The Complete Stranger Things Season 3 Recap

Stranger Things season 3 recap

It was everything I was hoping for and more.

With this Stranger Things season 3 recap, I want to look back on all the different aspects that make this season – and the entire show – the modern classic that it is. Stranger Things has been called a love letter to the 80s, and it really is.

If you’re looking for an episode by episode breakdown, fear not, as I have you covered and you can check out a full breakdown of each episode here:

O.K., we’ve got a lot to get to…

Plot Summary

So here’s a quick rundown of what we saw over the course of Season 3. We start by finding out the Russians are involved in their own attempt to open up the gate of the Upside Down. They use a giant laser that they call a “Key” but it has a bad design flaw: It vaporizes any humans around it. The scientists are told they have one year to get this thing up and running properly.

That brings us to around four days before July 4th, 1985 and we see the glorious Starcourt mall in all its 80s splendour. The production designers of the show have perfectly recreated the mall experience of the 80s. The mall has been killing the downtown business – which every mall in the 80s pretty much did – and it’s making the locals unhappy. 

Dustin has been away at summer camp and Eleven and Mike have been getting pretty hot and heavy in the meantime to the dismay of Jim Hopper. Nancy and Jonathan are working for the Hawkins Post but getting treated like absolute crap. Dustin has created a giant HAM radio and they intercept some bizarre Russian transmissions and if you remember Billy, he’s about to be infected by the Mind Flayer which escaped the gate closing at the end of season 2.

There is an issue of diseased rats in town and Billy has met himself along with an army of “zombies”. It turns out these people have been “flayed” and are also infected by the Mind Flayer. There begins to be some drama among the kids and their relationships as they are all starting to come of age and Joyce notices that her magnets aren’t sticking to her fridge. 

Steve Harrington is working at an ice cream shop with new addition Robin and the two of them, along with Dustin are able to crack this Russian code and realize that the Starcourt mall is a front for a Russian organization. Billy aka the Mind Flayer now knows who Eleven is and is using the flayed to create a super monster with the intention of destroying her. 

We find out the Starcourt mall organization is trying to buy property in Hawkins and corrupted the evil Mayor Kline. Turns out deep beneath the mall exists another one of those lasers and they’re trying to cut into the Upside Down. 

Eleven is infected by an attack from the Mind Flayer and a battle culminates at the Starcourt mall. Billy ends up giving his life to save eleven and Hopper also gives his as he and Joyce blow up the key. At the end of episode 8, The Byers family – plus Eleven – finally leave Hawkins for good.

But we’ll get to that post-credit scene in a bit

Looking At The Various Themes Explored In Season 3.

So one big one has to do with the paranoia facing everyone during the Cold War of the 80s and this is reflected in the paranoia experienced by many of the characters throughout this season. We can see the Mind Flayer to represent this Russian threat and the attack on freedom as we know it.

The other big underlying theme of this season is a classic coming of age story. The kids are now growing up and maturing. People are starting to realize that they’re not kids anymore and you can’t protect them forever. They’re turning into adults and they have to experience life in their own way and follow their own path.

We also see the yearning for childhood not to end as Will is refusing to grow up and accept that everything is changing. The Mind Flayer can also represent this attack on childhood and the fear that comes from the unknown future. 

There’s also this idea of what a real hero looks like and we see how the true hero is the one who neglects themselves for the good of others. We ultimately see that BIlly is a hero along with Hopper – which we kind of already knew.

You can also look at the Mind Flayer, and the monster, as representing Communism. Each person that it infects becomes part of the bigger object. They all become part of a single body so when Billy is attacked, they/It all feel it. 

How The Characters Have Developed Over The Season

The beauty of a third season of any show is that if things are done right – by this point – the characters are fully established. We know how they’re going to react and we almost know what they’re going to think and say before they even say it. Thanks to this, we see some real development and deeper realizations among the characters.

As mentioned with Billy, we realize how tortured he is and we actually feel sympathy for him – he’s more than just an asshole. We see how vulnerable Eleven is and how her powers can weaken and she has to come to terms with something she never experienced before.

