Sunday Morning! Wrapping up Stranger Things 3

Rufus F.

Rufus is an American curmudgeon in Canada. He has a PhD in History, sings in a garage rock band, and does many things. He is the author of the forthcoming book "The Paris Bureau" from Dio Press (early 2021).

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19 Responses

  1. Aaron David says:

    As someone who also grew up in the 70s-80s, I find that these shows either fetishize objects or fetishize childhood, neither of which I find appealing. Not that there is anything wrong with either, per se, but as they don’t resonate with me, I tend to find them boring. And at that point I start picking at them, so to speak. The wife started to watch Good Omens earlier, and as I had read the book 25-30 years ago I was curious. It was boring. The digressions were dated in the post Harry Potter England, which strangely left me sad that we had lost that world.

    This aging thing isn’t much fun in that regard.

    I am taking a bit of a break from Ellroy land, and reading a Le Carre that I tried to read when too young. I picked up Honorable Schoolboy when I was at Boy Scout camp as a junior high kid, and it was a bit… Slow would be a good description for a 13yo. But it is nice to pick it up all these years later.Report

    • Honorable Schoolboy is, of course, the middle book in the Karla trilogy. And IIRC the only book with George Smiley in charge of the Circus.

      There’s a new LeCarre trilogy consisting of two quite old books and a recent one:

      Call for the Dead: his first book, starring Smiley and featuring the East German spy Hans Dieter-Mundt.
      The Spy Who Came In From the Cold: his first great book. More about the Circus vs. Mundt.
      A Legacy of Spies: Decades later, Peter Guillam is called to account for his role in the events of the previous book.Report

      • Aaron David in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        That could be interesting. I am glad I didn’t come across Spy Who… when I was too young to fully appreciate it. It truly is a delicate work.

        I think I always held back on HS due to trying to read it when much too young to really get into the pace and style. But I am enjoying it now, as I have become thoroughly middle-aged.

        (There is a lot of stuff that I read around this time that I could only pick up the top layer of what’s going on due to life inexperience. It has been nice going back and reading much of that stuff and getting so much more out of it. Conrad, Waugh, Steinbeck, all have opened up like scotch after a drop of water is added.)Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to Aaron David says:

      Yeah, I can see the limited appeal. They also fetishize 80s media, most of which really doesn’t hold up. I looked through a list of all of the films released domestically in the 80s a while back and was struck that the only ones I’m fairly certain to watch again in the near future were Blue Velvet, Raging Bull, and E.T. which would make a weird triple feature.Report

  2. Jaybird says:

    An hour here, an hour there… pretty soon, you’re talking a real time investment!Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to Jaybird says:

      The thing that’s probably ridiculous about my issue with Stranger Things being 8 hours is I’m also working my way through all of the Kurosawa movies, which has to be at least 50-60 hours.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Rufus F. says:

        No, it’s totally cool. I dig it. I understand how someone can see “a 40 hour video game?!?” and then start doing calculations inside of their heads.

        But, for me, if I sit down and say “I’m going to watch a movie!”, I get stressed out and distracted and wonder what’s going on with the internet or with twitter or, goodness help me, if one of the characters starts having a bad day in a way that I relate to (that *REALLY* stresses me out).

        But in a video game? Complete and absolute engagement.Report

      • aaron david in reply to Rufus F. says:

        Speaking of Kurosawa (not really, but there you go), have you read any Yukio Mishima? I think he might be right up your alley.Report

  3. George Turner says:

    I didn’t enjoy season 3 quite as much as season 1 and 2. I’m not enough into the fan sites to know whether it was part of the original story idea or written up after the massive success of season 1 or 2.


    The Mall

    The Soviets somehow get to Indiana and build a very large mall with a vast underground complex underneath it. That wasn’t nearly as believable as having an obscure US government research facility in the middle of nowhere, which is actually pretty normal. The Soviet mall element required a much greater suspension of disbelief.

    I found the existence of the huge mall a stretch because the small town didn’t have the population to support it. Going by the size of their school (from previous seasons, or the school dance this season), their town’s population was probably 3,000 to 8,000. Maybe there are exceptions I don’t know about, but I think malls back then probably weren’t built in cities with populations much less than 20K unless they could serve a wide area. Everybody in the small towns would make weekend trips just to go to the mall. Their town didn’t even have a cheesy strip mall yet.

