The Emmy-winning Netflix series seems to shapeshift yet again and keep us guessing.
The Stranger Things drought feels all too real at the moment. As much as the show’s second season introduced characters, ideas, and plot twists that seem entirely too reactionary for its burgeoning mythology, what’s next for the folks of Hawkins? The show that brought us the initial bout of full-blown 1980s nostalgia has a good heart, even if it can appear like it doesn’t really know what it wants to be just yet.
For better or worse, some of the changes made between Seasons 1 and 2 of Stranger Things are very noticeable. For example, the arrival of “Dad Steve” (Joe Keery) and his dish towel is honestly wonderful; it reintroduced the character as everyone’s new favorite. However, Steve’s quick transition from asshole boyfriend to endearing parental figure was an uncomplicated and unquestioned choice.
Steve’s evolution isn’t necessarily unfathomable or out of character if you pay attention to some clues at the end of Season 1, but those were merely hints that capped off a season of frustrating behavior. Furthermore, when his counterparts don’t develop at the same pace, the unevenness in the overall storyline is rendered even more apparent. Take Nancy (Natalia Dyer) for instance, who relentlessly fought to get #JusticeForBarb yet in doing so remained pretty much the same character throughout both seasons.
David Harbour’s Jim Hopper sits somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. He goes from being the begrudging chief of the Hawkins Police Department to believing in Demogorgons and the Upside Down. He then vows to look after a child on the run from secret agents and supernatural forces, essentially falling face first into the throes of fatherhood. To say that the changes in Jim’s personality and priorities have had to be immediate and conspicuous would be an understatement. But they are also strangely understandable in the context of how his character arc unfolds before our eyes.
According to Harbour, these character moments will continue to shape Jim in the third season of Stranger Things. In the wake of the show’s just-announced 12 Emmy nominations, Harbour and producer Shawn Levy happily divulged some upcoming plot elements to tide us over as the show continues production in Georgia. Predictably, these nuggets of information are kept as vague as possible in their interview with Deadline. Regardless, these updates do indicate some tangible form of narrative direction for the series.
On the subject of Jim, Harbour specifically notes that there is a chance for the character to return to the assertive “swashbuckling” badass we came to know by the end of Season 1:
“We had a little softer season with Jim in Season 2, where he was really working off these fatherly instincts and understanding a responsibility that was larger than himself, and I think one of the things that we missed from Season 1 was this guy who goes into government facilities and punches people in the face. He’s not a doofus, but he’s a bit of a Columbo character.”
After mostly ignoring Jim’s rougher, tougher roots in Season 2, the combination of “both” of his characterizations will meet in the middle in future episodes. This revelation could imply that there’s a very good chance Jim will get to take on the sleazy new mayor who enters the Hawkins playing field. Yet ultimately, he is a father figure now. The growing pains experienced during his Season 2 tensions with Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) need to be worked through. Jim truly loves and cares about the child, but his more explosive and impulsive tendencies may put her in jeopardy. This internal conflict alone makes his arc far more compelling already.
More generally, Levy clues us in on the “darker” tone that Season 3 will seemingly take, too, although he is also quick to assure everyone that the humor that’s been a hallmark of Stranger Things won’t be going anywhere. Meanwhile, Harbour reiterates the fact that that the mid-1980s will be strongly represented throughout the fabric of the story: “I would go look at the great films that were released in ’85, of which there were many, and just go down that list and think of the possibilities that we could be going with.”
We already know about Back to the Future. The Goonies and the Michael J. Fox version of Teen Wolf make for logical reference points. Fright Night combines thrills and laughs as the perfect cult classic to draw from. And it wouldn’t be a real throwback to 1985 without considering The Breakfast Club and St. Elmo’s Fire – classics that would especially fit into the storylines of the show’s teenage characters. This is how we’ll get to the core of Dad Steve’s transformation. He sits in a circle in the school library and talks about his feelings.
Harbour notes that the cast and crew are “taking risks” going into the third season of Stranger Things. However, the jury is still out on whether these methods – almost anthology-esque in practice – creates for a cohesive, sustainable show. Nonetheless, if the series takes a comprehensive approach to all of its characters, it would’ve tapped into a goldmine. This is where the power of Stranger Things lies anyway: the people in the show make absolutely any wacky premise worth it. So let’s start with Jim Hopper.