There's no doubt that Stranger Things 3 has elevated the story of the Hawkins kids' brush with the Upside Down by introducing a new level of team-style fun, playing into some gooey gore, staging some seriously gutting character moments, and, yes, offering plenty more of those pop culture references that have defined the series since its infancy. If there was ever any doubt that the show had staying power, this season has surely put that to rest and leaves fans anxious for answers about the new mysteries afoot (You Know Who is still totally alive, right? RIGHT?).
One of the reasons that the new season works so well, though, is that it made the new "Flesh Monster at the Starcourt Mall" narrative fit seamlessly into the story we already knew. In fact, throughout Season 3 there are a ton of plot points that are lifted directly from the first two seasons, so here are just some of the ways the show borrowed from itself this time around, instead of just recycling scenes from your favorite classic '80s cinema installments.
1. The chief finally catches on. You might think Jim Hopper (David Harbour) would just listen to Joyce (Winona Ryder) whenever she tells him something's amiss after all they've been through, but lo, in Stranger Things 3 he once again had to go out and discover evidence of the trouble himself before he was convinced of her concern over the dropping magnets. It was basically the same situation as in Season 1, when he thought she was plum crazy for believing that the body wasn't Will's (Noah Schnapp) until he saw those cotton innards with his very own eyes.
2. Time for a new look. People really love to give Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) a makeover on this show, don't they? In Season 1, it was Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) who rifled through Nancy's (Natalie Dyer) stuff to find her a school-appropriate disguise — although we still haven't figured out where the wig came from when Nancy would never. Then, in Season 2, her "sister" Kali, aka 008, and her renegade pals treated El to a "bitchin'" new look, too. And Stranger Things 3 once again saw Eleven trying on some new threads for size after Max (Sadie Sink) took her to the mall and encouraged her to shop for her own aesthetic. We'll just have to assume she raided Hopper's piggy bank off-screen to bankroll that trip.
3. The creep cuts through the crap. Murray Bauman (Brett Gelman) sure has a way with words. In Stranger Things 2, he played host to Nancy and Jonathan's (Charlie Heaton) midnight rendezvous after correctly assessing that the two had the hots for each other and needed to fess up to that fascination. And in Stranger Things 3, he did it again; this time, he pegged Joyce and Hopper as the duo whose sexual tension was totally in the air even if they both denied it. So, yeah. Between his completely on-point theory about the Russians and his ability to call out a non-couple who should probably just do it, Murray Bauman is basically the most reliable observer on the show anymore.
4. Steve gets beat. Steve Harrington's (Joe Keery) eye bruises alone must take up half the makeup budget for Stranger Things because the guy's pretty mug gets wrecked on the regular on this show. In Season 1, it was Jonathan who laid waste to his face, and in Season 2, it was Billy (Dacre Montgomery) who turned his entire head black and blue. As if that wasn't enough damage for one dude to take, the Russians then took a turn on the Smash-Steve-o-Wheel in Season 3. Here's hoping he gets a break from the brutality for a change in Stranger Things 4.
5. A new girl joins the crew. Another repeated plot point in Stranger Things 3 is the introduction of a new girl to the party who has to be clued in to whatever's happening in Hawkins. In the first season, it was Eleven who came in with all her telekinetic awesomeness but had no idea about life outside the lab. And in the second, it was Max who was eventually invited to join the fight and proved her might beyond just ripping everyone's high scores to shreds on Dig Dug. The same thing happened again in Stranger Things 3, only this time, two girls proved to be essential to the action: ice cream slinger and linguistics enthusiast Robin (Maya Hawke) and Lucas' sassy little sister Erica (Priah Ferguson), each of whom were recruited to help fight the new threat(s) in town thanks to their unique skills.
6. Wonky walkie talkies. Just as vintage horror pics like to throw in cars that won't crank and doors that won't budge, Stranger Things often uses the kids' scrambled radio signals to ratchet up the tension. Think back to when the group only heard Will's still-alive voice after Eleven finally found the right frequency in Season 1 or when Erica finally told Lucas his pals were calling for him in Season 2. In Season 3, things were even dicier for the group as Dustin tried to get ahold of Suzie-Poo to give him a world-saving equation, and it just went to show how much this story hinges on throwback tech gone wrong.
7. Nancy knows. One day, people will start listening to Nancy Wheeler, but that was still not the case in Stranger Things 3, as the entire newspaper staff — including Jonathan, no less — refused to take her seriously about the rabid rat scare. Being rendered invisible was also a problem for Nancy in Season 1, when she just knew something was wrong with Barb, and in Season 2, few people took her seriously again when she wanted to deliver some #JusticeForBarb at long last.
8. The many mini-missions. Another major point of repetition in Stranger Things 3 is the way the show's scattered arcs all came together at the very last minute, just in time for a big confrontation with the monster. Until then, the same sub-sects of the Hawkins crew — Joyce and Hopper, Steve and Dustin, Nancy and Jonathan, and Eleven and the D&D gang — were once again off running their own separate, but equally important investigations until all of those leads converged into the big fight once again. We don't know if they'll ever mix and match these groupings going forward, but at this point, the friend formula seems pretty set in stone.