I'm glad I waited a bit to post about it, because honestly the ending was so different from what I was expecting that all I really had was ".....?!!!" but now that I've slept on it, my feelings on the season overall are actually really positive! So, let's see. Have some reactions.
Things I liked:
- STEVE AND ROBIN OMG. I was SO SURE they were being set up as a couple, and then the scene in the bathroom with his love confession and his reaction to her coming out was just the absolute sweetest, and so was finding out at the end that they're still friends and she's got his back. I want all the fic about the two of them hanging out and having adventures and wingmanning each other's attempts to pick up girls. Also, I now am just going to quietly headcanon that with the Party split up, the new D&D team in town is Erica, Dustin, Robin, and Steve.
- I also felt like Steve kind of got shoehorned into comic relief this season, so having him get a little hero moment when he goes back for the others was great. Fantastic dramatic entrance too! (So that guy never did get his car back, I guess?)
- Once we finally saw Suzie, I really loved her, and I'm glad she got to be useful in the big fight even from a couple thousand miles away! (Really not on board with breaking the tension in the middle of the fight for massive embarrassment squick, though.)
- The final confrontation with the monster and the machine was so cinematic and fun, and such an homage in the lighting and coloring and heroic sacrifices to 80s action/sci-fi movies. I loved every minute of it.
- Billy's heroic sacrifice was actually one of my favorite parts of the finale. (So much so that I went and giffed it.) I'm not really sure I would've wanted a full redemption arc for him, or even that it would've worked at all, but that moment with him and El and the monster was just ... ALL THE EMOTIONS.
- Losing Hopper made me feel a little better about how much I disliked his characterization this season. I guess I'll get into that more in the non-squee section below, but the sacrifice scene was dramatic and fun, and kind of a relief. I also really loved Joyce getting to be a Big Damn Hero and shut down the machine.
- All the partings at the end were really sad, but it also feels true to how families and friendships grow and change over the years.
- Just from a goofball shipper perspective, it was also surprisingly good setup for Steve and Nancy potentially getting back together. I mean, I don't think the show is going to go there in the slightest, but ficwise, I could totally see it. The most interesting thing about that triad this season is how Steve is now off having adventures and investigating weird things all on his own, and Jonathan's the one trying to talk her out of it, and it's now extremely plausible for Nancy and Steve to fall back together while looking into Hawkins weirdness.
Things I didn't like:
- It still frustrates me how cartoonish the human antagonists were this season. I guess it goes along with the movies they were riffing on, but not a single one of them (the newsroom guys, the mayor, the Russians) seemed like a real person in the slightest. I feel like in past seasons, one of the show's strengths is that while it's riffing on all these 80s sources, it's also bringing a modern sensibility, a sense of underlying realism that deepens it. This season just felt like you were watching one of those movies, and not one of the better ones, with the cartoony villains who get tidily knocked off with a single bullet, and I really didn't like it. Didn't like the high human body count either. People being killed by monsters I'm fine with, in a show like this. People being killed in significant numbers by Our Heroes is something I don't enjoy at all.
- Along those lines, I also felt like this season felt less grounded in the community and the families, especially compared to season 2, which brought in the families a lot more. (Ironic given that this season actually had more involvement with the townspeople, but none of them ever really emerged as real people except maybe the little old lady, RIP.) I realize it's a small town and the kids go over to each other's houses all the time, but the fact that the kids could spend a couple of days completely out of touch with their parents and no one ever noticed strained my credibility even by 80s standards, as did the complete lack of impact from all the deaths and the HOSPITAL GETTING MASSACRED right before the big 4th of July fair. Like ... did nobody notice because everyone at the paper is now dead so it didn't actually make the news, or ...?
- I pretty much hated every single minute that Hopper was onscreen. The fact that it wasn't leading up to a happy ending with Joyce redeemed it somewhat, but I guess you're not supposed to be going "Yes! Yes!" when a character lines themselves up for a sacrifice. I had way more feelings about Billy's death than about Hopper's by that point! It also didn't help that I also find Conspiracy Guy insufferable and they never really characterized the Russian scientist beyond "comic relief stereotype", so just about the only thing I enjoyed at all about Hopper's entire storyline was Joyce, and I didn't even enjoy her that much because their interactions were so irritating and the way he treated her pissed me off so much! I assume he's now in a Russian gulag (... somehow) rather than actually dead, so I guess we get to suffer him some more next season (so frustrating!! he was one of my favorites in the last two seasons!!) but maybe he'll be more likable when he comes back? idk. I do feel really bad for Eleven, though I actually don't feel so bad for Joyce because she kinda dodged a bullet. (When Murray was talking about Joyce being unable to commit because she's reminded of past relationships, I think we were supposed to be thinking about Bob, but based on the way Hopper was acting towards her this season, her ex-husband is really more what comes to mind.)
So yeah, on the whole, this was fun and we marathoned it in two days, and I had a really good time watching it, and I feel good about it afterwards. However, while the previous two seasons were really good TV and endlessly rewatchable for me, this one was fun but ... it didn't knock my socks off in the same way. I'm not sure if I'm ever going to be able to rewatch it without fast-forwarding through every single Hopper scene, and a lot of this season felt a little too glib and superficial (to me), and less grounded and believable than previous seasons. But it was fun and I have no regrets about the amount of my life that's been eaten up with watching this show over the last couple of days. I do kinda feel like it's jumped the shark a bit, though.
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