We already know people enjoyed Stranger Things’ new season, nothing new there. Netflix‘s collection of writers, actors, set design, seriously everyone involved put their best foot forward and made for an entertaining new chapter to the story of Hawkins, Indiana. Some people are probably getting to the point that they hope this story turns into the Neverending kind.
However, the efficacy Stranger Things has achieved in making well-rounded, interesting characters could be part of its own undoing.
Almost all characters featured in their past three seasons have grown into complex, interesting personalities. However, series can’t always showcase all of its characters. Having such a large cast can cause a lot of trouble and distract from the story.
Unfortunately, ignoring other characters that need development can also cause even more issues.
For example, fans this season were bothered by how little Will Byers starred. Last season, he finally got to show off his sweet, sensitive, resilient personality. Being lost in the Upside Down in season 1 didn’t really give him that. It became his time to shine, and he did. However, just as fans fell in love with him, they barely got to see anything from him this season.
And on the flip side, Mike and Nancy’s mom, Karen, got more interesting and complicated last season when fans learned how unhappy she was in her relationship. When fans found she focused so little on the kids’ whereabouts because of her own personal problems, it made her a more nuanced character.
The writers do the same with every character they came across (save, perhaps, El’s sister), but it’s starting to become a problem.
Because the show is over-bloated with too many complex characters it wants to cover and evolve, but doesn’t have enough time to do so.
And the epicenter of this problem in season 3 is none other than Nancy Wheeler.
Nancy Wheeler started season one as the popular, cute girl who fell in love with the popular, cute guy. She was the typical, innocent last girl in a horror movie, losing her virginity with monsters lurking around. Throughout the season, she finds it impossible to sit back and follow others, instead taking charge to protect her family and the town.
Season 2, she evolved even further, refusing to accept a traditional life. She rejected Steve Harrington and staying in Hawkins forever, instead turning towards investigative journalism to try to find justice in Barb’s death and bonds even further with Johnathon in that desire to be more than Hawkins.
Season 3 tries to continue her story, adding a feminist journalist plot-line, but really doesn’t go anywhere with it. It helps propel early plot threads, but halfway through the season truly falls off and goes nowhere. Her future as a journalist is completely disregarded at the end and her character ends up in a jobless stalemate. At best, she’s just going to inherit the newspaper because all the men are dead.
It makes sense that with all the other intrigue going around, she got tossed to the wayside. Her and Johnathon’s journalistic adventures are comparatively boring.
But Stranger Things writers should have found her a better, side role or even moved her and Johnathon out of Hawkins completely instead of sort of giving them a dead end. The writers and the story are understandably attached to the characters they created, but there are too many unnecessary mini-plots that didn’t need to be there. Karen Wheeler’s almost affair didn’t accomplish anything. Nancy and Johnathon could have been in Chicago, getting jobs. Murray Bauman, last season’s conspiracy truth-master, didn’t need to get involved in the plot, not really. Joyce could have figured out a way to communicate with Alexei and beef up her own evolution as a budding detective. The writers bloated the story with their own great characters because they wanted to interact with them, but then kinda made them a little more boring, bland, and ineffective in the process.
Will, who definitely needs and deserves more embellishment, could have taken Nancy and Johnathon’s place. In theory, his entire “arc” is about being upset that the friend group is drifting apart. He could have started actively looking into his weird ominous, neck prickling feelings and maybe call Johnathon and Nancy for tips on investigating. Then, same topics are covered but a character who NEEDS more space to breathe and develop can get it. They just needed to move some characters into a holding pattern to make room for others to develop better.
For example, their best work this season with keeping characters interesting but out of the way was with Lucas and Max. Last season, they were learning more about each other and exploring their feelings. This season, they got to be a cute, semi-dysfunctional couple that gives sometimes good, sometimes terrible advice. They got to be partners in crime to help El and Mike develop more of themselves, but they weren’t completely ignored.
And considering they added three, already beloved characters this season and only got rid of one (maybe two, but let’s be honest, most people believe Hopper is alive), that’s even more people to keep track of next season. It’s going to be hard to do creative justice by 14+ characters in a show with an already overcrowded cast.
Mind you, I love the characters these writers have created. But not everyone can get the spotlight. It’s impossible. Other stories that fit the theme of the season better, and deserve more time and weight, will get completely stifled by it.
Sending Johnathon and Nancy off to become serious journalists would have been an easy fix to some of this bloating problem, but they didn’t do that this season. Now, they’re just glorified plot drivers.
And with Johnathon and Nancy ending the season apart, they aren’t running off to the Chicago Tribune so quickly (not yet, at least).
With the likely season 4, Stranger Things has done fantastic, amazing work. It deserves the praise it gets, completely. It beautifully balances nostalgia, a reverence for sci-fi horror, and fresh storytelling.
But they do need to solve the overcrowding issue otherwise they’ll have way too many characters they’ll be trying to give story arcs to in the next season. And where this season survived it, a couple more “Nancy Wheeler” problems and things could start to fall apart.