I thought Stranger Things 3 was, overall, an excellent season—a great improvement over Season 2 and a return to some of its Stephen King-centric roots that add an extra layer of menace to the proceedings in a show which can, under some circumstances, seem a little too lighthearted and fizzy in places. But Stranger Things 3 managed to continue one of the series’ best thematic through lines wherein the Lovecraftian menace of the Upside-Down serves as a supernatural stand-in for the equally unpalatable but decidedly more familiar suburban horror of child molestation, exploitation, and abuse.
Of course, it is nothing new to see otherworldly horror dovetail with a more familiar, mundane source of fear. H.P. Lovecraft used his cosmic monstrosities as stand-ins for his own racist fear of immigrants and people of color. Shirley Jackson used her Gothic fabulae to give expression to the private terrors of the lonely and misanthropic. Perhaps most importantly, for our purposes, Stephen King uses his alien and supernatural monsters to explore the perils of nostalgia and the small-mindedness it can engender. Given that Stranger Things is both a show that banks on the nostalgia of its viewers and one that’s specifically interested in the horror landscape of the 1980s—a landscape that King was paramount in shaping—it makes sense that he would be central to the way the show uses the otherworldly to consider and talk about the mundane, tapping into the darker anxieties beneath Hawkins’ sunlit, idyllic-seeming surface.