We see the evolution of Joyce from pretty much crazy to more commanding and authoritative. Same thing with Dustin; he seems to emerge as a true leader and almost like the most adult among any of the characters. I’ve mentioned about Wills journey and finally realizing that things are not going to be the same anymore. All the actors are now so developed and polished in their performance and characters that it’s easier for us to buy into their world.

The new characters also made a big contribution. Erica was an amazing addition with her full sass and attitude. She was able to keep others in check and still be able to contribute. Robin also gave a similar dynamic and was able to fit in naturally to the dynamic created by the other actors. Mayor Kline was another great addition of a typical crooked politician and if you don’t think this is based on anything specific just check this out…

The notable stand outs are Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven who gives such a powerful, emotional, and intense performance along with Dacre Montgomery who plays Billy. He captures this same emotional intensity and is really one of the backbones of the whole season. 

Movies Referenced This Season

So let’s cover movies that are either used as inspiration, acknowledged in the season, or both:

  • Dawn of the Dead – an obvious influence about a town overtaken by the walking dead in the same way Hawkins is by the flayed. We see a Dawn of the Dead poster in Jonathan’s room
  • Fletch – The story of a reporter who goes rogue and uncovers an incredibly serious story and we see this mirrored in Nancy’s arc for the season. We see Fletch playing at the Starcourt theatre
  • Jurassic Park – I felt Jurassic Park was all over season 3. There are a lot of homages to it in the form of the labs that look straight out of INGEN. There are a lot of scenes at night in the rain that captures that feel from the original movie. The Wheelers watching something massive moving through the trees brings back memories of the T-Rex stomping through the woods. Even the shots of the kids hiding similar to Lex and Tim in the kitchen from the raptors.
  • The Thing – another huge influence on Stranger Things. Not only do we see a poster in Mike’s basement but we get a full commentary comparing the original to John Carpenter remake. This was also Stranger Things making its own self-commentary and showing their self-awareness on how they’ve borrowed from so many classics but maybe have improved on them in their own way.
  • D.A.R.Y.L. – also playing at the mall theatre, it’s the story of a robotic boy controlled by the government.
  • Cocoon – an 80s classic we see on the marquee about infected people just like what’s happening in Hawkins
  • Return to Oz – pretty much a similar premise as they are returning to this Upside Down world
  • IT – we see a funhouse at the city fair that has a clown on it that looks a lot like Pennywise. It’s thought that IT and Stranger Things exists in the same universe and that Bob might have had a run in with Pennywise as witnessed in season 2. Also, watch for the red balloon popping at the funfair….
  • We see a poster for Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure which was going to come out on July 26th of that year
  • Endless Summer – this is a movie from the 60s but the poster is up on Max’s wall. It’s the story of surfers leaving California and the comforts of home which is the exact case for her and Billy.
  • The Stuff – another movie featured on the marquee which is a movie similar to The Blob and shares a lot of similarities in the flayed morphing together.
  • Star Wars – Star Wars has been all over Stranger Things but in season 3 we see how the laser looks just like the tractor beam from the Death Star, nods to hiding in the Millenium Falcon, connections between Anakin Skywalker and Billy and ignoring their Dark Side to save Eleven/Luke, The control room for the laser that looks just like the Death Star where Han Solo/Steve takes out the guard. Even the battle between Hopper and the Terminator character looks set just like Vader vs Luke.

And that’s it for movie references…

Back To The Future

Obviously, this is a pivotal part of the movie and the inclusion of my favorite film of all time. We see a poster for Back to the Future at the movie theatre in the Starcourt mall. It opened on July 3rd, 1985 and the first few episodes take place just before this.

In a brilliant scene, Dustin, Erica, Steve, and Robin are trying to hide from the Russians and walk right into one of the first screenings of Back to the Future. We’ve seen various references to it over the other seasons including the similar JVC camcorder that Doc uses which is used by Bob in Season 2. Earlier in season 3, we see the similar black and white cat clock with the moving eyes at Mrs. Driscoll’s house.

In another amazing scene, we see Dustin calling the others by walkie talkie while in the projector room for Back to the Future. We hear Alan Silvestri’s iconic score and the scene plays out like Dustin is Marty McFly who is also needing to communicate by walkie talkie. I loved this.

