This is a review of both halves — Vols. I & II– of Stranger Things: Season Four.
Like The Crown and BoJack Horseman, Stranger Things has long been one of Netflix’s most consistently good shows. The nostalgia-based supernatural coming-of-age horror-thriller show that was created by the Duffer brothers has managed to stay really good and really entertaining for four seasons now — including this latest season, which was split into two parts (with the season finale having a runtime of almost two-and-a-half hours) — and, even though the show still wears its inspirations on its sleeves, the show is getting better in many ways. In fact, I would say that this fourth season, which is probably the goriest and most horror-like of the bunch, is the best season of the show since the very rewatchable debut season, even though this latest season included two season-long subplots that were never as engaging as the main story was.
The fourth season of Stranger Things is basically its long-distance relationship season. Not only are there actually two long-distance relationships in this season, but the show also deliberately splits up the characters into three or four groups. This season, Mike (played by Finn Wolfhard) visits Eleven (played by Millie Bobby Brown) and Will (played by Noah Schnapp) in California, where he finds out that she isn’t as popular as she had claimed to be, and Joyce (played by Winona Ryder), who has been looking after Will, Eleven, and Jonathan (played by Charlie Heaton), tries to figure out if Jim Hopper (played by David Harbour) is actually alive. Meanwhile, back in Hawkins, the rest of the gang — Max (Sadie Sink), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), Steve (Joe Keery), Nancy (Natalia Dyer), and Robin (Maya Hawke) — try to stop the gruesome Vecna, a terrifying anthropomorphic monster from the Upside Down, who puts people under a spell before he kills them.
I was really impressed with how violent and disturbing this show got this season. It really is the most ‘horror’ this show has ever been like I suggested earlier. The creature design of Vecna is spectacular, the waking nightmare scenes are unsettling, the body horror is shocking, and the show legitimately scared me at times this season. Yet again, one of the biggest strengths of this show is its characters and the actors playing them. Most of them work excellently together, and the show puts some fan-favorite characters in really prominent positions this season. Characters like Steve, Robin, Dustin, and Max have the spotlight thrust onto them for most of this season and they shine under pressure. The actors playing them are all great. This is especially true for Sadie Sink, whose character has grown to become one of the most pivotal characters on the show, and in the episode “Dear Billy,” she delivers a stunning performance. It is also arguably its best episode. The show also introduces a couple of new characters with Eddie Munson (played by Joseph Quin), a metalhead and Dungeons & Dragons player, being the best surprise. Eddie is one of this season’s highlights and almost immediately became a new fan favorite. Quinn gives an energetic performance that sometimes made him seem like a young Robert Downey, Jr., and that is a big compliment.
Unfortunately, not all of the original characters get as much to do. In Volume One, I thought the show did McLaughlin’s character, Lucas, dirty with a storyline about popularity, but I think his character is treated better in Volume Two. The show still focuses a lot on Eleven, but Mike, Jonathan, and Will end up being saddled with an unengaging and unnecessary stoner action comedy subplot that almost never worked for me. It’s almost as if the showrunners didn’t know what to do with them. Last season, the show initially indicated that Hopper had died. However, at the very end of that season, that consequence was erased. As a result of this, one of the other subplots this season is a prison break, which mainly features Joyce, Hopper, and Murray (Brett Gelman). It’s no secret that, even though I really like David Harbour, I thought it was a mistake to magically have his character survive the end of the last season, and this season four subplot really does feel like a detour at times. However, it is much more entertaining than the stoner comedy subplot.
In general, I do think this show might have a consequence problem. Often when it seems like the show wants to be brave and kill off major characters, the show stops just short of doing that. Still, this season does end in a way that feels like a major change for the show, so that’s a step in the right direction. The decision to have several oversized episodes this season is an interesting one. While I welcome it as a fan, I do think there were moments when the pacing suffered because of it. I think certain subplots could have been condensed quite a bit, to be honest. The only other major issue that I have with this season is how cliche-ridden the dialogue is especially in Volume Two.
Admittedly, the fourth season of Stranger Things, which was split into two volumes, feels a little bit bloated at times, and it does underserve some characters, but, at the same time, this is also Stranger Things at its best. This season gave us some really good performances, is scarier than it has ever been, and it also has some genuinely emotional story beats.
– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.