By now, Stranger Things is well known for keeping plot details largely under wraps until the debut of each new season. And the first full trailer for season three has stayed true to form, as it’s low on story and high on Stranger Things’ sumptuous ’80s aesthetic — the new season is set in the summer of 1985 — and kids being kids together.
Or are they? “We’re not kids anymore,” Mike (Finn Wolfhard) is heard telling his fellow members of Hawkins, Indiana’s local monster-fighting gang. But the rest of the clip is full of the kinds of nostalgic moments and imagery that have long been associated with both Stranger Things and ’80s pop culture at large: kids on bikes, kids on slides, carousels, toy robots, and invisible lightsaber fights.
Of course, there’s also footage of kids facing terrifying otherworldly monsters from the Upside Down. So just another typical summer, right?
There are a few glimpses of plot to tease out. Stranger Things 3’s previous teaser — set on New Year’s Eve counting down to 1985 and released in the very first moments of 2019 — offered a tantalizing glimpse of a retro computer screen spelling out the cryptic message “WHEN BLUE AND YELLOW MEET IN THE WEST.” That message was followed by an unseen operator accessing an entity called “Lynx Corp.” and executing a program called SilverCatFeeds.exe.
But in the new trailer, it’s a different holiday that gets the focus. Season 3 will premiere on July 4, 2019, and take place in the summer of 1985, perhaps culminating with Hawkins’s own Fourth of July celebration; accordingly, the trailer contains shots of fireworks and other Independence Day festivities. Does that mean that the strange file has already been executed, and we’re watching its effects play out? Are yellow and blue fireworks the objects that will be meeting in the west?
We’re also shown images of a colorful carnival that looks to have all the hallmarks of an ominous night circus, and a fleeting look at a fleshy, bulked-up monster that makes the Demogorgon seem like a sweet flower creature by comparison.
But even that showcase sighting isn’t the scariest moment of the trailer, which passes by in a flash: a reveal of Steve getting jabbed in the neck with an extremely hardcore needle as he screams in terror.
All that said, it’s really these kids and their friendships that we’re here for, and Stranger Things 3 promises not to disappoint on that front. In short flashes, over a montage set to The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” (a.k.a. “Teenage Wasteland”), we see the relationships between the ensemble of young teenagers evolving. Dustin and Steve are still pals, and Steve (who is now, as we learned from season three’s hilarious first teaser, working at “Scoops Ahoy” Ice Cream shop in the local Starcourt Mall), seems to be bonding with his attractive coworker, Robin (Maya Hawke, daughter of Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman).
And teenage love is heavy in the air. Nancy and Jonathan are still together, and Lucas and Max still seem to be an item. We see a sweet kiss between Mike and Eleven that tells us their relationship is still going strong. And hearteningly, we’re also treated to lots of scenes where Eleven and Max — who you’ll recall was the new girl who joined the group in season two, making Eleven extremely jealous — have become close friends. Now they’re listening to pop music, riding the bus together, and hanging out at the mall; at one point they’re adorably shown getting the classic ’80s glamour shot treatment.
One character thread we’re still puzzled-slash-intrigued by is whatever’s happening with Max’s older brother, Billy (Dacre Montgomery). At the end of season two, his over-the-top homoerotic machismo and extremely violent bullying were revealed to be rooted in a lot of abusive behavior by his own father. Stranger Things also hinted that his behavior might be tied to Billy’s own yet-to-be-revealed queer or genderqueer identity.
The ambiguity of all this brought the series in for sharp criticism from the queer community — yet Montgomery was quick to deny the possibility that his character could be gay or bisexual, telling IndieWire that he’d love to see Billy “Fall in love. I think definitely, [with] a female.” The season three trailer shows him shirtless at the pool, being eyed up by several attractive women, without really showing us his reaction. So for now, we’re left with a lot of vagueness, and the opportunity to admire Montgomery’s chiseled Fabio looks.
Meanwhile, Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) is still a graceful emo prince who’s having trouble dealing with the idea of his besties all growing up and leading separate lives. We feel you, kid. But if one thing is certain, it’s that it’ll take a lot more than government conspiracies, the occasional kidnapping, terrifying monsters from the netherworld, and teenage hormones to separate this group of friends.