    *goes off to check the Internet*

    Much of the downtown filming was in Jackson Georgia, population 5,000, 46 miles southeast of Atlanta. The Mall was in Duluth (pop 26K), only 20 miles from downtown Atlanta. It was built in 1984 but served many surrounding areas. It all-but closed after newer competing malls opened elsewhere, which is what made it a good filming location.


    Another problem is that malls generally aren’t planned, financed, built, and occupied over the course of a summer, which is what the Soviet plot would have required. It wasn’t on the horizon at the end of season 2, and boom, there it is at the start of season 3. Kids aren’t known to hang out at mall construction sites, so their prior lack of knowledge or concern isn’t that much of a problem in itself, but the dramatic change to the setting did bother me. The story was set in a small heartland town, a bit like The Andy Griffith Show and then suddenly the location seems to pop in and out of some metro area of Fast Times at Ridgemont High or Mall Rats?

    If the Soviet angle was a given, then it would have made more logical sense if they somehow arrived by tunneling through the weird dimension to pop out underneath the American facility, and then expended and dug in from there.

    However, having Soviets lurking beneath an abandoned facility in the middle of nowhere wouldn’t have provided fodder for cutting social commentary about malls, mall culture, and how malls gutted Main Street USA, shuttering so many long established mom-and-pop stores. Everybody remembers that happening, but in the smaller towns in wasn’t so much a mall that did it, it was Walmart.

    And the giant underground Soviet base, apparently thousands of feet below the mall and apparently the size of The Death Star, with hallways that went for miles, was pretty darn silly.

    Characters Development

    Part of the theme was how kids grow up and change, which is great, but we had to watch many of our favorite characters descend into controlling and manipulative behavior, unlikeability, and all-too-often, extremely irritating stupidity. Most of us don’t want to watch TV to side with irritating people whose behavior makes us want to punch a wall. We’re watching TV to avoid people who make us want to do that, or to see such people get what’s coming to them. There were times in season 3 when I hoped the bad guys would just kill all the good guys because the good guys were driving me nuts.

    All that said, I agree completely with your review. Whole episodes and sub plots could’ve been dropped. For example, the entire ham radio angle and the Mormon girlfriend in Utah served virtually no purpose at all, other than pointlessly burning screen time and making the story even less believable.

    I think season 3 could have been better, because at times it really shown.


    Lately I’ve watched

    Krypton, about Superman’s grandfather, which is surprisingly good.
    Swamp Thing, also from the DC universe, which is really good.
    The Summer of Rockets, about a Jewish family in Britain at the height of the Cold War, with lots of interesting spy bits.

    I’ve also watched the first few episodes of Fleabag. The lead performance is top notch and the writing is interesting, but it’s out there. Way out there. I’m not sure I would even comment on it until it’s a topic.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to George Turner says:

      I don’t know. Building a too large mall for a too small of a population is something that people who lack an idea of business would do. On the other hand, the mall seems too competently organized for something created by Soviets trying to replicant Americana and contemporary Americana at that.Report

      • George Turner in reply to LeeEsq says:

        That’s very true. If they tried to build a mall would have a bakery, a meat store, and a fish store. They just didn’t get retail, at least as it existed outside the communist bloc.

        I’m a fan of The Ushanka Show, which is a series of short discussions about various aspects of Soviet life by a man who grew up in Kiev and moved to the US.

        He has quite a lot of episodes on Soviet shopping, along with episodes on all sorts of topics, such as schools, politics, humor, kids cartoons, dating, vodka, and Chernobyl.

        An American mall wouldn’t even exist in their universe of ideas. Prior to 2001, there was only one mall in all of Russia (and the Soviet Union), a children’s mall in Moscow built in 1957. Even the abandoned mall on the show, Gwinnett Place Mall in Duluth Georgia, was 3.5 times larger than that one mall in Moscow. Even today, there are only four malls in Russia that are larger than the one on the show, even though the new one in Moscow is the largest in Europe (excluding the UK).

