Stranger Things is a show that needs to change, but it doesn't want to. Stranger Things first arrived on Netflix in 2016, setting up a cool new world which was nostalgic, fun, interesting, and a little bit scary. And while some things have changed since then, it's remained relatively the same and has even fallen into a formula.
In season 1, Eleven's mind-bending superpowers, the portal to the Upside Down, and the heavy influences of classic '80s movies all combined to deliver a show that was near perfect. Season 2 did a good job of expanding the world that the Duffer brothers created, especially from a character perspective, looking at how Eleven integrated herself into society, how Will adjusted to life after so long in the Upside Down, and even introducing more of Dr. Brenner's experiments.
However, while Stranger Things season 3 was enjoyable to watch, it coasted on the existing set up, and didn't change much at all. For a show that will run at least one more season, something big needs to change to avoid it getting stale. Sadly, that didn't happen with season 3.
Stranger Things Season 3 Doesn't Develop Its Characters
If Stranger Things season 1 was about establishing the characters and their relationships with one another, then season 2 was about expanding on that. It gave the Duffers a chance to build on existing pairings that fans had approved of, such as Dustin and Steve, and Mike and Eleven. Season 3 had an opportunity to expand and alter this still further, but instead the show just keeps it all pretty much the same.
There are a few exceptions, such as Max and Eleven forming a tight bond, and the introduction of Robin, but for the most part, we are given the same pairings we've had all along and there's no expansion to that. Even Eleven dumping Mike was all rectified pretty quickly. Will and Mike talk about things changing, but we don't see that really play out other than Lucas and Mike's reluctance to play Dungeons and Dragons. By the end of Stranger Things season 3, everything has reverted back to how it always was, with the absence of Hopper, of course. With Stranger Things, the Duffer brothers have undoubtedly created characters that we all love, but going forward, as the characters grow, their relationships need to change just as they would in the real world.
Stranger Things Season 3 Repeats The Same Structure
Perhaps the most frustrating point of Stranger Things season 3 is that it repeats the same structure of its previous seasons. It's a formula that has served them well, but how much longer is that sustainable for? It always goes the same; the villains start to close in, everyone thinks the end is nigh, Eleven shows up at the last minute to defeat the monster, and someone dies. Furthermore, Stranger Things tends to have three or four groups working on various aspects of the mystery only for them all to come together in the last episode and finally solve the problem.
The description could be applicable to any of the three seasons of Stranger Things. The only thing that changes are the movies they're referencing as well as the fashions. Going forward, with Eleven seemingly having lost her powers, the question arises of whether the Duffers will now change things up? If Eleven's powers suddenly return in Stranger Things season 4 to allow her to defeat the monster at the last minute again, it will cheapen what has been a sensational show with some truly outstanding moments, and Stranger Things will cease to be a sci-fi adventure show and instead just become a tribute to its fans.
Stranger Things Season 3 Undoes The Changes Made In Season 2
Stranger Things season 2 caused controversy upon its release, when an entire episode was devoted to Eleven's sister, a fellow Hawkins Lab experiment named Kali. Now living rough with a gang, Kali was not as empathetic as Eleven, as loving, or as accepting of the world around her. It's fair to say that fans didn't enjoy the episode and, at the time, the backlash was quite brutal. Even so, most had assumed that Kali would return in some way. It's almost understandable that the Duffers didn't revisit her or the storyline in season 4, but equally, they've now missed an opportunity to expand on the notion of there being others like Eleven.
Kali's episode might not have been popular, but the idea that Eleven wasn't alone was worthy of further exploration. There has been zero payoff for fans who watched that season 2 episode, "The Lost Sister"; it's simply been brushed away. Instead, the show has reverted to playing it safe with more about the Upside Down, and much, much more 80's nostalgia. But while the nostalgia is heavy, the Upside Down mythology isn't deep. We don't learn anything about the Mind Flayer that we didn't already know. We're not given any depth or expansion to the Russian's desire to explore the Upside Down. There is the possibility, of course, that the payoff for all these storylines will come in season 4, but that seems unlikely.
Stranger Things Season 3's Ending Won't Change The Show
The ending of Stranger Things season 3 definitely set up some major changes, but we know that it won't ultimately change the show. First of all, the idea of a fourth season without either the Byers family and Eleven, or Mike, Lucas, Dustin, and Max is unthinkable. So is the notion of keeping the two halves separated from each other. It's can easily be presumed that the Byers and Eleven's goodbyes aren't permanent - Mike even mentioned Will and Eleven coming to stay for Thanksgiving and Christmas, which may also hint at when we can expect Stranger Things season 4 to release.
One opportunity Stranger Things has to truly shake things up is with the death of Hopper, but let's face it, it's highly likely he's going to come back. Technically he should be dead, since he was on the wrong side of the machine when Joyce shut it off, and other lab workers were melted on the spot. But a couple of things point to him still being alive, and a prisoner of the Russians. First of all, Stranger Things isn't afraid to show gruesome and grisly deaths; Billy, Bob, and various lab workers are just a few examples, and yet they didn't show Hopper's death at all. As well, a post-credit scene set in a Russian lab sees a guard feeding a prisoner to a Demogorgon, but he's specifically told "not the American."
The strongest possible candidate to be a prisoner of the Russians is surely the American who disappeared while inside a Russian underground bunker? If that proves to be the case, as many fans predict, again it will cheapen the show if even the biggest twists of season 3 are undone to make everything right again (Eleven regaining her powers and Hopper being alive). Again, with David Harbour being such a beloved cast member, and fans rooting for Hopper and Joyce since season 1, it's understandable in many ways, but if Stranger Things does end after season 4, it should go out with a bang rather than a fizzle.