There are a few other references including BIlly revving his car in the parking lot which – even though could be a nod to Carrie – seems a bit Twin Pines Mall ish. There is also Steve referring to a girl as “Kind of cute n’all” which mirrors the same phrase used by Lorrain in describing George McFly.

Knowing that Stranger Things season 3 was set in the summer of 1985 I, of course, hoped for some Back to the Future inclusion and this was better than I could ever have imagined. 

Some Of The 80s Music Used In Stranger Things Season 3

We could be here for days as music is at the core of what makes Stranger Things so great. Composers Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein have created an incredible 80s inspired, synth-based score which creates such an amazing atmosphere and mood for the show.

I feel we didn’t hear as much of it this season but there are some new scores which also help to create a new mood compared to the more recognizable ones from the first two seasons. There is also the inclusion of a lot of mainstreams songs from the time period and beyond. Let’s check out what we heard over the 8 episodes:

  • “Never Surrender” – by fellow Canuck Cory Hart
  • “Moving in Stereo” – The Cars
  • “Workin’ For A Living” – Huey Lewis and the News
  • “Hot Blooded” – Foreigner
  • “Can’t Fight This Feeling” – REO Speedwagon
  • “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim” – Jim Croce
  • “Get Up & Go” – The Go Go’s
  • “Material Girl” – Madonna
  • “Matter Of Love” – Altitude Music
  • “Cold As Ice” – Foreigner, again
  • “Angel” – Madonna
  • “The Pod Dance” – Trevor Jones
  • “Things Can Only Get Better” – Howard Jones
  • “American Pie” – Don Mclean
  • “Strike Zone” – Loverboy
  • “The Wild Ride” From Midnight Run by Danny Elfman
  • “R.O.C.K. In The USA” – John Mellencamp
  • “The NeverEnding Story” – Liwahl (a masterful scene that could have derailed the whole finale but I think, worked extremely well)

A Great Amount Of 80s Cereals In This Season That You Couldn’t Ignore

I want to include everything in this Stranger Things season 3 recap, and If you’ve spent any time on this site, you’ll have seen my love of 1980s breakfast cereals, in fact, you can check out my full article all about them. It’s hard to ignore 80s cereal in this season as they pop up quite a lot. One in particular – Lucky Charms – is an important part of Eleven becoming more aware of her past and of herself. Here are a few we saw over this season

  • Honey Smacks
  • Cocoa Pops
  • Lucky Charms
  • Mr. T. Cereal
  • Pac-Man cereal
  • G.I. Joe cereal
  • Ghostbuster cereal
  • Cookie Crisp
  • Smurf Berry Crunch
  • Rainbow Brite cereal
  • Donkey Kong cereal
  • Honey Comb

The Incredible Inclusion Of New Coke

New Coke

If you’ve read the reviews for each episode, and my season 3 preview, you’ll be very aware of the amazing cross-promotion/inclusion of New Coke in Stranger Things this season. This was a brilliant bit of marketing by Coca-Cola to bring back a defunct product, and by the shows producers to include it in the season.

Here’s a quick rundown if you’re not up to speed with this (or just check out my full article all about it). Coca-Cola was getting killed by Pepsi going into the 80s and since 1985 was the 100th anniversary of Coke, they thought they needed to do something to mark the occasion.

Diet drinks – especially Diet Coke – were gaining momentum, and they wanted to create the sweeter flavor that people were getting used to but put it in the original drink. The first new formulas of Coke tested well but people were saying they would like it IN ADDITION to regular Coke. They should have listened.

New Coke was launched on April 23rd, 1985 but it was a total replacement to the original Coke which they had stopped making – and people went nuts. It’s not that they totally hated the taste of New Coke (though many did) it was that they took away something so near and dear to their hearts.

Coke wasn’t banking on this nostalgia and had to manage a tidal wave of backlash. This led to them abandoning New Coke on July 11th, just 78 days after they had introduced it. They brought back the old formula which they now called “Coca-Cola Classic” and it remained that until 2009.

Some say this was intentionally done by Coke but who knows. Either way, it’s an amazing bit of marketing history and the fact this all lined up perfectly for season 3 being set in the summer of 1985 is nothing short of kismet.