        The US doesn’t do really big malls either, which sounds odd, but out biggest mall is only #39 on the world list. For the big ones you have to go to some very diverse places. The world’s largest mall is a new one in Tehran which is six times larger than anything in the US. I bet they have very serious revolutionary mall cops, too. ^_^Report

        • LeeEsq in reply to George Turner says:

          The Soviet Union was the most anti-market of all Communist countries besides Albania. Nearly all post-WWII Communist including China realized that they weren’t going to collectivize agriculture and basically allowed for a great deal of private market farming. Unlike Stalin, they really didn’t have the guts for full blown collectivization. Some of the Communist bloc countries basically leased out ostensibly state owned businesses to private entrepreneurs to run and develop. Hungary after the 1956 Revolution was really prone to do this. So basically, something like market retail existed in most Communist countries to a certain extent with the USSR being the big exception and Albania the little one.Report

  4. LeeEsq says:

    What I like most about Stranger Things is that the characters don’t have to relearn the threat of the Upside Down every new season. It is one of the few genre shows where people don’t suffer from the idiot ball.

    I think that Stranger Things works better as a series because it is supposed to be a slice of life show about the 1980s and a science fiction show at the same time. Trying to recreate an idealized 1980s as much as Stranger Things does in a movie will be hard in a two to two and half hour movie. As a multiple season TV series, they can build Hawkins, Indiana, which combines small town and suburb, a lot easier.Report

  5. Doctor Jay says:

    I have what I feel is a good answer to the question of “Why isn’t Stranger Things a movie?” It’s because the indie theaters all closed down. And they closed down because of DVDs and the internet. Not enough people went to them. Not enough people get newspapers so they can see what’s playing. Not enough people just willing to go see what’s on this week.

    Indie movies died along with indie theaters, since the theater itself was a primary promotional channel for the films.

    BUT, we have streaming services now, and they have started to create their own content, which gives us stuff like Stranger Things, Russian Doll, and Good Omens to name a few. This is where the indie filmmakers have gone.

    For first-run theater movies, the rule is now “go big or go home”. This is because, at least as the industry people describe it, the promotional budget needed to get the public’s attention is so big, that only films for which that kind of budget makes sense get greenlighted.Report

  6. Saul Degraw says:

    I picked up a book of poetry by Benjamin Fondane. He was a Jewish Romanian poet that wrote most of his work in French. He was murdered at Auschwitz in the gas chambers.Report

  7. InMD says:

    My wife and I just finished Stranger Things 3 last night. She liked it better than I did but I still found it enjoyable. They’ve done a good job keeping the characters interesting and growing in believable ways. No one became a caricature.

    My only real complaint is similar to George’s. The whole Soviet built mall thing was so ridiculous it made it harder for me to get into. I kept wondering ‘what’s the international fallout when this is discovered?’ Thinking about it in terms of a child’s or young teen’s fantasy about saving the world mitigated but not completely. I’ll still watch the next season, which hopefully will bring it to a close.Report

    • DensityDuck in reply to InMD says:

      One of the things I noticed about ST3 is that they’re starting to get more meta with the 80s references; like, not just callbacks to cultural notes, but callbacks to storytelling and plotting.

      I mean, “giant secret military base underneath the mall” is surprisingly common in 80s SF schlock. So is “there’s an actual Russian base with dudes running around in Red Army dress uniforms waving AKs in the middle of America and somehow nobody notices”. Pointlessly elaborate codes with enough contextual information that some kid who works at a hot dog stand can decode them. And the end of the story has the big hero jump into an evil space vagina and be lost…FOREVER(?)

      This series also missed the Evil Dad feeling of the first two. If you note, both of those seasons had My Dad Is Evil / Ineffectual / Not Performing as a big theme. In this one it was a lot more just “we’re having adventures and stuff”.

      I am continually impressed that they turned Steve Harrington into an actual character who’s both sympathetic and not Mister Superman. Like, after a face turn characters usually hulk out, but Steve is still a dummy who gets beat up.

      I thought it was pretty good and the actors are definitely familiar with the characters and good at performing them, but eh…I think Stranger Things could be done at this point and I wouldn’t feel like there were parts of the story that I still wanted to see told. I figured that ST2 put the cap on that bottle, and that feeling was confirmed by ST3. Which is, in a way, another meta-80s reference, the series that keeps coming back for another go despite there not really being any more story to tell…Report