes across as an unstoppable juggernaut in season three. No matter how badly each fight goes, he always comes back for more. No matter how beat up he is, by the next episode, he's swinging away like he's still in round one.

Even the fact that he may have survived the explosion in the Russian base — an event that vaporized Soviet agents standing much further away from the blast — boggles the imagination. While you've got to have some suspension of disbelief in a show like this, the "unstoppable Hopper" saga certainly pushes those limits to the brink as the season runs its course.