Coca-Cola also released a limited edition New Coke bundle that included 2 cans of it and some Stranger Things branded bottles that you can check out on their website.

Some Obscure References During Stranger Things Season 3

Obviously, Stranger Things goes pretty deep with what they include in their seasons. Some are right in your face, and some you have to dig a little deeper. Here are some that I saw over the 8 episodes.

Cerebro – This is the name Dustin gives to his Ham radio which is named after the device Professor X uses to enhance his telepathic powers to find other super-powered mutants.

Weathertop – This is the name given to the hill where they put up the radio tower. If you know your Lord of the Rings, you’ll recognize the name Weathertop as a ruin atop a hill where Aragorn and the Hobbits camp on their way to Rivendell

Wonder Woman # 328 – One of two comics that Max has in her room and this issue is about Wonder Woman finding the god of the eternal sky which is quite similar to the Mind Flayer 

Green Lantern #185 –  This issue, also from 1985, involves a villain called “Eclipso” who is a parasitic type villain known for controlling and corrupting hosts, just like the Mind Flayer

Predictions & The Post-Credit Scene Explained

In an extremely MCU move, we get a post-credit scene which is pretty awesome to see. We realize things are still happening in Russia and they feed a prisoner to what is revealed to be the Demogorgon. This seems pretty ‘Rankor beneath Jabba the Hutt’s palace’, but I’m ok with it.

While deciding who to feed to it we hear them say “not the American”. There’s no way to think this isn’t Jim Hopper who somehow got sucked into, or escaped into, the Upside Down only to come out through the Russian gate.

This is cool, but also seems a bit obvious. There’s no way we can’t think this is him and I’m thinking that the Duffer brothers were feeling there might be a lot of backlash to Hopper dying so they tacked on this scene to calm people down. My other thought is – since it seems so obvious that its Hopper – it really isn’t him. He may very well be alive in the Upside Down but this prisoner could be someone like Dr. Brenner. Or even Murray as we’re not totally sure what happens to him. 

So we know we’re getting a season 4 and It even looks like a possible season 5. As of the time I’m writing this, season 3 has been Netflix’s most viewed show ever over the course of a weekend. Something like 40 million family accounts had streamed it over the July 4th weekend. 

And then this idea came to me as a possible, and amazing premise, for the fourth season. If it’s following a yearly timeline as we have so far (season 1 in 1983, season 2 in 1984, season 3 in 1985) that would take us into 1986 obviously.

On April 26th, 1986 a significant world event happened that could have had catastrophic implications. And it happened in Russia…


This would be an incredible basis for a story as the accident could have been caused by the Upside Down, or the nuclear accident was an excuse for what really happened. This would be around 6 months after the very end of season 3 and it could work brilliantly.

Final Thoughts Stranger Things Season 3

If you can’t tell already, I loved this season and hope I covered that in this Stranger Things season 3 recap. I thought season 2 was pretty decent, but it had the unenviable task of following up a monster debut – as all sequels have to. I thought season 3 was light years better and is the best of all three so far. It had everything I was hoping for and it’s why we get so psyched whenever that first teaser trailer drops.

We know what to expect and this season delivered – and then some. I felt like they included so much that I was dying to see and a lot of it felt – selfishly – like direct service to me. But that’s the mark of any truly good entertainment – it feels like it was made just for you.

And a lot of people share that same feeling showing what an impactful, and iconic show Stranger Things really is. Now let’s finish this on a great note with the best music video ever made…

I hope you enjoyed my recap and if you want to get more epic 80s content, do yourself a solid and sign up for the Everything 80s email newsletter!


  1. Great recap for a great show. Yeah I had a few issues with it but overall I thought it was a fantastic season and I really enjoyed your analysis of it. I was 10 years old in 1985 and it was a blast to see so much on screen of what I remember from a time when my friends and I were just coming of age.

    1. Thanks so much Paul! There were definitely a few issues but nothing big enough to distract from how awesome this season was I felt. I was 8 in 1985 and I honestly felt like I was watching exactly how life was back then (minus the Upside Down and Mind Flayer…) I think they captured the mood of the 80s, and the coming of age dynamic, perfectly.

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